What travel insurance learnt from religion
Religion, it is not frequently observed, is a lot like travel insurance. The marketing involves lots of threats of fire and brimstone (and a promise or two of heaven and nirvana); it’s hawked everywhere (and by a schiester or two) but ultimately there are only a handful of providers; by the time you find out whether it was worth the price you’ve paid it’s too late and if you get it wrong you can be left well and truly up the creek.
I’m generally incredulous towards the insurance industry, but I believe the only way to buy travel insurance is to wade into the morass find a policy that covers what you need without paying over the odds.
Where to Start
A good first step is to read tips in Choice’s fantastic guide to travel insurance, the Insurance Industry Ombudsman’s brochure on buying travel insurance and the Insurance Council of Australia’s Guide for Travellers
My Cardinal Rules For Choosing Travel Insurance
Check what cover you may already have. If you have a credit card, particularly a gold or platinum card, travel insurance may be one of the benefits. A recent Cannex survey judged the insurance offered by many cards quite favorably and even ‘as comparable to stand alone products’.
However, do not assume that your trip will be properly covered by your credit card travel insurance. Before you even consider relying on your credit card insurance exclusively ensure you are familiar with the terms and conditions and the maximium duration of any cover. In particular, check whether it is necessary to charge some or all of the value of flights or other expenses to the card to activate the insurance.
Shop Around – listed below are are list of many Australian providers of travel insurance, including a couple of comparison sites.
But don’t purchase on the basis of price alone. Price is no more and no less important than the policy’s excess, inclusions, exclusions and limitations. Make sure you know these in detail for any policy you are considering. Consider some scenarios (e.g. lost luggage, an extended hospital stay, sudden sickness of a loved one at home, a flight or tour cancellation, a missed connection, a flight delayed for many hours or even an airline going under) and compare policies you’re interested in those situations. Does the insurer have a presence in the countries you’ll be travelling through or a free (from those countries) twenty-four telephone helpline?
Ensure you have faith in the organisation selling the policy and also the insurer underwriting it -you’ll be relying on them to come through quickly and with a minimum of fuss. Double check the policy covers the correct destinations, an appropriate length of time, everybody travelling (for instance dependents) and you’re eligiblility. Finally, check any extras offered by the policy – private hospital cover for example.
Make sure pre-existing medical conditions have been declared and are covered. If you have an existing condition it may not be covered by default. Do not take the risk that your policy may be effectively rendered worthless if your conditions worsens while you are overseas. Ensure the condition is declared to the insurer, but be aware that extra premiums or special terms and conditions may be applied.
Ensure you’re properly covered. Firstly, make sure the policy is as outgoing a you are. Check that any adventure sports, climbing, skiing, scuba diving or the like you’re planning to undertake are covered.
Consider the value of items you’re taking with you – a few grand is generally more than enough when I travel but with a decent camera set-up, if you’re taking a lot of electronic kit or if you like your sparkly things this can be exceeded very quickly.
Get It! I save money on all sorts of things when I travel but personally I think insurance that I feel comfortable with is worth the price.
Reciprical Health Agreements
Australia has reciprocal health care agreements with New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Malta and Norway. This means that as an Australian resident your are entitled to assistance with the cost of medical treatment on presentation of an Australian passport and Medicare card. It is important that you advise medical staff in the country you are visiting that you wish to be treated under the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement with Australia. Medicare is explicit that this scheme, however, is not a replacement for travel insurance: while you may not be liable for the full cost of treatment travel insurance is still strongly recommended.
Choice’s Travel Insurance Checklist
To find a policy that covers your needs take the following steps:
- Read What’s covered and take note of the coverage you need, and any traps to watch for.
- Contact a number of insurance companies for quotes and policies.
- If you travel regularly, check whether an annual policy might be suitable and cheaper.
- Read several policies before making your final decision.
- If you have any questions, double-check with the insurer and get it in writing before you sign the contract.
Read the fine print in policies very carefully to understand exactly what’s covered and what isn’t:
- Is there sufficient cover for medical expenses, personal liability and legal costs? If you’re travelling to the United States, Japan or Europe unlimited medical cover is recommended.
- Check what excess applies; some policies have an excess buy-out — you pay a flat fee and no excess applies.
- Do you want to do any adventure activities, such as scuba diving, and are they covered?
- Do you want to rent a car and is the collision damage excess covered?
- Check the cover for baggage and especially for your valuables, such as cameras and laptops. You may be able to pay a fee and extend the cover for valuables if the standard limits aren’t high enough.
- If you have special needs, such as a pre-existing medical condition, check with the insurer whether you’re covered.
How to avoid problems when you have a claim:
- Keep receipts or valuations to prove ownership of valuables.
- If your goods are stolen report it to the police and keep a copy of the report; list all items stolen.
- If you need medical treatment or assistance contact your insurer’s medical assist hotline.
- If you have a dispute with your travel insurer you can contact the Insurance Ombudsman Service (IOS), a free and independent ASIC-approved national dispute resolution service, on 1300 780 808 or www.insuranceombudsman.com.au
Travel Insurance Providers
An (Incomplete) List of Australian Providers
[Signs image from Jamesbeard on Flickr; Luggage image from mag3737 on Flickr]
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