Choosing Travel Insurance – A How-To Guide for Travellers!

Note bad with a pen, money and a calculator

Choosing the right travel insurance is a nightmare. Navigating the legal speak buried deep within the small print can take hours. And if you’re trying to choose between policies, understanding the key factors without prior knowledge is almost impossible. 

Here at South East Asia Backpacker, we’ve been on countless trips through more countries than we’ve got time to count (and let’s face it, counting countries is a bit cringey anyway). Every single one of those trips has been insured, so we know a thing or two about how to choose the right travel insurance policy!

So, sit back and let us take you on the thrilling journey of what to look out for when buying travel insurance! 


Disclosure: Some links on this page are affiliate links. We always write our articles before checking if affiliate links are available.


Most Popular Travel Insurance Companies with our Readers

SafetyWing
Designed for Long-Term Travellers
  • Available worldwide
  • Focus on medical cover
  • Rolling monthly subscription 
  • No return date required
  • Cover diving and motorcycle use
  • Check policy wording for full details 
World Nomads
Excellent All-Round Travel Insurance
  • World Nomads travel insurance policies offer coverage for more than 150 activities.
  • Get a quote, make a claim, or buy or extend your policy while on the road.
  • Check policy wording for full details 
True Traveller
Good Value for Money Insurance for Europeans
  • Only insures travellers from Europe
  • Cover for diving and motorcycle use
  • Additional activity packs available
  • Check policy wording for full details 

Related: (links open in new tab)


What to Look for When Choosing Travel Insurance

What Travel Insurance Must Include

Medical Cover 

Without medical cover, your travel insurance is essentially there to make sure you don’t lose money on flights, reservations or lost and stolen luggage – which, if you’re lucky, may already be covered by a credit card, bank account or even your home insurance…

Doctor performing an operation.
Medical cover is an absolute must when it comes to travel insurance!

Medical cover is the primary reason for getting travel insurance. It ensures you’re able to get emergency treatment while abroad. Hopefully, you’ll never need it but you’ll sure be glad of it if you do. 

It’s best to have medical cover worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Any less and you’re at risk of not being able to pay for big, life-saving operations (you know, the really important ones). In an ideal world, your medical cover should be around $1,000,000USD but never opt for anything less than $250,000USD. 

Remember: 

Treatment that is deemed non-urgent by a medical professional is unlikely to be covered. It’s also worth noting that treatment for your eyes or teeth (unless it’s a real emergency, as concluded by your insurer and medical professionals) is also unlikely to be covered.

Evacuation 

Being able to pay for treatment is one thing but if you get hurt a long way from a hospital, or somewhere inaccessible, you’re going to need help reaching help. Evacuation cover will get you to the nearest suitable hospital in the quickest possible time. 

Helicopter in the mountains.
Emergency evacuation can be a literal lifesaver!

But evacuation cover shouldn’t just be for medical treatments. Sometimes things go awry when travelling. Political situations can get ugly and natural disasters can mean you need to get out of an area fast. Good evacuation coverage will help with both of these. 

Good to Know:

Often, if you’re medically evacuated to a hospital for treatment, your insurance will pay for round-trip tickets for one or more family members to come out to where you are. It won’t be a party but it’ll definitely help put your Mum’s mind at ease.  

Repatriation 

Repatriation is similar to evacuation, except it returns you to your home country. This can be for medical treatment or because a political situation or natural disaster, has forced you to return home for your own safety. 

There are usually some caveats to this; such as a doctor having to agree that you need to return home for the best treatment, or you needing to claim within a set time frame after a situation arises. 

Personal Liability Cover

The world is a chaotic place and sometimes, an accident or injury to a third party or damage to a third party’s property may be deemed your fault. Car accidents are the obvious thing that spring to mind here but there’s so much more that can be deemed your fault; breaking something expensive in a hostel or guest house, dropping your backpack down the stairs and into someone, damaging private property by being careless – if you’re at fault, you could be expected to pay!

The roads in Hanoi Vietnam are carazy!
You must be insured in case of an accident that’s your fault!

Compensation can get real expensive, real quick, so you need to make sure your travel insurer offers a good level of personal liability cover. 

$25,000USD is the bare minimum personal liability cover you should have but ideally, you’ll want more. 


What Travel Insurance Should Include

Cover for Lost or Damaged Items

Losing your belongings, whether stolen or otherwise, can put a real downer on your trip. As can having things break. Good travel insurance should include cover for this but not all will. Check the policy wording or description of coverage to see if your insurance extends to your gear!

