Medical cover is arguably the most important element of any travel insurance policy, if only because of the cost if something should happen without it.

The Consumers’ Association recommends that you should have:

  • £1million of medical cover in Europe
  • £2m in the USA and the rest of the world

You may think this seems like huge amount but when you consider the cost of medical care outside the UK it begins to seem very sensible. For example, the Foreign and Commonwealth office notes the following costs:

  • Returning you home to the UK in an air ambulance from the east coast of the USA can cost up to £35,000 and emergency medical treatments such as surgery can cost even more.
  • A flight, stretcher and doctor escort from Australia could cost between £15-20,000

What’s Covered?

A large number of things are covered under the term “medical expenses” in your policy. Some of these include:

  • Emergency medical treatment or surgery (this may include dental care if it is to relieve pain)
  • Returning your ashes to the UK, or the cost of a funeral in the country where you die
  • Extra accommodation and travel expenses if a medical condition makes you unable to return home at the appointed time
  • Extra accommodation and travel expenses for someone to stay with you and accompany you on the journey home, if this recommended by medical advice
  • Extra expenses for someone to travel from the UK to stay and return home with you, if this is deemed absolutely necessary under medical advice

Each policy will offer different levels of cover, but one thing is common to all, they will not pay for extra accommodation and travel expenses unless it has been deemed absolutely medically necessary or the patient is a minor.

It is important to know what kind of healthcare is on offer in your destination before purchasing travel insurance as some countries have healthcare agreements with the UK. This may reduce the cost of the insurance you need.

Cover in the EU with an EHIC

The European Health Insurance Card replaced the old E111 forms as of January 1st 2006. It is required to get free or reduced cost healthcare in European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland. You can apply for an EHIC at the “Advice for Travellers” web page from the Department of Health.

Countries with reciprocal healthcare agreements with the UK

Some countries outside the EEA and Switzerland have reciprocal healthcare agreements with the UK, this may entitle you to reduced cost emergency healthcare

For a guide to which countries offer treatments visit the Department of Health’s website. Each country offers a different level of treatment so be sure to check what’s available before you leave.

Countries with no healthcare agreements with the UK

Most countries, especially those outside of Europe, do not have any kind of healthcare agreement with the UK, in these countries you will be liable for all healthcare costs.

A large number of popular destinations fall into this category, including the USA, Mexico, Canada, Turkey, the Middle East, most Caribbean islands and a large part of Asia – including Thailand and Japan. For a full list view the Department of Health’s health advice for travellers on their website.

It is when travelling to these countries that you need to ensure you have comprehensive medical cover.

Medical cover ranges from the very basic to fully comprehensive and it is wise to always ensure you are adequately covered, wherever you are travelling.