Travel Insurance Buying Guide 
by a travel agent pro

palm of hand cupping a globe with a picture of a plane and suitcase inside

Why You Need Travel Insurance

I have worked extensively in the travel industry, mainly in Australia and UK. Therefore, I have sold thousands of travel insurance policies. My aim here is to dissect and guide you through the process of buying travel insurance for your next holiday. To help you choose the right policy for you.

always, always recommend travellers to buy travel insurance. The reasons are wide and varied, but include:

  • Be reimbursed for unforeseen out of pocket expenses that you can't afford. Medical bills is a big one.
  • Obtain help with locating a nearby and reputable medical facility. Especially if you're travelling in lower socio-economic countries
  • Arrange your evacuation home, if necessary.
  • Have peace and mind with 24 hour emergency assistance line.

For me, about 90% of my travel insurance claims were for medical reasons. The other claims have been for damaged personal items, like when my camera got water damage from a freak wave in stormy Italy. It makes me feel safe knowing that I have insurance experts to rely on for any type of help while travelling.

Types of travel insurance policies

Travel insurance companies tend to offer 1 to 3 different types of policies. The name of these different polices will vary between all the insurers.  But these can best be summarised as follows:

Basic - the cheapest policy of offer, which usually includes medical cover only. Sometimes, I see some insurers now adding basic cover for luggage too.

Standard  - contains the main important benefits that you will need (see Essential Benefits below). The amount of benefits cover is lower than the next type of policy, fully comprehensive.

Fully comprehensive – top cover which has all the benefits of the Standard Plan, but with increased levels of cover. Plus extra benefits that you may or may not need.

  • more benefits, like comprehensive rental vehicle insurance, business packs
  • more activities included and hiring of sporting equipment
  • higher benefit amounts, therefore it is more expensive than the Standard policy

When you complete an online quote, the results will show you the exact amounts you are covered for. For example, below is the comparison between a Standard and Explorer policy.

world nomads travel insurance medical benefit comparison between policies
world nomads travel insurance benefits comparison between policies


Base your decision on the policy that will adequately cover your needs. 


Most importantly look at medical expenses and baggage/personal items limits first.

The essential benefits

In this section, I cover what I believe are most essential to be included when buying travel insurance policy. This is what you should look out for too when comparing prices/policies between insurance companies.

  1. 1
    Medical
    Should you become sick or injured while on holiday, this will cover medical expenses such as; hospital stays, doctors visits, prescribed medication and other incidentals.

    Travel insurers automatically cover for a pre-defined list of pre-existing medical conditions. If you have a pre-existing medical condition or take medication, make sure to check if its on the insurer's list. If its not on the list, you can have the option to submit a medical form and their assessors will let you know if they will/will not cover you. Most times they will ask for an extra premium to cover it.

    If you plan to engage in any sort of outdoor/sporting activity, check the fine print for which activities they will automatically cover. Some insurers will cover higher risk activities for an extra premium. World Nomads seems to have the largest number of included activities.

    Special note:  for travel to USA/Canada, I recommend taking the top plan that has unlimited medical cover. That’s’ because the average cost for a hospital stay is about $10k per day!
  2. 2
    Medical repatriation
    Cover to fly you home for ongoing treatment, if the insurers emergency team deem it medically necessary.
  3. 3
    Dental
    The policy will cover unexpected dental treatment, upon the advice from a qualified dentist to relieve pain or restore function. Take note, it does not cover routine dental treatment or cosmetic dentistry.
  4. 4
    Luggage
    It covers theft or accidental damage to your luggage in specified incidents. However, sub-limits are placed on individual items, including electronic devices (cameras, phones, laptops etc), digital storage hardware, passport & travel documents and all other items. So make sure you are adequately covered by checking those amounts first when you get your quote. You can increase the cover value on those individual items but for an extra cost.

    Please note, you are not covered if you leave you luggage unattended in a public place (including the beach), in an unlocked car, overnight in a car or unsecured in a hotel room. ALWAYS watch or lock your valuable stuff!
  5. 5
    Trip Cancellation fees
    Each travel insurance company will list in their policy the reasons they will/will not cover you if you need to cancel your holiday. Common reasons being:
    - a doctor certifies you unfit to travel
    - your travelling companion or close relative is hospitalised or dies unexpectedly
    - transport is cancelled due to severe weather, natural disaster or strike
    - you’re made redundant
    - called to jury duty

What about Covid?

PLEASE NOTE: disease outbreaks/pandemics have never been included in travel insurance policies.

