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5 common mistakes to avoid when buying travel insurance

Collage of a woman on a laptop buying a travel insurance policy. She's sitting on a paper airplane in front of a globe.

Especially in our post-pandemic world, travel insurance has become a necessary item in our luggage. With the right level of cover, you could be financially protected from all kinds of misadventures either locally or overseas. Talk about travellin’ in style!

However, like any insurance, there are a few common pitfalls travellers often fall into. Here’s how you can keep the road (or runway) ahead as smooth as possible!

1. Buying too late (or not at all!)

A flight attendant gasps at her watch.

One of the biggest mistakes travellers make is thinking they can do without insurance. Depending on your destination, travel insurance could be either mandatory for entry or an important safety precaution, especially if you’re going somewhere without a reciprocal healthcare agreement with Australia. 

Who’s keen to pay for a medical evacuation from the Himalayas out of pocket? (Not us!)

Insurance works best when it’s bought ahead of time. That way, you not only have a chance to get adequately covered, but it increases the odds of any future claims being eligible. 

Some travel insurance providers let you purchase a policy while you’re already abroad, but others (like free policies through your credit card) may have waiting periods before your coverage becomes valid, often a month or more. This also has the added benefit of giving claims added credibility – it’s not a good look if you purchase a policy and book your plane tickets after that volcano in Bali has already erupted. 

Either way, fortune favours the prepared. As a rule of thumb, purchase a policy that works for you before you leave – or risk being stung with surprise expenses later!

2. Just going for the cheapest policy

Collage of a hand giving a thumbs up to a backpacker kit in a smartphone.

While a low premium is certainly nice, insurance is better understood in terms of value, not price. A cheap travel insurance policy might not adequately cover your needs while travelling!

Travel insurance policies usually come in different tiers and kinds of coverage. Basic or essential policies usually only cover personal liability and emergency medical costs, while premium or comprehensive policies offer wider and more tailored coverage, including loss of personal items, flight cancellations, and optional extras for activities like backpacking or snow sports.

The right policy for you will suit both your budget and needs. When comparing policies, ask yourself some questions like:

  • What are my personal needs while travelling?
  • Where am I going, and for how long?
  • Am I planning on doing any risky activities, like snorkelling or horseback riding?

Don’t worry so much about the price tag – there are plenty of good value policies out there. It’s all about comparing your needs with what’s covered!

3. Not declaring your pre-existing conditions

A suitcase surrounded with question marks.

Did you know that many international travel insurance providers actually cover a range of pre-existing medical conditions automatically? That’s good news for almost half of Australia’s population that suffers from some kind of chronic condition. 

You might hear the words ‘automatic coverage’ and think nothing more of it. But you actually have to tell your travel insurance provider about your medical condition, to make sure it’s covered and listed on your certificate of insurance.

A general rule of thumb for travel insurance is: if it ain’t on your certificate of insurance, it’s probably on you. 

Sometimes, there are actually factors that mean your medical condition won’t be covered, so it’s worth taking a deep-dive through the policy’s product disclosure statement (PDS), or getting your prospective provider on the phone.  

Examples of what you (and any minors in your care) might be covered for under your international travel insurance policy are conditions like: 

  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Hip, knee, and shoulder replacements
  • Physical and mobility disabilities
  • Cognitive or sensory impairments
  • Pregnancy

However, with domestic travel insurance, providers are less likely to cover pre-existing medical conditions as you should theoretically get treated under Medicare, or your private health insurance.

4. Not adding the right optional extras

Snowboarder shredding powder.

If you’re excited about the return of international cruises, or hitting the snowy slopes on an upcoming ski-trip, you’ll have to make sure those sorts of activities are covered under your travel insurance policy. 

The same often goes for those participating in ‘adventure activities’ (like bungee jumping or abseiling), those looking to ride mopeds and motorcycles, and even those travelling for business with important equipment, money, and data – although business cover is less common.  

The main reason for having to purchase these additional packs is that they’re not standard activities which most people do, and typically carry more risk. 

For example, if you’re not covered for snow sports under your travel insurance policy, then the cost of emergency evacuation off the mountain falls on you. That could potentially be anywhere upwards of $10,000. Talk about adding insult to injury! 

The most common optional extras available are:

5. NOT READING THE PDS!

A woman screams as colured bars of frustration spring from her head. Collage.

If Mozo were a sitcom character our catchphrase would be, “Don’t forget to read the PDS!”

Yes, we like to stress the point. But that’s because it’s where all the important information regarding your cover lives, including:

You wouldn’t buy a new car without knowing what it looks like, right? You should treat your insurance products the same way: know what you are getting and (perhaps more importantly) what you’re not getting. 

They can be a tricky read, but most will have a contents page, so you can jump to the important bits. 

Speaking of important bits, your policy’s general exclusions are some of the most vital to understand when it comes to making a claim. They’re essentially the parts of the PDS which stipulate the circumstances for your cover. 

For example, you might be covered for accidental injury under your travel insurance policy, but if you’re accidentally injured as a result of you participating in illegal acts (like drunk driving), then your claim will likely be denied. 

While that’s an extreme example, there are other general exclusions to keep in mind. In some cases, providers won’t cover you if your claim was caused by an epidemic or pandemic (e.g. COVID-19), even if it means that you missed out on pre-booked activities. 

Another important general exclusion to watch out for is how your provider treats the government’s Smartraveller advice warnings. For instance, if your destination is clouded by a ‘Do Not Travel’ warning, yet you decide to go against that advice and hop on the plane anyway, then your insurance provider may refuse to cover you for the portion of your journey in that country.

Thinking of going abroad? Browse a selection of travel insurance policies below.

Head to the best travel insurance hub for more expert tips.

Compare international travel insurance policies - last updated 21 May 2024

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Jack Dona
Jack Dona
RG146
Money writer

Jack is degree-qualified in communications and creative writing, with a talent for simplifying financial jargon. His approach helps consumers make better decisions. Jack is RG146 certified in generic knowledge and uses flair to make finance interesting.

Evlin DuBose
Evlin DuBose
RG146
Senior Money Writer

Evlin, RG146 Generic Knowledge certified and a UTS Communications graduate, is a leading voice in finance news. As Mozo's go-to writer for RBA and interest rates, her work regularly features in Google's Top Stories and major publications like News.com.au.

^See information about the Mozo Experts Choice Travel Insurance Awards

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