Travel insurance for pre-existing conditions

How to find affordable cover

If you're planning or have booked a trip away, always get travel insurance as soon as you've booked. Yet if you've had a serious medical condition, or are having treatment for one, you're likely to be quoted ludicrously high prices for travel cover. We run through the ways to cut costs.

Aged under 66 with NO conditions? See Travel insurance.
66+ with NO conditions? See Over-65s' travel insurance.
Staycation planned? See UK travel insurance.

Can I still get travel insurance if I have a pre-existing condition?

Yes, you can. The aim of travel insurance is to cover the cost of the unforeseen, such as illness and injury or theft of your belongings while you're away.

It's also designed to cover you if you have to cancel your trip before you go, or if you need to return early due to an emergency.

For people with pre-existing medical conditions, the cover works exactly the same way as insurance for typical travellers. The only difference is that it also covers the cost of care for any medical condition you may have had in the past or you suffer from currently – though this is likely to make the cost of cover more expensive.

However, travel insurance isn't designed to (and won't) cover every eventuality or every loss or inconvenience that you experience while on holiday. Read this guide carefully so you know what is (and isn't) covered.

What does travel insurance cover?

Sadly not all travel insurance is created equally, but you should expect an insurer to pay out for most of the below. 

However, the exact level of cover will vary by policy – so always check the terms carefully before you buy.

Good travel insurance should cover you for... 

Reason Typical examples 
Cancellation as you can't travel If you're made redundant, have to do jury service, fall seriously ill, test positive for Covid, suffer a bereavement or have a home emergency such as a fire, flood or break-in.
Medical costs whilst abroad If you fall ill overseas, including Covid, and require treatment – plus any travel costs if you need to be brought back to the UK for it. Though ALWAYS tell your insurer about any pre-existing medical conditions, or you won't be covered (see our Pre-existing conditions travel insurance guide for full help).
Cutting your trip short (curtailment) If an emergency happens that requires you to travel home early, such as death of a close relative. 
Baggage and personal belongings If any of your stuff is lost, stolen or damaged while you're away. Though there are often limits on the amounts they'll pay out. You may also have cover for this under personal belongings on your home contents policy.
Sports, excursions and other activities If you can't make use of your booked activities, though some policies only cover this if the provider went bust.
Personal liability If you accidentally hurt someone or damaged their property, such as spilling a drink and staining an expensive upholstered chair.
You catch Covid You're generally covered if you test positive for coronavirus before your trip or while on it.

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Book flexibly and pay on plastic for extra protection

Travel insurance provides valuable last-resort protection, but it's best used in combination with other ways of minimising the risk of losing money on a trip...

  • Book easily cancellable or flexible flights and accommodation. Hedge towards offers with no/low deposits or those that give refunds or let you rebook for free if you find you can't go.

  • Pay on plastic. Credit cards offer strong protection, as Section 75 refund rules mean for items costing more than £100, the card provider is jointly liable with the seller – though note that bookings via travel agents may not be covered as it usually only covers payments made directly to the travel provider.

    Debit cards also have some protection under the 'chargeback' refund rules (but these aren't legal requirements and firms sometimes challenge them).

    Yet for both schemes, you'll only be covered if the service wasn't provided, for example if the flight was cancelled or the accommodation was shut. These card schemes won't cover you if you weren't able to, or didn't want to, go on your trip.

  • Package holidays can offer greater protection. If an airline or accommodation provider cancels, you're entitled to a refund. But if the trip or flight is still going ahead but you can no longer travel, such as a new travel warning from the Foreign Office banning all but essential travel, then you have few or no rights.

    However, most package holiday providers won't operate holidays to countries where a travel restriction has been put in place, so they are more likely to cancel the trip anyway.

10 travel insurance need-to-knows if you've a pre-existing condition

As we've highlighted above, travel insurance still covers a large range of unforeseen events, even if you won't be able to cover yourself completely for coronavirus-related events. It's still vital to get before you go away – and here are a few pointers you need to know before you choose a policy...

  • It's never a good idea to wait until the last minute when buying travel insurance – and thinking you don't need to arrange cover yet as your holiday's not for another six months is a big mistake.

    This is even more important if you have pre-existing conditions, because it may take longer to get it sorted. There's also the risk that your condition gets worse – if this is the case and you've already got insurance, you'll be covered.

