Getting travel insurance when you have been affected by cancer
This section gives some general information about getting travel insurance. We also have a list of insurance companies that people affected by cancer have recommended to us.
Because getting travel insurance can be more difficult when you have or have had cancer, it’s worth looking for cover as soon as possible. You should ideally start looking before you book your holiday. It can be harder to get insurance to travel to some countries, particularly the USA. It can also be harder to get insurance 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 often experience when planning a trip or travelling.
Please note that we cannot guarantee you will be able to get travel insurance. People affected by cancer have recommended the companies and brokers listed in this section. But when one person has a good experience with a company, another person may have a bad one. We do not endorse insurance companies and brokers or their products, or search for them. And we do not provide travel insurance.
You might be travelling for business, to visit family, or for a well-deserved break. Hopefully your trip will go well. But there’s always a risk that unexpected events will happen when you go away. For example, you may:
need medical treatment
lose your luggage
need to cancel the holiday.
Travel insurance gives you financial protection if events like these happen.
If something happens that is covered by your travel insurance, the insurance company will pay you back for any related costs. Or in some cases they may pay the cost directly, for example to a health service provider.
Having travel insurance is important if you are travelling abroad. But the decision about whether to buy travel insurance is a personal one. When making decisions about this, you should think carefully about the risks to your health and belongings that come with travelling.
How travel insurance works
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Travel insurance companies will try to predict how likely you are to make a claim.
They will usually do this by asking you some questions when you first contact them. They will then use your answers to estimate how likely you are to claim, and how much that claim might cost them.
Travel insurance companies will generally ask about:
your age (and the age of anyone else who would be covered by the insurance)
where you are going
how long you are going for
whether you have any activities planned (for example, winter sports)
whether you have any health conditions.
The more likely the company thinks you are to claim, the more it will ask you to pay for travel insurance. 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.
Premiums and excess payments
The premium is the amount of money you need to pay for travel insurance.
Insurers may apply an excess to a travel insurance policy. This is the amount you will need to pay towards any claim. For example, if the excess on the policy is £50 and you make a successful claim for £250, you will pay £50 and the insurer will pay £200.
Travel insurance policies have different sections covering different events, such as personal injury or losing your belongings. Depending on your insurance company and its policies, there may either be:
a single excess charge for any claim you make
separate excess charges for each section of the policy when you claim.
It can work out cheaper if there is one excess per claim.
Why getting travel insurance can be difficult if you have cancer
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When you already have a health problem before buying travel insurance, travel insurance companies call this a pre-existing medical condition.
Depending on the insurance company and your situation, they may charge you more, or in some cases not insure you, because you have a pre-existing medical condition.
Each company will have a different view of whether they can insure you and how much it will cost. If you are currently having cancer treatment, or if you are terminally ill, you may find it particularly difficult to get cover.
When deciding whether to cover you and how much to charge, insurance companies will try to predict:
how likely you are to cancel your holiday due to illness
the potential cost of treatment you might have abroad, especially in the USA where treatment is more expensive.
If you’ve been unwell recently or have had to visit the hospital several times in the last year, you may wish to apply directly to a specialist broker that can look for travel insurance on your behalf. The broker 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.
It’s important to speak to your doctor to make sure you are medically fit to travel. Even if they agree that you’re well enough to travel, an insurer may not be willing to take on the risk of you making a claim.
We have contact details of some specialist and general insurance companies. These may help you find travel insurance.
What insurance companies may offer
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When you approach companies you may be presented with a number of options. Insurance companies may decide to:
offer you travel insurance at their standard price
offer you travel insurance with a higher premium because you have or have had cancer
apply an excess
give you travel insurance, but with a ‘cancer-related exclusion’ - this means that you would not get cover for a claim that is related to your cancer (if you take any type of exclusion, you should make sure you understand exactly what you are and are not covered for)
not offer you travel insurance at all.
Buying travel insurance - a checklist
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It will make your search easier if you have certain information ready when you start looking for travel insurance.
The insurance company may ask some difficult or upsetting questions. For example, the company may ask about the likely outcome of your cancer (the prognosis). It may do this so it can decide whether it needs to ask you for more medical information.
Depending on how you feel about being asked these questions, you may want to contact only a couple of insurance companies at a time.
There are companies that specialise in insuring people with health conditions, and there are general insurance companies. Once you’ve spoken to a few companies about your situation, you may be able to decide which type is a better option for you.
Below, we’ve listed some of the things an insurance company will want to know, so you know what to have ready when you contact them. They may ask other questions too.
The names and ages of all the people you want to be insured by the policy. Some insurance companies will insist that family or friends travelling with you are insured on the same policy.
Your address and contact details.
Information about your trip
The country you’re visiting, and the length and type of journey you plan to take. If you have a choice about where you travel, you may want to consider visiting Europe rather than North America because the travel insurance could be cheaper.
How long you plan to stay abroad.
