Imagine you’re enjoying a dream holiday, sipping bubbly while watching the most spectacular sunset over the French Riviera. Suddenly, you’re struck down by a mystery illness and end up in a hospital in Monaco for a week, while they work out what’s wrong with you.
You only have to read the stories on the government’s Smart Traveller website to realise that illnesses and accidents can strike anyone at any time while travelling, even on the most seemingly safe jaunt, and that you could be personally liable for hospital and medical costs which extend into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Smart Traveller notes that Australians have faced financial hardship to cover these costs when things go wrong.
Of course, if you have travel insurance, you’re likely to be in a much better position than if you’d chosen to travel without it. But it’s still important to know exactly what your policy does and does not cover if you get sick – or indeed, need to make any other sort of claim – when you’re abroad.
According to research from insurer Allianz, medical and dental-related expenses accounted for more than a third of travel cover claims by travellers aged 51-70. Cancellation fees and lost deposits accounted for 31 per cent of claims, while claims on luggage and personal effects, additional expenses and travel delays made up the balance.
How you can minimise risk before the trip
Many Aussies still mistakenly believe their insurance policy only kicks into action once their holiday starts, but Brendon Dyer, general manager of Allianz Travel, recommends travellers take out insurance as soon as they start booking flights, accommodation or other travel activities for which they’re outlaying money.
This is because the policy may cover instances where you need to cancel some or all your travel plans before your holiday gets started.
“We see a lot of cancellation claims prior to departure,” Dyer says. “In terms of those claims, the key reasons vary between a customer becoming ill prior to departure or coming up with some other unforeseen circumstance, which may mean they have to cancel their trip.”
When taking out any travel insurance, or as standalone travel insurance policy, it’s important to understand the finer details, such as the terms, conditions, limits and exclusions of the policy disclosure statement (PDS) and to ensure that you disclose any pre-existing medical conditions to your insurer.
This, Dyer explains, is to ensure you have adequate coverage for the countries you’re travelling to and the activities you might wish to undertake, and to minimise the risk of any medical-related claims being refused if you happen to fall ill or become injured before or during your trip.
“We do ask people to declare any pre-existing medical conditions, and we do look at those,” Dyer says. “There are a range of pre-existing medical conditions that are actually covered by general policies without paying any additional premium, but then, of course, there are others that if people declare in advance, we do have to charge an additional premium for.”
Before you head off on vacation, it’s also worth photocopying key travel documents, including your passport, driver’s licence and insurance policy documents – and keeping one set of the copies on you at all times, another set in your luggage and, ideally, a third set with a friend or relative at home who can access the documents if you call for help.
And don’t forget to add contact numbers and email addresses for your insurance provider and bank into your phone, so they’re easily accessible if you need them in a hurry to make a claim or put a freeze on an account.
How you can protect yourself during the trip
When you’re on the road, your cruise or wherever you may find yourself travelling, there’s plenty of simple things you can do to protect yourself and your belongings.
Lisa Gissing, a financial educator at Westpac’s Davidson Institute, says much of it comes down to common-sense, such as not losing sight of your belongings or luggage, especially as it can be easy to get swept up in the moment of seeing an amazing art gallery or having a fabulous meal and inadvertently forget your valuables.
She also notes that it’s worth looking at how you carry your cash and cards.
“Don’t keep wallets in your back pocket,” she says. “Keep them in a zippered, safe place so you know where it is, and keep cash and cards separate so if you do happen to get pick-pocketed or whatever the case might be, they’ve actually only got part of it, not all of it.
“I always have a backup plan, so that if something does happen, I’ve got something else I can fall back on.”
Tips for ensuring a successful claim
In the unfortunate event you do need to make a claim, make sure you collect any relevant documents, such police incident reports, photographs of items that you suspect may have been lost or stolen, receipts for medical treatment and any medical reports.
Dyer says that an insurance claim is more likely to proceed smoothly if you can substantiate your claim with the relevant documentation.
“Where you can, provide all relevant documentation with the claim for the initial assessment,” he says. “Where we have to go backwards and forwards chasing the client for additional information, it can take time.
“But if the client has the relevant information to support the claim, whether it’s photographs for jewellery claims or police reports based on an item that might have been stolen in a market, all those documents are vital, and a part of the claims process.”
Bessie Hassan from finder.com.au also suggests if you do fall ill while abroad, it’s worth checking to see if you’re in a country that allows you to be covered by a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement. This means you can access limited, government-supplied health care in countries including New Zealand, the UK, Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Belgium, Malta, Slovenia and Norway.
Like most things in life, a little bit of preparation and education goes a long way. Travel insurance policies may seem complicated, but keep asking questions about your policy until you’re satisfied it covers everything you value, including your health. If in doubt, consider seeking independent advice.
Things you should know: This information does not take into account your personal circumstances and is general in nature. It is intended as an overview only and it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter or relied upon as such. Before making a decision, it’s best to read the relevant terms and conditions available at westpac.com.au. Fees and charges apply and may change. This information is intended as factual information, and not as financial advice. It is an overview only and it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter or relied upon as such. © Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141 AFSL and Australian credit licence 233714
What was the strangest thing you’ve ever had to make a travel insurance claim on?