What does travel insurance actually cover?

An online survey, conducted by market research agency Atomik in December 2015, found that 19% of British expats-to-be believed their travel insurance would cover all healthcare costs when abroad. What’s more, only 42% organise healthcare beforehand, despite 83% being concerned about finding a good doctor in their new country. With such concerning responses, clearly the question of what is covered by travel insurance needs to be answered.

The following list outlines the main areas concerning healthcare that are covered by most travel insurance companies worldwide. It is essential to bear in mind, however, that each insurer has their own policy that may be more or less restrictive for certain circumstances than others. There are also many different types of travel insurance tailored to specific clients, including family cover, single trip or annual multi-trip plans. It is important to do a little research before purchasing your travel insurance, in order to find the best plan to suit you.

Medical emergencies

If you have an accident or become ill while abroad, your travel insurance will cover the cost of emergency medical and dental treatment, including the cost of prescription medication and hospital expenses. Some insurers may even provide a translator where necessary and may pay for travel costs and accommodation for a family member or companion if you are hospitalised.

Emergency evacuations

If you have an injury in a remote location and require emergency transportation via an ambulance or an airlift, your insurance provider will foot the bill. There is also repatriation coverage for yourself, and sometimes your companion, for very serious cases or in the event of death.

24/7 telephone assistance

All travel insurance companies provide a free round-the-clock phone service for their customers to help them sort out the logistics of medical emergencies, such as finding the nearest hospital or replacing prescriptions in an emergency. The service can also be used for non-medical assistance, for instance if you lose your passport or have your luggage stolen.

Pre-existing medical conditions

Most travel insurance policies will not cover pre-existing medical conditions but it is still essential that you inform your provider of any condition you might have before purchasing your insurance. Failure to do so may make your policy invalid. Some insurers will cover pre-existing conditions but in exchange for a higher premium.


Generally speaking, travel insurers will insure pregnant women up to around 28 weeks’ pregnancy, as travelling after 30 weeks carries higher risks of premature birth. It is also important to check your airline’s policy and inform them of your pregnancy in advance. In some cases, not doing so will mean you won’t be able to board the plane and could invalidate your travel insurance as well. Some companies will not insure women expecting a multiple birth, so it is important to check each company’s policy if this applies to you.

Most insurers will cover expenses arising from unforeseen pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. If you have emergency medical care as a result of these complications, your insurance provider should reimburse you for these costs.

Some companies will cover you if you discover you are pregnant while abroad and have to fly home. However, as previously stated, every travel insurance provider is different so it is important to check individual policies.


With the Zika virus still being transmitted, pregnant women have been advised not to travel if they can avoid it, especially to affected areas. If you book your journey and buy travel insurance and are then advised by a doctor not to travel, most insurers will reimburse you for non-refundable costs. However, if you cancel your journey when a country has already been listed as an affected area, or are not pregnant but worried about contracting the virus, it is unlikely that you will receive compensation.


The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows residents of the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland to access state-provided healthcare within another EEA country or Switzerland during a temporary visit. The EHIC is not a replacement for travel insurance, so it is still important to have both to ensure the highest amount of coverage while abroad.

The benefit is that, unlike most travel insurance companies, the card does cover treatment for pre-existing medical conditions and routine maternity treatment, as long as this is not the reason for moving. What’s more, some companies will waive the excess on your insurance if you have the EHIC.

However, as the card only covers short-term stays, anyone moving long-term is advised to register with the relevant authorities. As soon as you are registered to work and start making National Insurance contributions, you will be able to access state-provided healthcare without the need for an EHIC. Different rules apply to workers posted abroad by their company, au pairs and members of the Armed Forces.  

Research is key

Getting a comprehensive international health insurance plan when moving abroad helps to save time, money and unwanted stress. It will give you peace of mind knowing that you are covered against huge medical expenses and will receive 24 hour assistance should the worst happen. A little research before departure into what different insurance companies offer, as well as what kind of healthcare is provided by the state, will help you to find the best plan to suit you, and ensure you have the best medical cover possible.

Image: Victor Hanacek