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Travel insurance and your health

The cost of emergency medical treatment abroad can be significant. Travel insurance will cover that treatment in the event that you need it while on holiday. You should also make sure that you have a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) if travelling within the European Economic Area (EEA)* and Switzerland.

You should tell your insurer about:

  • pre-existing medical conditions
  • recurring illnesses or injuries
  • ongoing or lifelong conditions
  • previous surgeries
  • conditions you are currently suffering from.

If you're unsure whether information is relevant, you should tell your insurer just in case.

You must make a full declaration of your medical history to your insurer when you are buying a policy. If you don’t, your insurer may not pay your claim.

You must tell your insurer about any changes to your health. If you develop a new medical condition after you have bought your policy but before you travel you must disclose this to your insurer.

Pre-existing medical conditions

If you have an existing medical condition, it is particularly important to make sure that you shop around for the right policy before booking the trip to ensure you are fully covered. You should discuss any questions or concerns with your insurer, and update them of any changes to your condition. Some complicated medical conditions may require a specialist insurance broker to find the right policy.

If you are finding it difficult to find suitable cover, a specialist insurance broker will usually be able to help. The British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) can put you in touch with a specialist broker.

Falling ill abroad

What should I do if I need emergency medical treatment abroad?

Your policy documentation will provide a telephone number for an emergency medical assistance company, who should be your first port of call should you require medical treatment abroad. They should be able to deal with enquiries 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, and can:

  • suggest and arrange appropriate medical facilities
  • speak to the doctor or hospital on your behalf
  • offer translation services
  • give you guidance on what to say and do.

You should make a note of the telephone number before travelling abroad, and keep it easily to hand (e.g. store it in your mobile phone).

If you are in a country that is a member of the EEA or Switzerland, you should present your EHIC on arrival for medical treatment and request that treatment is provided under the reciprocal health scheme that the UK has with that country.

What if I don’t have time to contact my insurer before seeking treatment?

Whenever possible, you should contact your insurer’s appointed emergency medical assistance company. However, in urgent circumstances, you should get to the nearest appropriate medical facility as soon as possible and then contact your insurer as soon as you can.

How will my treatment be paid for?

If you are in a country that is a member of the EEA or Switzerland, and you present a valid EHIC, you will entitled to receive treatment on the same basis as a resident of that country. This means that some of the treatment you receive may be provided free of charge.

However, there may still be some costs to pay. Your policy may stipulate an amount below which you should pay for the treatment received and then claim that back from your insurer when you return to the UK.

Where the cost is above the amount stipulated in your policy, your insurer will normally be able to settle the bill on your behalf.

If you have used your EHIC, most insurers will normally waive the excess.

What should I do if I run into problems with the hospital?

It can be difficult to deal with hospital personnel in other countries, particularly if you don’t understand what you are being told. However, don’t allow yourself to be bullied into taking any action that you’re not happy to take. If you need support any time of the day or night, call the emergency medical assistance helpline provided by your insurer.

You shouldn’t be asked to hand over your passport in order to receive medical treatment, but if your passport is confiscated, you should contact the British Embassy or Consulate. Contact details for British Consulates and Embassies are available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.


* The European Economic Area (EEA) is made up of the 28 European Union (EU) member states, along with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.