Tommy Lloyd
Author: Tommy Lloyd, Managing Director

Tommy has over 15 years experience within the insurance industry, and his primary focus is helping travellers find the right cover for their medical conditions.

8 min read

The true cost of getting ill abroad

If you’ve ever wondered if travel insurance is really necessary, you’re not alone. Earlier this year, The Guardian reported that one in four travellers don’t take out insurance, particularly those who are travelling within Europe.

However, despite the fact that nobody likes to dwell on the idea of things going wrong when planning their dream trip, accidents can and do happen. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

As well as the fact that you could be left out of pocket if your luggage goes walkabout, your airline goes bust or your passport gets stolen - a far more pressing concern is what course of action you would take should you or one of your travelling companions unexpectedly fall ill and need medical attention. After all, the nature of accidents is that they are unpredictable and, far from the safety net of the NHS, you could find that the costs mount up very quickly.

So, what sort of ballpark costs are we looking at when we talk about receiving medical treatment abroad? Let’s delve a little deeper into the subject and find out why travel insurance isn’t a luxury, it’s an essential.

The Association of British Insurers released figures back in April that demonstrated just how much financial hot water you could find yourself in, should you travel without the right insurance policy. The report revealed that while most claims for medical expenses average at just over £700, more complex treatment, or an incident that involves repatriation to the UK, could cost in excess of £211,000 – the average cost of buying a house.

The data also detailed a few examples of recent claims insurers paid out for. A fall from a waterfall turned one traveller’s dream Thailand holiday into a nightmare but at least their insurance covered the £300,000 medical bill. Another holiday-maker was awarded a pay-out of £92,000 after suffering a heart attack on a Caribbean cruise.

Yet it isn’t just the serious incidents that can cost you a pretty penny. Online travel magazine, Wanderlust, reported on medical costs that included £11,000 to treat a tourist who simply fell and broke an arm in Spain, whilst the UK government site listed a stomach infection, treated in a Californian hospital with flights home, as costing £100,000.

All of the above are eye-watering costs, we’re sure you’ll agree, and if you had no insurance you and potentially your loved ones, would be responsible for ensuring that bill was paid. Is it really worth the risk?

Hospital Costs Abroad

Hospital costs abroad obviously vary depending on where you are in the world.

The type of treatment you receive also depends on the severity of your injury or condition – however, it’s important to bear in mind the fact that the cost of medical procedures without insurance can be very high regardless of location.

An article featured in the Telegraph looking at the cost of travelling uninsured, sheds a little more light on what specific costs you might expect to run into for certain conditions in a variety of different countries.

For example, the average hospital bill without insurance for a one-night stay in a US intensive care unit might cost you £5,000 or more – while a similar hospital stay in Spain might cost you between £1,100-£1,500.

Doctor Notes

The Cost of Getting Medical Treatment Abroad

Beyond foreign hospital charges, it’s important to consider the cost of emergency treatment abroad – and crucially, how having the right level of insurance cover for such things is paramount.

Again, using the USA as an example – it may cost more than the average UK house to receive emergency medical treatment for a certain injury, coupled with the cost of an air ambulance back to your home country.

It can also be extremely costly to receive emergency treatment on a cruise ship, too. The added complexities of being transported from the ship in a helicopter to a medical facility on land can cost thousands of pounds.

The actual cost of emergency vaccinations for viruses contracted overseas can also be extremely high – which again, highlights the significant importance of having the right emergency medical cover included within a suitable travel insurance policy.

Medical Repatriation Costs

Repatriation is often the worst-case scenario as far as falling ill abroad is concerned.

Medical repatriation costs will often take into account the cost of the air ambulance or scheduled flight itself, along with the cost of having a medical escort or doctor on board with you at the time.

Repatriation costs vary from country to country, depending on how far you’ll need to travel. The repatriation expenses required for an air ambulance are also obviously much higher than those required if you’re in a stable enough condition to board a scheduled flight.

For example, an air ambulance from the Balearics back to the UK may cost you in excess of £10,000 – while a scheduled flight with a doctor escort may only cost you upwards of £1800 in comparison.

Different insurance providers will have different levels of cover for repatriation, so it’s important to carefully read your policy to ensure you’re covered up to a sufficient amount based on where you’re going.

Why Your Destination Matters

You may have noticed that travel insurers calculate the cost of policies depending on (amongst other factors) where in the world you might be headed. This is because the price of healthcare can vary tremendously in different parts of the world. An infographic from Bupa Global revealed the top five most expensive countries to receive medical treatment are:

  1. United States
  2. Switzerland
  3. Hong Kong
  4. Canada
  5. France

As you can see, just because a destination is closer to home, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be cheaper to receive treatment.

Some travellers have made the mistake of believing that the European Health Insurance Card is an alternative to travel insurance. This isn’t the case. The card is free and provides state healthcare in many European countries for certain ailments. However, this card alone will not cover you for all medical costs, repatriation or the additional benefits insurance can provide cover for, such as lost luggage and cancellation.

It’s also important to consider the activities you might partake in when on holiday. Sports such as skiing or mountain climbing will require specialist travel insurance due to the higher risk factor and potential for expensive assistance such as being air-lifted to hospital. Read the small print before you purchase.


Getting Travel Insurance for Medical Treatment Abroad

The right travel insurance policy could cover you for emergency medical costs, hospital stays and ambulance fees as well as ensuring you are safely returned home if you couldn’t make your original flight. It could also cover you for emergency dental treatment if you were in pain, as well as assistance helplines to provide advice if necessary.

Securing the right travel insurance doesn’t have to be a tedious exercise. Use our online comparison tool for travel insurance with pre-existing medical conditions, to search for the best deals - resting safe in the knowledge that you are covered against any unfortunate eventualities.

How Much Does Medical Travel Insurance Cost?

The cost of travel insurance depends on a number of different factors.

Everything from your medical history to your chosen destination may influence the cost. Insurance providers are also likely to look at the duration of your holiday as well as your age.

That being said, we would always advise making sure you prioritise getting the right cover over what might appear to be the cheapest option.

It’s quick and easy to compare quotes online.

Simply enter the details of your trip, declare any pre-existing medical conditions you may have – and find the right travel insurance policy for you today.


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