What is travel insurance?

Travel insurance aims to protect you from losing money if something unexpected happens before or during your trip. It also makes sure you can get emergency medical care if you need it. It is an important thing to think about if you are planning to travel abroad. It can also be useful for some trips in the UK.

Travel insurance usually helps cover the following costs:

  • Cancellation or curtailment – if you need to cancel your trip or end it early (curtail it). For example, this could be if you or a family member are ill unexpectedly.
  • Personal liability – if you injure someone or damage their property by accident.
  • Baggage – if your belongings are lost or stolen.
  • Emergency medical treatment if you are abroad – you usually have to pay for healthcare in other countries and this can be very expensive. Insurance may help cover the cost of any emergency care you need, including ambulances.
  • Repatriation if you are abroad – this means getting you back home safely. For example, insurance may cover the costs of flying you home if you need an air ambulance, medical equipment, a medical escort or a carer. A medical escort is a health professional or group of health professionals who travel with you on a commercial flight home. They can provide care and assistance if you are unwell.

You do not have to take out travel insurance. But if you travel without insurance and something happens, you usually have to cover these costs yourself. For travel abroad, you could end up paying large amounts of money. For example, you may have to pay for medical care that would have been free in the UK. Unlike the UK, many countries do not provide free healthcare, even in emergencies.

Travel insurance for cancer

If you have a cancer diagnosis, or have had cancer in the past, this can affect your travel insurance and how much you pay for cover. Here are some of the things you may need to think about.

In the British Sign Language (BSL) enabled video below, Macmillan Financial Guide adviser Chris talks about getting travel insurance when you have cancer and shares tips to help you.


Read a transcript of the Macmillan travel insurance after a cancer diagnosis video..

Access our travel insurance after a cancer diagnosis video without British Sign Language..

Insurance with a pre-existing medical condition

A pre-existing medical condition means a health condition, such as cancer, that you already have or have had in the past.

Some travel insurance policies do not cover claims related in any way to pre-existing medical conditions. You can ask if the insurance provider will allow you to pay a top-up fee to include this cover.

There are companies that specialise in providing travel insurance for people with pre-existing medical conditions, including cancer. They may offer you a policy that covers these kinds of claims, provided that:

  • you have told the insurer about all pre-existing medical conditions
  • the medical conditions have been accepted by the insurer in writing.

You may need to pay extra for a policy that covers claims related to cancer. This is because the insurance provider estimates there is a higher chance something will happen that means you claim for medical expenses or cancel your trip.

You should always tell your insurer about pre-existing medical conditions. And you must answer any questions they ask fully and accurately. If you do not and you later need to make a claim for anything, they could refuse to pay or may cancel your policy. They may do this even if your claim is not related to a pre-existing condition.

Your health or prescribed medication may change between the time that you buy the policy and when you travel. Always tell your insurance provider if there are any changes or new information about your health during this time.

  • Medical screening

    Travel insurance providers may ask for information about your health before they give you a quote or agree to insure you. They may ask for a doctor’s letter confirming you are fit to travel. Or they may ask you some questions about your health. This is called medical screening. It helps the insurance provider work out how much your policy will cost.

  • Cancer-related exclusion

    If your travel insurance policy has a cancer-related exclusion, you are not covered for any claims related to the cancer or its treatment. Make sure you understand exactly what is and is not included under your policy. Always check with the insurance provider if you are unsure.

    You do not have to buy travel insurance that covers claims related to cancer. But you should think carefully about how you would:

    • manage any cancer-related problems when you are away
    • pay for any unexpected costs, such as medical bills or extra medicines.
  • Taking medical equipment abroad

    If you need to take any special medical equipment to travel abroad, make sure your insurance covers this.

  • If someone close to you has cancer

    You need to tell your insurance provider if the health of someone close to you may affect your trip. For example, if someone close to you has cancer, there may be a risk your trip may have to end early or be cancelled because of their health.

    The provider may not ask questions about this. But if you want this type of cover, it is important to check whether the policy offers it before you buy.

Finding travel insurance

Before you buy travel insurance, it is a good idea to check if you already have cover and that it covers you for all your medical conditions. Sometimes, travel insurance may be offered as a benefit with your:

  • bank or building society account
  • credit card
  • home insurance.

If you do not already have cover, try to get quotes from different insurance providers before you buy. This can help you get the best travel insurance cover for your needs. It could also help you save money.

You can ask for insurance quotes from:

  • insurance companies
  • travel insurance comparison sites
  • some supermarkets – they may have information leaflets about their insurance in stores
  • your bank or building society.

MoneyHelper has a directory of companies that offer travel insurance to people affected by a serious medical condition or disability.

