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Medical cover and travel insurance

Medical cover is the most important feature of travel insurance. Find out how it works, how much cover you need, what you’re covered for and about exclusions.

Amy Smith
Amy Smith
Updated 14 October 2019  | 4 min read

Medical cover explained

If you get ill or have an accident while on holiday, the medical cover part of your travel insurance will cover the costs of any treatment you need while abroad.

The cost of receiving treatment overseas can be eye-watering. It can easily run to tens of thousands of pounds if you’re hospitalised. That's why it's the most important part of any travel insurance policy.

To make a claim, you’ll have to pay an excess, which is the contribution you make towards the cost of a claim. Check how much the excess is on policies and choose one you can comfortably afford.

Key points

  • Medical treatment abroad can cost tens of thousands of pounds but your travel insurance will cover you for it
  • You’ll have to pay an excess to make a medical claim - check how much
  • An EHIC is not a replacement for adequate medical cover on your travel insurance

How medical cover works

If you’re rushed into hospital your insurer won’t expect you to call them first, but you or someone you’re travelling with should let them know as soon as possible.

For inexpensive minor treatments it’s common to pay the bill yourself and claim back the cost once you’ve returned home.

Larger claims will be paid directly by your insurer. But you should do everything you can to get in touch with them before any costs for treatment are incurred.

Some countries, Canada for example, require you to pay medical fees upfront, so you’ll need to make sure you have the funds to hand just in case

How much medical cover do I need for Europe?

It depends on exactly where in Europe you’re going, but consumer group Which? recommends cover of at least £2 million.

If you’re on a family or couples policy, look for medical cover with at least that amount per person.


How much medical cover do I need for the USA?

Medical treatments in certain places, such as the USA, Canada, Caribbean and Mexico, can be particularly expensive.

Which? suggests medical cover of at least £5 million for worldwide destinations.


Cover for pre-existing medical conditions

When you get quotes for travel insurance you’ll be asked if you already suffer from any medical conditions, such as heart problems, diabetes or asthma.

Always be honest about this. If you don’t tell your insurer about any pre-existing medical conditions you have, your policy could be void, and you won't be covered for the condition.

This means your insurer might reject any claims you make.


Medical cover exclusions

As well as undeclared medical conditions, you should be aware of the following exclusions:

Incidents involving alcohol and non-prescription drugs

While your insurer will expect you to enjoy a few drinks on your trip, if you drank enough alcohol to impair your judgement, your insurer can refuse to pay out.

Check your policy – insurers sometimes specify exactly how intoxicated you can be before they refuse to pay out.

Similar rules apply to non-prescription drugs, but some insurers won’t pay out if you’ve taken drugs in any quantity.

Injuries relating to violence

If you’re injured due to a fight, your insurer won’t pay out - unless you were acting in self-defence.

Adventurous activities

Extreme sports, such as horse riding, quad biking and white water rafting, might not be covered as standard by your travel insurance.

Check the terms of your policy to make sure you’ve got the cover you need - for example, a policy might cover leisure cycling while on holiday, but not cycle touring.

Travel vaccinations

If you don’t have the required vaccines, and fall ill with something the vaccine would've prevented, your insurer will refuse your claim.

You can take a look at Fit For Travel to find out what vaccines you need before you go.

Medication

Take a doctor’s letter with you for any prescribed medication.

If you don’t tell your insurer that you’re taking medication, and you fall ill on holiday, your insurer can refuse to pay for treatment.

It’s important that the hospital treating you is aware of any medication you’ve been prescribed too.

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

Your EHIC is free to apply for and entitles you to treatment on the same terms and costs as locals in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries.

It’s only a supplement to travel insurance though, not a replacement. It's far more limited. An EHIC won't repatriate you to the UK for further treatment, for example. That's where medical cover comes in.

If you don’t have an EHIC, and find yourself in hospital, your insurer can refuse to pay out if it states in your travel insurance that you must have a card.

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, use of the EHIC is likely to change. Keep an eye on the NHS EHIC page to get the most up to date information.

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