    Plus, it's important not to wait, as travel insurance doesn't just cover you while you're away – it also covers you for cancellation, events such as redundancy or an injury or death in the family, or anything else that might go wrong BEFORE you make your trip. You're also covered if you catch coronavirus shortly before your trip and can't go.

    So, always buying your travel insurance ASAB (As Soon As you've Booked a holiday).

    The same rule applies for a UK holiday, and we have a guide to help with arranging UK travel insurance

    ... and see if it's cheaper getting a combined or individual policy

    If travelling with your partner or family, you have two options – you can cover everyone under one policy, or each person takes their own. It's often cheaper to get a combined policy, however, there are times when separate policies will be a better option (so always check, to be safe), including:

    • If one of the travellers is over 65, as the group price you'll pay is based on the oldest traveller, or the person deemed to be the highest risk, so the insurer will usually hike the price for all (see our Over-65s' travel insurance guide for ways to cut costs).
    • If one of the travellers has a medical condition, as it will increase the price for all.
    • If just one of the travellers is going outside Europe, in particular to the US, or on a skiing trip (or even both), it could be better to have separate policies, rather than the whole family buying extended cover when it's not needed.
  • A pre-existing condition is about physical and mental health conditions you've seen a doctor about or had ongoing medical treatment for. How far back you must go varies with each insurer. It's important to give a full and frank rundown of all your past health issues, so you don't find any claim being rejected at a later date. This is particularly important in the age of coronavirus, especially where your condition may make you more susceptible to complications from it. 

    If you have, or have had, what insurers consider as a less serious condition, such as mild asthma or high blood pressure which you're not receiving ongoing treatment for, you may still be able to get traditional cover at the standard price – just let the insurer know, even if you don't deem it particularly important.

    Each insurer will have its own list of conditions it deems as more serious, which means you might have to pay an additional premium or even get specialist cover. 

    If your insurer doesn't know about your medical history, any pre-existing conditions – however minor – will likely be excluded and you could face a massive bill if you become unwell. Insurers also need to know about medication, conditions or illnesses that can be linked to your pre-existing condition.

    For example, an asthmatic who develops a chest infection (connected to being asthmatic) while on holiday will only be insured if they've told the provider about their asthma upfront.

  • Insurers will classify your trip as 'European' or 'worldwide'. Worldwide is often further broken down to include or exclude the US, Canada, the Caribbean or Mexico. Selecting the option to include these countries increases the premium due to the high cost of medical treatment – particularly in the US – and possible repatriation.

    Annual European travel cover isn't just for Europe

    If you're travelling just outside Europe, you don't always have to select worldwide cover. Many insurers actually allow you to use their European cover in a handful of non-European countries too.

    If you're visiting Egypt, Morocco, Turkey or Tunisia, it's worth getting a quotation for European cover first and then checking the policy's geographical area definition to see if the country you're going to is included. The following insurers – Allianz*Insure and Go and Coverwise* – all class Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and Tunisia as Europe.

    It's also worth noting that not all insurers automatically include Spain (and the Balearic/Canary Islands) in their European cover – you may have to pay extra to include Spain if you plan to travel there.

    Check if the Foreign Office is advising against travel to your destination

    The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) has a list of countries which it feels are unsafe for travel. Usually, this covers areas where there's war, terrorism or other reasons not to travel, such as natural disasters or a pandemic.

    So, when you're booking, and in the weeks leading up to your trip, check the FCDO website for the latest on whether you'll be able to travel as things can change quickly. You should also see if the country you're planning to travel to has restricted entry – you can usually do this via its UK embassy website.

    If one or the other means you can no longer take your trip, see if you can rearrange it, or if the provider will give you a refund. 

    If you still want to travel (though note we're not encouraging you to do so), you'll need a specialist policy as standard insurers won't cover you, even if travel was allowed when you booked your trip.

    Try Battleface*, or, for European trips,* and Staysure* (with its 'European Foreign Office travel advice extension' optional add-on). 

  • If you have pre-existing conditions, buying an annual policy may be prohibitively expensive. Get quotes for single-trip and annual cover and work out what will be most cost-effective.

    Annual cover will insure you for an unlimited number of trips over a 12-month period. However, the number of days you can be on holiday for per trip may be restricted – it's often 31 days, but can sometimes be as low as 17 or as high as 90.

  • Group insurance premiums are based on the oldest traveller or the person deemed to be the highest risk, such as someone with pre-existing medical conditions. Insurers become more selective under these circumstances, and hike premiums.

    A separate policy for you may be the best option to avoid everyone paying over the odds – but always check both options.