How far in advance you’re booking your trip. Some companies will charge you a higher premium if it’s a long time until your trip. This is because they believe there could be a higher risk of you making a claim for cancellation.
Any activities you’ll be doing that might be considered a higher risk, such as winter sports.
An insurance company may ask whether you have a pre-existing medical condition, such as cancer. If your answer is ‘yes’, you are 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:
How long ago were you diagnosed with cancer?
Where is/was your cancer?
Has your cancer spread? If yes, where has it spread to?
Are you having treatment or taking any medication at the moment?
Have you had any surgery for cancer before?
Do you have any planned treatment for cancer? If so, when?
How many times have you seen a doctor (GP or cancer specialist) about your cancer? Some companies may ask you about the last time you visited your doctor for any reason, not just about visits related to your cancer. For example, if you’re going for check-ups to make sure you stay well, some companies may consider you a higher risk to insure.
What symptoms or side effects do you have now?
How advanced is your cancer? Some companies will ask you about your prognosis. This can be an upsetting question to answer, but prognosis may be one of the criteria that a company uses to decide who to cover.
A medical screening process over the phone usually takes 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 tell the company 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 of the medical screening process in different ways. They will probably also differ in how much cover they’ll offer you. For this reason, it can be worth comparing offers from different travel insurance companies or getting advice from an insurance broker. Brokers don’t supply insurance themselves, but they can search for it on your behalf.
Some insurance 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.
‘Fit for travel’ letter from your doctor
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.
Taking medical equipment abroad
If you need to take any special medical equipment with you on holiday, make sure your insurance will cover this.
You may already have a travel insurance policy, for example a policy attached to your bank account. If you do, you may be required to tell the company if you have a pre-existing medical condition. This includes a cancer diagnosis. The company may decide not to insure you any more because of this. If you have a policy like this, it’s important to read the terms and conditions carefully.
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
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The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles UK residents to free or reduced-cost emergency treatment when they’re temporarily visiting countries in the European Economic Area or Switzerland.
You will get the same care as the people who live in the country you’re visiting. This 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.
Applying for an EHIC
You can apply for an EHIC:
online at nhs.uk/ehic
by post using an application form you’ve downloaded from the website
by phoning the automated EHIC application service on 0300 330 1350.
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 you to apply for an EHIC or to renew it for you.
You can find more information about the EHIC and health advice for travellers online at the NHS Choices website if you live in England, Scotland or Wales, or at NI Direct if you live in Northern Ireland. Through these websites you can find out about 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.
Repatriation means being transported home in an emergency. The EHIC and some travel insurance policies will not pay for this.
A company called Swiss Assist offers a service where it will fly you home in an ambulance jet if needed. It charges a fortnightly, monthly or annual membership fee. It covers Europe and some other countries.
If something goes wrong
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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:
seek medical care and contact your travel insurance company as soon as possible - they may be able to help you find appropriate care
check whether you’re in a country covered by the EHIC card - if you are, take the card with you to the medical care provider
contact your tour representative if you’re travelling on a package tour
contact your national embassy if you’re admitted to hospital, as it may be able to help you (you can find contact details on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website).
If you’ve taken out a policy, occasionally you might be unhappy with the way you’ve been treated. Or if you’ve made a claim, you might be unhappy with the way it’s been handled. In these situations, you should contact your insurer.
All insurers have a complaints procedure. Once you’ve contacted them, they’ll explain what happens next. Following these steps can help you get problems sorted out more quickly:
Contact the person you originally dealt with. If they can’t help, say you want to take matters further. Ask for details of the official complaints procedure and find out who will be handling your complaint.
It may help to put your complaint in writing. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, you could ask a family member, friend or carer to help you. You could also contact an organisation such as Citizens Advice.
If you’re making your complaint in writing, write ‘complaint’ at the top of your letter. Make sure you include important details such as your customer, policy or account number.
You can also make your complaint by phone, but make sure you ask for the name of the person you speak to and their job title. Keep a note of this, along with the date and time of your call. Write down details of the conversation. You may need to refer to this later.
Try to stay calm and polite, however angry or upset you are. This will help you explain your complaint as clearly and effectively as possible.
Keep things brief and to the point. Set out the facts clearly and in a logical order. Say why you’re not happy and what you want the insurance company to do about it. This will make it easier for them to look into the problem and sort things out.
Send copies of any relevant paperwork you think will support your case. Keep a copy of any letters between you and the insurance company. You may need to refer to them later.
Don’t expect immediate results. It may take time for some complaints to be investigated properly and resolved. By law, the company you’re complaining about has up to eight weeks to sort out the complaint itself.
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 whether your complaint is valid by looking at the facts of the case. Insurers must obey its decisions. Any complaints must be submitted to the Ombudsman by post. You can also find impartial information and guidance about financial services from the Money Advice Service.
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This section has been compiled using information from a number of reliable resources, including: