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Backpacker insurance

Get cheap cover if you're going abroad for two months+

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By Tim Evershed | Edited by Sam D

Updated September 2016

Every year thousands of people of all ages plan gap-year and other worldwide backpacking jaunts. If that's you, it's vital to get specialist travel insurance – often called backpacker insurance – as soon as you book, so you're covered if the worst happens.

In this guide we explain how to bag the best backpacker insurance deals, how they work and what to watch out for when you buy. If you're just going on a standard holiday, check out the best standard travel insurance policies.

The 10 Need-to-Knows

Travelling for more than two months? You'll NEED specialist 'backpacker' insurance

Whether you're going round with a rugged backpack or sporting a posh suitcase, if you're going away for more than 60 consecutive days standard travel insurance is unlikely to cover you. You'll therefore need specialist backpacker insurance – sometimes called 'gap-year' or 'extended leave' insurance.

These policies can protect you for up to 18 months as standard in most cases, and can even be extended.

A backpacker insurance policy will insure you for as long as you're away – and usually also let you temporarily return to the UK to visit friends or family, or deal with an emergency.

From our research of more than 500 standard travel policies, the majority limit cover to 30 or 31 days before you have to return home. However, plenty of policies do extend insurance to 60 days, but for the majority of backpackers that won't nearly be enough.

Going away for less than 60 days? Have a look at the best standard travel insurance policies.

Extreme activities and sports, including skiing, are NOT automatically included

For most, backpacking is a chance to step off the beaten track, throw off the shackles of everyday responsibilities and take more risks than usual.

But don't assume skiing and snowboarding or extreme sports and adventurous activities will be automatically covered on basic policies. In almost all cases, you'll pay a higher cost for pursuits such as quad biking, bungee jumping, kayaking and white-water rafting.

That said, gentler pastimes such as scuba diving, hiking, safari and even jet skiing tend to feature as standard on many backpacker policies.

Many policies will even spell out limitations on a particular activity – eg, some will only allow you cover for one bungee jump per trip.

Whatever cover you have, check the precise wording. Say you add winter sports cover if going skiing – it should cover standard skiing and snowboarding, but may not cover going off-piste or more extreme versions such as ski jumping or snowmobiling. You may have to pay more for these. Specialist providers such as BMC and Snowcard may be able to cover you.

Thefts from hostels may not be covered so take extra precautions

Backpacking often involves staying in hostels, overnight coach trips and going on long treks.

While these have their own appeals, they also leave you open to an increased risk of theft, as it's not like staying at a five-star with an in-room safe or having an airline look after your baggage while in transit. In some hostels there may be nowhere to lock up valuables while you sleep or while you're away.

Leave baggage or valuables unattended or not locked up in hostels, on overnight coach trips, or on treks, and insurance is unlikely to pay out if they're stolen.

So take these precautions:

Do you really need all those gadgets?

Buy a robust padlock for bags/suitcases

Tell your bank you're going away

Keep note of emergency numbers

What does a backpacker policy typically cover?

Every travel insurance policy covers different things but all offer a varying degree of cover on:

Medical problems (unless caused by a pre-existing condition)

Cancellation

Baggage and personal belongings

Personal liability

Delays

Accidents while undertaking casual work abroad

Of course, things aren't always that easy and there are a number of exclusions...

Like all insurance policies, there are a number of things that providers will not pay out for

Buy as soon as you've booked to cover cancellation and pre-trip illness

If you've booked a backpacking expedition and have left getting insurance way down at the bottom of your 'to do' list, you're taking an unnecessary risk.

Thinking you don't need to arrange cover yet as your adventure doesn't start for another six months is a big mistake. In fact, it's even more reason to arrange backpacker insurance, as anything can happen before your trip even starts.

Why? Because backpacker insurance won't just cover you while you're away, it also covers you for cancellation, or anything else that might go wrong, BEFORE you make your trip.

