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How to get the right level of travel insurance cover

Travel insurance is there to help cover your expenses if things go wrong on a trip. The levels of cover you require will often depend on the nature of your trip and your own personal circumstances. The cheapest policy does not always offer the best value for money; it's important to find one that offers the best cover for your individual needs.

Medical cover

Hopefully you won't need medical treatment while you're away but if you do the costs can soon mount up. In general you should look for medical cover of at least £2 million in Europe and £5 million worldwide. This might seem excessive at first glance but, depending on the circumstances, medical expenses can be hugely expensive. Medical cover should also allow you to be flown back to the UK, or repatriated, in extreme circumstances.

It's worth noting that some people think that a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will provide sufficient medical cover if they are travelling in Europe. The EHIC entitles you to the same level of public healthcare that would be available to a resident of the country you're visiting. The card is free to obtain and always worth carrying but it does not cover any private medical treatment or the costs of emergency repatriation. Most countries do not have a public healthcare system as extensive as the NHS and without suitable insurance, you might have to pay some or all of the costs of any treatment you receive.

Cancellation or curtailment

There might be times when you have to cancel or cut short a trip you have already paid for. Situations covered might include you losing your job and no longer being able to afford the trip, or suffering a family bereavement. The level of cover offered will usually be a set amount but if possible you should ensure it covers the entire cost of the trip. You should also check the small print to confirm what circumstances count as valid reasons for cancelling or curtailing your trip. Many travel insurance policies will also compensate you if your flight is delayed by more than 12 hours.

Personal belongings

Most travel insurance policies will cover you if your luggage or personal belongings are lost, damaged or stolen. The ideal level of cover will be at least equal to the total cost of replacing your belongings, but you should be aware that there will usually be a maximum value payable for any single item. If you have any particularly valuable items such as jewellery or laptops, it might be worth taking out extra cover. There will also usually be a cap on the payout for any lost or stolen cash. Taking a combination of cash, cards and travellers' cheques can help minimise the risk of losing a large amount of cash in one go. If your belongings are stolen, you will generally be required to report the theft to the local police before making a claim.

You may also be able to get compensation if your baggage is significantly delayed. This can allow you to replace clothes, toiletries and other essential items while you are waiting for your luggage to arrive.

Personal liability

Personal liability claims are much rarer than claims for medical expenses or personal property loss but personal liability cover can be essential. If you accidentally injure somebody else, or damage their property, they could make a claim against you. This could be very expensive and you should have cover in place of not less than £1 million.

Annual versus single trip

Most travel insurance policies are active for the duration of a single named trip. Annual or multi-trip policies provide cover for two or more trips taken within a 12 month period. Annual insurance is more expensive than comparable single-trip cover but, if you do take multiple trips in a year, annual cover could work out far cheaper than buying several individual single-trip policies. Standard single-trip policies usually have a maximum duration. If you are taking a longer trip, such as going backpacking, special backpacker or extended trip insurance might be more suitable.

Excess payments

The excess is the amount you have to pay towards the cost of any individual claim you make. If, for example, you had an excess of £250 for medical cover, you would have to pay the first £250 towards any treatment you receive. The levels of excess can vary between different policies and even within the same policy, depending on the type of claim you make.

Special considerations

Treatment for pre-existing medical conditions might not be covered by standard travel insurance. You should always disclose any medical conditions when purchasing insurance however; failure to do so could invalidate the whole policy.

If you are planning on taking part in particularly risky activities such as extreme sports or martial arts, you might not be covered by a standard policy. Skiing and other winter sports may be wholly or partially covered but specialist winter sports policies are available. These may provide higher levels of cover for particularly expensive equipment and ski passes.