When to buy travel insurance

Booking a trip away? Read on to find out when to buy travel insurance and what type of policy could be the best fit for your holiday plans.

Kim Jones
Kim Jones
Updated 1 September 2022  | 5 mins read

Key points

  • Cancellation is one of the main reasons people claim on a travel insurance policy
  • Travel insurance can reimburse your costs if you can’t take a planned holiday due to circumstances outside of your control, such as illness or bereavement
  • It’s best to buy a travel insurance policy as soon as you book or pay for your trip or holiday, so you’re covered for any unforeseen events pre-departure
  • You can buy travel insurance right up until the point you leave home for your trip, but it’s risky leaving it this late as you wouldn’t be covered if you had to cancel your trip in advance

Do you need travel insurance?

While you're not legally required to have travel insurance when you take a trip, it’s a wise move to get yourself covered.

The right policy can help pay for any unexpected costs that arise before you travel and throughout your holiday.

Without travel insurance in place, you could be left seriously out of pocket if something went wrong. So why take the risk?

For example, if you fall ill or have an accident on your trip, travel insurance can help cover the cost of your medical treatment or for your transport home to the UK.

It can also help pay to replace any belongings that are lost or stolen in transit or at your destination. And it can cover costs if you’re forced to cancel or cut short your holiday.

It’s best to buy travel insurance right after you’ve booked your holiday to ensure you’re covered for any unexpected events that might force you to cancel or change your travel plans. For example, if you or someone you’re travelling with fell ill and could no longer go, you suffer a bereavement, or if the holiday company goes bust.

When to buy single-trip travel insurance

If you travel infrequently and only intend on making one trip in the near future, then a single-trip policy would suit you.

It will cover you for one round trip that lasts up to the duration limit specified in the policy – usually around a month. This could be to one destination, or multiple countries (provided they’re all included on the policy).

Single-trip travel insurance is available whether you want an individual, couples, family or group policy.

Cancellation cover on a single-trip policy begins as soon as you've paid for your policy, so it’s worth taking it out as soon as you book your trip. The rest of the insurance cover will kick in when you leave home to head off on your holiday.

When to buy annual multi-trip travel insurance

If you’re a regular traveller, and have two or more trips planned in a year or if you tend to take impromptu trips, it can often work out cheaper to buy annual cover rather than separate single-trip policies. But compare your options to be sure.

An annual policy means you don’t have to go through the hassle of taking out a different policy every time you go away.

Most policies won’t impose a limit on the number of trips you can take in a 12-month period, but there’s usually a cap set on the total amount of days you can be away throughout the year. There are also time limits on how long you can be away at any one time. If you’ve got longer trips planned than an annual policy allows, then you’d need to look at single-trip or long-stay cover instead.

Depending on where you’re going over the year, you can choose from three types of annual cover:

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

There’s a slight difference in the way cancellation cover works on annual policies compared with single-trip policies. With single-trip policies, cancellation cover automatically kicks in as soon as you buy the policy. But when you buy an annual policy, you can choose to select a date in the future (often in the 90 days following your purchase) for the policy to start. It’s from that start date that cancellation cover will begin.

So it’s important to bear in mind that if you buy an annual multi-trip policy with a start date in the future, and then you book a trip in the period before the policy officially starts - you won’t be covered for cancellation of that holiday.

That’s why it’s a good idea to ensure you specifically ask to start your annual policy on the day that you pay for it, or to buy and start a policy as soon as you book the first of your annual trips. That way, you’re covered should you have to cancel.

When to buy family travel insurance

If you’re going away as a family, it usually works out cheaper to insure everyone under one policy, rather than take out individual cover for each person.

You can usually get quotes for a family travel policy to cover one or two adults and between one and eight children, as long as they all live with you and are under 18.

Depending on how often you intend to travel as a family in the year ahead, you can choose between single trip or multi-trip cover.

It’s wise to ensure that you take out family travel insurance with cancellation cover as soon as you book a family holiday. With more people travelling, there’s a higher chance that you might need to cancel and make a claim.

When to buy cover for a UK holiday

Lots of people might not consider it necessary to buy travel insurance if they’re holidaying somewhere in the UK, but policies can provide valuable cover.

Although you don’t need UK travel insurance for medical expenses, a policy can still compensate you should you need to cancel or cut short your holiday due to illness or bereavement, among other things. Just be sure you compare and buy your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Additionally, UK travel insurance will cover you if any personal belongings are lost, stolen or damaged during your trip.

You can take out either an annual or a single-trip policy to get UK cover.

If you’ve already got an active annual policy for either European or worldwide destinations, your UK trips should be covered as well. Just be sure to check for any exclusions around UK travel.

When to buy cruise cover

Standard travel insurance covers you for all sorts of eventualities, such as having to cancel your trip, pay for medical expenses or to help replace lost or stolen possessions.

But if you’re taking a cruise, there are other unexpected events that could disrupt your time at sea.

A travel insurance policy that includes cruise cover provides payouts for things like cabin confinement cover, where the ship’s doctor tells you to stay in your cabin if you fall ill, plus airlifts to hospital if needed. It can also cover costs for alternative travel and accommodation if your ship departs without you because you’ve been delayed by a traffic accident, for example. Your policy could also cover the costs of unused excursions if an illness or accident means you can’t attend the activity.

Even if you book your cruise months in advance of the ship setting sail, it’s wise to book your travel insurance at the same time in case anything causes the trip to be cancelled.

When is it too late to buy travel insurance?

You can purchase travel insurance up until the point you leave home for your trip.

How far in advance can I buy travel insurance?

You can book a single-trip policy far in advance of your holiday. Most providers allow you to buy it up to a year before your trip. Fewer insurers will provide cover you if you’re arranging travel insurance with more than a year until your trip, but there are some who will allow you to book up to 18 months in advance

Cover on single-trip policies starts on the day you buy your policy, so you’re protected for the time between buying the policy and going on your holiday.

Annual multi-trip policies can be bought usually up to 90 days in advance. Cover will only begin on the start date that’s stipulated in the policy. So, to ensure you’re covered before you go on your trip, be sure to arrange that the policy begins on the day you buy it, or on the day you book your first holiday.

What should I do if I've left it too late?

The majority of insurers will only cover you before you leave home for your trip, though some may allow you to buy insurance right up to the point you’re at the airport and waiting to depart.

There are also a small number of specialist insurers that offer post-departure travel insurance. All applications for these types of policies are considered individually and premiums are likely to be higher than if you’d bought the policy before you left on your trip.

If a claim is made on a post-departure policy soon after it’s taken out, you can expect it to be subject to rigorous investigation. The provider will want to feel certain that the insured person isn’t claiming for an event that occurred before they bought the policy.