Foreign travel insurance


From 4 July some countries and territories are exempted from the global advisory against all but essential international travel. If you decide to travel during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it is even more important that you have appropriate travel insurance.

If you already have a travel insurance policy, you should check what cover it provides for coronavirus-related events, including medical cover and travel disruption. If you are choosing a new policy, make sure you check how it covers these issues.

If you do not have appropriate insurance before you travel, you could be liable for emergency costs including medical treatment. We recommend you buy your travel insurance as soon as possible after booking your trip.


Wherever you’re travelling, getting the right travel insurance is one of the most important things to do before you go. It could save you and your family a lot of money and difficulty if things go wrong before or during your trip.

Travel insurance policies are designed to provide cover for many eventualities, including medical expenses, a trip being cut short or cancelled, and loss or theft of possessions.

This guidance aims to help you understand the key features of travel insurance and choose a policy that will meet your needs.

It is recommended to take out an insurance policy as soon as possible after booking your trip, to make sure you’re covered in the event of any changes before you depart.

When you travel, make sure you take details of your insurance policy with you, including your policy number and the emergency assistance telephone number provided by your insurer. Give a copy of your policy details to the people you’re travelling with and friends or family back home, in case they need to contact your insurance company on your behalf.

Foreign travel insurance - travelaware

Choosing a travel insurance policy

Shop around for the best deal, but never buy a policy based on price alone. The cheapest policy may not cover all of your needs. Check that any policy you buy provides comprehensive cover for your pre-existing medical conditions and any activities or sports you’re planning to do.

When choosing a policy you should consider:

How often you travel

If you’ are planning more than one holiday in a year, consider buying an annual multi-trip policy. Single trip policies are usually more cost effective for older travellers and those with medical conditions.

If you already have travel insurance as part of a bank account or credit card, check the policy terms for any age or trip limits there may be, as well as ensuring the policy covers your health and other needs for each trip you make.

The length of your trip

Some annual policies may include limits for the number of days of each individual trip, or a maximum number of days’ travel over the course of the year. If you’re going away for a longer period, a gap year or backpacker policy may be more suitable.

Where you’re going

Some annual policies only cover destinations within Europe or exclude certain long-haul destinations. If you’re travelling further afield, make sure you buy a worldwide policy or a single trip policy for your specific destination.

Cruises generally require additional cover due to the difficulty in getting travellers to hospital for treatment. If you are going on a cruise, make sure your travel insurance covers this.

Many travel insurance policies will not cover you if you travel to a high risk destination (often defined as a place where the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel or all travel), so make sure you check your policy wording and the relevant country travel advice pages for updates when booking your trip and buying insurance.

What you will be doing

If you will be taking part in certain sports or leisure activities you may need to top-up your cover or buy a specialist policy. See Adventure and sports activities.

What you’re taking

Your household contents insurance or other policies may cover loss of items you take away from home. If you have travel insurance as part of a bank account/credit card, this may already provide some cover for your possessions. In all cases, check the travel insurance policy limits and excesses are appropriate for the value of possessions you are taking on holiday. If you’re taking a number of high-value possessions, specialist mobile phone/gadget insurance may be more suitable as they typically provide higher cover limits.

All insurance policies say that you must take care of your belongings at all times. If you don’t, the policy may not pay out. Take as much care of your property as if it were uninsured.

You should report any loss to the police within 24 hours. Proof of notification will be required when you make your claim.

How many people you’re travelling with

If you’re travelling with others, a family or group policy may be suitable. When buying insurance on behalf of others, it’s important that you have access to any relevant medical details that you may be asked about. Some policies will apply an excess for each person when making a claim, so check the policy terms.

The cost of cancellation

If you’re booking an expensive holiday in advance, you may want the security of knowing you will be able to recover the costs if you’re unable to travel. Read through the circumstances where cancellation cover is provided, check that it meets the full cost of your holiday and look for any excesses.

Insurance can allow you to claim unused travel and accommodation costs that you are unable to recover elsewhere. When travelling at short notice, on a low cost holiday or with a flexible ticket, you may decide that you do not need cancellation cover at all.

If your trip is cancelled or significantly delayed, you may be entitled to compensation from the airline or a refund from the travel provider.

It’s still important to have emergency medical cover. If your trip is dependent upon the health of a non-travelling relative, you may need to answer questions about their medical history and pay to top up the cover.

What your travel insurance policy should cover

Health and medical emergencies

This is possibly the most important part of any travel insurance policy. If you do not take out adequate insurance, you will have to pay the costs of any emergency yourself.