Look Out for: Single Item Limits

Insurers will often have ‘single item limits’ built into their policies. This means that even if they cover all your belongings for up to $3000USD, they may stipulate that any one item is only covered for $300USD. In this instance, your phone, computer or even camera, might not be covered to their full value. 

Cover for Lost or Delayed Baggage

Having your bags lost, or delayed, by your airline is a surefire way to stress you out before your trip has got going. Good travel insurance should offer some level of cover for this, so you’re able to pop to the nearest shop and grab everything you need to enjoy a stress-free trip. 

Empty luggage carousel in Thai airport
Being the last person at an empty luggage carousel isn’t fun!

Look Out for: Total Value of Cover

If your luggage is covered for less than the total value of the items in your suitcase, it’s a waste of time. Make sure everything is covered and purchase additional cover if required. 

Trip Interruption 

Trip interruption coverage financially protects you if you need to cut your trip short for a specified reason. It can be used to claim back unused hotel nights, tours or excursions and often covers transport home. The amount you can claim varies between insurers but is usually between 100-200% of your original trip cost. This amount covers the money you’ve already spent, plus the cost of getting home and any other associated fees – hotel at the airport, food, further transport, etc. 

Remember:

Trip interruption cover is only valid for insured reasons. If you hurt yourself while intoxicated or you’re taking part in a non-insured activity you won’t be covered if you have to cut your trip short. 

Dental Emergency 

While you’re unlikely to find a travel insurance provider that offers full dental coverage, choosing one that offers emergency dental cover is a very good idea. If you fall over and knock a tooth out, paying out of your backside to get it reinserted adds insult to injury. Emergency dental cover will protect you from being out of pocket should you have a dental emergency while abroad. 

Money/Cash Cover

Cash or money cover will protect you should you have money stolen while travelling. Up to a set amount, your insurer will reimburse you for any financial losses. 

Thai Baht
Having cash cover means you won’t be out of pocket!

Remember: 

You’ll need to file a police report as soon as possible to ensure you have evidence when your insurer asks for it. 

Terrorism Cover

Terrorism cover is an extension of general travel insurance. It ensures you’re covered for medical costs brought on by terrorism offences. Often, it will offer evacuation cover too. 

Lost Passport

Losing your passport sucks. The cost, hassle and bureaucracy involved in replacing it while abroad can suck all the joy out of your trip. Having lost passport cover removes the financial stress. Depending on your insurer, they may even have experts on hand to walk you through the process of replacing it – meaning you get more time relaxing instead of frantically googling your nearest embassy! 

Duffel Bag with passport in an external pocket
Losing your passport is a nightmare!

Extras

Extreme or Winter Sports Cover

While dangerous sports and activities aren’t often included as standard with travel insurers, most offer extra packages to their customers. Extreme and winter sports coverage ensures you’re protected even if you’re partaking in more dangerous activities. Of course, they come at an extra cost but being a few dollars out of pocket is much better than staring down the barrel of a $20,000USD evacuation bill after breaking your leg up a mountain!

Travel Insurance Rescue Winter Cover
You’ll be thankful for winter sport cover if you need it!

Remember: 

Check the activity or sport you want to do is actually covered by these packages. Some of the most high-risk sports; base jumping, luging, boxing or running with the bulls, are rarely covered. 

What Won’t Be Covered By Your Travel Insurance

Risky Behaviour 

What defines risky behaviour differs between insurance companies but it generally includes high-risk activities and extreme sports (although the latter can be covered by additional packages as mentioned above). 

Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan, Thailand.
Too many drinks and you can kiss goodbye to your insurance!

Risky behaviours that will never be covered include anything done under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If you are intoxicated, any insurance claim will be invalid. We all like a drink on holiday but try not to overdo it! 

Unattended Belongings

It doesn’t matter if you left your bag alone for two minutes while popping to the loo or 30 seconds while getting money from an ATM, if it’s stolen you won’t be able to claim for it. Never leave your belongings unattended or your insurance will be invalidated. 

Backpack with luggage
Don’t leave your $h*t unattended!

Travel Against Official Advice 

If your government (and often the United States Government, regardless of whether you are from there) has issued a travel warning to your destination, you won’t be covered for anything in that country. Likewise, if a country is receiving official sanctions from your home nation (or the majority of UN nations), you’re unlikely to get cover. 