Double-check you're covered for the USA, Canada, the Caribbean and Spain

Be mindful that some Europe policies do not cover Spain. Meanwhile, some worldwide policies do not cover the USA, Canada and the Caribbean.

So if you're going to any of those countries ensure your policy actually covers you while there.

Insurance is about covering the unpredictable – exactly what a gap year should be about

"Why should I get backpacker insurance? I probably won't use it," you may ask. But the whole point of insurance is to cover you for the unforeseen – unpredictable events that may occur before or during your trip.

Of all life experiences where you might deliberately think about insurance, a gap year is one. A gap year is all about taking risks, visiting exotic locations and putting yourself through unusual experiences.

While it might not be all white-water rafting and trekking in the Hindu Kush, you'll most likely be doing plenty of pastimes out of the ordinary which will expose you to risk. You need to accept that, and as it's impossible to predict the future, all you can do is give it your best shot. To sum up...

Insurance is about making unpredictable events predictable in case the unpredictable happens.

Always declare your medical conditions, or your claim may be rejected

The thought of having to declare medical conditions can be daunting, but travelling without making your insurer aware of any issues can result in any claim you make being rejected. Make sure you give a full and frank rundown of all the health issues you have that will be relevant to your policy.

Pricing radically changes depending on who you are, so it's important to disclose everything. But the rules are changing: from August 2016 insurers will be unable to unfairly reject customers' claims if they've given wrong information about a part of their policy that is irrelevant to their claim. See Insurance rejection clampdown

Until then... if your insurer doesn't know about your conditions they will be excluded and you could face a massive bill if you need treatment. 

Remember, if you have an annual policy and your circumstances change, or you become ill, let your insurer know. For more, see our Pre-existing Medical Conditions Travel Insurance guide.

Don't overpay on your insurance. Costlier cover is rarely worth it

Insurance firms go all out to scare us into upping cover levels. Don't be duped into upgrading for no reason. Platinum policies with £10m medical cover are bunkum.

"Why," you ask? Well, you're charged more but the chances of you making a claim that high are slim. According to the Association of British Insurers, the average cost of a medical travel insurance claim in 2013 was £930 – a far cry from £10m.

Run through your backpacking checklist

Like a boy scout, a backpacker should always be prepared, so here's a list of other things that can be done or checked in advance of travel.

Sort those visas out

Book a date with the needle

Organise your cash and cards

Make copies of your paperwork and write down emergency numbers

Get familiar with the Know Before You Go campaign

Backpacker insurance best buys

Here are our top picks that meet our minimum cover levels, though your age influences which are the best deals, as most insurers split policies for those up to age 45 and for those age 46 and above. Though once you get over 65, cheap cover gets more difficult to find.

Best Buys – up to and including age 45 (at time of travel)

Policy Europe (from) Worldwide (from) Max age Medical Cancellation Baggage Cash Liability
Holidaysafe (Backpacker & Longstay Plus)* £120.45 £252.97 45 £10m £3,000 £2,500 £500 £2m
Travel Insurance Direct (Long Stay – Standard) £143.99 £289.29 45 £5m £1,500 £1,000 £250 £2m
AA £152.33 £255.42 45 £3m £2,000 £1,000 £200 £2m
Allianz £174.92 £235.03 35 £5m £2,500 £1,500 £250 £2m

Note: The worldwide premiums include USA. All example premiums based on backpacker trip of up to/for 12 mths.

Best Buys – age 46 and above

We've also picked out the best deal if you're a little older, though be aware that many insurers have maximum age limits so anyone over 55 should double-check.

Cover for anyone who is 70 and over may be very difficult to find, so if that's you, try a broker who may be able to get you a specialist deal. You can find a broker via the British Insurance Brokers' Association.