A medical emergency in another country can be very expensive, for example:

  • £100,000: a stomach bug or infection treated in a hospital in the USA with return flights
  • £100,000: a stroke in south-east Asia, with emergency treatment and medical repatriation to the UK
  • £25,000: a moped accident in Greece, with surgery and repatriation to the UK
  • £15,000: a fall in Spain, resulting in a broken hip, hospital treatment and flights

Your travel insurance should cover:

  • emergency treatment and hospital bills, which can be expensive. Check whether your policy covers treatment in public or private hospitals.
  • emergency transport, such as ambulance fees or emergency repatriation on medical grounds
  • getting home after treatment if you cannot use your original ticket
  • reasonable costs for a family member or friend to stay with you or travel out to accompany you home if required
  • temporary emergency dental treatment for the relief of immediate pain
  • 24-hour assistance helplines to offer support and advice about appropriate treatment
  • repatriation costs in the event of death abroad

Before you travel, make sure you declare any pre-existing medical conditions to your insurer and answer questions about your medical history in full. See Policy exclusions.

If you have difficulty finding cover for reasons associated with a medical condition, you can contact a specialist provider.

If you are travelling in the European Economic Area or Switzerland, before 31 December 2020, you can apply for and continue to use your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) during this time, as you did before. The EHIC gives you the right to access emergency state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in those countries.

Remember that the EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. It will not cover any private medical healthcare or costs, such as mountain rescue in ski resorts, being flown back to the UK, or lost or stolen property. It is not valid on cruises.

See Travel to the EU

Adventure and sports activities

If you will be taking part in certain sports or leisure activities, check your policy carefully to make sure you are covered for each specific activity. You may need to top-up your cover or buy a specialist policy.

Winter sports and more extreme sports such as bungee jumping, jet skiing, or skydiving are not typically included in standard policies.

Use of quad bikes is typically not covered.

Travel to the EU

There are no changes to the rules on travelling to the EU before the transition period ends on 31 December 2020.

If you are travelling in the European Economic Area or Switzerland during this time, you can apply for and continue to use your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), as you did before. The EHIC gives you the right to access emergency state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in those countries.

Check for the latest information on European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) online, or by phone on 0300 330 1350.

Remember that the EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. It will not cover any private medical healthcare or costs, such as mountain rescue in ski resorts, being flown back to the UK, or lost or stolen property. It is not valid on cruises.

You should make sure your travel insurance covers your healthcare needs.

When taking out travel insurance you should also check:

  • the level of healthcare cover it includes
  • the travel disruption cover it includes
  • the terms and conditions

Contact your insurer if you have any questions about your travel cover.

Policy extras

Some policies will also include or offer the following cover for you to consider:

Personal liability

Provides cover if you accidentally cause an injury to someone or damage their property and they choose to sue you.

Personal accident cover – disability and death

Some travel insurance policies can cover a personal accident payment made for permanent disability or death.

Lost baggage on flights

Do not rely on compensation from an airline if it loses your luggage. By law, airlines only have to pay a specified minimum value per kilo of lost luggage. This is unlikely to cover the full value of your possessions.

Legal expenses cover helps you to pursue compensation or damages following personal injury while you’re abroad – this is particularly relevant in countries without a legal aid system.

Adjustable excess

Under the terms of many insurance policies, you will need to cover a set amount of your costs yourself (an ‘excess’) before your insurer will pay towards your claim. You may be able to pay an extra premium to reduce or remove the excess when you take out your policy.

Policy exclusions

Read through your policy documents carefully before you travel to make sure you understand any applicable exclusions. Some common exclusions include:

Undeclared medical conditions or treatment

If you fall ill during your trip and have not declared a pre-existing medical condition to your insurer, even if seemingly unrelated, you may not be covered. Make sure you answer all questions about your medical history in full when you take out a policy, and tell your insurer about any changes in your health before you travel.

This may still apply if you’re receiving or waiting for medical tests or treatment for an undiagnosed condition or set of symptoms when you travel. Check your policy wording carefully and contact your insurer before you travel if you’re unsure.

Some policies may exclude cover for treatment related to a mental health condition. See foreign travel advice for people with mental health issues for more guidance on mental health and travel.

Alcohol and drugs

Most travel insurance policies exclude cover for events that happen after excessive alcohol consumption or if you have taken recreational drugs or other substances.

Terrorist acts

Most policies offer only limited cover for terrorist acts. As a minimum, make sure your policy covers you for emergency medical expenses and repatriation in the event you are caught up in a terrorist attack.