I remember back in 2003 when SARS disrupted many holiday plans (including myself) and travellers were disappointed to learn that their travel insurance policy didn't cover such events. 

But as the recent pandemic brought travel to a complete standstill, the travel insurers have decided to include some Covid benefits now. Each insurer has their own rules on what they will/will not cover. So read the fine print.

One major exclusion I have noticed they all say is, they won't cover you if you travel to a country contrary to any travel restrictions/government orders/warnings/border closures currently in place.

The onus is on the traveller to check their governments travel advice before departing.

Real life experiences by my clients:

A young guy falling off a balcony...

Halfway through his Bali holiday, he somehow managed to fall off his first floor balcony and broke many bones. He was able to call the 24 hour emergency assistance number. They advised that due to his injuries, it was best for him to be flown back to Australia for medical attention. Of course they did a blood test first. If there was alcohol or drugs in his system then he was liable for all the costs. Luckily he was clean and was flown back to Australia that day. He was thankful that I recommended him to buy a $68 insurance policy as it saved him $60,000 for the emergency charter flight back home.

Break a leg while skiing...

I remember a lovely Perth couple returning early from their Canadian winter holiday. At the last minute they decided to go skiing. The wife fell awkwardly and broke her leg. One week in hospital cost nearly $50,000. Thats why you definitely need travel insurance when exploring North America as hospital costs are astronomical.
Thankfully she had purchased travel insurance which included payment to the hospital and for flights back home early.

The other benefits

The following benefits are usually included in most travel insurance policies. Sometimes you have to upgrade to the top policy to have them included.

To me, these are 'just in case' scenarios - unlikely to happen but could happen. Therefore, I don't consider them essential when I'm looking/comparing policies but if they are included then its nice to have. 

  1. 5
    Delayed luggage
    If your luggage is delayed by more than 12 hours, you are covered for essential item purchases. Such items include toiletries, underwear, socks and t-shirts. You do need to get a Report from the offending airline!
    Please note: The airline is obliged to give you cover anyway and you must use this option first before claiming from insurance.
  2. 6
    Rental vehicle insurance
    This is handy if you plan to rent a car on your holiday. It covers your rental vehicle insurance excess - the cost of repair that you are liable to pay if the rented vehicle is damaged or stolen.  This is a saving for you, as you don't need to pay for the Excess Reduction or Excess Waiver insurance that all car rental companies offer. You can let them know that you are covered by travel insurance. Note that there are special conditions for hiring mopeds or scooters.
  3. 7
    Natural disasters
    These days it feels like the frequency of natural disasters are on the increase and worsening in intensity. So most travel insurance companies will cover you if you bought the policy before the disaster was in the media. If you’re overseas caught up in it, then they will get you out.
    I was caught in Kathmandu during the big Nepal earthquake in 2015. My insurance company was offering free flights out of the country but I couldn't get in touch with them due to no phone/internet connectivity. However, I did manage to get on a plane to Kuala Lumpur. They covered my medical expenses I needed in Malaysia as I couldn't get to a hospital in Kathmandu.
  4. 8
    Terrorism
    This is a tricky one. Terrorism is on the rise too these days. If the event is unforeseen, you are still covered for hospitalisation, prescribed medicines and medical repatriation. But you won’t be covered to cancel your holiday, trip interruption expenses or simply changing your mind to go.
  5. 9
    Other benefits
    There are many other little benefits that are included travel insurance policies to entice you to buy. I call these extra little bonuses but not essential. Includes out–of-pocket expenses in hospital, trip interruption costs, compassionate emergency visit home, resumption of trip, hire of sporting equipment, kidnap or hijack, accidental death & and personal liability, loss of income and more.
  6. 10
    Extra services
    Some travel insurance companies offer extra services that provide further savings to the traveller.
    For example, World Nomads allow you to buy travel insurance once you're already overseas, extend your insurance policy, discounts for subsequent purchases and include alternative therapies as well as trauma counselling.

Not all activities are automatically included

Some activities are automatically included in the policy. For other more risky activities, there will be an extra premium added to the insurance price. Always check the policy fine print to check what they do/do not include in their policy.


I went through the whole list of activities and have separated them for you for an easy quick reference.

Just click on each orange button below to see the list.