Policy Europe (from) Worldwide (from) Max age Medical Cancellation Baggage Cash Liability
Holidaysafe (Backpacker & Longstay Plus)* £168.84 £354.16 55 £10m £3,000 £2,500 £500 £2m
Holidaysafe (Backpacker & Longstay Plus)* £219.23 £460.39 65 £10m £3,000 £2,500 £500 £2m
Holidaysafe (Backpacker & Longstay Plus)* £252.94 £531.24 69 £10m £3,000 £2,500 £500 £2m
Hiscox (GAP Year) £244.52 £415.69 49 £10m £2,000 £1,000 £200 £2m
Hiscox (GAP Year) £276.42 £469.91 59 £10m £2,000 £1,000 £200 £2m

Note: The worldwide premiums include USA. All example premiums based on backpacker trip of up to/for 12 mths.

If you've time... check comparison sites too

It's also worth checking prices on comparison sites. We found that prices on MoneySupermarket.com* sometimes beat our top picks for those that meet our minimum cover levels, though be aware the really cheap policies may have limited cover.

Other comparisons to try if you've time include Confused.com*, Compare The Market and Gocompare*, but from our research these rarely beat our best buys on policies that meet our minimum levels (though please let us know if you do find cheaper cover via them).

Pre-existing medical condition? You may need specialist cover

Some conditions are more difficult to cover than others, so consider your needs carefully. If you have, or have had, mild asthma or high-blood pressure you may still be able to get cover via the methods above, though always tell your insurer about your condition even if you don't deem it serious.

However, if you've got a serious condition, you'll need specialist cover. Providers to try include Global Travel Insurance*, Insurancewith, Insurepink and World First.

If you're still unable to find cover, speak to a specialist broker who should be able to help. Try the British Insurance Brokers' Association broker helpline.

If cover is still unaffordable, the price may drop considerably if you ask insurers to exclude some, or all, of your pre-existing conditions. Overall, it's a judgement call on the risks of travelling with limited cover.

How to make a claim on your backpacker insurance

Claiming on your travel insurance shouldn't be daunting and – if you understand the terms and excesses on your policy – you shouldn't be in for any nasty shocks. Follow the five steps below in the event you need to claim.

1. Submit your claim as soon as possible

Contact your insurer as soon as you can. Some parts of your policy may have a short window to submit a claim and it may take a while to be processed.

2. If it's a medical claim get an insurer to accept it first

If you need medical attention – and it's not an emergency – get an insurer to accept the claim first. If the insurer accepts the claim, you won't be faced with a bill after treatment if your claim is eventually rejected. For obvious reasons, don't delay treatment if it's an emergency.

3. If it's a theft- or loss-claim, notify the police

If something goes missing or is stolen when you're abroad you may need to get a crime reference number or the overseas equivalent to make a successful claim. Report the incident to the police as soon as you can – you often have to do it within 24 hours – to make sure your claim doesn't hit the skids.

4. Keep your receipts

If you're claiming for lost luggage or delay, remember to keep receipts of essential items you've bought in the interim, such as food and drink. Many insurers allow you to add these expenses to a claim and may ask for receipts as proof.

5. Complain if you feel your claim was unfairly rejected

If your insurance company rejects your claim and you think it's done so wrongly, don't take it lying down. Complain to the free Financial Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is an independent adjudicator that will make the final decision on a claim if you're locked in a dispute with your insurer. For more on how to make a complaint, read our Financial Rights guide.

How to complain about your insurance provider

The insurance industry doesn't have the best customer-service reputation and while a provider may be good for some, it can be hell for others. Common problems include claims either not being paid out on time or at all, unfair charges, or exclusions being hidden in small print. It's always worth trying to call your provider first, but, if not, then…

Free tool if you're having a problem

This tool helps you draft your complaint and manage it too. It's totally free, and offered by a firm called Resolver which we like so much we work with to help people get complaints justice.

If the complaint isn't resolved, Resolver will escalate it to the free Financial Ombudsman Service.

Important: If your issue is about a voucher or incentive that was part of an MSE Blagged deal, then instead just let us know by emailing voucherhelp@moneysavingexpert.com as that's usually quicker.