Getting the right insurance cover for you whilst you’re abroad is so important. I’ve worked in oversees insurance assistance and so have knowledge of the types of cover available and the claims that are settled, or not settled. Buying insurance, particularly for travel out of Europe or for long trips, can be very expensive, but I assure you, it’s very worth it.
How to choose the right policy
It’s vital that you get an insurance policy that covers you well and is right for your trip. As a traveller, the medical part of the insurance cover is the most important. As a foreigner in another country, you are very vulnerable to illness by simply picking up new bugs from food or water that you are not used to. Furthermore, you are also putting yourself in riskier situations, in places with which you are unfamiliar. You are probably going to be more adventurous, taking part in activities such as hiking or extreme sports etc. All these factors mean that the possibility of requiring medical attention is much higher than if you were at home.
Medical costs are expensive and can easily mount up. When I worked in insurance, it was not uncommon to hear of medical claims adding up to hundreds of thousands or millions of pounds. In South America, hospitals are fewer and farther between than what we are used to in the UK, which makes it more difficult to seek medical assistance. On top of that, you need to consider that South America is a huge continent, with all types of terrain, including lots of mountains. This means journeys are long and routes are not direct, often involving a winding mountain path. Roads are fewer and often not in great condition, sometimes unpaved, which makes travelling more difficult. As a result, transportation costs, and the use of air ambulances for example, can easily reach six figures. Of course, there is no way that the average traveller budgets for that kind of expense. So, better to be safe than sorry. Get a travel insurance that covers sufficient medical expenses.
I would also advise getting insurance that gives you good cover on belongings and personal money. Travelling around South America, we run into many people who have had things stolen or who have been the victims of muggings. We, ourselves, were mugged in Ecuador on the third day of arriving, and we had our brand new camera stolen, as well as a bit of cash and our coat. It happens, and it’s not a nice experience. Being compensated for the money lost though, does make it easier to replace the items. Furthermore, it is expensive to replace electrical items in South America. Although we replaced our camera with the money we got from the insurance company, we were not able to afford the same quality camera that we had bought in England. However, had we not got insurance, we would’ve had to buy an even shoddier camera.
There are loads of insurance companies offering a range of insurance policies. I would advise against going for the cheapest one. You pay for what you get. If you buy the cheapest, don’t expect to be paid out for every claim you make. That doesn’t mean, however, you should buy the most expensive. Shop around and make sure you do your research.
For us, the most important factors to consider for our travel insurance were a generous medical and personal belongings cover. We also needed to be able to extend the policy easily whilst we were away, as we were unsure of the length of time we’d need. Some insurance companies did not allow this, made it difficult to do so or charged a fee. Other companies were really clear on how to extend the policy and made it easy. They seemed to cater especially for travellers or backpackers like us who needed to be flexible with our plans.
Where to search
When looking for policies, we considered a few insurance companies. We started by searching on insurance comparison sites like www.comparethemarket.com or www.moneysupermarket.com, however, they were not very effective when it came to finding long-term policies. We googled searched, looked on forums and read reviews, to see what was available and what other people had bought. I also contacted the companies directly, by email or by phone before I signed up for anything, so that I could get direct answers to my questions. It also meant that I had the information in writing, should I have to dispute a claim in the future. More importantly, it showed me what their customer service was like.
Our experience with our own insurance policy
We finally decided to buy our travel insurance with Holiday Safe. Some of the other insurance companies that I considered were Flexicover, Alpha Travel, 24/7 Travel and Go Walkabout. We settled on Holidaysafe, who we felt gave us a reasonably price for a decent policy. We bought the Longstay Plus cover, which was the middle-range option. We also were impressed with how they responded to our emails quickly and thoroughly. Furthermore, it seemed straightforward to extend the policy and there would be no extra fees.
Since being out here in South America, we have contacted our insurance provider on two occasions and both were positive. The first time was when we were mugged in Ecuador. They dealt with our claim very quickly and efficiently. I received the money within a month of making the claim. I simply emailed them the necessary paperwork – insurance forms, police report, receipts and insurance documents. They then transferred the money into our account online. The second time we have had to contact the insurance company was to extend our policy. We emailed them to request an extension to our policy and they replied with a quote. I got someone at home to call up on my behalf to pay for the extra months’ insurance and I immediately received an email from them with all my new insurance documents. Really easy and quick. So, so far, no complaints about our insurance providers.