 [Please note:  Use as a guide only - this is not a absolute list for all travel insurance companies. You still need to check the policies fine print for each travel insurer]

Possible general activities

Angling/fishing – inland or within 3 nautical miles

Archery

Athletics

Au pair/nanny – paid or volunteer childcare

Australian Rules Football - AFL

Badminton

Ballooning – hot air

Banana boat rides

Bar work – hospitality, manual work

Baseball

Basketball

BMX – on road, no tricks or jumps

Boating/canoeing/kayaking/sailing – inland or coastal waters within 3 nautical miles

Bobsled - non-snow track

Bungee jumping

Camel riding - single ride / day tour

Caving - sightseeing / tourist attraction

Cricket

Croquet

Cycling - incidental to the trip; independent touring; on organised tour, up to 2,000 metres in elevation

Dirt boarding

Diving - scuba to 30 metres

Diving - scuba, unqualified / learn to dive course / discover dive with qualified instructor

Dog sledding

Dragon boating - inland or coastal waters

Dune buggy

Elephant riding - single ride / day tour

Fell running

Fencing

Fitness training

Floorball

Flying - as a passenger in a licensed scheduled or chartered aircraft or helicopter

Fruit picking - WWOOFing, general farm work, manual work

Glacier walking - ice walking

Go karting

Golf

Gym training - aerobics, spinning, zumba, body pump, weight training, cross training, crossfit

Gymnastics

Handball

High diving up to 10 metres - excluding cliff diving / deep water soloing

Hiking/camping - up to 2,000 metres

Hockey

Horse riding - leisure / social / non-competitive riding

Hydrofoiling

Hydrospeeding - grades 1-5

Ice skating - indoor

In-line skating

Jet boating

Kite boarding - on land or water

Kite surfing

Korfball

Lacrosse

Martial arts - non-contact

Motor racing experience - passenger only

Motorbiking - on road

Motorbiking - pillion passenger with a licensed driver

Mountain biking - downhill, up to 6,000 metres

Netball

Office work - paid or volunteer clerical, non-manual work

Orienteering

Outward Bound activities

Paddle boarding

Paint balling / airsoft

Parasailing - over water

Racquetball

Retail work - shop assistant / manager, general retail, manual work

River boarding - grades 1-5

Roller hockey

Roller skating

Rollerblading

Rowing

Rugby - league / union

Running / jogging - half marathon distance or less

Safari tours - excluding handling of big game or dangerous animals

Sail boarding - inland or coastal waters within 3 nautical miles only

Sandboarding / sandskiing

Scooter riding

Scrambling - up to 2,000 metres

Scuba diving - to 30 metres

Scuba diving - unqualified / learn to dive course / discover dive with qualified instructor

Sculling

Shark cage diving - non-qualified at surface or qualified to scuba dive to 30 metres

Skateboarding - ramp, half pipe, skate park, street

Sleigh rides - horse drawn

Snorkelling

Soccer

Softball

Speed boating

Squash / raquet ball

Stand up paddle surfing

Stilt walking

Stoolball

Surf boat rowing

Surfing

Swimming - pool; enclosed, inland or coastal waters within 3 nautical miles only

Table tennis

Tchoukball

Teaching - paid or volunteer, child care, non-manual work

Tennis

Trampolining

Tubing on rivers

Tuk Tuk - as a passenger

Volleyball

Volunteer manual work - hospitality, retail, general farm work

Volunteer non-manual work - teaching, clerical, childcare

Wake skating

Wakeboarding - excluding jumps

Water polo

Water skiing - excluding jumps

White water kayaking - inland / coastal waters within 3 nautical miles, grades 1-5

White water rafting - grades 1-5

Windsurfing - inland or coastal waters within 3 nautical miles

Work - manual work - hospitality, retail, general farm work

Work - non-manual work - teaching, clerical, childcare

WWOOFing - general farm work, fruit picking, manual work

Yoga - class, alone / home practice

Zorbing

Activities that may require extra premium

Abseiling

Aerial safari

American football

Angling/fishing – beyond 3 nautical miles

Angling/fishing – ice

Bicycle polo

Black water rafting – cave tubing

BMX – off road / on track / cross country

Boating/canoeing/kayaking/sailing – beyond 3 nautical miles

Bobsled - in snow

Bobsleigh

Bouldering

Camel trekking - overnight / main mode of transport

Canyon swing

Cave tubing - grades 1-5

Cavern diving - to 40 metres

Caving - spelunking

Clay pigeon shooting

Cycling - incidental to the trip; independent touring; on organised tour, 2,000 to 6,000 metres in elevation

