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This section aims to help you buy travel insurance if you have or have had cancer. It may also be useful if you need to help someone else in this situation.
Getting travel insurance can be more difficult when you have or have had cancer, so it’s a good idea to start looking as soon as you can. Ideally, you should start looking for insurance before you book your holiday. It can be more difficult to get insurance to travel to some countries, particularly the USA, or for certain types of holidays, such as a cruise.
Our section on travel and cancer| has more information about the problems that people affected by cancer commonly face when planning a trip or travelling.
Please note, Macmillan Cancer Support cannot guarantee that you will be able to get travel insurance. We do not endorse any travel insurance product, offer travel insurance, recommend any broker or insurance company, or undertake searches to find companies or brokers. All companies and brokers listed in this section| are included following recommendations from people affected by cancer.
Insurance is a way of protecting yourself and your belongings against unexpected events. Under the terms and conditions of your policy, an insurance company agrees to pay out if the event that you’re insuring against actually happens.
Getting travel insurance is important if you’re going to travel overseas, but the decision to buy cover is a personal one. When you make your decision, you should think about all the risks associated with travelling, including cancellation of the holiday or loss of baggage, as well as health-related issues.
When a company considers whether or not it’s able to offer you a travel insurance policy and at what price, it assesses what kind of risk you pose. It will ask you a set of questions to find out how likely it is that you will make a claim and the likely cost of that claim. For travel insurance, this is normally calculated using the following factors:
Once you’ve answered those questions, the company will decide how much risk it is prepared to take if it insures you. This is called the underwriting process. The company will also look at how many claims it has received overall. These may not be related to cancer. For example, an event such as an earthquake may affect a company’s attitude to the types of insurance it provides.
The amount of money you need to pay for travel insurance is called the premium. Any kind of insurance premium you pay forms a pool of money. The more likely you are to claim from this pool, the more you’ll be asked to contribute to it. The whole process may seem impersonal, but the company is assessing and pricing the possibility of you making a claim on any policy it may offer you.
Insurers may apply an excess to a travel insurance policy. The excess is the amount you will need to pay towards any claim - for example, if you make a successful claim for £250 and the excess on the policy is £50, the insurer will pay out £200.
Some insurers charge a separate excess for each section of the policy, such as the sections that cover personal injury or loss of belongings. Other policies charge just one excess per claim, which can work out cheaper. Whether you’re charged an excess, and how much it is, will depend on which company you’re insured by.
If you have health problems, such as cancer, most insurers will regard this as a ‘pre-existing condition’. Each company will have a different view of the increased risk you represent. If you’re having cancer treatment, or if you’re terminally ill, you may find it difficult to get cover.
The likelihood of you cancelling your holiday because of illness is a major factor insurance companies consider when deciding whether they’ll cover you. It may also affect the price they quote you. Another factor is the cost of treatment, especially in the USA where treatment is more expensive.
For this reason, if you’ve been unwell recently, or if you’ve had to visit the hospital several times in the last year, you may wish to apply directly to a specialist broker. They will be prepared to look at your circumstances in more detail. If you’re well and your cancer experience was several years ago, some insurance companies may choose to ignore your illness and give you a ‘standard’ price for your insurance cover. We have contact details of some specialist and general insurance companies|, which may help you find travel insurance.
Even if you and your doctor think you are well enough to travel, an insurer may not be willing to take on the risk of you making a claim. However, it’s still important to consult your doctor to make sure you’re medically fit to travel.
When you approach companies you may be presented with a number of options. Insurance companies may decide to:
Whatever your circumstances, it may be helpful to prepare for your search by having certain information to hand. You may be asked some difficult or upsetting questions, for example about the likely outcome of your cancer (the prognosis). So you may want to contact only a couple of insurance companies at a time.
You may be asked these kinds of questions to help an insurance company decide whether it needs to ask you for more medical information.
Your answers will give an insurer the information they need to decide what cover they are prepared to offer you and the price they will charge. Once you’ve spoken to a few companies about your situation, you may be able to decide whether a specialist or general company is a better option for you.
