Foreign travel insurance

If you’re travelling abroad, it’s important to take out appropriate travel insurance before you go.

If you travel internationally you should buy appropriate travel insurance before you go. If you already have a travel insurance policy, check what cover it provides for coronavirus-related events, including medical treatment and travel disruption, and any planned activities such as adventure sports. 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 expenses, including medical treatment, which may cost thousands of pounds.

For example:

Situation Cost
If you fall in Spain and break your leg, you will need hospital treatment and flights £15, 000
If you have a quad bike accident in Greece, and you need surgery and flights back to the UK £30, 000
If you have a stomach bug or infection treated in a hospital in the USA and need new return flights £100, 000

You should buy your travel insurance as soon as possible after booking your trip. Read the small print, and familiarise yourself with any exclusion clauses for the policy.

When you travel, make sure you take your insurance policy details with you, including the policy number and your insurer’s emergency assistance telephone number. Share your policy details with people you’re travelling with and friends or family at home, in case they need to contact your insurance company on your behalf.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) represents over 200 insurance companies. Read ABI’s advice on travel insurance, including how COVID-19 can affect it, and their guide on choosing the right travel insurance policy.

In addition to making sure you have appropriate insurance, you should check and sign up to travel advice for your destination.

What to consider when you buy travel insurance for you and your family

  • emergency treatment and hospital bills can be expensive. Check whether your policy covers treatment in public or private hospitals
  • emergency transport, such as an ambulance, is often charged separately to other medical expenses, and emergency travel home on medical grounds can also be expensive
  • pre-existing medical conditions: declare existing conditions or pending treatment or tests so that you are covered if anyone gets ill during your trip. Failing to declare something may invalidate your travel insurance
  • all activities you may undertake on holiday, such as sports or adventure tourism (you may need specialist insurance for some activities). Also consider all the places you intend to visit, even if you are in transit, in case anyone needs emergency treatment in another country
  • cruises generally require an additional level of cover because it is more difficult to get to hospital for treatment. Check the booking conditions of the operator you plan to sail with
  • repatriation costs if you or a family member die abroad
  • getting home after medical 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
  • 24-hour assistance helplines to offer support and advice about appropriate treatment
  • COVID 19 cover for if you or family members cannot travel to the UK because you/they test positive for COVID during your travel. Check your insurance covers additional costs such as alternative flights, accommodation and COVID tests. You should also check your insurance provides cover if you cannot reach your final destination during transit due to COVID-19
  • within Europe, some insurers may waive any excess on medical treatment if you use a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). Check the terms of your policy or contact your insurer to see if this is the case. EHIC and GHIC allow you to access state-provided medically necessary healthcare within the EU and Switzerland on the same terms as residents of these countries. Note that EHIC and GHIC are not alternatives to travel insurance as they do not cover any private medical healthcare costs, repatriation or additional costs such as mountain rescue in ski resorts. Find out more about the EHIC and GHIC, including how to apply for one free of charge
  • ATOL is a consumer protection scheme for air holidays and flights, managed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Some insurance policies do not provide cover for when airlines or suppliers go out of business. Choose an ATOL-protected holiday or a travel insurance policy that includes airline or supplier failure cover

Policy exclusions

Check how an insurance policy covers:

  • alcohol and drugs: most travel insurance policies do not cover events that happen after you have drunk excessive alcohol or taken recreational drugs or other substances
  • high risk destinations: many travel insurance policies will not cover travel to a high risk destination where the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advises against all but essential travel or all travel. Check your policy wording and the relevant country travel advice pages before booking your trip and buying insurance
  • mental health conditions: some policies may exclude cover for treatment related to a pre-existing mental health condition. For more guidance see foreign travel advice for people with mental health issues
  • age restrictions: check whether there are any age-related restrictions if you are buying an annual policy. The Money Advice Service provides guidance on how to choose the right level of cover, get the best deal, and make a travel insurance claim. It also has specific guidance for travellers over the age of 65 or with pre-existing medical conditions
  • sports such as bungee jumping, jet skiing, winter sports or skydiving: these are not usually included in standard policies. Use of quad bikes and hire of mopeds is also usually not covered
  • driving overseas: check Driving abroad. If you’re hiring a car, check what cover the hire company provides. If you are driving your own vehicle, check your motor insurance policy to see what it covers
  • 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 travel home if you are caught up in a terrorist attack. Some travel insurers offer policy add-ons to provide additional cover if there is a terrorist attack in your destination. This may include cancellation cover, 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 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 when you booked your trip and/or bought your travel insurance policy

Insurance for extended periods of travel

‘Long-stay’ travel insurance can cover extended periods of continuous travel. Check carefully the maximum duration allowed in any policy you consider buying to ensure that it meets your needs.

Make sure that the entire policy meets your needs, including specific activities and work (paid or unpaid) you may undertake.

Insurance if you live abroad or go for work or study

Travel insurance is not intended for permanent residence abroad. If you live overseas, or you’re planning to move to a different country to live, work or study, you should consider your insurance needs carefully. Local law may require you to have medical insurance, including as part of a visa application.

Read the healthcare guidance in the Living in guide for the country where you live to ensure you have the right healthcare arrangements for your circumstances.

You can buy private medical insurance for UK expatriates. You can also buy insurance from local providers overseas. You should always check policies carefully, including seeing whether you could transfer medical cover if you re-locate to other countries in future.

Support for British nationals abroad

Support for British Nationals Abroad explains how the FCDO can provide support to British nationals if things go wrong abroad.

Published 22 March 2013
Last updated 3 December 2021 
Share this article