Travel insurance and safety for travellers

Travel insurance and safety for travellersIntroduction and Description

Can you depart on your vacation with the confidence that you have secured the best assistance and medical attention in the event of an emergency during your travels? Travel insurance is an essential but often overlooked item in the checklist before going on vacation. We would like to discuss, in this section, the importance of having travel insurance as part of safety awareness.

What is Travel Insurance?

Travel insurance is best described as a financial product to assist travellers and to cover medical expenses and financial and other losses incurred while travelling, either within one's own country or internationally. Travel insurance usually provides cover for emergency evacuation, personal accidents, trip cancellation, baggage loss and various other benefits.

Many banks and credit card companies provide free travel insurance when you use your credit card to pay in full for your air, bus or train ticket. This cover applies between the ages of three months and 75 or 76 years old (depending on the bank that provides your credit card). This “automatic cover” may not meet every aspect of your travel insurance needs, and additional cover is available at preferential rates to provide you and your family with more financial protection and peace of mind every time you travel.

Travel agents and insurance companies also offer travel insurance cover, and premiums differ according to age, duration of travel, destination and other factors.

Temporary travel insurance can usually be arranged at the time when booking a trip to cover exactly the duration of that trip, or a more extensive, continuous insurance can be purchased from travel insurance companies, travel agents or directly from travel suppliers such as cruise lines or tour operators.

Why do I need Travel Insurance? 

We need to recognize that travelling for business or pleasure always does involve some form of risk. None of us is able to fund just any emergency out of our own pockets. Most medical aids will not cover medical expenses abroad, which is why travel insurance cover is vital to avoid financial disaster.

Travel insurance addresses the gaps in health insurance coverage for travellers outside their home county and protects them from substantial losses that may result from any unforeseen circumstances such as lost baggage, medical emergencies, supplier defaults, cancelled trips etc.

Travel insurance will allow you to travel with a greater sense of security. It is every traveller's nightmare to fall ill or become injured whilst in a foreign country. In a developing country, substandard medical care is a worry. In a First World country, the poor Rand-exchange rate may mean that a simple operation could cost you the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of Rands.

History has shown that emergencies may both be sudden and devastating! From relatively minor inconveniences such as stolen luggage and missed flights to life-changing events such as a tsunami, serious accident or severe illness, travellers face many situations in foreign countries that could have potentially devastating consequences. Travellers risk being alone in a foreign country with unfamiliar customs, unable to speak the language and being exposed to sometimes appalling medical facilities.

Travellers should, before embarking on foreign travels, enquire about the medical services their health insurance will cover overseas. If the health insurance policy provides coverage outside your country of origin, travellers should be advised to carry both the insurance policy identity card (as proof of insurance) and a claim form.

Travel insurance will not only provide cover for emergencies, but also for the most devastating of consequences -death! Travel insurance could pay for cremation, burial, the repatriation of your remains and a certain amount towards your coffin.

Typical Benefits of Travel Insurance Policies

Herewith find a summary of the typical benefits under travel insurance cover from various providers:

  • Emergency medical assistance:  Ensures the right medical advisers are consulted; appropriate medical treatment is provided; and any necessary, approved medical fees are covered should you fall ill or have an accident abroad.
  • Emergency evacuation/repatriation and transportation: Should you or a stranded companion need to return to South Africa as a result of a medical claim, this covers the repatriation.
  • Personal accident cover: Financial protection against disability and death - protecting yourself and those who depend on you against the worst.
  • Personal liability cover- protecting you against the cost of damage to a third party or property and even rental car damage excess.
  • Travel Assistance: A helpline service available 24 hours a day, which will ensure your travel problems are dealt with as easily and conveniently as possible - including obtaining information about visas and inoculations; emergency medical evacuation and repatriation; return of mortal remains; the transmission of urgent messages and legal assistance. 
  • Baggage and personal belongings protection: Cover for the loss, theft or accidental damage to your personal belongings or baggage; and the loss of theft of your personal money and documents. 
  • Legal Expense: Cover should you need to seek legal counsel. 
  • Trip cancellation/interruption 
  • Overseas funeral expenses, burial, cremation or repatriation of your remains if you die abroad;
  • Delayed departure & Delayed baggage (and emergency replacement of essential items) 
  • Returning home family members who are stranded by your illness or death
  • A visit by a family member if you are travelling alone and are hospitalised in a foreign country. (This will require the approval of a doctor appointed by the underwriter.) 
  • Logistical peace of mind: Covers the reasonable additional expenses you incur from delays, or if you have to cancel or curtail your trip due to specific reasons, such as missed connections or a tragedy.
  • Hijack and wrongful detention cover

Special Conditions and Needs when Travelling

Every traveller needs to recognize that there might be specific conditions and needs to be considered when purchasing travel insurance. It is possible to customise the travel insurance policy on disclosure of these conditions. These might be personal medical conditions, areas to be travelled or specific activities planned. Herewith find a short summary of these conditions and needs to be considered:


Although older people are more likely to claim from their medical cover, young people should not assume that they will not have a need for the maximum medical cover. There have been cases of young people who became victims of a car accident or who fell ill whilst travelling with a condition that has not been diagnosed before e.g. cancer. Regardless of your age, the maximum medical cover is advisable.

Pre-existing medical conditions

Travellers need to read the definition of pre-existing conditions in the policy and determine whether they have any medical history that fits the definition of a pre-existing condition. The best advice is to consult a GP if unsure! Some insurance companies may refuse to insure you if the medical risk from your pre-existing medical condition is too high. The disorders that raise a red flag include heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and hardening of the arteries.

