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Travel insurance for British expats: Are you covered?

When British expats travel abroad, one of the last things they consider is their travel insurance, but it should be one of the first.

Written by Gemma Cairns on 21 March 2017

When you live overseas, travel insurance is something that you need to think very carefully about, particularly if you regularly return to the UK or enjoy taking holidays outside of the country you are currently residing in.

The cost of medical treatment overseas can be eye wateringly expensive.

For example, the Foreign Office tells us that if you suffer from a stomach bug or infection whilst you are in America and are treated in a Californian hospital then, with your return flights home, the cost would be approximately £100,000.

Within Europe, a fall that resulted in a broken hip and required treatment in a Spanish hospital, alongside return flights, would cost approximately £15,000.

Given that most of us simply do not have these huge sums of money lying around to pay for unexpected medical expenses, it is important that if you do plan on travelling outside of your country of residence that you secure a good level of travel insurance.

Do not rely on the NHS

It’s important to remember that when you live overseas, you might not automatically have access to NHS health coverage when you return home, so if you are taking a trip back to the UK to visit family and friends (regardless of whether you are returning for a short weekend, or a month long trip) you should ensure that you have the protection of a good level of travel insurance coverage, otherwise you will simply be travelling without any protection in the event of a medical emergency.

In 2015 the British government announced that British retirees living outside the European Economic Area will be denied free health care if they return to the UK for treatment – except short term treatment in the event of a genuine medical emergency. What’s more, the change to the system also meant that British citizens now living overseas could also face a punitive surcharge of up to 50% for any service they do receive on the NHS.

This decision was taken to minimise the impact that health tourism was having on the already stretched NHS system, and doesn’t just affect expats living outside of the EU: Even those British citizens living in Europe are now required to produce a European Health Insurance Card, issued by the country in which they live, in order to get free NHS treatment when they are in the UK and, again, this card only covers short term treatment in the event of an unexpected medical emergency.

The current political uncertainty over the UK’s decision to leave the EU, and how that might affect universal health care across European borders, also means that your European Health Insurance Card may not be valid for treatment in the UK in the next 12-24 months, meaning that now is the time to start thinking about travel insurance policies that work for you, and offer you the protection you need when you are visiting the UK, or any other country outside of the one you currently reside.

Choosing your Travel Insurance

When you come to choosing your travel insurance, it’s important that you look through all the options available to you carefully. The cheapest policy is often not the best one, and could end up costing you more in the long run, should you suffer from a medical emergency when you are overseas.

The most important thing to look for are the benefits that each travel insurance provider will offer you, including:

  • how much excess you will have to pay if you need to see a doctor;
  • how quickly they will be able to repatriate you home if needed;
  • whether you have 24 hour access to a member of support staff at your insurer.

For this reason, bigger insurance companies with a global presence often offer more attractive offerings that smaller budget providers, even if they do work out to be a few pounds more expensive.

Also, if you plan on taking part in what are considered to be ‘dangerous sports’ during your holiday (such as skiing or snowboarding) then make sure these activities are specifically covered within your policy; you often have to pay an extra surcharge for dangerous sports coverage, but it is worth paying to ensure that every aspect of your holiday will be safely ensured and protected.