Volunteer travel insurance

Volunteering overseas can be very rewarding, but it’s not covered by standard travel insurance. To make sure you have the best experience, you’ll need the right cover.

Eve Powell
Eve powell
Updated 20 September 2022  | 4 mins read

key points

  • If you’ll be volunteering abroad, your travel insurance needs to cover the type of work you’ll be doing
  • Volunteer travel insurance covers you for activities that aren’t included in a standard policy
  • You need to tell your insurer if you’ll be volunteering with animals, and you may need specialist cover in some situations
  • Not all countries will be covered by your policy, and you’ll need to keep up to date with UK government travel advice

When do you need volunteer travel insurance?

You’ll need volunteer travel insurance if you’re planning on doing voluntary work as part of your travel experience.

Voluntary work overseas can range from giving hands-on help with community building projects and environmental initiatives to teaching English as a second language.

This type of travelling experience is often done as part of a gap year, which is why volunteer travel insurance is sometimes known as gap year or backpacker insurance.

Why do you need it?

Volunteering covers a range of activities you wouldn’t do on a regular holiday or trip. And it can involve staying in more remote and higher-risk areas that are off the beaten track.

Because of these reasons, volunteering isn’t covered by standard travel insurance.

Plus, volunteering often involves being away for an extended period of time - longer than regular travel policies will cover.

To make sure you’re covered while you’re away, you’ll need travel insurance that provides the right protection.

How is volunteer travel insurance different from standard travel cover?

Volunteer travel insurance covers everything you’d expect from a standard travel policy, like emergency medical treatment, trip cancellation, and lost, damaged, or stolen luggage.

But it can also include cover for:

  • The type of work and activities you might do as a volunteer
  • Longer travel periods, from six months up to 24 months - most standard policies only provide cover for a maximum of 90 days in a single trip
  • The different countries you might be visiting as part of your travels
  • Some adventure sports and excursions

Can I get travel insurance if I’m volunteering with animals?

Working with animals can be incredibly rewarding but, whether they’re domestic breeds or big game animals like elephants and lions, it can also be unpredictable.

This means it’s important to have the right cover.

You can still get travel insurance if you’ll be volunteering with animals, but you’ll need to give your insurer details of the work you’ll be doing when you take out your policy.

If you’ll be working with larger, dangerous, or more exotic species, you’ll need to buy specialist insurance.

What about manual labour volunteering?

Manual work is physical and may involve working with power tools and machinery, so it’s seen as being more dangerous.

For this reason, it’s not generally covered by standard volunteer travel insurance, so you’ll likely need a specialist policy.

Check the policy’s terms and conditions to make sure the type of work activities you’re planning to do will be covered.

Your cover will also depend on you sticking to any safety rules, such as using the right equipment and safety clothing, listed in your policy.

What isn’t covered by volunteer travel insurance?

Policies will vary and, as with any travel insurance policy, you should always check the exclusions listed.

Volunteer travel insurance will typically exclude:

  • Pre-existing conditions, unless otherwise stated
  • Accidents, injuries, damage or loss as a result of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Travelling to a country or region against UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) travel advice
  • Adventure sports
  • Travelling against medical advice
  • Not going because you’ve changed your mind about your trip
  • Criminal or illegal acts

What else should I consider?

When you’re planning your trip, there are some other things you should bear in mind, including:

  1. Vaccinations

    Find out which vaccinations you’ll need for the countries you’ll be visiting by checking the TravelHealthPro website

  2. Adventure sports cover

    If you’re planning on doing some more adventurous activities during your trip, you may need to pay extra to be covered

  3. Your volunteer organisation

    Do your research. Make sure the organisation you’re planning to use is reputable and find out what support they’ll give you while you’re away

  4. Any cover that’s included

    Check if your volunteering organisation will provide you with any cover and what this includes

  5. Government foreign travel advice

    Keep up to date with gov.uk advice for your destination or places you’ll be visiting. Not all countries will be covered by your policy

  6. A Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC)

    If you’re planning on visiting any European Union countries during your trip, applying for a GHIC will let you access emergency state healthcare for free or at a reduced cost

Can I get volunteer cover if I have a pre-existing medical condition?

Having a medical condition shouldn’t mean you miss out on the rewarding opportunity of volunteering, but it can make things more difficult when it comes to travel insurance.

Your choices are likely to be limited, as not all providers will offer you cover for volunteering, or you’ll need to pay higher premiums.

But it’s important you declare any pre-existing conditions, otherwise you risk invalidating your cover and your insurer may not pay out if you make a claim.

If you have a more serious medical condition, MoneyHelper has a directory of insurance providers who may be able to help.

Will my volunteer organisation have employers’ liability cover?

This is something you’ll need to check when you’re researching volunteer organisations and when you’re given a volunteer agreement.

Employers’ liability is designed to provide cover if you hurt or injure someone, or damage their property, while you’re working for a company or organisation.

You’ll need to find out what cover your organisation provides and whether you need to take out separate cover to be fully protected.

You should also check the organisation is correctly registered and speak to past volunteers to find out about their experiences.

Is it possible to extend my insurance if I want to volunteer for longer?

This will depend on your provider, so you’ll need to get in touch with them. Some insurers will let you extend your policy, as long as you contact them before the policy expires.

When you’re taking out travel insurance for volunteering overseas, it can be a good idea to take out cover for longer than you need to give yourself a buffer.