Undoubtedly the least exciting part of planning any trip is researching and buying your gap year insurance. It’s an added (and if you’re new to travel, unexpected!) expense on top of the costs you’ve already incurred paying a gap year company, purchasing flights, visas…
In fact, it's probably only second to the jabbing needle of travel vaccinations! Yes indeed, getting insured can feel like a giant, overpriced pain in the ****.
That said, ignore it at your peril and remember these five golden rules when organising yours.
1. Medical Cover Is Essential
The most important aspect of any insurance policy is the medical cover it offers you. Here in the UK we’re lucky enough to have the reassurance of a National Health System, which will treat and care for you free of charge (unless you count our taxes!) in case of ill health.
Overseas you will not have an NHS to pick up the costs of medical care. You will have to pay locally for everything, from antibiotics to an x-ray. You may think you’re young and in great health but things can - and do - go wrong.
What if you are involved in a car accident whilst you’re travelling? You will need to pay for the costs of not only hospital treatments but also ambulance services or – if you’re in a really remote spot – evacuation by helicopter. The costs could be astronomical.
Add to that the fact that you may need to be brought home by a specialist nurse or doctor and you could be looking at quite a bill.
The Foreign Office quotes £35-45,000 for air ambulance to return to the UK from the US east coast, £12-16,000 for an air ambulance from the Canary Islands, and £15-20,000 for a scheduled flight, stretcher and doctor escort from Australia.
The chances of having to use these services are not high, but the costs are so substantial that it would cause a major issue – if not bankruptcy – were they to happen to you.
So why not check out the NHS Fit For Travel website which has lots of advice on travelling abroad and how to prepare before you go.
2. Get Cancellation Cover or You Could Lose Everything
Imagine you are unlucky enough to break your leg, or experience a close family bereavement a week or two before your gap year trip and you are unable to travel as planned. Or perhaps a war breaks out in the country you were planning to travel to and it is no longer safe to travel?
What would happen to your flight, any accommodation or activities you’d booked? It’s likely you’d be unable to change any of these at short notice and could stand to loose £££s. Having worked for months - perhaps even years, to raise the funds for your gap year you could watch it all disappear.
3. Check Whether Your Valuables Are Covered (and Read the Small Print)
A lot of providers only offer the most meagre cover for valuables such as electronic items, cash and personal effects. If you are a victim of theft or loss when travelling and wish to claim for items against your insurance policy you will likely have to pay a hefty excess or find that you are only insured up to a certain (low) value.
Not only will you require a local police report to verify that the item is gone, but you may also be asked to provide receipts for their purchase or dated photos of yourself with the item to prove you had it in the first place.
Ultimately, the only way to protect your valuables when travelling is to leave them at home. If they are not essential to your trip then simply don’t pack them. That means taking off your expensive watch and leaving the family jewels in the good ol’ UK.
And if you really can’t be without your laptop or iPad, then here’s a great article with tips for keeping your valuables safe when staying in hostels.
Also, insurers have a habit of keeping important details hidden. Always have a read through the small print and check if there are any clauses or restrictions that you do not understand or agree with.
4. You Need to Be Insured for the Duration of Your Trip
Lots of travellers get caught out by forgetting to extend their travel policy when their travel plans change.
If you purchase a two-month gap year travel insurance policy, and then change your flights to add another few weeks of travel to your trip, your cover must be extended before it expired. Otherwise you’ll be stuck without any insurance whatsoever!
Lots of organisations offer flexible programmes with the ability to start with a short project and then stretch out your time overseas by adding extra weeks of volunteering or adventurous travel if you’re enjoying yourself. The Leap is one such company.
Most underwriters will not allow you to renew your policy when it’s already run out, so set yourself a diary reminder to get it sorted before it’s too late.
If you forget, it’s not all bad news. There’s one company we know of which will insure you even if you’re already overseas. They’re called World Nomads, and are worth keeping in your back pocket just in case.
5. You Get What You Pay For
Don’t be tempted to simply grab the cheapest deal on Money Supermarket without first reading through the small print and knowing exactly what you’ll be covered for if things go wrong. It’s always advisable to compare it to a more expensive policy so you can understand what you’ll be missing out on.
The Foreign Office strongly advise you not to travel without insurance, but often a very cheap policy which doesn’t include cover for adventurous activities like bungee jumping (which could be the highlight of your trip!) is a complete waste of money.
Check out the British government’s advice here.
So remember: scrimp on gap year insurance at your peril and remember it is the best money you will ever spend on a product you hope never to use!
Who have your used in the past that you'd recommend? Maybe there's a company you're planning to use in the future? Let us know in the comments.
on 14 / 04 / 2016