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Gap Year Travel Insurance

A shocking number of Gap year travellers leave for their trip each year without travel insurance.

Make sure you have an organised and comprehensive travel insurance policy sorted out before you go, otherwise you could end up facing a bill of thousands of pounds if you have an accident requiring medical treatment, especially if you need to be flown home, or losing money if your possessions are stolen or lost.

For example, it will cost around £12,000 for an air ambulance to take you back to the UK from Spain if you have a serious accident in this country.

The USA is the worst place in the world you could have an accident with no travel insurance – a fractured leg there will set you back at least £6,000.

What is normally included in a gap year travel insurance policy?

To help you buy the right travel insurance policy that includes all your requirements, we've put together a checklist of items you need to be covered for.

1. Cancellation

You should be able to reclaim the cost of your trip if you have to cancel any part of it due to illness, injury, family emergency, death of a close relative or other valid reason.

Make sure your insurance cover starts from the day you book your trip.

2. Medical bills

Your policy should cover any medical treatment, hospital stays and emergency repatriation required in the event of falling ill or having an accident whilst you are abroad.

Ideally you need £1 million of emergency medical cover if you are travelling in the EU, and £2 million if you are going elsewhere.

3. Personal accident

In the event of your death or permanent disability during your travels, the insurance company will pay out a lump sum.

4. Personal belongings

You should receive compensation for any costs related to stolen, damaged or lost possessions.

This includes items such as passport, luggage, tickets, camera, and money (though it’s a good idea not to wander around with wads of cash on you).

There is usually a maximum limit on the amount you can claim for this, and an upper limit for each individual item.

Make sure you inform the insurance company of anything expensive you are taking with you, and be aware they will ask you for a police report before they cough up any money.

Report anything stolen to the police within 24 hours, as proof of notification will be required when you make your claim.

All insurance policies say that you must look after your belongings at all times, because if you don’t, the policy might not pay out.

5. Lost baggage on flights

Do not rely on airline compensation if it loses your luggage.

Airlines only have to pay a specified minimum value per kilo of lost luggage, so this is unlikely to cover the total value of your possessions.

6. Delays

This covers compensation for delayed luggage and missed or delayed flight departures.

7. Personal liability

This covers you if you injure someone or damage their property and are subsequently sued, and may include legal expenses cover if you need to take legal action against a third party.

Try to get travel insurance that will cover you for personal liability.

8. Legal expenses

Try to get £25,000 for this – it will cover you if for any reason you need to call upon a local solicitor for legal aid in the country you are visiting.

Please be warned that most policies will not cover any drink or drug related incidents.

Policy differences

It's important to read the small print carefully, as policies vary between different providers. Before taking out your insurance, please check the following:

1. Age limits

A vast majority of gap year travel insurance policies set the minimum age at 18, although anything between 16 and 19 was possible.

Some policies have a maximum age limit which can be as young as 35, although many cover older applicants in their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s.

Remember that some policies for older travellers might have further clauses in place restricting the age for certain activities such as skiing and rock climbing.

2. Trip duration

Policy lengths vary from 31 days to two years and, while some policies provide cover for trips lasting over a year, only a third cover travellers for a year, and around 10% of policies cover journeys lasting 360 days or less.

3. Stop-over cover

You will find that some policies provid 'stop-over cover' for gap year travellers who might want to visit a different area en route to their destination.

4. UK return

Some policies will allow you to return to the UK for a short time during your travels - for example, for a family emergency, to attend a wedding, or just for some home comforts at Christmas. For the remainder, re-entering the UK will invalidate the policy, so be careful when planning any trips back home!

5. Baggage and valuables

Policy limits for lost or stolen possessions varied considerably across providers.

Total baggage cover ranges from £200 to £3,000, while a few policies do not cover baggage at all.

The amount payable for a single item ranges from £100 to £2,000, but most policies limit pay outs to between £100 and £300.

