7 common travel insurance mistakes to avoid when holidaying abroad

Almost a third of holidaymakers buy travel insurance on the day they jet off, according to new data from GoCompare. But leaving it to the last minute is risky.

While in theory you can purchase a policy right up until the point you leave home for your trip, and even at the airport, failing to get organized in time could mean you miss out on vital elements of cover.

It’s not the only mistake made when taking out travel insurance. Here, Which? explains why it’s unwise to buy cover at the eleventh hour and reveals six other blunders travelers make when purchasing cover.

1. Waiting to the last minute

GoCompare looked at travel insurance policies bought during 2023 and found just over one in four people purchased a policy in the week leading up to their trip. But one in three did it on the day of travel.

Individual travelers are most likely to be tardy: 35% bought it within hours of take-off, compared with 22% of couples and 24% of families.

The danger of leaving it to the last minute, however, is that you might not be covered for everything you need. Cancellation cover, for example, is unlikely to be included if you’re purchasing a policy just hours before your flight. Rhys Jones, travel insurance spokesperson for GoCompare, said last-minute travel insurance could also exclude cover for pre-existing conditions.

Buying earlier doesn’t only mean you have more cover, however. You also have the time to shop around for the best cover for the destination you’re traveling to and your circumstances.

  • Find out more: travel insurance explained

2. Buying when already abroad

If you forget to take out travel insurance before your trip and do it while enjoying your foreign holiday, most policies are likely to be void and you won’t be able to claim should the worst happen.

Holidaymakers in this situation do have some, limited, options. According to GoCompare, they can buy a specialist post-departure travel insurance, which should provide the same level of cover as a standard travel insurance policy.

But this type of cover is only available from a small number of companies, so there will be less choice and they may be more expensive. If you do buy this policy, you may also have to wait 24, 48 or 72 hours before it begins. This is an anti-fraud measure introduced by insurers to stop people buying a policy when they’ve already encountered a problem.

  • Find out more: best travel insurance

3. Not declaring medical conditions

It can be tempting not to mention pre-existing medical conditions when purchasing a new travel insurance policy. That’s because they can push up the cost of premiums or mean you can’t make any claims that relate to the condition.

In March 2023 we surveyed 2,458 policyholders with a medical condition or a history of one, and 36% reported problems purchasing cover. Expensive premiums were the most common complaint.

But lying about your health issue could result in your travel policy being invalidated and means you have to cover the cost of any medical expenses needed on your trip yourself. In some cases, costs can quickly escalate to tens of thousands of pounds.

There are, however, specialist providers that provide affordable cover for customers who struggle to find it elsewhere. Take a look at us best travel insurance for pre-existing medical conditions guide to help get travel insurance if you’ve been ill or have a long-term condition.

4. Going beyond policy limits

A holiday of sun, sea and sand is enough for many people looking to escape a gray British summer, but for others a holiday also means taking part in some fun activities – whether it’s paragliding or snorkelling. But not all sports are covered by standard travel insurance.

There are usually limits on pursuits, so while many policies will cover a range of sports and leisure activities, including diving, cycling, kayaking or other water sports, they may not allow you to claim for winter sports such as skiing. If you want cover for that, you’ll need to buy extra cover, usually sold as an add-on.

Hiking and trekking are other activities which may not be covered if they are the sole purpose of the trip. That’s because long-distance walks to remote areas and reaching high-altitudes increases the likelihood of needing urgent medical help or assistance, such as an air ambulance. Adventure holidays therefore require you to find specialist insurance.

  • Find out more: best winter sports travel insurance.

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5. Trip length is too short

If you buy an annual policy that covers multiple trips, you might assume you’re covered for any length of trip.

Many insurers, however, put a time limit on how long they will cover you for, per trip – usually 31 days. If you want to travel for more than a month, you’ll need to take out a long-stay policy; this sometimes called extended or backpacker insurance. But be aware that this type of policy doesn’t cover multiple trips, just one long getaway.

6. Forgetting cruise holidays need special cover

Many holidaymakers booked to go on a cruise may not realize they need specialist travel insurance. These policies are designed to cover problems that could arise while you’re on this type of trip – such as missed port departures or transport to a hospital if you fall ill while at sea.

It’s often a mandatory requirement, and the cruise operator may not let you on board without it. You can buy cruise travel insurance as an add-on to standard travel insurance, or buy a specialist policy.

  • Find out more: best cruise insurance

How to find the best travel insurance policy

As always, the first step is to shop around for the best deal. Price comparison sites allow you to view multiple travel insurance quotes at a glance and also include policies for high-risk countries. The main ones for insurance are Compare the Market, Confused.com, GoCompare and MoneySuperMarket.

Once you’ve found a deal that is right for you, check how Which? reviewed the provider and policy.

Finally, check the policy wording carefully before you buy, as well as any general exclusions and conditions.

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