In addition, cover typically excludes claims arising from mental disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome and myalgic encephalomyelitis (commonly referred to as yuppie flu) and from illnesses related to HIV infection. There are also rather strict limits on claims that arise from your being pregnant.

Dangerous and High-Risk Activities

If you plan to participate in activities the insurers consider dangerous, such as riding a powerful motorbike and hot-air ballooning, you will need to take out special cover at a higher premium than that paid simply for top-up cover for lost luggage etc.

If you are going to be playing sports such as rugby or partaking in any hazardous activity such as paragliding, white water rafting, skiing, scuba-diving etc, you may not be covered if you are injured as a result of this activity. Make sure you check your policy or enquire to clarify if you are covered. Some insurers cover the following activities (except where these activities are professional or involve professional team participation):

Archery (properly supervised), badminton, ballooning (organized excursion), basketball, bowls, canoeing (in calm waters), cycling, diving (recreational, and accompanied by a qualified diver), fishing, golf, horse riding (excludes competitions and jumping, protective headgear to be worn), roller skating, rowing, snorkelling, squash, surfing, tennis, volleyball.

Travellers can also purchase snow sports cover if they are going skiing or golf cover to protect against loss or theft of golf equipment.

High-risk countries

Some countries are considered higher risk than others in terms of the likelihood that medical treatment will be required. For example, many African countries, remote places in South America and remote places in Asia and Papua New Guinea are considered high risk for travellers. This risk is attributed to the prevalence of tropical diseases and also the risk of motor vehicle accidents from badly maintained vehicles and poor driving practices. These countries often have inadequate medical facilities and if you fall ill or become the victim of an accident, it is more likely that you will require evacuation to the nearest country where you can receive adequate medical care.


Many travel insurance policies exclude medical cover due to terrorism. Assess whether you are travelling in a country where terrorist activity is present and if you are covered by your policy. Ensure that your country of destination does not have a travel warning.

Risks and Pitfalls

We also need to focus on those aspects that could easily slip the minds of our travellers and leave them destitute. There are few things worse than believing you are covered -only to find that it is not the case!

Be aware of the following risks:


Exclusions can occur when for instance a person with a pre-existing medical condition travels. Check your policy: it may say "at any time prior to commencement of the journey" or it may specify that the treatment period is six or 12 months. Dental work is also usually excluded, so it important to get a dental check-up or have any necessary dental work done before travelling.

Other common exclusions include war or terrorism, injury or illness caused by alcohol or drug use and some costs associated with pregnancy. Usually, the insurers cover pregnancy-related expenses, if the travel occurs within the first trimester.

Understand your Policy / Reading the fine print

You need to understand the terms and conditions for claiming travel insurance, in case the policy requires pre-authorisation for any treatments or only allows treatment at prescribed medical facilities. Carry the 24-hour emergency telephone number when travelling and phone this number in case of illness or injury for advice on what to do.

Some hospitals require a cash deposit up-front - find out whether the insurance will reimburse you or whether they make arrangement to save you having to come up with large amounts of foreign currency.

Advice for the Traveller

How can we assist our traveller to be a safe and smart traveller and help him to find affordable cover for his specific needs?

Tailoring the insurance cover for specific needs

The travellers could custom cover to specific needs, with different levels of cover to choose from, depending on budget. It is also possible to top-up individual portions of travel insurance, such as lost luggage and flight cancellation.

There are also savings available:

Travelling Couples: Affordable premiums often available for two people travelling together on an identical travel itinerary.

Family/Friends - 3 to 9 people travelling on an identical travel itinerary might qualify for a special rate.

Specific purpose travel: Travel insurance often offers coverage for a variety of travellers - student travel, business travel, leisure travel, adventure travel, cruise travel, and international travel are all various options that can be insured.

Focussing on policy details 

The insured traveller needs to be clear about who is covered, what is covered and how you go about claiming. It is best if you can access a copy of the contract before you take out the insurance. Always make sure you receive the terms and conditions prior to departure and keep this on you!

Travel insurance contracts might be available for downloading from the websites of insurers, or you can call their travel centres and request a copy of the policy.

We would like to provide the following suggestions to travellers:

  • Keep the following information on hand and in a safe place: The contact details of your insurer and the number of the credit card with which you bought the ticket(s). You will probably need to quote the credit card number when claiming if you have an automatic cover.
  • Always keep track of who you spoke to if you make contact with your insurance company or with any of its agents.
  • Keep proof of payment of your travel insurance policy and keep your airline ticket - they may be needed for claims.
  • Make copies of all travel documents, including passport, identity document and the insurance policy, and keep the copies in different bags so that you do not lose everything if some of your luggage goes missing.
  • Keep all receipts, valuation certificates and other records of items purchased in case you need to claim. You will need to submit proof of payment for items such as luggage, clothing, electronic goods and jewellery.
  • If there are any doubts about your health, go for a medical check-up to establish whether you are fit to travel.

Shopping around for Travel Insurance

The same principles apply when searching for affordable travel insurance, to those of searching for car insurance.

  • It might be beneficial to search online. Some online insurers provide cheaper travel insurance as their system are entirely paperless, saving time and money. It is quick and easy to obtain instant cover online which is ideal if you need the cover at the last minute.
  • Compare travel insurance products with a wide range of covers that you can customise
  • Customise your cover by adding what you require such as extra baggage cover or special cover for activities such as golf.


Include travel insurance in your checklist before going on holiday. The small amount payable may provide peace of mind and avoid regrets and financial devastation later!

Also view:

Health Precautions and Safe Travel

Car Insurance and Road Safety

Advice for Foreigners travelling in South Africa

4x4 Driving and Vehicle Insurance

Car Insurance Blog