For valuables such as watches, jewellery, cameras, computers, tablets, glasses, and audio equipment, the majority of policies will provide between £100 and £300 worth of cover. Again, some will offer more than this, and others won't offer any cover at all.

6. War zones and politically disturbed areas

You might not be covered to travel to countries which are war zones or are in a state of political unrest, so check carefully for exclusion clauses. Do not go against Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice.

Countries they currently advise against travelling to include Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Gambia, Tunisia, Mali, Libya and Yemen.

7. Health issues

Depending on which countries you're travelling to, your insurance might be subject to you getting the relevant inoculations or taking tablets before you go.

Follow advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and make sure you're fully up to date with vaccinations and visas for all the countries you are travelling to on your gap year.

Also, cover for pre-existing medical conditions may come at a premium (so you may have to pay a little more for this), but remember that it's important to be honest with your provider, in case anything should happen while you're away.

8. Working abroad

Some insurance policies won't cover manual labour.

9. Travel to the U.S, Canada and the Caribbean

Medical costs are extremely expensive in these countries, so if they aren’t included in your standard gap year policy, you may need to take out extra cover.

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

If you are travelling anywhere within the EU and/or Switzerland, make sure you apply for an EHIC if you don’t already  have one.

The EHIC has replaced the E111 form, which is no longer valid, and covers you for any necessary medical treatment if you fall ill or have an accident during your trip. You can apply for one for free at gov.uk.

Be aware that the card only entitles you to state provided care in the country you are visiting, and you may have to make some contribution toward medical attention you receive, e.g. x-rays, plaster casts.

The card also allows you to receive treatment for pre-existing medical conditions and diseases you have, although there are usually conditions attached to this.

Pre-existing conditions are those you have and are already aware of, or have received treatment for.

As mentioned earlier, you must be completely honest with your insurance company when you are asked to declare any pre-existing medical conditions, as your policy may become invalid if you fail to disclose any relevant information.

Unfortunately, the EHIC doesn't cover:

  • treatment if you’re taken to a private hospital
  • repatriation if you need to be flown home
  • mountain rescues

so it is very important to take out travel insurance and prepare for every eventuality.

Backpacking and extreme activities

If you’re off backpacking on your gap year, you will need to take out specialist backpacker insurance.

What’s included in a backpacking policy varies between insurers, though usually includes cover for a number of sports and activities as standard, such as bungee jumping, surfing, scuba diving, climbing and jetskiing.

However, it’s important you know whether your travel insurance covers risky activities, and exactly what sort.

If you think you may be tempted to try your hand at water skiing or bungee jumping, make sure you get covered! Most insurance companies will happily cover activities such as these for a small additional cost.

Also make sure you check the details of the activities covered on your policy – for example, is there a depth limit for scuba diving? You may want to ask the insurance company if you can add other activities later on that you did not originally get cover for.

Buying your Gap year travel insurance

We’ve done some scouting around on the internet and found the following companies to offer competitively priced gap year insurance cover:

As we’ve already mentioned, do your research and see what is and isn’t included in the policy - there’s no point paying for the cheapest deal if it doesn’t cover all your requirements! 

Always purchase travel cover from a reputable insurer, as they can usually be depended on to honour valid claims quickly and in full.

You can also compare gap year travel insurance policies at GoCompare, MoneySupermarket and CompareTheMarket.

Taking your Gap year travel insurance with you

You need to be aware of the risks of travelling without proper insurance cover, and this is one thing you should not consider cutting costs on.

A bit of shopping around on the internet will produce some competitively priced travel insurance packages – the ones we’ve listed above are a good starting place!

Once you have bought your travel insurance, print off a copy of the policy to take with you, and always have the company’s 24 hour emergency contact number with you in case something happens.

If you are unfortunate and an incident occurs, get in touch with the insurance company as soon as you can and make sure you keep all the paperwork involved, e.g. bills, police reports.

Further information

For more tips and advice on planning your gap year travels, please see: