Travel insurance

Travel doesn’t always go as planned. If you’re going overseas, travel insurance is as important as a passport. Without it, you or your family could suffer financially if things go wrong. No matter who you are, where you’re going and what you’re doing, get insurance.

Some travel insurance policies internationally may cover COVID-19-related claims. These policies aren’t widely available in Australia yet. Some travel insurers are starting to sell international travel insurance to Australians. However, it may not cover COVID-19-related claims.

A ban on overseas travel from Australia remains in place. You can’t leave Australia unless you get an exemption from the Department of Home Affairs.

Most standard policies also won’t cover you for ‘Do not travel’ destinations. Check with your travel insurance provider.

For more information about international travel insurance see the CHOICE website: Does travel insurance cover the COVID-19 coronavirus? (CHOICE).

Explore this page for general advice on:

This page is for Australians preparing to travel overseas. If you’re already overseas and something has happened to you, see what to do when things go wrong.

We’ve partnered with CHOICE to produce our general advice on travel insurance. For more information about choosing a policy, see the CHOICE travel insurance buying guide.

Travel insurance for your health

Travel insurance is especially important if you need medical assistance. Healthcare overseas can be very expensive. Most countries won’t give you free care, or subsidise the cost of your care. You, or your insurer, must usually pay full price.

Medical situations most basic policies cover

  • Emergency medical treatment.
  • General medical assistance.
  • Patient transport to hospital by helicopter or ambulance.
  • Medical evacuations back to Australia.
  • Injuries and accidents, unless it’s from an excluded activity.

Be aware that you may not be covered if something happens to you as a result of an excluded activity. For example, most policies cover a broken bone. However, if you broke your leg skiing and your cover specifically excluded skiing, you won’t be covered.

It’s unlikely an insurer will cover you if you go to a destination where the advice level is ‘Do not travel’.

Common exclusions for health claims

Most comprehensive travel insurance policies exclude pre-existing physical and mental health conditions. Some insurers will cover you if you pay extra. Commonly excluded are:

  • bone and joint conditions
  • breathing and lung conditions
  • cancer
  • circulatory and blood conditions
  • diabetes
  • disabilities
  • heart conditions
  • kidney or liver conditions
  • mental health conditions
  • pregnancy
  • viruses and diseases

Insurers generally won’t provide cover if you’re:

  • receiving, or waiting to receive, medical treatment for undiagnosed symptoms
  • travelling against the advice of a medical practitioner
  • travelling to get medical treatment for your condition (medical tourism)
  • already diagnosed with a terminal condition

Getting cover for your pre-existing condition

If you have a pre-existing condition, you may face challenges getting insurance that covers it. You may need to find a specialised insurer.

You may need a policy that covers you for situations that aren’t connected to your condition.

If you don’t get insurance and can’t pay for medical assistance

Be aware that hospitals in some countries will refuse to give you medical assistance if you don’t pay upfront, or hand over your insurance details. Even if it means you might die.

In an emergency, hospitals in countries with a reciprocal health care agreement may treat you. However, you may still have pay to some of your costs. You should still get travel insurance. Hospitals in other countries may treat you, and then give you an invoice to pay.

If you don’t have travel insurance, you’ll have to pay for your treatment. If you can’t pay, you’ll have to ask your family or friends for money. If you don’t pay your medical bills, you could be:

  • arrested or jailed
  • prevented from leaving the country until you pay
  • sued by the hospital, even if you’ve already left the country

The Australian Government can’t pay your bills.

Travel insurance for your baggage and valuables

Travel insurance can cover the cost to replace your baggage and valuables. If you’re insured, you can claim the replacement costs for items that are lost, stolen or damaged.

Some insurers will also help you organise the replacement if it’s something you need while you’re away.

Items insurance can cover

  • Electronic devices. This could include smartphones, computers and cameras.
  • Baggage and personal property. This may include clothing, toiletries and personal effects.
  • Jewellery and valuables. This could include rings, necklaces and watches.
  • Cash. This is usually only a small amount.
  • Sports equipment. This could include skis, surfboards and hiking gear.

Item limits

Most policies set item limits. If you’re carrying an item worth more than the limit, you can usually pay extra to cover it.

If you’re not carrying expensive items, you could save on your premium by selecting a policy that provides less baggage cover or lower limits. Or choosing a medical-only basic policy.

Common exclusions for baggage and valuables

How your property problem happened and what it is can impact your insurance cover.

  • You usually won’t be covered if you were breaking the local law when the incident occurred. This can include not wearing a motorbike helmet on a moped.
  • Many insurers won’t cover you if something happens to your property when you’re under the influence of alcohol. Even a low blood alcohol level can get your claim denied.
  • Your items won’t be covered if the incident occurred while you were doing an excluded activity. For example, if your policy excludes riding motorbikes and you lose your phone while riding, you can’t claim it.
  • Unattended baggage is rarely covered. Even if you turned away for just a moment when it was stolen.
  • Valuables locked in a car may not be covered. You may need a separate car insurance policy via the Hire Company – and excess reduction cover from your travel insurer as an extra.
  • Baggage checked in on an airline may not be covered. Ask your airline what their policy is for items lost, broken or delayed when in their care.

