Travel insurers promise the world: 24-hour help lines, immediate evacuation if you need urgent surgery, replacement money and travel documents in the blink of an eye. Then in the fine-print they tell you about all the circumstances in which they won’t pay up and the things that will void your insurance. That’s the part to read carefully.
1. Being too drunk or drugged up
Don’t expect your insurer to pay a claim if you broke your leg skiing down the Alps after having several schnapps at the hilltop lodge. Likewise, the insurer won’t pay if it turns out you were high before you suffered an accident.
Typically, an insurer will consider you to have been under the influence if you broke the legal blood alcohol limit of the country you were travelling in, although some providers could be even stricter with their guidelines.
2. Not showing enough love to your belongings
Was your baggage stolen while you left it unattended at the budget motel? Insurers will cry negligence if they think you didn’t take proper care of your belongings before they went missing. This is a standard reason for insurers to refuse cover.
3. Heading to a shaky place
Just like your parents, travel insurers will also react with disapproval if you go sightseeing in Somalia or souvenir hunting in Sierra Leone. Insurers usually won’t pay if you choose to travel to dangerous destinations (check out the Department of Foreign Affairs Smarttraveller website for the government line on how dangerous a place is).
4. Providing insufficient documentation
If you don’t have receipts detailing the cost of your trip to an American hospital or the price of your missing laptop, insurance providers will be skeptical about paying you the sum you think you rightly deserve.
5. Seeking adrenaline
In the mind of a risk-averse insurer, going bungee-jumping is simply asking for trouble.Extreme sports is something most insurers will exclude coverage for, but what ‘extreme sports’ exactly refers to varies among policies.
Alternatively, rather than completely ruling out a risky activity some insurers may set a limit on what you could be covered for. For instance, some may provide cover if you jumped out of a plane that was below a certain height above the ground.
What you should do
Check the small print and choose your policy carefully
Before you purchase any policy, thoroughly read each insurer’s product disclosure statement to see if their exclusions are likely to apply to your adventure plans.
If reading the document leaves you in a state of more confusion, get a straight answer by speaking with someone from the insurance company; explain to them what you’ll be doing abroad and ask if they would exclude you under any relevant circumstances.
Don’t labour under the misapprehension that you must always have travel insurance whenever you go for a trip. Instead, weigh up the cost of something going wrong and the chances of it happening against the cost of the policy. In really simple terms, if it costs $100 dollars to replace your camera and there’s a 1 in 10 chance of you losing it, you wouldn’t be willing to pay a premium of more than $10 to insure it.
If you act smart when on holiday, you can radically reduce the chances of having to make a claim at all (and therefore the need for any insurance).
Read up in a decent guide book about your destination so that you know about local dangers, risky areas, what foods to avoid, what vaccinations to have before you go, whether or not you should drink the tap water and have ice in your drink, where pickpockets hang out, etc.
And be smart when you’re away. Always look behind you to check that you haven’t left behind your belongings when you get off a train, plane or taxi or stand up to leave a restaurant or bar. Keep away from or guard yourself against health threats like dirty water, mosquitos, contaminated food, altitude sickness, disenfranchised crocodiles, etc, etc. Stow your cash and cards safely and out of sight. Be aware of the people around you and whether they may harbor unsavoury intentions.
In other words, apply lots of common sense to minimise the often minimal risks you face when travelling. If you think you can, you might decide to forego travel insurance entirely, and over a lifetime that means many thousands of dollars you can save in premiums and spend on your next trip.
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