Types of travel insurance

There are 2 main types of travel insurance:

  • Single-trip insurance covers you for 1 trip. You need to take out a new policy each time you travel.
  • Annual (or multi-trip) insurance covers you for more than 1 trip in the same year.

If you have an annual travel policy and are diagnosed with cancer during the period of your cover, you should tell your insurance company. This also applies to family members’ insurance policies, if there is a risk they may have to cancel a holiday because of your health. So check all policies to be sure.

Checklist for buying travel insurance

It is helpful to have your details and medical information ready before you contact a travel insurance provider. They may ask you questions on the phone or through an online form. When you have a medical condition, it is often easier to explain your situation to someone directly on the phone.

Some questions may be upsetting. For example, the insurance provider may ask about the likely outcome of the cancer (the prognosis). This can be difficult to talk about. You may find it easier to contact only 1 or 2 insurance providers at a time.

Many companies provide insurance quotes using the same medical screening questions and a computer system. If the questions are not suitable for your situation, tell the insurance provider. It is important they understand your situation fully so they can offer a policy that is right for you.

Things an insurance provider might want to know

This list includes some common things travel insurance providers may ask you about. You may find it helpful to write down your answers before you contact them to ask for a quote.

Insurance providers may ask you about:

  • where and when you are travelling
  • the length of your trip
  • any health conditions you have
  • any ongoing tests you are having
  • when you were diagnosed
  • where the cancer is or was
  • whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body
  • what treatment you have had or are having
  • any surgery you have had or plan to have
  • details of medicines you take
  • any symptoms or side effects you have
  • how advanced the cancer is
  • details of GP, hospital or specialist visits about the cancer over the last year
  • whether the health of anyone else could affect the planned trip – this could be someone travelling with you or someone at home
  • any medical equipment you need for travel
  • any winter sports, extreme sports or other high-risk activities you plan to do on your trip.

Things you might want to know

Before you buy travel insurance, it is important to check what it will and will not cover. This varies, so read the terms carefully before you buy.

The following questions may help you check whether a travel insurance policy has the cover you want.

Does the policy cover:

  • the places and dates of the trip
  • other people you are travelling with – some policies cover families or groups travelling together
  • the type of trip and activities you plan to do – cruises and high-risk activities may need extra cover
  • the things you are taking – for example, this could include medical or sports equipment
  • if you cannot travel or need medical treatment during the trip for a condition you have already
  • if you cannot travel or need medical treatment during the trip due to coronavirus (covid)

You may also want to check how much:

  • the policy costs (the premium)
  • you will have to pay towards any claims you make (the excess).

The excess is usually taken away from the final claim payment. For example, if the excess on the policy is £50 and you make a successful claim for £250, the insurer pays you £200.

Make sure you understand how the excess amount is applied because it can vary. You may have no excess to pay. Or a single excess amount may be applied for the whole claim.

But most travel insurance policies have different excess amounts for:

  • each type of claim – for example, the excess for lost luggage will be different to the excess for medical expenses
  • each person claiming, if more than 1 person is covered by the policy.

This means each person making a claim may pay a separate excess for each type of claim.

Global and European Health Insurance Cards (GHIC and EHIC)

IYou can use a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) or a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in some countries to show you have a right to state-provided healthcare. This means you have the right to access the medical treatment a resident of that country would receive at the same price.

Having a GHIC or EHIC is not the same as having travel insurance.

A GHIC or EHIC only covers emergency or necessary medical care. And they never pay for repatriation – getting you back home safely. So you should make sure you have travel insurance as well.

We have more details about using a GHIC and EHIC in our information about getting emergency healthcare abroad.

Travel insurance tips

If you are planning a trip or thinking about it, it can help to talk to other people who are in the same situation.

Many people talk about travel insurance with cancer cover on the Macmillan Online Community. We have a monthly travel insurance blog and a forum about travel insurance for people with cancer at macmillan.org.uk/travelinsurancegroup

You can find out which insurers people are recommending. Remember, you need to find an insurer who can give you cover that is suitable for your needs. There are also tips about buying travel insurance and travelling abroad when you or someone you know is affected by cancer.

You do not have to join the Online Community to read what people are saying.

You can also call the Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm) to speak to one of our financial guides.

We cannot recommend individual travel insurance providers for you. But we can give you some general tips on speaking to providers. We can also tell you about your options if you are not happy with the service a provider has given you.

You can learn more about travel insurance for a trip abroad.

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About our information

  • This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been approved by members of Macmillan’s Centre of Clinical Expertise.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 March 2023
Next review: 01 March 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.