Iceberg ahead? The risks of travelling without insurance

When you consider everything that can go wrong, not taking out insurance begins to take on the appearance of high-stakes gambling

Illustration: Getty Images

Illustration: Getty Images

Mon, May 19, 2014, 01:02

Many Irish people like an auld flutter, but forget Cheltenham or the Galway Races: the really high-stakes gamblers are in the departure halls of our airports, where as many as one in three people can be found boarding planes without having taken out travel insurance.

A survey published by the AA last year found one in three of us either did not bother with travel insurance or felt it was only necessary when going on certain trips. A VHI Healthcare survey published last month shows the percentage of people taking out travel insurance has fallen dramatically since 2010.

Back then, 32 per cent of the overall population had travel insurance of some kind, but last summer the number had fallen to 23 per cent. The VHI attributed the decline to a widespread fall in disposable income and more people deciding it wasn’t that important to pack the travel insurance along with the sun cream.

What can go wrong
This disregard is baffling when you consider all the bad things that can happen, including cancelled flights, lost bags, theft, illness, wars, earthquakes, global pandemics and tour operators going out of business. While you may be able to bear the burden of losing your bag, or of having a flight delayed – or even a holiday cancelled – the cost of falling ill while you are overseas is a much more serious matter, and the cost of going without can run to hundreds of thousands of euro and leave you bankrupt.

A person unfortunate enough to be hit with acute appendicitis in the US will be out of pocket by more than €27,000, while the most minor of heart attacks suffered there will set you back at least €35,000 – multiply that by at least 10 if your heart attack is more serious. Breaking a leg on a Swiss skiing trip will cost at least €10,000 to put right, while a fractured hip in Spain could set you back as much as €23,000, depending on the severity of the break.

The most frequent claims
According to Brighid Smyth of VHI, the most frequent claim the company sees is for cancellation or curtailment as a result of a family tragedy, or inability to travel due to an illness or injury. Just behind that are claims made after someone becomes seriously ill while abroad. If you have health insurance, it will provide some cover – but up to a ceiling of €65,000- €100,000, depending on the plan. After that, you are on your own.

“Once the medical costs go over that, the person will have to cover the costs. It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does it can be extremely costly, especially if the person is travelling to the US or Canada. If someone has no travel insurance, it could bankrupt them trying to cover medical costs to help a loved one receive the care they need,” says Smyth.

With frugality in fashion, most people are keenly aware of the wisdom of shopping around for better value. You can easily knock €30 or €40 off the annual cost of a policy without too much fuss. Sites such as are there to do the donkey work for you. Remember: if you take more than two holidays a year, it is much cheaper to get a multi-trip policy.

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