Travel insurance: everything you need to know in 16 steps

Conor Pope give us the dos, don’ts and reasons why you should have travel insurance


The first thing many people ask is should they bother with travel insurance at all, particularly if they have private health insurance or are travelling within the EU where they can take advantage of public health systems should they need to. And these public health systems are frequently better than our own. The very short answer is yes, although about half of Irish people disagree with this answer and don’t bother taking out policies before they fly. They are all wrong. The simple reason travel insurance is a good idea is because it doesn’t cost the earth and could save you a small fortune.


Just the sight of medical bills incurred as a result of an overseas illness would be enough to give you a heart attack. If you have your appendix removed in the US, you will be out of pocket by more than €30,000. A minor cardiac event there will set you back at least €40,000 and if you have a bad heart attack in the States and have to be treated in a hospital for a couple of weeks, you can expect to pay at least €200,000. An angiogram alone will cost €25,000 and if you have to stay in an intensive care unit, you will have to pay a heart-stopping €5,500 per night. An air ambulance to repatriate you could top €100,000.


If you have private health insurance you will, typically, be covered for overseas medical costs up to about €100,000 and if you are travelling in the EU and have an EHIC card you can take advantage of free care in the public systems across the EU. But neither private health insurance nor the card will cover repatriation costs or the costs if you are the victim of a crime. And it won’t cover the cost of cancellation or curtailment of a holiday.


Unlike most other insurance policies which have hit the headlines in recent times – we’re looking at you motor and health insurance – travel insurance is by any measure still good value for money. An annual multi-trip travel insurance policy for an adult can be had for less than €50 while a family of four can take out a year-long policy for not much more than €100.


Please remember that timing is key when it comes to taking out travel insurance. Do it as soon as you book your trip and not seconds before your flight takes off. As many as two-thirds of all claims are down to changing family circumstances or a bereavement. And you have no idea when such things will happen.


Family policies – if applicable – will almost always work out cheaper, but check the terms and conditions. Some will specify that you must travel as a single unit. For individuals, and for families, a multi-trip annual policy is better value but only if you plan to take more than three holidays or breaks in a year.


Ageism is rife in the travel insurance sector. Someone who tries to get travel insurance at 66 can often pay twice as much as someone aged 65, even though there is no difference in the level of risk the two people pose to companies. The European Court of Justice ruled that it was discriminatory and illegal to price car insurance based on gender but no such restrictions apply when it comes to a person’s age. Trailfinders doubles its regular premium for those aged 66-69, and triples it for those aged 70-75. It doesn’t offer cover for those over 76. Ace 65+ offers cover for those aged 65-75. However, only people with health insurance covering emergency medical expenses abroad are eligible.


Remember that as long as you have health insurance that includes medical cover when overseas, you will most likely not have to disclose any medical conditions when taking out a policy. If you have the results of serious tests or investigations hanging over you, it might be advisable to let the insurer know there is an issue. If you don’t, a subsequent claim could be rejected.


Policies sold by tour operators tend to be a lot more expensive than those sourced elsewhere. Tour operators will tell you that you get additional peace of mind as their reps overseas will have all the details of your policy to hand should things go wrong. But in an era of digital communications, you should be able to access all the documentation you need handily enough even if your arm is hanging off following a waterskiing incident in Salou.


Alongside your travel insurance policy you should also get (and bring with you) a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). If you are travelling in Europe, it gives you access to public health services at no cost and, as most of the countries in the EU have a better public health system than we do, you should never worry about using it. If you have a smart phone, download the Ehic app to help you navigate overseas health systems. Remember, your card needs to be renewed every five years. And don't ever pay for the card. Some sites will try charging for the service, but it is free through the official site which can be found at


Pay attention to the small print on a travel insurance policy and look at the size of the excesses and the exclusions. Insurance companies don’t get rich by giving money away and they sometimes do their best to make claims as hard as they possibly can.

They also make the benefits of their policies crustal clear and hide all the exclusions in very small print. For instance, phones are not covered in most cases while other valuables can lose their cover if they are not with you at all times. And, if you don’t store your passport in a hotel safe when it is stolen, you can almost certainly forget about making a claim for its theft from your hotel room.


If you were to read all the documentation attached to a normal travel insurance policy, you would have to wade through more than 15,000 words. And most of those words will be mind-numbingly dull. But if you are to get a handle on what is and what is not covered, then you have to give it a go. Rather than reading it in full, download a PDF version or copy the text into Microsoft Word and search for "not covered", "excluded" and "exclusions".


Some companies will reject any claim for a cancellation or curtailment if it is down to a pre-existing condition, even if the condition endures for years. So if you have an elderly close relative who was diagnosed with a serious illness several years ago and they pass away or become gravely ill while you are overseas, the cost of returning home may not be covered.


If you have travel insurance and are the victim of a crime, you will have to make contact with the local police if you are to make a claim. If you do not have a police report, you will not be entertained by an insurer. And you will need to make the official complaint quickly. If you leave a police report for longer than 24 hours, an insurance company might view your claim with scepticism.


Before you leave home, take a photograph of your passport and email it to yourself. If it is stolen, having all the details on your phone makes it easier to get an emergency replacement. The reason you need to email it is to cover yourself in case the phone is stolen too.


Bear in mind that your travel insurance might not cover natural disasters and the like. Some of the cheaper policies do not cover travel rearrangement expenses, accommodation and cancellations relating to “natural disasters” outside of weather disruption. If you want travel disruption cover, a policy is likely to increase by €15.