Deep sea fishing

Deepelling

Diving - scuba to 30 to 40 metres

Elephant trekking - overnight / main mode of transport

Fly by wire

Gridiron

Hiking/camping – between 2,000 to 6,000 metres

Horse riding - equestrian, dressage, show jumping, eventing

Hunting - excluding big game

Ice hockey - indoor

Ice skating - outdoor

Jet skiing

Kite buggy

Kite wing - land, water, snow

Land surfing

Martial arts - Judo, Karate

Motorbiking - off road, trail bike riding

Mountain biking - off road / cross country, up to 6,000 metres in elevation

Multi-sport, triathlon, outdoor endurance - less than ultra distance

Obstacle course / assault course / trim trail

Outrigger canoeing

Parachuting - one jump only

Potholing - caving

Quad biking - excluding travellers aged 15 years or younger

Rapelling

Rifle range / sports shooting

Rock climbing - bouldering / no ropes / no equipment

Rock climbing - indoor

Rock climbing - outdoor / sport climbing / bolted

Running - marathon distance

Scrambling – 2,000 to 6,000 metres

Scuba diving - instructor or guide

Scuba diving – 30 to 40 metres

Segway tours

Shooting - rifle range / sports

Skeleton

Ski / snowboard - instructor or guide

Skiing - back country / outside of resort boundary / alpine ski touring

Skiing - by helicopter / snow cat

Skiing - cross country / Nordic skiing on marked trails

Skiing - dry slope

Skiing - on piste or off piste within resort boundaries

Snow blading

Skydiving - one jump only

Sledding / tobogganing / snow sleds / snow sleighs - on snow

Snow biking

Snow kiting

Snow rafting

Snowboarding - back country / outside of resort boundary / alpine ski touring

Snowboarding - by helicopter / snow cat

Snowboarding - dry slope

Snowboarding - on piste or off piste within resort boundaries

Snowboarding - terrain park within resort, excluding acrobatics

Snowmobiling

Spearfishing

Swimming - with whales / whale sharks - inside or outside coastal waters

Tandem skydiving - one jump only

Tough Mudder

Trail bike riding - motorbiking off road

Trapeze

Triathlon - less than ultra distance

Tubing on snow

Via Ferrata

Volunteer instructor or guide - in other covered activities

Volunteer instructor or guide - ski, snowboard, scuba dive

Volunteer manual work - any work with power tools or working at height under 5 metres

Water skiing - barefoot

Windsurfing - beyond 3 nautical miles

Work - as an instructor or guide in other covered activities

Work - instructor or guide - ski, snowboard, scuba dive

Work - manual work - any work with power tools or working at height under 5 metres

Zip line


Be aware of Optional Cover costs 

Once upon a time, travel insurance quotes would include everything. These days, they are now adding extra premiums to have certain benefits included. Just like the airlines started adding taxes to airfares, when they used to be automatically included in the total price.


When you get your initial travel insurance quote, it might seem like a great deal. But if you take a closer look, it may missing some benefits, hence the cheaper price.


Remember to scroll further down the page to read the inclusions and where they start offering add-ons.


Check that it includes everything you will be doing and everything you want to be covered for. Below are various common benefits that travel insurance companies may ask for an extra premium if you wish to be covered.

Cancellation fees

Some insurers will now ask how much you want to be covered for. Ideally you want to cover the entire non-refundable portion of your pre-paid travel costs.

Cruising

Cruising used to be automatically included in all policies, until Covid hit. Then they started adding a premium if a cruise was included in your itinerary. Slowly insurers are starting to include cruises again, like Qantas Travel Insurance for Australian residents.

Pre-existing illness

Check the fine print for the automatic inclusions of pre-existing illnesses. If not listed, you can submit a medical form to their assessors and they will advise the premium should you want cover for it.

Snow activities

Skiing and snow holidays are still popular but injuries can lead to high costs. Therefore, most insurers will charge extra if you will be engaging in any snow activity while on holidays.

Increase luggage

Every travel insurance policy specifies the maximum they will cover you for your luggage and specified items. If your camera costs $2000 but the cover is only $1000 max, you can opt to pay a premium to cover the full value. Take note, they do calculate depreciation if you need to make a claim.

Motorcycles and mopeds

Motorcycles and mopeds are not included in the car rental section. Each insurer has their own rules on what they do/do not cover. If you intend to rent one, be sure to check the details in the insurance policy fine print. Ensure you hold valid motorcycle licences and adhere to all road rules.

female standing in large wooden frame with mountains in background

What to watch out for when getting a quote

  1. 1
    In the destinations box, you must include all countries you are visiting, even stopovers or ports of call on a cruise. If you dont, you will not be covered should anything happen in that country that is not listed on your insurance policy.
  2. 2
    Look for options to reduce the claims excess to a lower amount.
    This is helpful for small claims. Quite often in my travels I end up seeing a doctor. The bill is usually under $300. But if your policy has a $200-$300 excess, you will get very little or nothing back.  Be aware cheaper quotes often mean higher excess.
  3. 3
    If you have a pre-existing medical condition or take medication, check if you are automatically covered.
    Most travel insurance companies will give you the opportunity to submit a medical form from your doctor. After the insurers medical team assesses it, they will either decline it, accept it or accept it but with a premium added to the policy cost.
  4. 4
    Ensure the travel insurance company offers 24/7 emergency assistance. They must a phone number in which you can contact them at any time you need help - such as assistance with payment of medical fees, doctor or dentist recommendations, emergency evacuation etc.
  5. 5
    All reputable travel insurance companies will offer a cooling off period. This means you can cancel your policy within a defined period should you change your mind.
  6. 6
    All reputable travel insurance companies will also offer a dedicated complaints handling procedure. I hear so many stories how travellers have issues with insurers in getting their claim settled. Cheap is not always the best.

See what other travel bloggers are saying

face shot of Will Hatton of The Broke Backpacker who supports World Nomads Travel Insurance

Will Hatton (The Broke Backpacker) -  travel blogger

"In 2017, I became very sick with Dengue Fever in Koh Lanta, Southern Thailand. I was too far from a hospital and so I ended up in a private clinic – which was a big mistake. As soon as I walked in, the main doctor was practically rubbing his hands together with glee. I was too sick to really notice and went on to get treated.

 

When I went in, I was asked for, and gave, my passport so they could make a photocopy. I had administered fluids, plenty of pills and spent an uncomfortable night tossing and turning on a bed. The next day I asked for my passport back and was informed that I would only get it back once the bill was paid. I asked for the bill and it was a massive 25,000 Bhat – nearly $1000. I explained that I didn’t have that kind of money but that I did have travel insurance and they would pay it back. To my horror and surprise, the two doctors then began shouting at me, insisting I would not get my passport back till I paid. I felt weak still from the Dengue and was in no state to start busting heads.

I called World Nomads – they were extremely surprised that my passport was being held ransom, insisting that it was illegal. They were right. World Nomads dealt with the whole thing for me and thirty minutes later, my bill was paid and my passport was released – I was extremely impressed with World Nomad’s professional service and very grateful to them getting me out of a bind."

profile picture of Nomadic Matt who support World Nomads Travel Insurance

Nomadic Matt - travel blogger

"In Argentina, I was suffering from anxiety and worried that it was something more. It felt like someone was stomping on my chest. I logged into the portal, got the call center number, and called the hotline. They took my information and symptoms and gave me a list of emergency doctors that they recommended. The One Call system was helpful, quick, and got me a doctor right away. I was very happy with the service and know that if something really does go wrong, they act quickly!"

For Australian residents only

For Global residents

The stuff you need to be aware of once you've departed

Stolen/lost items

For all stolen/lost items, you must get a police report within 24 hours. A copy of the report must be submitted with the claim.

Keep records/receipts

Keep receipts and documented records of everything, even all those electronic devices that you bring with you. Makes the claims procedure less stressful.

Easy access to your policy number

Keep your insurance policy number within easy access while you travel and give to your travelling partner. Makes it easier when contacting the insurers emergency assistance line.

Depreciation on luggage items

During a claim, if the travel insurer chooses to reimburse the purchase price of your stolen/damaged item, they will deduct for normal wear and tear by using a depreciation scale of their choice.


Disclaimer

All of the information provided about travel insurance is a brief summary only. It does not include all terms, conditions, limitations, exclusions and termination provisions of the travel insurance plans described. Coverage may not be available for residents of all countries, states or provinces. Please carefully read your policy wording for a full description of coverage.
Here is the comparison checklist that I go through myself when buying travel insurance policy for my holiday:
  1. Check the limits are to your satisfaction. For example, adequate medical cover and suitable luggage sub-limits for cover your expensive items that you will bring.
  2. Read the exclusions for each benefit.
  3. Double check it will cover the activities (adventure and sports) you like to do on holidays.
  4. Read all the FAQs on their website.
  5. Always read the fine print – the full description of cover in the Policy wording for your country of residence. Particularly the General Exclusions, to make sure its the right fit for you. 

Consider buying travel insurance.

I never leave home without it!

Best travel insurance for international travel - Australian residents

Best travel insurance for international travel - US & global residents


© 2019, Travel Groove

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