    There are times when separate policies will work out better (so always check, to be safe), including:

    • If one of the travellers has a medical condition.
    • If one of the travellers is over 65 (see our Over-65s' travel insurance guide for ways to cut the cost).
    • If just one of the travellers is going outside of Europe, in particular to the US, or on a skiing trip (or even both), it could be better to have separate policies rather than the whole family buying extended cover.
  • The free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and its replacement, the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which has been sent to new applicants since 1 January 2021, entitles you to treatment in state-run hospitals in the EU at the same cost as a local would pay. So if they pay nowt, you pay nowt.

    The main difference since 1 January 2021 is that you'll NO LONGER be able to use your EHIC or GHIC in Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, as they're not part of the EU.

    An EHIC/GHIC should be seen as an extra to travel insurance, not a replacement. Travel insurance covers a far greater range of scenarios, as well as gives cover for cancellation, possessions, delays, repatriation, personal liability, and more. Plus, even using an EHIC/GHIC you may need to pay, and travel insurance will cover that (and often using the EHIC/GHIC means you don't pay the excess).

    How do I get a GHIC?

    The card is free so if a copycat site pretending to be the real thing advertises a fee (often about £35), run a mile. For full info and how to get it for free from the legitimate NHS site, read our Free EHIC/GHIC guide.

  • You may already have travel insurance without knowing it. If you have a packaged bank account – which charge a monthly fee for extra benefits such as travel insurance – check to see if you're covered and whether it's appropriate for your trip.

    If your conditions aren't severe, for example, you've got mild asthma, you will probably be covered without paying anything. However, if your conditions are severe, you may have to pay an additional fee or you may be declined cover entirely, but always check as insurers have different rules. As MoneySaver Mari, aged 70, found...

    I was diagnosed with breast cancer and insurers said I couldn't get cover. I nearly fell off the chair when Nationwide, with the FlexPlus account, quoted £85 for myself and my husband despite my medical history – we've already been to California and are off to South America in November.

    Do NOT confuse this with a benefit offered with credit cards called travel accident insurance, which only covers accidents on a train, plane or in a hire car paid for on the card. Never think this means you're completely covered.

    This insurance should also not be confused with Section 75 legal protection – which covers you if you buy anything that costs between £100 and £30,000 using a credit card (not a debit card). See our Section 75 guide for more on this.

    For accounts that may offer travel insurance (and other perks), see our Top packaged bank accounts guide.

  • Most regular travel policies will only cover you for loss or theft of goods and medical costs while you're on a cruise. You may NOT be covered for other eventualities unless you upgrade your policy. These include:

    • Missed departure
    • Unused cruise excursions, for instance, a day trip to a city port
    • Cruise itinerary change
    • Cabin confinement, for example, onboard virus

    To get cover for these, you can usually select an add-on to get the right protection – which won't break the bank. If you want to buy one, a quick way to get a quote is to use a comparison site such as  MoneySupermarket**Gocompare or Compare The Market.

    It's also worth comparing to see if any of the top-pick policies below let you add cruise cover.

  • Winter sports can be dangerous, so as soon as you've splashed out on your break, make sure you're insured on the slopes. As well as covering you for the basics that you'd get with a pre-existing travel policy, you'll also be insured for any injury that happened while doing the activities, and your winter sports equipment.

    You're usually covered for:

    • Medical costs if you have an accident. The cost of medical bills if you get injured on the slopes can be extortionate, so it is essential to have the right cover. The Association of British Insurers has said one Brit required £90,000 of treatment for a fractured rib and punctured lung. Even a smaller injury, such as damage to a knee ligament, cost as much as £3,800 to treat.

      Add being airlifted from the mountain to hospital, repatriation if you need to be flown home injured from the US or Canada and this would significantly increase the claim.

    • Piste closure. If your piste closes (usually due to lack of snow or an avalanche) and you're unable to hit the slopes, your insurer may give you back a set amount a day. This can range from £10 to £50 – up to a limit of £200 to £500.

    • Loss of or damage to your ski equipment. Most winter sports policies will cover you for accidental damage, theft or the loss of equipment. Different providers offer different limits so think about the value of your stuff and pick your policy accordingly.

      If you've hired ski equipment, it may be covered by your insurer if it's lost, stolen or damaged. Some providers insure any rented kit as part of your baggage up to a certain amount. Other insurers only pay up to 50% of the sum insured for hired equipment. Some ski equipment providers may also cover their gear for you so it's worth checking with the resort before you buy your cover.

