Photo: Rice terraces in Vietnam.

Being robbed or injured during a trip overseas is an awful experience only made worse if you didn't buy travel insurance or have an insurer who refuses to pay out your claim. Consider these 10 points before you head overseas and put your mind at rest.

1) Do I need travel insurance?

Absolutely. You would be mad to travel to Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Vietnam, or anywhere else in Southeast Asia without travel insurance. Medical care in Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia and Laos is very basic, with expats in both countries typically having medical insurance covering air evacuation to Thailand or Singapore. You do not want to end up in a hospital in these countries requiring serious medical attention. And while care in Thailand and Singapore is world-class, it's not free. If you require anything more than a few nights in hospital, you could easily be faced with medical bills well into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Medical care aside, travellers are regularly robbed, lose their luggage, miss their flights or need to cut a trip short. Travel insurance can mitigate the pain in all these circumstances.

If you die while travelling, filling out forms won't be an issue for you, but it will be for your next of kin. The bureaucracy and costs of repatriation after death are expensive, upsetting and time-consuming. Travel insurance won't bring you back to life but it can help speed up and streamline your resting in peace.

2) Should I buy travel insurance from a travel agent?

Shop around. Travel agents can be persuasive salespeople and they often receive generous commissions on insurance they sell. Just because they say the policy is comprehensive and the best on offer, doesn't mean it is. Do your research, compare policies and always read the small print.

3) Small print alarm bells

It pays to read the small print before deciding on a travel insurance policy and here are a few of the most common issues to watch out for.

Dangerous activities
Many insurers consider motorcycling, diving, parachuting, hot-air ballooning and many other largely safe activities as dangerous pursuits. Falling off your motorbike, breaking your arm and spending a few days in hospital will only be more painful if your insurer tells you the bill is all yours. If you plan on doing these kind of activities, be sure to check to see what activities are specifically covered and if there are additional charges for them.

License requirements
If you are planning on riding a scooter or motorbike while overseas, read the section on licensing carefully. Many travel insurance companies now require that you possess a motorbike license in your home country to be covered.

Country exclusions
No point in having travel insurance for your trip to Laos if it doesn't cover Laos. Generally travel to the USA will attract higher prices because of the cost of medical care there. Southeast Asia generally doesn't have premiums like that.

Working exclusions
Will you be working during your trip? If so, check that your working overseas won't void your travel insurance.

Maximum amount per item
You don't want your $1,500 camera stolen only to find out your insurer has a maximum payout per item of $250.

4) What is excess?

The excess is the amount you have to pay to lodge a travel insurance claim. If the stolen goods part of your policy has an excess of $100 and you have a camera worth $120 stolen, you must pay the first $100. Some travel policies have excesses so high it is hardly ever worth claiming.

5) How to make a travel insurance claim

If you need to make a claim, the insurer may ask for loads of paperwork. Find out before you go exactly what sort of documents they will need for you to make a successful claim. Do they need original receipts? If they do, and you don't have the original receipts, what happens? Ask them. You may also need to file original police statements if claiming for stolen items. If your proposed insurer can't answer your questions, find another one.

6) Can I make a travel insurance claim while travelling?

Read the section on claim processing to find out how it all works. Can you lodge your claim while overseas? If you lodge a travel insurance claim overseas where will the refund be sent?

7) Can I extend my travel insurance policy?

It's easy to extend a trip, but how easy is it to extend your travel insurance? Find out beforehand. A word of warning here, often travel insurers will say they offer extensions, but in practise what they are actually doing is selling you a new policy. This may have serious implications if you injured yourself on the original policy as any ongoing care may may be treated as pre-existing conditions on an extension, and so may not be covered.

8) Trip interruptions

If a family member or good friend dies while you're overseas, will your insurer pay for you to return home? If Laos plunges into civil war, will they pay for your evacuation? And if your airline goes broke, will you have to walk home? These are all simple questions with complicated answers and this is why you should always read the policy carefully.

9) Is it a flexible plan?

Can you opt into certain clauses but opt out of others? Can you purchase extra coverage for your expensive camera gear or to cover you while indulging in a dangerous passion such as diving or off-road motorcycling? Essentially, is this the right travel insurance policy for you?

10) Is it within your budget?

You will always need to balance your wishes with your wallet. Do remember however that your wallet could take a huge hit if you don't fork out a decent amount on insurance at the outset.

Here at Travelfish, we use World Nomads travel insurance ourselves whenever we travel—we use them because we've met the people behind World Nomads and we think they've put together an excellent product designed with the independent traveller in mind. You can read our personal experiences in filing claims with World Nomads (and having those claims paid), here.

If you purchase a policy from World Nomads through a link on Travelfish we may be paid a commission on that sale. You can read more about their policies, and get a travel insurance quote, here.


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 Be sure to have adequate insurance cover before you travel. We recommend World Nomads

Further reading

Planning well is an integral part of getting the most out of your trip. Be it picking the right backpack, the right vaccinations or the right country, the simple decisions are often the most important.

Getting started

How to plan


Health & safety

Money & costs

Travel with kids


Food & drink


Volunteering & work

What to pack & gear advice

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