The lists below include many of the things an insurance company will want to know. But they may ask other questions too.
A company may ask if you have a pre-existing medical condition, such as cancer. If your answer is ‘yes’, you’re likely to be asked more questions about this. Some companies call this their ‘medical screening process’.
An insurance company may ask you the following questions:
A typical telephone medical screening process will take 5-10 minutes. If you have or have had other conditions as well as cancer, you may be asked similar questions about these. You should be aware that if you don’t disclose information you could reasonably be expected to know when you buy a policy, any claim you make could be refused.
Different companies assess the results in different ways, and they will probably vary in the level of cover they’re willing to provide. For this reason, it can be worth shopping around for travel insurance or getting advice from an insurance broker|. Brokers don’t supply insurance directly, but they can look around on your behalf.
Some companies and brokers specialise in providing insurance for people with medical problems. Their prices vary - some may be very expensive and cost thousands of pounds, but others are much cheaper.
Some companies will ask for a letter from your doctor that says you’re well enough to travel. Some GPs will charge you if the travel insurance company contacts them to ask for a letter, so it’s often best if you ask your doctor for the letter yourself. It may save time if you get the letter before contacting insurance companies|.
If you need to take any special medical equipment with you on holiday, make sure that your insurance will cover this.
If you already have a policy - for example, a policy attached to your bank account - you may be required to tell the company if you have a long-term health condition. This includes a cancer diagnosis. The company may decide not to insure you anymore because of this. If you have such a policy, it’s important to read the terms and conditions carefully.
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles UK residents to free or reduced-cost emergency treatment when temporarily visiting the European Union (EU) and certain other European countries.
You will get the same care as the people who live in the country you’re visiting, which may not be the same as the care you’d expect to get from the NHS.
Some countries expect you to pay your bill when you’re treated and then claim a refund with your EHIC. You should try to apply for a refund before you return to the UK.
The EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. It will not cover any private medical costs, travelling to a country for health treatment, medical evacuation or help getting back to the UK.
You can apply for an EHIC:
Your card will normally arrive within seven days. The EHIC is free and renewals are also free, so you should avoid any websites that charge to apply for an EHIC or renew it on your behalf.
More information about the EHIC and health advice for travellers can be found on the NHS Choices website|. The website lists the countries that are covered by the EHIC, as well as non-EU countries that have mutual agreements to provide health services to visitors from the UK.
The EHIC and some travel insurance policies won’t pay to transport you back home in an emergency (repatriation). A company called Swiss Assist| offers a service where it will fly you home in an ambulance jet, if required, for an annual membership fee. They cover Europe and some other countries. More information can be found on the website.
Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Your travel plans might go wrong or you may become ill. Make sure you take the insurance policy document and helpline number with you on your trip. If you become sick or injured while you’re abroad, you should:
If you have taken out a policy and are unhappy with the way you have been treated or with the way your claim has been handled, you should contact your insurer. All insurers have a complaints procedure and will explain what happens next. Carrying out the following steps can help get problems sorted out more quickly:
If you still think you’re being treated unfairly, you can have your case referred to the Financial Ombudsman Service. This is a free, independent service for consumers and an informal alternative to going to court.
The Ombudsman will decide if your complaint is valid by looking at the facts of the case, and insurers must obey its decisions. Any complaints must be submitted in writing and by post.
You can also find impartial information and guidance about financial services from the Money Advice Service, which is provided by the Consumer Financial Education Body.
Tel 0800 023 4567 (for landlines) or 0300 123 9 123 (for mobile phones) (Mon-Fri, 8am-8pm, Sat, 9am-1pm)
Can call you back if you’re concerned about the cost of the call.
Tel 0300 500 5000 (Mon-Fri, 8am–8pm, Sat, 9am-1pm)
Typetalk 18001 0300 500 5000
In our online community we're always looking to discuss the issues that are important to you. Have a look at our blog to find out about the information that can help you with your travel planning.
This section has been compiled using information from a number of reliable resources, including:
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2013
Next planned review: 2015
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
For useful tips and guidance on insurance issues use our short and confidential finance guide.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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