Some travel insurers offer add-ons to their policies to provide additional cover in the event of a terrorist attack in your destination. This may include cover for cancellation if your destination is affected by a terrorist attack before your trip and you decide you no longer wish to travel.

Other incidents

Some policies may only offer limited cover for claims related to or caused by a natural disaster (such as an earthquake or tropical cyclone) or civil unrest.

You may also not be covered for some claims that arise from an incident (such as strikes or other industrial action) that was known publicly at the time you booked your trip and/or took out your travel insurance policy. Check your policy for full information.

Some insurance policies do not provide cover when airlines or suppliers go out of business. Take steps to protect yourself by choosing an ATOL protected holiday or a travel insurance policy that includes airline or supplier failure cover. See more information about ATOL below.

Travel insurance after starting travel or changing your plans

You should always arrange insurance before you begin your travel. If, after you begin travel, you find your insurance has expired or you have forgotten to buy insurance, you may be able to buy specialist insurance in this situation. This depends on your circumstances at the time, including whether you are already intending to make a claim. A waiting period may be applied to your policy which prevents you from making a claim immediately. See contacts for specialist insurance providers.

If you change your plans after taking out a travel insurance policy or when you are already abroad (for example, if you extend your stay or add an extra destination to your itinerary), check your insurance policy carefully to make sure you’re still fully covered. If you’re unsure, it’s best to contact your insurer for more information. If you don’t have definitive travel plans, an annual policy which covers all eventualities may be a safer option.

Insurance for temporary and permanent residents overseas

For temporary residents overseas, ‘long-stay’ travel insurance may be available to cover extended periods of continuous travel. You should carefully check the maximum duration allowed under any policy you consider buying to ensure that it meets your needs.

You should also make sure that the entire policy meets your needs, including specific activities and employment (paid or unpaid) that you may undertake during your stay. See contacts above for further advice and details of specialist providers.

Travel insurance is not intended for permanent residence overseas. If you’re living overseas permanently, or planning to move to a different country, you should consider your insurance needs carefully. Private medical insurance for UK expatriates is available. There may also be requirements under local law to have medical insurance.

You can also buy insurance from local providers overseas. In all cases you should check policies carefully, including consideration of whether medical cover can be transferred in the event that you re-locate to other countries in future. See contacts at the end of this guidance for further advice and details of specialist providers.

Details of how the FCO can provide support to British nationals when things go wrong abroad are outlined in the publication Support for British Nationals Abroad. Note that the FCO does not pay medical bills or fund medical repatriation to the UK.

Making a travel insurance claim

When you travel, make sure you take details of your insurance policy with you, including your policy number and the emergency assistance telephone number provided by your insurer. Give a copy of your policy details to the people you’re travelling with and friends or family back home, in case they need to contact your insurance company on your behalf in an emergency.

Medical emergencies and treatment

If you become ill or suffer an injury during your trip and need medical treatment, you should contact your insurer as soon as possible. Most major insurers have dedicated emergency assistance teams who can advise policyholders on the nearest suitable medical provider and start processing your claim.

Healthcare systems differ across the world, with both public and private hospitals available in many countries. Depending on the country you’re in, the treatment you need and the travel insurance cover you have, treatment in either a public or private facility may be more appropriate. Check your policy documents and contact your insurer if you need more information and advice. Information on healthcare is also available within the Health section of each FCO travel advice country page.

To ensure treatment is provided as quickly as possible, your insurer may expect you to pay costs for any minor treatments upfront (usually up to £500) and then submit a claim at a later date. Make sure you keep any receipts or relevant paperwork for your claim. If you’re unable to make these payments, contact your insurer for advice.

There have been isolated reports of some medical providers advising customers they must pay large medical bills upfront and/or refusing treatment until payment is made. If you are covered by valid travel insurance for the treatment you need, this should not normally be necessary. If you have any concerns, contact your insurer for further advice. If you need urgent consular assistance while abroad, contact the nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate.

Other claims

If you need to make a claim on your travel insurance on your return home, make sure you keep receipts and any other paperwork that shows what happened and any costs incurred.

If you’ve been a victim of crime and want to make a claim on your travel insurance, you may need to report the crime to the police before you leave the country and provide a crime report as part of your claim. See guidance for victims of crime abroad.

Citizens Advice and the Money Advice Service have also published helpful tips and advice on making a travel insurance claim.

Other financial protection

Financial protection for travel

Some forms of travel must, by law, include protection in case the business providing the travel becomes insolvent before you have completed it. The main areas are as follows.

