Getting travel insurance when you have been affected by cancer
This section gives some general information about getting travel insurance. It also includes a list of insurance companies that people affected by cancer have recommended.
It can be difficult to get travel insurance if you have cancer, or if you’ve had cancer before. So it’s best to look for travel insurance as early as possible. Ideally, you should start looking before booking your holiday.
It’s useful to know that travel insurance can be more expensive depending on where you’re going. The USA and countries in the Caribbean usually cost the most. Certain types of holiday, such as cruises can also be more expensive.
Our section on travel and cancer gives information about planning a trip or travelling when you have cancer. You can also talk to our financial guides.
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.
What is travel insurance?
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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 something might go wrong when you’re away.
For example, you may:
need emergency medical treatment
lose your luggage
need to cancel your holiday
need to return home early.
Travel insurance may give you financial protection if these kinds of things happen. This means that if something goes wrong and it’s covered by your travel insurance, the insurance company will pay you back for any related money you have had to spend.
Or in some cases, they may pay the cost directly, for example to a health service provider.
It’s important to have travel insurance if you’re going abroad. But the decision about whether to buy travel insurance and what type of cover to get is a personal one. You should think carefully about the risks to your health and belongings when making these decisions.
How travel insurance works
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Travel insurance companies will try to predict how likely you are to make a claim.
They usually do this by asking you some questions when you first contact them. They will then use your answers to work out how likely you are to claim and how much that claim might cost them. They will also use their experience of previous claims.
Travel insurance companies will generally ask:
your age and the age of anyone else who would be covered by the insurance
where you’re going
how long you’re going for
whether you have any activities planned – for example, extreme sports
whether you have, or have had, 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 not seem very personal, 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.
An excess is the amount you may need to pay towards any claim.
Insurers apply these charges to some insurance policies.
You may need to pay the insurer an excess before you receive any money from a claim. Or the insurer may take this money off the final amount it pays out. For example, if the excess on the policy is £50 and you make a successful claim for £250, the insurer may pay you £200.
Travel insurance policies have different sections covering different events. For example, there may be a section about what might happen if you are injured. Another section may only apply if you lose 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.
Policies that charge one excess per claim can work out cheaper.
How cancer can affect travel insurance
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When you already have a health problem before buying travel insurance, travel insurance companies call this a pre-existing condition.
Depending on the company and your situation, they may charge you more if you have a pre-existing condition. Sometimes, they may not offer to insure you at all.
Companies will differ about whether they can insure you and how much it will cost. They will use the information you’ve given them to make these decisions. You may find it particularly difficult to get insured if you are currently having cancer treatment, or if you are terminally ill.
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.
You may wish to apply directly to a specialist broker if you’ve been unwell recently or had to visit the hospital several times in the last year. Specialist brokers can look for travel insurance for you and will look at your circumstances in detail.
If you are well and had cancer several years ago, some insurance companies may still want to know your medical history. But the price you pay for travel insurance won’t necessarily be affected.
It’s important to speak with your doctor to make sure you are medically fit to travel. But even if your doctor agrees that you’re well enough, an insurer may not be willing to risk 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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Depending on your situation and the insurance company, it’s possible that they may not offer to insure you. If the company is willing to insure you, they may offer you travel insurance:
within their usual terms and conditions
with a higher premium because you have or have had cancer
with an excess
with a cancer-related exclusion.
If your travel insurance policy applies a cancer-related exclusion, this means you would not be covered for any claims related to your cancer. Whether or not you are comfortable with this will depend on your situation.
If your insurance provider applies an exclusion, you should make sure you understand exactly what you are and aren’t covered for. Always check with the provider if you are unsure. You’ll need to consider the risk of being without travel insurance if something goes wrong when you’re away.
If someone close to you has cancer
You need to tell the insurance company if someone else’s health may affect your trip, for example, if your partner, relative or friend has cancer. This applies to someone travelling with you or someone at home. This is because there is a risk that your trip may have to be cancelled or cut short because of their health.
There are often no specific questions on travel insurance application forms about the health of someone you know. But the terms and conditions of the policy may refer to someone else who might cause you to make a claim. So it’s really important to read the terms and conditions carefully.
You should also tell the insurer if there are any health changes between taking out the insurance and travelling. This includes any changes in the health of the person you know with cancer, and your own.
If you give all this information to your insurance company in advance, you may be able to claim the costs of cancelling the trip.
This depends on the company and the policy. Ask the company as early as possible about this.
Buying travel insurance - things to think about
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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). The company 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 about your situation, you may be able to decide which type of company is a better option for you.
Below, we’ve included some of the things an insurance company will want to know and also some of the things you might want to ask them about.
It's worth noting that some travel insurance policies only cover journeys that start and finish in the UK. If you’re travelling abroad from the UK through the Republic of Ireland, remember to check with the insurance company about whether the policy will cover you for all parts of your trip.
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 you go away. 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 skiing or other winter sports. In this case, you will need to get special winter sports cover.
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 so, where has it spread to?
Are you having treatment or taking any medication at the moment? This can have a big effect on the premium you’re quoted. If possible, it’s worth thinking about delaying your travel plans or limiting how far you travel, until after your treatment finishes.
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.
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.
If you don’t tell the company the information you are reasonably 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. So it can be worth comparing offers from different insurance companies or getting advice from an insurance broker. Brokers don’t supply insurance themselves, but they can do the search for you.
Some insurance companies and brokers specialise in providing insurance for people with medical conditions.
‘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. GPs can charge you for thisletter. They may be more likely to charge if the travel insurance company contacts them to ask for a letter, so it’s often best to ask your GP 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 travel insurance, for example a policy attached to your bank account. Make sure you read the terms and conditions carefully. The policy may not cover pre-existing medical conditions. You should let the company know if you have a pre-existing condition as this may affect your cover.
Even if the company is already aware of your medical history, you should update them if your condition changes. If your medical condition is not excluded in their standard cover, the bank may allow you to pay a top-up fee so that you are fully covered. This may be cheaper than buying travel insurance separately.
Repatriation means being transported home in an emergency. This may be covered by your travel insurance but the European Health Insurance Card (see below) will not pay for it.
A company called Swiss Assist offers a service where it will fly you home in a jet ambulance if needed. It charges a fortnightly, monthly or annual membership fee. It covers Europe and some other countries.
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles UK residents to free or reduced-cost emergency treatment when temporarily visiting countries in certain European countries.
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, repatriation or help getting back to the UK.
You can find more information about the EHIC and health advice for travellers on the NHS website if you live in England, Scotland or Wales or the NI Direct website if you live in Northern Ireland. These websites explain which countries are covered by the EHIC. They also have information about non-EU countries that have mutual agreements to provide health services to visitors from the UK.
You can apply for an EHIC:
online at nhs.uk/ehic
by post, using an application form you download 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. You should avoid any websites that charge you to apply for an EHIC or to renew it for you.
If something goes wrong when you're away
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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 do the following:
Find 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 when you find medical care.
Contact your tour representative if you’re travelling on a package tour.
Contact your nearest national consular office if you need more help.
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.
This section has been compiled using information from a number of reliable resources, including: