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One of Life’s Great Riddles: Do I Need Travel Insurance?

With popular international sporting fixtures like the Cricket & Rugby World Cups to look forward to, it’s likely a lot more people will be travelling in the coming weeks and months.

Here are some key things to look out for when shopping around for travel insurance, and a few tips in case things go terribly wrong when next you’re out snapping selfies and immersing yourself in local culture. 

Medical Cover

The average cost of a five-night stay in a UK hospital is around R250 000. So if your insurance policy doesn’t offer unlimited hospital cover and medical evacuation then shop somewhere else. If you do get sick or have an accident while travelling and wish to make a claim against your policy, you’ll need a doctor’s certificate and receipts for any treatment and medicine you’ve received. And don’t wait until you get back home to notify your insurer; you’re required to notify them via phone or email within 24 hours. In the event you’re incapacitated, a third party can do it for you.

Devil in the detail: Most policies don’t cover the cost of ongoing treatment after you get back home. Many insurers will also not cover a health emergency resulting from a pre-existing medical condition or an act of terrorism.

Sports Travel

Today people dream of niche, adventure and adrenaline travel: stuff like surfing in the Maldives, mountain biking in Nepal or cruising to Antartica. But did you know that many of these activities require additional levels of insurance? Even the seemingly benign sport of golf often requires additional cover.

Devil in the detail: Say you slam into a tree while skiing in the Alps and end up in a French hospital with a broken leg. Your insurance will cover you no matter what, right? Not if they learn there were recreational drugs or excess alcohol in your bloodstream. Most insurers will also not pay for claims arising from sports and activities like hunting, sky diving, parachuting and horse racing.

Baggage & Personal Items

Many insurers offer different levels of protection for personal belongings while some also charge premiums for big-ticket electronic devices like laptops and smartphones – in addition to capped limits on how much they’ll pay for each item in the event it gets stolen, broken or lost.

Devil in the detail: Most policies do not cover sunglasses unless they’re prescription sunglasses.

Making a Claim

If your belongings are lost or stolen, you’ll need to get a police report to make a successful claim. In developing countries, this process can take days. The key is persistence. And whatever you do, never, ever lose your cool if they give you the runaround. It won’t help your case and could also land you in hot water.

Devil in the detail: Baggage that’s lost, stolen or broken into at airports, airport car parks or mid-flight is generally not covered by travel insurance policies.

What About Free Travel Insurance Through Your Credit Card?

Most credit cards will provide travel insurance if you use your card to buy a full-fare return ticket. On most of the lower-level (blue, classic and silver) cards, you have emergency medical cover of about R200 000 and you won’t be covered for lost baggage, stolen personal effects or cancelled flights.

Devil in the detail:  Cover is often limited to 90 days. Top-up cover will be required for longer trips. Age. Most regular policies provide cover only to the age of 70 or 75. If you’re over the cut-off age, you have to take out separate seniors’ cover. Pregnancy. Most policies cover pregnant women who have a pregnancy-related complication or emergency up to only the 26th week of pregnancy. Air Miles. You may not be covered by automatic credit-card insurance if you pay for your journey using air miles or benefits from a frequent-flyer programme.

The Long and the Short of It

There are countless things to consider when shopping for travel insurance: excess waivers, loss of income, legal expenses, hijacking, war, natural disasters, etc. But the very last thing you want to do is base your decision on price alone, because at the end of the day the expense will be nothing compared to the astronomical costs of emergency medical treatment abroad. It’s just as important to distinguish between a one-star policy and a five-star policy in the same way you would when you choose the accommodation for your vacation.

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