Travelling home this Xmas?


It is that time of the year when expats with family overseas begin planning their Xmas trip to see the relatives.  Get the re-entry visas, check the travel agents and the internet for plane fare bargains (if there is such a thing), wonder about the best time to change money, etc., etc., etc.

However, many people forget to look at their travel insurance, and pay for the trip on a credit card, thinking this will give them adequate travel insurance.  By the way, this is not travel insurance to cover your lost baggage, but to cover medical emergencies.

Unfortunately many people travel under the misconception that the travel insurance they took out with the travel agent is going to cover them for all eventualities.  Sadly it is not.  The following is a true story, taken from one of my medical journals from Australia.  A gentleman with a leaking heart valve, which was under investigation and examination by a cardiologist, has to make a business trip to America.  He takes out travel insurance from the travel agent, but says nothing about the on-going cardiologist’s review.  Two days after getting to San Francisco he gets very short of breath and is admitted to hospital.  The insurance company was contacted which then gets a report from the American hospital, and a report from the patient’s usual doctor in Australia.

The history of the cardiac condition now comes to light, and the insurance company state (justifiably) that if they had known of this situation, they would not have accepted the man as a reasonable risk and would have refused cover.  Meanwhile, the man deteriorates rapidly and has to have an emergency heart valve replacement.  All was not plain sailing and he ended up having 42 days in intensive care.  Total cost came to USD 576,500, for which the businessman was totally liable.  To raise the sum of over half a million dollars he had to liquidate his company and sell his house at “fire sale” prices.

Like another horror story?  A young woman is going to the UK for a working holiday.  Like many people, she has asthma, but it is reasonably well controlled.  Since she was flying directly to the UK and there is a reciprocal medical agreement between the UK and Australia, she decides she “logically” doesn’t need travel insurance.  Six hours into the flight she gets an acute attack of asthma and has to be off-loaded in Singapore.  Complications occur and she ends up being in Singapore for six weeks and then has to be medically evacuated back to Australia with a doctor and nurse escort team.  Her stay in Singapore and the medivac came to AUD 390,000 and her parents have to sell their farm to raise the money.

So you can see, just because you are covered at the other end of your flight doesn’t mean to say you are not “at risk”.  The moral of these two tales is simple – take out good travel (medical) insurance and make sure you declare any pre-existing conditions.  Insurance companies are in the business of “risk” assessment.  Forgetting to declare your medical history is not thought of as being an acceptable risk.  This omission could prove deleterious to both your health and your wealth.

But there are even more snags for the overseas travelers, and one is personal transport.  Those big bikes for hire at the side of the road just look so tempting for the average young adventurer and the hiring process is so simple.  Leave your passport as security and ride away.

Ignoring the stupidity of leaving your passport with anyone, do you have a license to ride a big bike in your own country, for example?  And is that license valid in Thailand?  I have seen the same young chap who hired from the side of the road brought into the hospital by ambulance with broken legs.  The intrepid rider then finds out that his travel insurance has refused to accept the claim as he did not have a license issued from anywhere to ride a 1,000 cc motorcycle.

Think about ensuring you have appropriate travel insurance before your trip!