Good to Know: 

If official warnings against travel happen when you’re already in the country, you’ll have a limited window to leave. This is usually seven to ten days but can vary by insurer. You’ll need to contact your insurance company and arrange with them how you’ll be leaving the country. This will usually be paid for by evacuation coverage.

Change of Heart

If you change your mind about going away but there are no insured reasons for doing so, e.g. an injury, illness or bereavement, unfortunately, you won’t be covered. You’ll need to absorb any costs associated with no longer going away. 


Other Things to Look Out for When Choosing Travel Insurance

Excess Amount 

The insurance excess is the amount of money you need to pay when making a claim. For example, if your excess is $100 and you claim for $300 of lost baggage, you’ll need to pay the first $100 of the claim. Your insurance company will then stump up the next $200. 

Having a higher excess can lower your insurance quote but if it’s too high, it’s often not worth claiming. For example, if your excess is $250 and you make a claim for $200, the excess means that you won’t get anything from the insurer! 

You need to balance the initial saving with the potential cost to you should something go wrong while travelling. 

Maximum Trip Length 

This is less important for single-trip policies because you’ll already know when your insurance runs out and when you need to return home or renew. 

But multi-trip or annual travel insurance policies tend to have a maximum number of days coverage per trip. For example, if you take out an annual travel insurance policy, you’re likely to have a maximum trip duration of 30 days. Meaning each trip within that year can only be a maximum of 30 days if you want your insurance to remain valid. 

Escape with Travel Books
Escape. But only for as long as you’re insured!

To make matters more complicated, these policies also tend to include a maximum number of overseas days per year. This is the total number of days you’re allowed to be overseas within the insured 365 days. 

Read the small print carefully to make sure you know exactly how long you’re covered for!

Volunteering or Working

If you plan on working or volunteering while travelling, check to see if you’re insured for this. Most travel insurers won’t offer coverage for working and many don’t cover volunteering either. If in doubt, contact your insurer to ask. 

👉 Read More: What Visas Do I Need For Volunteering In Southeast Asia? 👈


Find the Right Cover for Your Needs

Everyone is different and you might have very different travel insurance requirements from another traveller. Before jumping straight in and picking an insurance company, you should ask yourself some quick questions:

Where Are You Going?

While most ‘normal’ holiday destinations are covered by most travel insurers, if you’re heading to parts of South America or Asia that sit higher than 3000 metres above sea level, you’ll need specialist insurance. 

batu ferringhi beach
You’ll be covered for your ‘standard’ beach holiday!

Likewise, if you’re heading somewhere well off the beaten track, you may need to contact your insurer to see if your cover will still be valid. 

How Old Are You?

Sadly, the older you are, the more travel insurance will cost. Some companies will stop offering insurance to those over 50 but most will continue until you’re 65. However, the prices will rise with each year that you age. 

If you’re over 65, chances are you’ll need to look for a more specialist insurance company. It will likely cost you more but it’s better to be a little out of pocket and properly covered!

No Upper Age Limit On Travel Insurance With Staysure
Staysure Specialist Travel Insurance

Staysure offer travel insurance policies with no upper age limit!

  • Cover for most pre-existing medical conditions
  • Unlimited medical expenses (depending on policy)
  • Specialist cover with super friendly and helpful staff on hand when you need them

How Often Do You Travel?

If you go on a lot of shorter trips each year, an annual or multi-trip policy is likely to be the best fit for you. However, if you prefer to go on extended adventures, you’ll need a single-trip policy. If you’re planning an open-ended trip, make sure you sign up with an insurer that you can extend with or who will let you renew your policy while on the road. 

What Activities Will You Partake In?

If you want to get involved in extreme sports or winter activities, you’ll likely need additional cover. Speak to your insurer directly to see what packages they offer. 

It's hard to choose travel insurance for risky activities like climbing
Make sure hardcore activities are covered!

How Are You Travelling?

If you’re travelling using public transport, you don’t need to worry about this one. 

If you’re planning to drive a hire car, make sure it’s covered by your travel insurance. If it’s not, you can often take out insurance with the hire car company, or get specialist hire car insurance. 

If you’re travelling via motorcycle or cycle touring, you’re probably going to need specialist insurance. Neither of these activities are commonly covered if they’re your primary mode of transport. 

