If you incur medical expenses while overseas and you don't have travel insurance, you are personally liable for covering these costs. The Government cannot pay for medical expenses overseas. Nor will your domestic private health insurance.
Travel insurance is as essential as your passport, regardless of your travel destination. If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel!
Travel insurance can cover the policyholder for insurable events that may occur before or during travel, such as trip cancellation/interruption, medical expenses for injury or illness, theft of valuables, baggage delay or damage and more.
The cost of travel insurance is based on a number of factors such as the type of cover requested, the age of the insured, the destination of travel, length of stay and any pre-existing medical conditions. A wide range of travel insurance policies are available so shop around in order to find the policy that best suits your circumstances and travel plans.
The fine print
- Travel insurance is a contract. Always read the product disclosure statement and ensure that you understand exactly what your policy covers.
- Travel insurance is not unlimited. It may not cover you for cancellation or change to travel plans. Keep a copy of the product disclosure statement for your records.
- Some policy trip cancellation clauses do not cover costs associated with a trip cancellation resulting from a change to the travel advice for your destination.
- When shopping around for coverage, make sure your insurance policy will cover you for the activities you plan to participate in and is valid for the duration of your trip.
- Always clarify any specific policy issues directly with the insurer, preferably before you proceed with the planned travel.
Medical coverage and pre-existing conditions
- Ensure that medical cover offered under the insurance policy is adequate for possible expenses in the country you are going to visit. In some parts of the world medical costs can be very expensive.
- Ensure you declare any pre-existing medical conditions you may have. Failure to do so may nullify all coverage.
Limits and exclusions
- There are standard general exclusions on most types of travel insurance policies. These can include acts of civil unrest, self-inflicted injury, acts of terrorism, loss or theft of unattended baggage, and pre-existing medical conditions.
- Some travel insurance policies may be invalidated when injuries are sustained as a result of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Standard travel insurance policies generally exclude 'dangerous' or 'extreme' activity, such as snowboarding or surfing, rock climbing, kite surfing, hunting, bungee jumping and scuba diving. In some cases you can pay an additional premium to cover such activities.
- If you intend to hire cars, motorcycles, jet skis or any other motorised vehicle, talk to your travel insurer to check if it is covered by your insurance policy and seek advice on any restrictions that may apply, such as riding a motorcycle without an Australian licence or not wearing appropriate safety gear.
- Generally, cover for luggage and personal belongings is limited and expensive items such as cameras, laptops and/or jewellery may have a per-item limit. In some cases you can pay an additional premium to cover valuables to a pre-determined amount.
Why do we recommend travel insurance?
While most Australians travel safely overseas, some find themselves in trouble. Each year we handle many thousands of cases involving Australians in difficulty overseas. This includes cases of hospitalisations, deaths, and evacuations to another location for medical purposes. Medical treatment overseas can be expensive whether it is for injury from an accident or for illness such as food poisoning, appendicitis, or heart attack.
In cases where the individuals are not covered by travel insurance, such personal tragedies can be further compounded by a long-term financial burden. Hospitalisation, medical treatment, medical evacuations, or even the return of the deceased's remains to Australia, can be very expensive.
Daily hospitalisation costs in Southeast Asia regularly exceed $800; return of remains from Europe in excess of $10,000. The cost of medical evacuations from the United States regularly range from $75,000 to $95,000 and sometimes up to $300,000. The Department has handled medical evacuations from Bali in which costs have exceeded $60,000.
Unfortunately, not all of these cases involved travellers covered by travel insurance. Travellers who are not covered by insurance are personally liable for covering incurred medical and associated costs. As a result, families have been forced to sell off assets, including their superannuation or family homes, to afford to bring loved ones back to Australia.
Where Australians cannot obtain travel insurance to cover their personal circumstances, they should consider the potential financial risks before deciding whether to proceed with planned travel overseas.
The Insurance Council of Australia has good information on travel insurance and lists companies that provide travel insurance products. The Australian Government does not endorse any particular travel insurance provider.
The National Insurance Brokers Association (NIBA) is the national trade association for insurance brokers in Australia. Insurance brokers are able to provide advice to consumers on insurance matters, including travel insurance. The Australian Government does not endorse any particular broker or insurance provider.
The Australian Securities and Investment Commission also provides a number of useful tips on choosing a travel insurance policy, making claims, or how to complain about an insurer.
If you have concerns about your travel provider or your insurance policy, contact your travel or insurance provider, Financial Ombudsman Service, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, or your state or territory consumer affairs agency.