      In most cases, your ski pack – including ski school fees, a lift pass and hired ski equipment – is covered. The amount can range from £150 to £500, but can be as high as £5,000. As always, check your policy closely for any potential exclusions.

    • Public liability (if you crash into someone and injure them or damage their property). Travel insurance policies tend to have about £2 million worth of public liability insurance. Having a winter sports add-on means that this will apply if you injure someone or damage their property while skiing. If you haven't told the insurer you'll be skiing or snowboarding, any damage you cause usually won't be covered.

    You'll generally be covered for skiing or snowboarding on the piste, and some policies will cover you for going off-piste if you're with a qualified instructor as part of a lesson.

    If you are doing something a bit more unusual, such as ski jumping or snowmobiling, check the terms and conditions of your policy first. If you are planning to take part in something even more wild – such as luging or stunt skiing – specialist providers such as BMC and Snowcard may be able to offer you cover.

    Quick questions

    • Travellers with a history of medical problems will not be excluded from taking out winter sports cover and shouldn't have any issues buying it. However, if you are an older traveller you are likely to pay more. In addition, some providers may limit the levels of cover. 

    • Lucky you. It may be cheaper to take out an annual policy with a winter sports add-on. But check the price against the cost of covering single trips to ensure you're getting a bargain.

    • Many people aren't aware that if you have an alcoholic drink on holiday, and you lose something or have an accident, your insurance may not cover you – even if you were only a bit tipsy.

      Some insurers are known to have gone as far as testing blood samples of your alcohol level (although we wonder how this works in practice) but this does vary from policy to policy.

      Having a claim refused could hit hard, possibly excluding you from medical or possessions cover. The same goes for skiing despite weather warnings and – with some providers – skiing without a helmet. So scrutinise your policy before buying.

  • Even if you think you've found an all-singing, all-dancing policy that covers for every eventuality, beware. There's often a clause built in that says the policy won't cover 'recoverable costs', which essentially means you need to prove that you can't claim back those amounts elsewhere.

    So you'll usually need to put in the legwork and ask the provider, for example, the airline, holiday operator or car hire firm (and in some cases the credit card company), for a refund before your insurer would even consider a claim under the travel insurance policy. It's also worth noting that many insurers consider a credit note to be satisfactory, and may not pay out if one has been offered.

    Here's an example we found on Direct Line's site (but most insurers will have similar wording): 

    Before contacting us to make a claim please take the following steps:

    • Speak to the provider of your trip to understand if a refund is available, including a credit note or a voucher.
    • If you booked your trip using a credit or debit card, you should speak to your card issuer for advice on whether you can claim a refund from them. This is only applicable if you paid more than £100 for the trip and the service you have paid for isn't available, for example, the hotel is closed so you can't stay there as planned.

    We cannot log a claim until you have tried to recover costs from elsewhere where that option is available.

How to find travel insurance to cover your condition

Our step-by-step process will help you find the best policy with cover for your medical condition.

Remember that most travel insurance policies WILL cover you if either you or a family member catch Covid-19 before your trip and can't travel, but WON'T cover you for cancellation if a government coronavirus restriction at home or abroad means you can't travel.

They also won't cover you for ANYTHING if you decide to take a trip to a destination that the Foreign Office is advising against travel to. If your trip is essential and you do need to travel against Foreign Office advice, you'll need a specialist policy.

Step 1: Get quotes from our standard top-pick policies

For some with conditions deemed less serious by insurers – for example, mild asthma – you may find you can get a standard policy, or only have the price increased a small amount. If that's the case, you may not need to go any further.

Use our Cheap Travel Insurance Finder tool in our main travel insurance guide to locate the best cover for you – you can choose from options including single-trip or annual policies to pick out something that suits.

However, each insurer will have its own list of conditions it deems as more serious, which means you might have to pay a premium or get specialist cover. If that's the case, or you know you have a severe condition, it may be best to skip to step 2.

If our top picks don't suit you, you can also try comparison sites to find other 'standard' policies. Try... 

They all allow you to adjust your quote to suit your needs, for example, single trip or annual, or in case you want to include add-ons such as travel disruption cover, scheduled airline failure, cruise cover and so on.

Important: MSE has no control over the providers included on these comparison sites and so they may include insurers that we wouldn't.

