Beginners' guide to travel insurance

Take the mystery out of travel insurance with our beginners' guide, including information on policy and cover options, exclusions and more.

Foreign Office advice

    If you're planning a holiday or business trip, the Foreign Office recommends an insurance policy that provides:

  • Emergency medical expenses
  • 24-hour emergency service and assistance
  • Personal liability cover
  • Lost and stolen possessions cover
  • Cancellation and curtailment cover
  • Extra cover for any non-standard activities you plan to undertake

Before setting off on a trip we all make the same last-minute checks - passport, tickets, money and the all-important speedos.

But how many of us double check we have travel insurance before going away?

In the event you fall ill or find yourself in a jam, travel insurance could protect you and cover losses and expenses.

Remember that should you, for example, require hospitalisation or need to be returned home by air ambulance, then the cost could run into many thousands of pounds and.

Without insurance you'd be responsible for the costs - you couldn't rely on the Foreign Office or British Embassy picking up the bill.

Types of policy

Single-trip travel insurance

Policies for a single holiday or trip limit cover to the duration of the time away and will specify a maximum length of stay.

Annual/multi-trip travel insurance

Annual travel insurance, also known as multi-trip insurance, provides cover for a 12-month period and may be a cost-effective option if you plan to make more than one trip during the policy period.

Most such deals have a maximum length of stay per trip. This is typically between 30 and 45 days, but it will vary between policies and providers.Suitcases

Long-stay travel insurance

As the name suggests, long-stay policies are designed to cover extended trips that exceed the maximum number of days permitted under single trip and annual policies. Usually these are trips that last for more than 30 days.

Backpacker insurance/gap year insurance

Backpacker and gap year insurance policies provide cover for extended trips and should be tailored for the risks associated with the particular style of travelling.

Individual and group cover

When you take out a policy you'll normally have the option of insuring an individual, a couple (two people travelling together) or a family.

Some travel insurance companies also offer specialist policies for groups, such as for schools and clubs.

Did you know...?

  • Medical expenses, cancellation and personal baggage are included as standard on all travel insurance policies compared through

If you want to insure all family members, then combined family cover may be a more appropriate option than insuring all family members individually.

Many providers offer discounts for families and some will offer a standard family policy with the same terms no matter how many children you have.

Cover areas and options

Travel insurance varies a great deal across providers and price brackets, so it's important to check the small print before buying to ensure you have the right cover for your needs.

Although levels of protection will differ you should expect medical expenses to be covered as standard, but policies can also help you out with other things such as lost baggage, cancellation, delays and personal liability.

Lost or stolen baggage and personal belongings

Insurers will set a limit for the amount that can be claimed in the event of your luggage or personal belongings being lost or stolen, so check when taking out a policy that the upper limit of the amount is reasonable for your needs.Camera

Remember that limits will usually be set on the amount available for individual items such as pieces of jewellery, laptops, tablets, smartphones and cameras.

Travel insurance could also replace any cash stolen up to a certain value and provide cover for vital documents such as passports and travel tickets.

Personal liability

Personal liability provides cover up to a set limit if you're found to be legally liable for accidental injury to a third party, or for loss of, or damage to, their possessions.

This cover may be particularly useful if you're planning to hire equipment during your trip - but always check the small print for exclusions.

Legal expenses

Legal expenses offers cover up to a set limit towards legal costs incurred as a result of illness or injury caused to you by a third party during your trip.

Pre-existing medical conditions

If you have a pre-existing medical condition it may be more difficult or expensive to arrange cover, but in many cases it should still be possible to find a suitable policy.

When you compare insurance providers it's important to be clear and honest about any illnesses - it may be difficult to tell strangers about any sensitive conditions, but this will ensure your cover is tailored to your needs.

Note that some insurers will offer cover that specifically excludes pre-existing conditions, but there are specialist insurers who may be able to help you with even the most serious illnesses.

Did you know...?

  • Travel insurance does not necessarily cover you for cycling and, if it does, you may be covered for recreational riding but not mountain biking or cycle touring


Provides cover for cancellation of the planned trip. Acceptable reasons for cancellation may include natural disasters, bereavement, jury service and sickness or injury.

Typical exclusions are airlines or tour operators ceasing to trade, a change in your financial circumstances, a disinclination to travel, self-inflicted injuries and contractual obligations.

Delayed departure

Travel delay (delayed departure) can be caused by many factors including bad weather, lost or stolen travel documents, breakdown or delay en route and mechanical failure of an aircraft or ship.