Travellers on motorbikes heading to Ban Gioc.
You might not be covered if a motorbike is your main method of transport! Photo credit: Rory Emond.

That said, backpacker insurance companies like SafetyWing, World Nomads and True Traveller all offer cover for occasional motorcycle use. So if you want to get off the beaten track a little, they’ll cover you for those days out on a rented scooter. Just make sure you understand the coverage – you’ll probably need to hold a motorcycle license (or CBT) from your home country and you’ll be required to wear a helmet! 

Do You Have Any Pre-Existing Medical Conditions?

While you can still get insured by a standard insurer if you have pre-existing medical conditions, they’re unlikely to cover you should you need help due to your condition. 

While opting for a specialist insurer will cost you extra, it’s worth it for the cover you get. An insurer who understands your condition is in a much better place to be able to help you should you need it! 

Travel Insurance That Covers Pre-Existing Medical Conditions!
Staysure Specialist Travel Insurance

Staysure is the travel insurer of choice for those travelling with pre-existing medical conditions!

  • Specialist cover
  • Well-trained, helpful staff
  • Single or multi-trip cover available

Top Travel Insurance Tips

Never Under Insure Yourself 

Only planning on skiing for a couple of days and wondering whether you should get the winter sports package? The answer is always yes. Under-insuring yourself is a surefire way to be massively out of pocket should anything go wrong! 

Check for Other Insurance Policies

Banks, credit cards, gadget insurance and even home insurance can sometimes include small chunks of cover while you’re abroad. Knowing what other policies you have in place allows you to save money on your travel insurance. 

For example, your home insurance may well include cover for expensive items that get lost, damaged or stolen while travelling. But be aware, even if this is the case, it will often only be for trips of a certain length. 

Always Report Crimes 

If you have anything stolen while travelling, always report it to the police as soon as possible. Also make sure you get copies of all the relevant paperwork. Without this, your insurance company is unlikely to pay out. 

Get Paperwork for Any Treatments 

If you require any medical treatment while abroad, make sure you get copies of all the relevant paperwork, including receipts, to hand over to your insurance company. Without this, they’re unlikely to pay out. 

Doctor at a computer
Get all relevant paperwork!

Don’t Buy Insurance from A Tour Provider

Buying insurance from a tour provider, travel agent or airline will almost always cost more than finding your own travel insurance. If you want to save money, shopping around is the best way. 

But if you’re short on time and have some spare change rattling about, letting a travel agent arrange your insurance isn’t the worst idea. They’ll be able to arrange a tailored plan for you, saving you the headache of reading all that small print! 

Book Your Flights on a Credit Card

By booking flights or hotel rooms on a credit card, you have more protection. If the airline fails to get you to your destination and cannot refund you (due to going bankrupt or into administration) your credit card provider is liable for the cost – meaning you can claim it back from them! 

Plane from below
Pay for flights on a credit card whenever possible!

You Can Change Your Mind

While change of heart isn’t covered by your insurer, you are allowed to change your mind about the insurance policy itself. After purchasing your coverage, you have a 14-day grace period in which the insurer must give you a refund if you decide the cover is no longer needed or wanted. 

Obviously, this is void if you’ve already made a claim. 

Read the Description of Coverage or Policy Wording

Reading the coverage description is boring but tells you everything you need to know to about your policy. Make sure you read it carefully, the legalese dotted throughout is essentially built to confuse us mere mortals and ensure that only those with sufficient standing in society can understand it. 

Know When to Buy Your Insurance

To get the best coverage, you should buy your travel insurance as soon as you’ve booked, or started paying for your trip. This ensures you’re covered against cancellations!

👉 Check Out: When To Buy Travel Insurance: A Quick Guide  👈


Choosing Travel Insurance – A Round-Up

Choosing the right travel insurance can be confusing. But follow the advice outlined in this article and the process should be a little more straightforward. 

If you don’t have the time to research each insurance company in depth, make it. You’ll only regret it should you need to claim for something that you wrongly thought was covered. 

Do you have any more advice on choosing a travel insurance policy? Let us know in the comments below!

Tim Ashdown | Gear Specialist

After a life-changing motorcycle accident, Tim decided life was too short to stay cooped up in his home county of Norfolk, UK. Since then, he has travelled Southeast Asia, walked the Camino de Santiago and backpacked South America. His first book, From Paralysis to Santiago, chronicles his struggle to recover from the motorcycle accident and will be released later this year.

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