Step 2: If you have a serious condition, try specialist medical sites 

To cover more serious conditions, such as heart conditions, certain joint conditions or cancer, you'll likely need to try specialist medical insurers (often you won't see these on normal comparison sites).

A good starting point – to benchmark a price – would be to get a quote from Medical Travel Compared*. This specialist comparison site works with a wide range of insurers.

Then try...

If you've still not found anything, another specialist to look at is MIA Online – but again, check what level of coronavirus cover the policy is offering.

Want a bit more cover? If you're looking for a 'premier' travel insurance policy, which gives a higher level of cover (for example, it protects more expensive trips or covers airline failure), then it's worth trying LV (Premier)* or ABTA Travel Insurance (Gold)*. These policies exceed our normal minimum cover levels, and they all give:

  • £5,000 cancellation cover per person
  • £10 million medical and repatriation expenses per person
  • £2,000 baggage cover per person
  • End supplier failure, such as the airline or hotel stopping operating
  • Travel disruption, for example, because of volcanic ash, tsunami or another natural disaster  

However, these premier policies may charge a lot more than the specialist medical policies to cover your condition – get quotes and compare. 

Step 3: If you still can't get cover or it's still eye-wateringly expensive, contact a broker 

Specialist brokers can help you find insurers that cover non-standard medical conditions, or non-standard trips. To find one, see the British Insurance Brokers' Association website.

Always double-check the level of cover offered before taking out a policy as well as providers' websites for any info about coronavirus.

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How to claim on your travel 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...

  • 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.
  • Get your insurer to accept a medical claim before you get treatment. If you need to make a medical claim – and it's not an emergency – get your insurer to accept the claim over the phone first. For example, if you sprained your ankle, call your insurer – if it accepts the claim then, you're less likely to be faced with a rejected claim later down the line. For obvious reasons, don't delay treatment if it's an emergency.
  • Notify the police if it's a theft or loss. If something goes missing or is stolen when you are 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 so within 24 hours – to make sure your claim doesn't hit the skids.
  • Keep receipts. If you are claiming for lost luggage or delay, remember to keep receipts of essential items you have bought while waiting, such as food and drink. Many insurers allow you to add these expenses to a claim and may ask for receipts as proof.
  • Complain if you feel your claim was unfairly rejected. If your insurance company rejects your claim, and you think it has done so wrongly, don't take it lying down. Complain to the free Financial Ombudsman. This independent adjudicator will make the final decision on a claim if you are locked in a dispute with your insurer. For more on how to make a complaint, read our Financial rights guide, or see our section below.

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 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…

Travel insurance for pre-existing conditions FAQ

  • What if I develop a condition after I've taken out a policy?

    If you currently have a policy but later develop a medical condition, you need to tell your insurer immediately.

    Insurers need to know about any condition you currently have, or may have had in the past, so they can accurately price your cover.

    If you have a condition the provider doesn't know about, it won't be included as part of your policy, and if you fall ill because of it, you would have to foot the medical bill yourself, as the insurer will reject your claim.

  • Does pregnancy count as a pre-existing condition?

    Pregnancy isn't classed as a pre-existing condition and does not need to be declared to your insurer. You should be covered by most providers if you have a pregnancy-related emergency abroad, providing you haven't had any complications.

    However, we've seen that cover can be limited from week 29 and other policies that limit the cover up to week 32 (or 24 weeks for multiple pregnancies) – so always check, as it does vary with different insurers. As pregnancy is not an unforeseen condition in most cases, it will not be covered by most travel insurers in its later phases.

    It's recommended that you get a letter from your doctor and take this with you, stating how many weeks pregnant you are, along with your travel insurance documents.

    In January 2015, British couple Lee Johnston and Katie Amos were left facing a medical bill of more than £100,000 after Katie gave birth 11 weeks early. In this instance, their insurer paid out. However, as always, to make sure you are covered, check the terms and conditions of your policy carefully.

  • Do I need a fit note from my doctor to travel?

    You will not need any special sign-off from a doctor before you travel if you have pre-existing conditions, but your insurer may have to refer back to your doctor for more information when you apply for cover. However, if you are under doctor's orders not to travel but decide to venture overseas anyway, your travel insurance will be invalid.

  • What if I'm waiting for a condition to be diagnosed?

    If you're looking for cover but you're waiting on a diagnosis, surgery, treatment or tests, or you have an illness that you have not discussed with a doctor, you will struggle to get cover. In this instance you may have to put your travel plans on hold – especially if the condition is potentially serious.

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