The guidance on this site is based on our own analysis and is meant to help you identify options and narrow down your choices. We do not advise or tell you which product to buy; undertake your own due diligence before entering into any agreement. Read our full disclosure here.

Do I Need Medical Insurance to Travel?

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While medical insurance isn't "required" for Brits when they travel abroad, it is absolutely recommended—regardless of where you travel. Find out why medical insurance is so important and learn about how much medical cover you need on travel insurance.

Have you ever in your life bought a lottery ticket? You should have medical cover through travel insurance for the same reason you'd buy a lottery ticket—the chance of a massive financial impact if your numbers come up. And the odds of needing travel insurance are much higher than winning the lottery.

Why You Need Medical Insurance to Travel

Whether you're travelling to the USA or Canada (where medical care is notoriously expensive), Europe (where an EHIC card can provide access to free or reduced cost health care in state medical facilities) or elsewhere in the world, there are situations where a medical emergency could cost you tens of thousands of pounds or more. Medical cover through travel insurance can help pay for these treatment costs, so you don't need to pay on your own.

Why You Need Medical Insurance to Travel to Europe

Those planning to rely on an EHIC card for European travel to France, Spain, Ireland, etc. should be aware that an EHIC may not cover all your emergency medical costs. For instance, EHIC won't cover:

  • Medical repatriation back to the UK if necessary (e.g., if you can't travel on your own steam due to accident or illness)
  • Costs for treatment in private medical facilities
  • All medical costs, as state medical care in EU countries is not always free—sometimes it is provided at reduced cost but you (or your insurance) still need to cover the rest

Those travelling to popular tourist destinations in Europe should be particularly aware of relying on EHIC alone. There have been many reports in Spain and elsewhere of hotels intentionally sending guests in need of medical attention to private facilities rather than state facilities—even when they are available. Travel insurance is a must on those cases.

What Medical Travel Insurance Covers (And What it Doesn't)

Medical travel insurance is meant to cover unexpected, emergency accidents or illnesses abroad—incidents that can't wait to be treated until you return home to the UK. (Travel insurance might also choose to return you to the UK for treatment instead of treating you abroad.) Travel insurance won't cover scheduled procedures, issues that could wait for treatment until your return home to the UK or routine medical care.

Medical insurance will cover pre-existing conditions so long as they've been declared and accepted by your insurer—you may need to pay an additional premium. To learn about how much you could pay for travel insurance for various medical conditions, see our article on Average Cost of Travel Insurance with Pre-Existing Conditions. This is why you must declare your medical conditions—if you don't, the insurance won't pay.

Potential Costs of a Medical Emergency on Holiday

Since we have the NHS, Brits often have little idea of how much medical care can actually cost. To give you an idea of the potential costs involved in medical treatment abroad, we've gathered data to give you an idea of actual medical claim costs from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and our travel insurance partner Compare Cover reported the following claims:

  • £3,800 to treat a damaged knee ligament
  • £4,350 to treat exacerbation of lung disease
  • £5,000 to treat intestinal legions
  • £17,100 to treat a fractured knee and lower leg
  • £17,460 to treat a mini stroke
  • £20,000 to treat a blocked intestine
  • £23,240 to treat a broken left femur & left distal radius
  • £90,000 to treat a fractured rib and punctured lung
  • £246,700 to treat a stroke & breathing tube
  • £144,700 to treat bleeding in the brain

How Much Medical Cover do I Need for Travel Insurance?

Most travel insurance plans offer at least £5 million of medical cover. While we can't say how much cover anyone will need, these amounts should be sufficient for most medical emergencies. Unlike other aspects of travel insurance cover, holidaymakers are unlikely to hit the medical limits, as they are generally much higher than claims.

Our survey of 58 plans from our travel insurance partner Compare Cover showed average medical cover limits of £11.87 million. The smallest amount of cover in the survey was £2.5 million—even that would be more than enough to cover claims like those listed above.

Survey of Travel Insurance Medical Limits
Number of Plans Surveyed58
Lowest£2.5 million
HighestUnlimited
Average£11.87 million

Do I Need Medical Insurance if I Have Travel Insurance?

No, you do not typically need separate medical insurance if you have travel insurance, because most travel insurance policies include medical coverage. Just check to be sure you're comfortable with the level of emergency medical cover to treat unexpected illnesses or accidents on your travel insurance.

And remember that travel insurance won't pay for scheduled procedures abroad or procedures that can't wait until you return to the UK. To learn more about what types of medical treatments are covered by travel insurance, read our article Does Travel Insurance Cover Medical Expenses?

Comments and Questions

The guidance on this site is based on our own analysis and is meant to help you identify options and narrow down your choices. We do not advise or tell you which product to buy; undertake your own due diligence before entering into any agreement. Read our full disclosure here.