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 Medicare or your domestic private health insurance.
Travel insurance also covers 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.
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!
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. Be aware of dollar limits for claims on individual items and as a whole.
- 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 entire duration of your trip.
- Make sure that you provide all information requested by your insurer, including details of any pre-existing medical conditions or medication and your intended destination and activities.
- Always clarify any specific issues about your policy directly with the insurer, ideally before you proceed with the planned travel.
- Keep a copy of the product disclosure statement for your records.
Medical coverage and pre-existing conditions
Take care to provide your insurer with accurate information about your health.
- Ensure that medical cover offered under the insurance policy is appropriate for your personal circumstances and will cover the possible medical expenses likely to be incurred in the country you are going to visit.
- Make enquiries about medical expenses in the countries to which you intend to travel. Be aware that in some parts of the world medical costs can be very expensive.
- Be aware that failure to declare pre-existing medical conditions may nullify all coverage and result in you racking up a hefty bill in a foreign hospital that you must pay on your own.
Limits and exclusions
When shopping around for the most appropriate insurance policy you should compare the exclusions and claim limits that apply.
- 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, pre-existing medical conditions and some natural disasters.
- 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 a helmet.
- Some travel insurance policies may be invalidated if you are injured while driving a vehicle, including a motorcycle, that you are not licensed to drive under local law, regardless of whether you are licensed to drive a similar vehicle in Australia.
- 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.
- Some travel insurance policies contain exclusions for losses incurred due to the financial collapse of an airline, hotel or other travel operator.
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 a 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.
Medical evacuation from nearby locations are also expensive. We have handled medical evacuations from Bali in which costs have exceeded $60,000. The cost of evacuations from Noumea routinely exceed $40,000.
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 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 Australian Government will not pay your medical bills for you.
More information on travel insurance
The Australian Securities and Investment Commission provides a number of useful tips on what to look for when shopping around for a travel insurance policy.
The Insurance Council of Australia has 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.
How to complain about travel insurance
If you wish to complain 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.