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Revealed: the potentially life-changing cost of holidaying without travel insurance

Find out how much you'd spend on emergency medical treatment by country – and where it might set you back as much as £29,000

One in ten Brits don’t buy any travel insurance when going on holiday, leaving many at risk of astronomical medical bills should they fall ill or get injured, according to Moneysupermarket. 

The figures show that while 40% of UK holidaymakers think travel insurance is too expensive, the cost of emergency medical treatment abroad far outweighs the relatively small expense of an insurance policy.

Here, we look at how much you’ll have to pay for medical treatment in different countries if you travel uninsured.


The cost of holidaying without travel insurance

It’s easy to ignore the need for travel insurance until you need medical treatment on holiday, when – if you’re travelling uninsured – you could face a bill for tens of thousands of pounds.

Analysis by Moneyfacts has revealed that uninsured travellers in South Korea faced the highest average medical bill, at £28,938.

The second most-expensive country for medical treatment was Tunisia, where holidaymakers had to fork out an average of £22,833, and Russia was third, at £21,883.

The table below shows the average cost of medical treatment paid by uninsured holidaymakers by country.

How much does medical care cost abroad?

The differences between how much a particular medical condition costs to treat between countries can be huge. For example, treatment for food poisoning in Italy costs £350, on average, while in the US it costs £1,250.

Unsurprisingly, the severity of your illness will also affect how much you’re likely to pay.

So in South Africa, for example, treatment for respiratory illnesses such as asthma costs an average of £180, while treatment for heart conditions averages £10,560.

Medical treatment costs can spiral, especially in more complicated cases where several medical procedures are required.

The table below shows the average amount of money paid out for travel insurance claims by condition in different countries.

 When should you buy travel insurance?

Ideally, travel insurance should be bought as soon as you book your holiday.

This is because a travel insurance policy will usually cover cancellations and other mishaps that might happen before you actually set off on your trip.

It can also offer some protection if you have to cancel your holiday entirely.

What’s more, buying a policy early gives you the chance to shop around for the best travel insurance deal.

What should travel insurance cover?

In addition to medical treatment, travel insurance offers protection for a number of other incidents, too.

Protection isn’t limited to overseas travel either – in some instances, you can get travel insurance for UK trips as well.

As a minimum, we recommend that your travel insurance policy covers the following:

Emergency medical cover £2m in Europe or £5m worldwide
Cancellation, curtailment and missed departure cover £3,000
Personal belongings and money cover £1,500
Personal liability cover £1m

You can often get other elements added on to your travel insurance, including personal accident cover, legal expenses insurance, sports equipment insurance, and cover for disasters and unexpected events.

Before taking out a travel insurance policy, you need to make sure that it’s suitable for you and covers everything you need so you don’t get caught out.

Do I need travel insurance if I have an Ehic?

An Ehic is a free medical card that can be used throughout the EU and in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Even if you have an Ehic, you still need to get travel insurance, as Ehics only cover certain medical expenses. For instance, if you need an air ambulance to bring you back to the UK, your Ehic won’t cover the cost.

Ehics also don’t cover things such as cancellations and lost or stolen baggage, whereas as a travel insurance policy does.

It’s still unknown what will happen to the Ehic scheme once the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019.

While the government has previously claimed that an agreement will continue and a Brexit White Paper suggests that the UK is likely to have a reciprocal healthcare agreement with some European countries, nothing has been finalised yet.

For the time being, you can still apply for an Ehic and use it on your travels.

Finding the best travel insurance

None of us intends for things to go wrong during our holidays, but it’s really important that you have the right level of cover to protect you if they do.

Looking for travel insurance as early as possible will give you time to find a suitable policy.

Using price comparison websites can give you an at-a-glance view of most available deals.

But you should avoid choosing a policy solely based on price and be sure to read the terms and conditions to make sure you get the right level of cover.

Exclusive Which? research found that insurance policy small print baffles readers and can be difficult to understand, so be sure to ask the travel insurance company to clarify anything that is unclear.

Once you agree to the terms of a policy, making a travel insurance claim will be impossible for things that are excluded.

Check out our travel insurance advice guides for help finding the best travel insurance policy.

Video: how to find the best-value travel insurance

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