What does travel insurance cover?

Pack the right travel insurance policy. Compare cover for your next getaway.

Kim Jones
Kim Jones
Updated 12 June 2023  | 5 mins read
Reviewed by Jasmine Hembury

Information on this page was reviewed by our fact-checkers before it was published. Learn more about our fact checking process and our editorial guidelines.

If you’re booking a holiday, then travel insurance should be a priority. It can protect you financially every step of the way. And give you peace of mind so you can enjoy your trip from start to finish.

But what exactly does it include?

Key points

  • If you fall ill on holiday, travel insurance will pay for emergency medical and repatriation costs which could amount to tens of thousands of pounds
  • It will also cover lost, stolen or delayed luggage and personal belongings
  • You can tailor a travel insurance policy by adding optional extras, like winter sports, cruise or hazardous activities cover
  • Travel insurance doesn’t cover everything though. Travelling against medical advice and failing to disclose any pre-existing conditions can void your policy

What should travel insurance cover?

Simply put? It should cover the unexpected. Those mishaps we can’t control. Luggage going missing. Having to cancel the trip before you go. Falling ill on holiday and having to pay hospital medical bills. Or even needing to be transported home early.

They’re all things that, without travel insurance, could leave you out of pocket. Sometimes into the thousands or even tens of thousands of pounds.

Every policy will be different so you should always check your policy to ensure everything you want and need is covered.

In general, most standard travel insurance policies include cover for:

  • Emergency medical expenses and repatriation to the UK if medically necessary - Look for cover for at least £5 million. It could be up to £10 million or more in some policies.
  • Cancellation or cutting short your holiday - Depending on the level of cover you choose, this could be from £1,000 up to £8,000 or more. To be fully insured, just be sure your policy covers you for the total amount the holiday cost you.
  • Missed departure - If you have to cancel the trip because of a missed departure due to something like failure of the public transport system, your car breaking down or extreme weather conditions.
  • Lost, stolen or damaged personal possessions - Could be from around £500 up to a total of £2,500 or more. Policies usually have single-item limits - the most they’ll pay out for any one item. The amount could vary depending on your level of cover.
  • Delayed baggage - If your transport provider temporarily loses your luggage and you have to purchase essentials while it’s being returned to you.
  • Lost money, documents and passports - Can cover the cost of getting an emergency travel document if your passport is lost or stolen. It may also cover extra accommodation and transport if you have to stay at the destination longer.
  • Personal liability cover - If you accidentally injure another person or damage their property while away.
  • Covid-19 cover - Most policies cover emergency treatment if you fall ill with covid-19 while you’re away, plus cancellation cover if you can’t travel due to testing positive for covid-19.

Depending on what you intend to do on holiday, you can add optional extras like:

  • Winter sports cover - Skiing, snowboarding and similar activities aren’t covered under a standard travel insurance policy. You’ll need to take out winter sports travel insurance. This will pay for emergency medical treatment you may require as a result of taking part in winter sports. Plus, lost, stolen or damaged ski equipment and even piste closures or avalanches which affect the holiday.
  • Golf cover – Can include cover for loss, theft or damage to your golf equipment. And it can pay for replacement equipment hire so you don’t have to miss out on playing. It’ll also reimburse you for prepaid green fees if your holiday course is unplayable because of bad weather.
  • Cruise cover - Pays out compensation if you’re confined to your cabin, miss excursions, or if there’s a change of itinerary and you can’t dock at a scheduled port due to something like adverse weather.
  • Adventure and extreme sports cover – Cover for taking part in hazardous activities that aren't included on a standard policy - things like kite surfing, hang gliding or bungee jumping, for example.
  • Travel disruption cover - You’re covered if you can’t travel or continue a trip because of an unforeseen incident such as an earthquake or hurricane. Or if a strike affects your means of transport. Natural disasters and industrial action aren’t typically covered by a standard policy.
  • Gadget cover - Extra protection for theft of or damage to things like your tablet, mobile phone, digital camera, laptops and other gadgets.

What isn’t covered?

Travel insurance doesn’t cover everything. Typical exclusions you can expect include:

Changing your mind about taking the trip

In insurance terms, this is called disinclination to travel. Insurers won’t pay out if you simply decide you no longer want to go on your trip.

