Travelling with medical conditions

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If you live with an existing medical condition like cancer, diabetes or a heart condition, getting the right type of travel insurance can be tough. Here's how to find the best travel insurance with pre-existing medical conditions.

  • Before you travel for a holiday, it’s essential you organise travel insurance
  • If you have a pre-existing medical condition, you must disclose this when booking insurance
  • The premium you pay will depend on the severity of your condition, with specialist providers available for serious illnesses

What is a pre-existing condition?

A pre-existing condition is a medical condition or injury that you’ve been diagnosed with and are being treated for prior to filling out your travel insurance or health care plan.

They typically include things like heart conditions, joint problems and any type of cancer. You can find more information here on what we define as a pre-existing medical condition.

Travel insurance for pre-existing conditions

Living with a pre-existing existing medical condition can make day-to-day life difficult but it shouldn’t mean that you can’t explore the world. Whether you’re staying in the UK or going further abroad, we believe you should take every opportunity to make new memories.

Once you’ve booked your break, you should consider arranging travel insurance. It might be a good idea to get quotes before you book to make sure it’s affordable. Having cover protects you against unexpected costs you might incur if you:

When you buy travel insurance, it’s essential that you declare any pre-existing conditions. Whether you’ve recently been diagnosed, are recovering from treatment, living with a long-term medical condition or no longer have a condition, you need to inform your insurance provider.

Unfortunately, several standard insurance providers don't offer travel insurance for medical conditions. This can make it difficult to get the type of travel insurance that’s right for you. Thankfully, there are options available to ensure you’re fully covered and allow you to truly relax on your break.

We’ll look at the reasons why you need travel insurance for pre-existing medical conditions, where you can find cover, and give you some guidance on healthcare while travelling in Europe and further afield.


Why do I need travel insurance for medical conditions?

If you’re holidaying overseas, travel insurance is essential. It can provide peace of mind, knowing that you’re covered in case something goes wrong. It can help you in several scenarios, including:

  • Medical assistance – if you require treatment or emergency care while in a foreign country
  • Flight or holiday cancellations – if your holiday is cancelled due to airline disruption, bad weather or other causes outside of your control
  • Lost baggage – if your baggage is delayed or gets lost in transit

By far, the most common claim that travel insurance companies find is for medical expenses, accounting for around £201 million per year for UK insurers. This is because few countries provide the levels of free healthcare that people are offered by the NHS.

If you’re travelling abroad with a pre-existing condition, like cancer, diabetes or heart disease, a comprehensive travel insurance policy will offer a backstop, in case you fall ill and need emergency treatment.

Not only does insurance help cover medical bills, it can cover the cost of travelling back to the UK for further treatment. This can even extend to flying by air ambulance if necessary.

How to get travel insurance for pre-existing conditions

When you apply for travel insurance, you’ll complete an online form that details how long your trip is, where you’re travelling to, the type of cover you require and your personal details – which is where you’ll declare any pre-existing medical conditions you have.

The insurance company will then assess your application, taking into account your condition, and work out the risk of insuring you. They’ll then calculate the cost of your insurance accordingly.

If you have a terminal diagnosis, or you’re particularly unwell, it might not be possible to provide cover for your medical condition or limitations may be put in place.

However, if you have a less serious condition – one that is managed with drugs or is in remission – you’re more likely to receive medical travel insurance cover.


Do all insurance companies provide travel insurance for medical conditions?

Though there are more options available for travellers with pre-existing conditions, not all insurance providers offer cover that guarantees medical care. When you take out travel insurance, you’re paying an amount to the company, in exchange for guaranteeing any emergency medical treatment you might need while you’re away.

If this treatment is particularly costly, it may exceed the premium you originally paid to the insurer, costing them more money. Insurers will look at those who have pre-existing medical conditions and see a higher risk – as you may be more likely to make a medical claim.

To offset additional costs, some insurance companies will either:

  • Exclude pre-existing medical conditions – you would receive medical travel insurance, but the insurer won’t pay out for claims directly or indirectly related to your existing illness
  • Charge extra for medical cover – your condition is covered, but you pay a higher premium for cover than someone without a pre-existing condition

Travel insurance for cancer patients

If you’re suffering from cancer, you will be classified as high risk for travel – even if you are in remission. Travel insurance firms are generally reluctant to cover due to the potential for expensive treatment while away, however specialist companies can help.

Some companies will offer general travel insurance for cancer patients, while others can provide offer specific cover such as travel insurance for prostate cancer, breast cancer or lung cancer. Take a look at all your options to find the right level of cover for you. 

Before you travel, it’s recommended that you:

  • Check with your doctor that you are fit to travel and find out if you need any travel vaccinations.
  • Look into the quality of the healthcare available at your chosen destination so you know whether you’ll have access to the care you need while out there, or whether you’ll need to be flown back home.
  • If you’re travelling abroad, check whether you need a licence for any of your medication.
  • Take all important medical documents and medications you need with you – as well as your GP’s contact details.

Travel insurance for heart conditions

If you have an existing heart condition, you may need to contact a cover provider that specialises in insuring people with these issues. Disclose all previous health conditions you have had, as well as details of your current heart condition, for the most accurate quote. If you need a lot of medical apparatus you might find your quotes are higher as they need to factor in the potential risk of your items being delayed, damaged or lost in transit. 
Take care to plan your trip in advance, and keep in mind these key tips:
  • Make a note of emergency phone numbers within your destination, along with contact details for your GP and family members.
  • Try to keep your vital medication in your hand luggage so you’re not left without it if your main case gets delayed or lost.
  • Make sure you have a letter from your doctor and approval from the airline.
  • Aim for a relaxing holiday rather than one with lots of activities, unless you’re confident you can manage them.

Travel insurance for diabetes

If you’re living with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, then purchasing standard travel insurance may not cover medical bills, or any losses of medication that you use to control your condition. Again, specialist companies are available to help cover you. 

During your travels, remember to:

  • Pack a healthy supply of your medication – the NHS suggests bringing three times the amount you would normally use.
  • Eat plenty of snacks during longer flights to prevent your blood sugar levels from dropping. 
  • Be aware that relaxing activities such as sunbathing on the beach or round the pool could increase your blood sugar levels. 
  • Find out where you can get an emergency supply of insulin while you’re away. 


Can I use the GHIC with my illness?

The Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) covers treatment for pre-existing medical conditions and essential medical treatment prior to you returning home. If you don’t have one, the simplest way to apply for a GHIC is online. You can do this through the UK government website or the NHS website. Or you can call the GHIC application service on 0300 330 1350.

The GHIC will not cover you in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland. For information on healthcare in countries outside of the EU, check the GOV.UK travel advice.
Medical care is given at a reduced rate in some countries, on a co-payment basis, where you would pay a percentage of the cost towards the treatment you receive. Luckily, these costs can usually be reclaimed through your travel insurance. In most cases, however, treatment is given free of charge.

Please remember that the Global Health Insurance Card is not a substitute for insurance. You will need both to get the level of cover you may need for your medical condition.

It’s also worth bearing Brexit in mind. The UK government has advised that you should purchase travel insurance that covers health care as it would if you were travelling to a non-EU nation .

Several mainstream companies can provide travel insurance  for pre-existing medical conditions and will offer tailored packages to suit your unique needs. When you apply for this insurance, try to give as much information about your condition as possible, as it will help them give you an accurate quote.
If we can’t cover your medical condition or the premium is higher than you expected, help is still available. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have created a Medical Cover Firm Directory. The directory lists all the firms that may be able to provide a policy to cover your medical conditions.
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