Policies usually have a maximum daily reimbursement amount and there's normally a minimum period of delay before a claim can be made - this is typically 12 hours, but it can vary.

Think about approaching your airline for compensation if your flight is delayed, but for losses apart from the flight that result from that delay you're likely to need appropriate travel insurance cover - this could be for things like hotels, car hire, transfers and trips.

Missed departure

Missed departure can be caused by many of the same factors as travel delay, but you'll usually need to demonstrate that you did everything in your power to make the departure and you may be required to provide supporting evidence with your claim.


Some policies will cover abandonment of a trip where it becomes necessary for you to cancel the outward journey as a result of an extended delay (typically 12-to-24 hours).

You'll normally be required to have checked in by the recommended time and will need to provide a written statement from the appropriate transport company or authority confirming the reason for the delay and its duration.


Curtailment cover normally pays the additional costs that you may incur as a result of cutting a trip short, for example due to the illness or death of a close relative.Scheduled airline failure insurance

Scheduled airline failure insurance (Safi)

Most policies won't pay out if your trip is affected by an airline going out of business, but some do include scheduled airline failure insurance.

Adventurous pursuits

Standard policies may not cover you for activities that are considered adventurous or hazardous, such as horse riding, jet skiing, diving, bungee jumping, white water rafting or even cycling.

If you're planning on carrying out such activities read your terms and conditions carefully - it's possible, for example, that you may be covered for recreational cycling but not mountain biking or cycle touring.

You may need to shop around carefully, or to take out a policy with dedicated adventurous activities cover.

Whatever policy you have, you'll be required to undertake the activities safely and to avoid exposing yourself to unnecessary risk.

Winter sports

Typically this sort of cover includes participation in recreational winter sports, for example skiing and snowboarding.

A good policy should cover loss, damage and theft of equipment, plus piste closure and piste rescue - find out more in our dedicated guide on winter sports cover and ski insurance.


Many travel cover providers now offer cover for loss, theft and damage to golf clubs and equipment. Policies may also include cover for:

  • The hire of equipment should yours be delayed
  • Non-refundable green-fees if your trip is cancelled or cut short
  • Personal liability cover when using a golf buggy


If you're getting married abroad then you may wish to add on cover for things like wedding rings, gifts, and outfits.Cruise travel insurance

Business equipment

Business travel insurance can provide cover for equipment and other business assets.

Cruise cover

If you're sailing the seven seas it's worth thinking about a policy tailored to your particular type of holiday - read more about cruise travel insurance in our guide.

Senior travel insurance

If you're aged over 65 then finding a suitable senior travel insurance policy may be challenging, but there are no hard and fast rules on age limits - some providers will not cover anyone over the age of 50, others are happy to cater for you if you're in your 90s, or even older.

Watch out for exclusions and excesses

Exclusions and excesses can vary widely between insurers - it's important to check the small print to ensure you're covered for certain eventualities.

For example, if you voluntarily abandon your holiday then your insurance is unlikely to cover you, but if you're forced to cancel your holiday due to illness, bereavement, or even jury service, then cover is usually provided.

European Health Insurance Card

A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) - which replaced the old E111 in 2006 - entitles you to treatment in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries in a medical emergency.

The cards are free and can be applied for online so ensure you have one if you travel to an EEA country, but remember that it's a supplement to travel insurance, not a replacement.European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

It does not include cover for repatriation to the UK, the use of a private ambulance or medical facility, or other incidentals.

You pay the same as the country's residents, which may mean you pay nothing, but this care is only from state-run hospitals.

Some travel cover providers may stipulate in their policy terms and conditions that you must carry the EHIC when travelling in Europe, as this will allow them to reclaim some of their costs. It will also cover you for pre-existing medical conditions that may be excluded by your insurer.

Arranging travel insurance

It's important to sort out your travel insurance as soon as you book your trip - that way you should be covered in the event you have to cancel your holiday.

But before taking out a policy, check that you don't already have cover from another source.

Apart from wasting your money, accidentally doubling up on cover can complicate any claims and mean you end up paying more for insurance in the future - contribution clauses could come into play, and all affected policies may record the fact that you've had a claim or incident.

Some paid-for bank accounts and premium credit cards may offer packaged products such as travel insurance, contents insurance and gadget insurance.

If you're relying on this cover, though, make sure you read your terms and conditions carefully to ensure the policy is suitable for everything you expect and need.

To arrange a dedicated travel insurance policy you could go direct to an insurer or broker.

But using a comparison service such as allows you to look at multiple products in one quick and easy search, helping you to find the right product at the right price.

By Emily Bater