Taking part in adventure sports and activities

Accidents that happen as a result of taking part in an activity that’s not included in your policy won’t be covered. You usually need to take out extra cover for certain risky sports like canyoning, shark-diving or hang gliding. And for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. Even activities like horse riding or kayaking may not be covered by a standard policy, so it’s always worth checking.

Travelling against medical advice or to get medical treatment

If your doctor says it’s not safe for you to travel, then your travel insurance won’t cover you. Similarly, if you go abroad to get planned treatment, sometimes called ‘medical tourism’, a standard travel insurance policy won’t cover you. You’ll need specialist cover.

Undeclared medical conditions

You must tell your insurer if you have any pre-existing medical conditions. Otherwise, any medical treatment you might need for the condition, or a complication that happens because of it, probably won’t be covered. If you have a serious medical condition, you may need to find a specialist policy, but there will be options available.

Travelling against government advice

If the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) warns against all travel, or all but essential travel, to your holiday destination but you choose to travel anyway, you normally won’t be covered by your travel insurance.

Failure to get vaccinated for a preventable tropical disease

If you get ill when you’re abroad from a tropical disease and didn’t get the recommended inoculations or medication before heading off on holiday, any claims can be rejected.

Alcohol and non-prescription drugs

You’re usually not covered for accidents that happen while you’re under the influence of alcohol or non-prescription drugs that impair your judgement or physical ability.

Illegal or malicious activity

Policies won’t pay out for anything that happens as the result of you breaking local laws.

Natural disasters

Some insurers won’t accept claims that are the result of natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes or tsunamis. You’ll need a travel disruption cover add-on for this.

Can travel insurance cover me for a medical condition I have?

You’ll need to declare the condition to your travel insurer when you get a quote to ensure they can offer cover.

Some insurers will refuse to cover certain, more serious, conditions. But there are plenty that will - premiums will probably be more expensive though.

It’s important to declare any pre-existing conditions to your insurer or it won’t pay out for any claim that relates to the condition. For instance, if you need to cancel or cut short the trip because you fell ill due to your pre-existing condition.

The government’s MoneyHelper service has launched a directory of insurance providers who may be able to offer cover for serious health conditions.

Will travel insurance cover coronavirus?

Yes, the vast majority of travel insurance policies will cover certain circumstances where covid-19 results in you having to cancel or cut short your holiday.

Most policies include emergency medical expenses and repatriation costs as standard if you contract covid-19 when on holiday. Some policies may stipulate that the policyholder must have had the recommended vaccinations, but not all do. And many policies also cover you if you have to cut short your trip due to covid-19.

Most policies also include some sort of cancellation cover. For example, if you catch covid-19 within 14 days of your trip.

And some policies offer cover if you show covid-19 symptoms at the airport and are denied boarding at departure.

You’re unlikely to find insurance that will cover cancellation of your holiday if a local or national lockdown means you can’t travel though.

Will travel insurance cover me for sports and other activities?

Most travel insurance policies include cover for you to participate in a wide range of sports and activities as standard. Things like cycling, snorkelling, rambling and surfing.

A policy may also cover you for certain riskier activities, as long as they’re professionally organised and supervised. And on the condition that you wear appropriate safety equipment. Things like go-karting, abseiling, pony trekking and water skiing, for example.

If you’re taking part in activities that are classed as more dangerous, then you may be refused cover. Or, if the option is available, you can pay an extra premium to take out adventurous sports cover as an add-on.

If you’re taking part in any winter sports like skiing or snowboarding, you need to take out winter sports cover.

What types of travel insurance are there?

The cover you opt for will depend on a few things like where you’re going, who you’re travelling with and how many trips you intend on taking in a year.

Choose from:

Single-trip cover

Covers you for one trip - it begins from the day you travel and finishes on the day you arrive home. Although, you’ll be covered for cancellation from the date you purchase the policy.

Annual or multi-trip insurance

Covers you for all the trips you're planning on taking over the course of a year.

Backpacker, or extended stay insurance

Covers you for a continuous trip, often to multiple countries, lasting between two and 18 months.

Depending on where you're planning on going, you can pick from three types of cover:

  • European
  • Worldwide, including the USA, Canada and the Caribbean
  • Worldwide, excluding the USA, Canada and the Caribbean

And, depending on who you’re travelling with, you can buy a travel insurance policy for:

  • An individual
  • Couples
  • Families
  • Groups