  • UK travel businesses that are not licensed airlines or their agents must provide financial protection, either from ATOL (if the sale includes a flight) or by other means (if it does not). This also applies to non-European travel businesses selling in the UK.
  • European travel businesses that are not licensed airlines or their agents must provide financial protection according to the arrangements made in the country in which they are based.
  • Travel agents which are selling holidays as the agent of a travel business do not have to provide financial protection – the travel business’s protection arrangements will apply.
  • Licensed airlines do not have to provide financial protection for their sales of seats. If they sell a package they must provide financial protection.
  • Travel agents which are selling just airline seats as the agent of an airline do not have to provide financial protection.

Where there is no protection by law, you may want to consider whether you make sure you get protection yourself, by insurance or by paying by credit or debit card.

If you pay the airline directly by debit card, you may be able to claim a refund from the bank of what you paid. If you pay it by credit card, you may be able to claim a refund plus any consequential costs from the credit card provider. You should note that:

  • those protections may not apply if you paid an agent rather than the airline, or if you paid a non-UK company
  • there is no protection in respect of cash payments or direct bank transfers. Some other internet payment companies also provide their own financial protection schemes.

Financial protection for package holidays

You need to know that your package holiday is protected against the travel organiser’s insolvency. This includes protection for services not performed and prompt repatriation if the travel organiser goes bankrupt whilst you are on holiday.

If you have booked a package holiday from a UK established business or a business established outside of the European Economic Area (EEA), which is a combination of 2 or more travel services (such as flights and accommodation), you will be protected by the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018. The Regulations require businesses selling package holidays to have insolvency protection through the ATOL scheme for holidays including flights. For holidays that do not include flights, protection is provided through three options – Bonding or Insurance or Trust account.

If you bought your package holiday from a travel business established in an EEA country other than the UK, you protection will be provided under the arrangements made by that country.

You should make sure that you are provided with clear information, including on the level of insolvency protection, before you buy. Your package travel organiser will be able to provide that information to you.

You can check Citizens Advice guidance on cancelling a package holiday and claiming compensation for a holiday.

Air Travel Organiser’s Licensing (ATOL)

ATOL is a consumer protection scheme for air holidays and flight, managed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

How ATOL protects you

The scheme protects you from losing money or being stranded abroad when an ATOL holder goes out of business.

The law says your holiday must be protected if it is a package holiday. ATOL protects most air package holidays sold by travel businesses that are based in the UK. ATOLs are only issued after a firm has met the CAA’s criteria. Licensed travel firms must also contribute £2.50 for each person booked on an ATOL protected holiday to a financial protection fund controlled by the Air Travel Trust (ATT). In the event of an ATOL travel firm’s failure, the CAA uses the fund to ensure people abroad are able to finish their holidays and fly home, while those unable to travel on future bookings are able to receive a refund.

How you can get ATOL protection

When you make a package holiday booking that includes a flight, make sure the travel firm has a licence. Firms have to display their ATOL number on websites and in brochures.

When you book, the ATOL holder or their agent must provide an ATOL Certificate confirming you are ATOL protected immediately when you pay any money (even a deposit). This should include the name of the licensed firm you’ve booked with, their ATOL number and details of what’s protected. Take these documents with you when you travel.

You will not be protected by ATOL if you:

  • are not buying a package holiday from an ATOL holder or its appointed travel agent
  • buy a Linked Travel Arrangement (LTA). This is where a business “facilitates” the sale of two or more travel services (e.g. a flight and hotel booking) but does so in a way that it is not classed as a package. If a travel business sells an LTA, it must inform you that this is the case and what protection you may have
  • buy your flight and accommodation separately from different suppliers, such as an airline and a hotel company

You can check whether a business holds an ATOL on the CAA website.

More information and help finding specialist insurance

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has published a guide on choosing the right travel insurance policy.

If you need help finding a suitable policy for your trip, contact the British Insurance Brokers’ Association or use their online Find a Broker service, which includes contacts for specialist insurance for a wide range of requirements.

Members of the Association of Travel Insurance Intermediaries (ATII) provide a wide range of travel insurance, including specialist travel insurance. ATII members can be contacted directly. Their details are on the ATII website.

The Money Advice Service provides guidance on how to choose the right level of cover, get the best deal, and how to make a travel insurance claim. They also have specific guidance for travellers over the age of 65 or with pre-existing medical conditions.

Complaints about services

For questions or complaints about travel insurance, you should contact your insurance provider in the first instance. Check your policy documents or your insurer’s website for details on how to submit a question or complaint.

If you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). The FOS website includes an online quick message service to help you get started.

Published 22 March 2013
Last updated 3 July 2020 
Share this article