Covering the cost of cancellations and delays

Plans change. So do advice levels in our travel advisories. Travel insurance can cover cancellation costs if you need to change your plans.

Find out what’s covered for cancellations and delays. Read the product disclosure statement (PDS) before you buy your policy.

When insurers may cover cancellation costs

Most travel insurance policies can cover your costs if you need to cancel your trip. Some may cover you if:

  • we raise the advice level to ‘Reconsider your need to travel’ or ‘Do not travel’
  • you or someone you care for gets seriously sick, or a family member dies
  • you were going overseas to study and your course is cancelled
  • you have an emergency situation at home or work (e.g. fire, flood or burglary) in the days before you leave
  • you fall pregnant before you go and your doctor says you can’t travel

Common exclusions for cancellation cover

Most insurers won’t cover cancellation costs if:

  • you’re cancelling because of a situation that was known about before you bought your policy
  • our advice level was already at ‘Reconsider your need to travel’ or ‘Do not travel’
  • you’re cancelling due to a mental health issue or episode
  • there’s a demonstration, war or terrorist incident in your destination unless we raise our advice level to ‘Do Not Travel’
  • there’s a pandemic, epidemic or natural disaster in your destination unless we raise our advice level to ‘Do Not Travel’
  • your tour company or airline makes a mistake with your booking, or goes out of business

For more information on cancellation cover, see the CHOICE travel insurance guide.

Types of travel insurance policies

There’s 100s of travel insurance policies to choose from. For each, there’s a list of extras to consider. Before you choose an insurer and a product, consider what type of policy suits your needs.

  • comprehensive travel insurance
  • basic travel insurance
  • complimentary credit card travel insurance

Choose the right coverage for your circumstances. Don’t just choose the policy that looks cheapest on the surface. Make sure it covers what you need or it could end up costing you more in the long run.

For more information, see the CHOICE travel insurance buying guide.

Comprehensive travel insurance

A comprehensive travel insurance policy covers a lot. These policies cover most things for most people in most situations. It won’t cover everything, or everyone. You may still want to explore the insurer’s optional extras, or opt for higher item limits if you’re carrying expensive items.

Comprehensive cover suits most Australians. These policies cover:

  • medical assistance and medical emergencies, often without limits
  • cancellation costs and delays
  • property problems (e.g. lost, damaged or stolen valuables)
  • some legal problems you may face when things go wrong
  • some higher risk sports and activities

Some cover more situations in their standard policies, without having to pay for extras. For example, some comprehensive policies cover skiing and SCUBA diving. On other policies, you have to pay more.

There’s a wide spectrum of comprehensive insurance products to choose from. Generally, at the higher end of the price range you’ll have higher item or claim limits, a lower excess and more customer service.

Compare CHOICE reviews of single trip and annual multi-trip travel insurance policies.

Basic travel insurance (medical only)

Basic cover can be a popular choice with backpackers and budget travellers. It’s generally for people who travel light, without expensive items and just want the cheapest option.

Most importantly, basic policies still cover your health and medical emergencies. Medical assistance is usually the most expensive cost Australians can experience overseas.

They usually don’t cover your property or cancellation costs. If they do, the conditions are more restrictive and claim limits are much lower. Usually, they have much higher excess than comprehensive policies.

See medical only travel insurance options (Insurance Council of Australia).

Credit card travel insurance

Some credit cards come with complimentary (free) travel insurance. Before you default to the free option, make sure you understand what it covers, for how much and what you must do to activate it.

Check how your free credit card travel insurance policy compares. Read credit card travel insurance reviews by CHOICE.

What credit card travel insurance can cover?

Credit card usually provide basic cover for some medical emergencies, cancellations and problems with your baggage and valuables.

They’re different from most comprehensive policies. Often, they cover fewer situations and have lower item limits. Before you go with the free option, read the PDS. Compare it to one from a comprehensive policy so you understand what you’ll be covered for.

Activating credit card insurance

You usually have to ‘activate’ the insurance policy. Often, this is by booking your trip using that card. Some may consider your policy activated when you:

  • use the card, or your card’s reward points, to book your return flights
  • you pay a particular portion of your trip on it
  • manually activate the policy via internet banking or contacting the bank

Before you choose to go with the free option, make sure confirm with your bank how to activate it. Don’t assume it’s activated, you could find yourself overseas without insurance when you need it.

Read the CHOICE travel insurance buyers guide. Check out their reviews.

Checklist: How to choose the right travel insurance

Keep in mind that not all policies cover all things, in all countries, in all situations. You need to make sure you choose a travel insurance policy that suits your needs.

  1. Consider where you’re going

Some policies are destination-specific, others are worldwide. The level of cover and the cost of travel insurance can vary depending on the region you’re travelling to. Risks in some regions or destinations may be of greater concern than others to the insurer.

