What is travel insurance and how does it work?

Travel insurance gives you financial protection if something goes wrong on holiday. This means if you lose your luggage, need emergency treatment, or need to cancel your holiday, the insurance company will pay you back.

Getting travel insurance when you have cancer can be difficult. It is important to start looking as early as possible.

Insurers usually ask for details such as your age, holiday destination and any health conditions. They will also ask whether you have any ‘high-risk’ activities planned, such as extreme sports. The more likely the company thinks you are to claim, the more it will ask you to pay. This is called a premium. An excess is the amount you may need to pay towards any claim.

The travel insurance you buy will either be:

  • Single trip – covers you for one trip abroad.
  • Annual – covers you for more than one trip in the same year.

Annual insurance may be more difficult to get with a health condition and is generally more expensive. But it may be worth considering if you are planning more than two trips.

Travel insurance and cancer

Getting travel insurance can be difficult if you have cancer. It can also be difficult if you have had cancer in the past. It is best to look for travel insurance as early as possible before you travel. You should try to look for insurance before booking a trip. 

Travel insurance can be more expensive depending on where you are going. The USA and countries in the Caribbean typically cost the most. Certain types of holiday, such as cruises, can also be more expensive.

Before booking a trip, you should discuss your plans with your healthcare team. They can advise you on whether it would be safe to travel. Your oncology team or GP may be able to write a letter saying you are fit to travel, which could help you to get insurance. They may be more likely to write this letter if you had cancer treatment more than one year ago.

If you had cancer treatment in the last year that only aimed to relieve the symptoms of cancer (palliative treatment), it may be more difficult to get travel insurance. If you had treatment in the last year that aimed to cure the cancer, getting travel insurance may be easier than if the treatment was palliative. These are very general guides. Travel insurance providers should look at your individual situation. 

The rest of this information gives more details about how travel insurance works and how to find cover.


What is travel insurance?

When you are travelling, you may:

  • need emergency medical treatment
  • lose your luggage
  • need to cancel your holiday
  • need to return home early.

Travel insurance provides financial protection if these kinds of things happen. If something goes wrong and it is covered by your travel insurance, your insurance provider will pay you back for any related money you have had to spend. In some cases, they may pay the cost directly, for example to a health service provider.

It is important to have travel insurance if you are 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

Travel insurance providers will try to understand how likely you are to make a claim.

They usually do this by asking you some questions. You may be asked these questions on the phone or through an online form. 

Travel insurance providers will generally ask:

  • 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
  • whether you have, or have had, any health conditions.

The insurance provider 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.

The more likely they think you are to claim, the more they will ask you to pay for travel insurance.

Premiums and excess payments

The premium is the amount of money you need to pay for insurance. 

An excess is the amount you may need to pay towards any claim.

If you need to make a claim, you may need to pay an excess first. Or the excess may be taken away from the final claims payment. For example, if the excess on the policy is £50 and you make a successful claim for £250, the insurer will pay you £200.

Depending on your insurance provider and their 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.

Some travel insurance policies have separate excess charges for different events. For example, the excess charge if you claim for an injury may be higher or lower than if you claim for loss of your belongings.

When there is a single excess charge per claim, this can mean you will pay less if you need to claim.

Single-trip and annual policies

Single-trip insurance covers you for one trip abroad. Annual (or multi-trip) insurance covers you for more than one trip in the same year.

It may be more difficult to get annual insurance when you have a health condition and it is generally more expensive. If you are planning more than two trips in the same year, you may want to consider annual insurance. But you should first check if it is cheaper to get single-trip insurance for each trip.

If you are not sure about what type of travel insurance is best for your situation, our financial guides can help. They can give you guidance about things like premiums and excess payments, and the types of policies available. Call them free on 0808 808 00 00.

Sports and activities

Many insurance providers will offer cover for certain activities or sports on your holiday. This could include activities such as skiing, diving, mountain biking or bungee jumping.

Standard travel insurance policies do not typically cover these activities. Instead, you may need to get a special policy. These are sometimes called winter sports travel insurance, activity travel insurance or sports travel insurance. You may be able to extend a normal travel insurance policy to cover extra activities.

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

If you are travelling to certain European countries, some travel insurance providers may reduce or remove the policy excess if you have an EHIC. The EHIC allows you to get free or less expensive emergency health treatment in those countries. It is not an alternative to travel insurance.

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