  • Choose a policy that covers you for every country you’re travelling to, including stopovers and transit points
  • Consider the current situation where you’re going, always check out the latest risks and issues in the destination’s travel advisory – and subscribe to updates
  • Make sure your destination’s advice level isn’t ‘Do not travel’. Check if your policy covers you for cancellations if the advice level goes up after you’ve booked.

Read about current risks in each destination’s travel advice. Understand what each advice level means.

  1. Decide how long you’re going for

Travel insurers usually quote based on how many days you’ll be away.

  • If you’re just planning a quick trip, you may want a one-off travel insurance policy. These are for a set number of days.
  • If you travel often, or for extended periods, consider an annual multi-trip policy. It may end up being more convenient and better value.
  • If you’re going overseas long-term to live or work, you may not be covered by some policies. You may need to get domestic health and property insurance in your destination. Ask your insurer.

Annual multi-trip policies and credit card travel insurance policies can restrict the length of each trip you take. This could be anywhere from 15 to 365 days, depending on fine print in your policy. Some allow you to pay for extra days.

Compare CHOICE reviews of single trip and annual multi-trip travel insurance policies.

  1. Think about what you’ll do there

Insurers exclude a lot of activities in their standard policies. Even common activities, like going on a cruise or skiing. You may need to pay extra to ensure you’re covered for what you’re planning to do. Or, get a specialised policy. Check the policy’s fine print.

  • Check the list of activities that are specifically included or excluded in your insurance.
  • Check their definitions for activities. For example, walking in the mountains may be considered mountain climbing above a certain altitude.
  • You might need to pay for extra cover for your activities. This is often the case for skiing, bungee jumping, scuba diving, hiking or riding a motorcycle.
  • If you’re planning to drive, check if you’re already covered or can pay extra. It could be cheaper through your travel insurer, compared to getting another policy from the car hire company.

If living and working overseas long term, you may have other insurance requirements to meet. Your visa conditions may require you to get a local health insurance policy. Make sure you check.

See our general advice for the activities you plan to do.

  1. Think about your age and health

Your age and health will impact the type of policy you need, and how much it costs you. This especially applies to people with pre-existing conditions.

  • You must declare all pre-existing health conditions to your insurer.
  • If you’re not sure if your condition is covered, ask your insurer.
  • Your insurer may ask for a health check and medical assessment. Ask your insurer if they’ll cover your condition automatically or you’ll need an assessment.
  • Most policies have an age limit. Mature Australians often pay more for cover.

Also learn more about taking care of your health.

  1. Work out how much your valuables are worth

Expensive items may cost you more to insure. Think about what you’re taking with you. Consider what it would cost to replace those items if they get lost, stolen or damaged.

Policies vary when it comes to how they cover valuable items. They often have limits on the value for each item, and adding cover for valuables can vary from 100s of dollars to 1000s.

  • Check individual item limits on your baggage cover. You may need to take out extra insurance to cover your valuables properly.
  • Check the excess. On many policies, it’s more than the value of key items you’re taking. Consider paying extra to reduce or remove your excess.
  • Always check the fine print on your policy. This is in the PDS. See what items they exclude, and the situations they’ll cover.

Also see our general advice on preventing theft and muggings.

  1. Shop around and choose what’s right for you

There are plenty of insurers with a range of travel insurance policies for you to choose from. The most important thing is that you choose a policy that covers what you need for you and your trip.

  • Browse and compare your options on Find an Insurer. This is a free service from the Insurance Council of Australia.
  • Read the CHOICE travel insurance buyers guide. Check out their reviews.
  • Narrow down your options to policies with the features (inclusions) you need.
  • Read the PDS for your shortlisted policies. You’ll be surprised what situations and items some policies specifically exclude.
  • Choose and buy the policy that’s right for you. Always declare everything upfront when you buy your policy. If you don’t, you may void it anyway.

Resist the temptation to just get the cheapest option without checking that it suits your needs. This also applies to free credit card travel insurance. Consider your unique needs and read the PDS. If it’s not a match, it’s not good value.

See more advice on choosing the right travel insurance policy for you. Read the CHOICE travel insurance buyers guide.

How the Australian Government can help

The Australian Government is limited how and when it can help Australians overseas. It’s important you understand our limits.

We can’t pay your bills for you. We can’t loan you money.

Consular services are not your ‘backup plan’ if things go wrong and you need money.

You must take personal responsibility for your situation when you travel. This includes your finances. We expect all Australians travelling overseas to take out appropriate insurance for their trip.

In many cases, you’ll depend on your travel insurer for help when things go wrong. This includes both financial and practical support.

If you can’t afford insurance, you can’t afford to travel.

Understand how and when we can help. Read the Consular Services Charter.

Read more

  • Read the travel advisory for the destinations you’re travelling to and through.
  • Read our general travel advice and tips before you go.
  • Read our general advice for travellers with disability. This includes getting travel insurance.
  • Understand how and when we can help. Read the Consular Services Charter.

See also