Accidents and Illness When Traveling Abroad

May 21, 2019

We have collated some information about the actions you should take if you or one of your party have an accident when abroad on holiday – or when travelling for business or recreation. It’s a good idea to read through just in case there’s an accident or illness. It’s always best to be prepared!

An European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles you to state funded medical care in a European Economic Area (EEA) country. The EEA countries are:

The European Union countries
Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland
This means your treatment costs will be reduced or may even be free. You need to apply for a card for each member of your travelling group including babies.

You should get an EHIC as well as medical insurance as some companies will waive the excess charges on claims if you have one.

If you’re travelling outside the EEA you may be entitled to reduced cost or free healthcare if the country has a healthcare arrangement with the UK. You can check the rules for different countries on the NHS choices website.

Who should you contact in an emergency?
If you have travel insurance you should contact your insurance company if you have a medical emergency. Your insurance policy should have given you an international number that you can use to get in touch with your insurers. Your call will usually be dealt with by an assistance company which is appointed by the insurer to arrange the necessary medical treatment.

You can also contact your local British Consul for help. Consular staff can offer practical advice, help and support with things like finding a local doctor.

Will you have to pay for your medical treatment?
If you have travel insurance you will normally be expected to pay for minor claims.

For example, you’ll probably be expected to pay a bill of £50 charged by a local doctor for a consultation and drugs and claim the money back when you get home. Make sure you keep receipts for any money you spend. If you are hospitalised, the insurer’s assistance company will usually deal with medical bills as they come in.

If you have an EHIC
When you use an EHIC, you may have to pay for your treatment and then claim some or all of the money back. You can check what the rules are in different countries on the NHS choices website. If you have to pay for treatment and are entitled to the money back you should try and make a claim while you’re still abroad. Make sure you keep all your receipts and paperwork. If you can’t get a refund while abroad you can get a claim form from Department of Work and Pensions by phoning 0191 2181999.

“Recently while I was travelling in Argentina I crashed my bicycle into a huge truck hurtling down the highway, and did some nasty damage to my foot.”

Here’s what I learned about what to do when you’ve injured yourself overseas, and dealing with your travel insurance company.

Before you leave
Buy travel insurance with unlimited coverage for accidents! You don’t want to be lying in a foreign hospital in pieces, telling doctors to push back on tests or treatments because you can’t afford to pay.

I didn’t bring my bulky insurance policy with me, but I did pack the one-page certificate, which had my policy number, a brief summary of what my policy covered and most importantly the toll-free number I could call to report my accident. If you’re really diligent you’ll also copy and paste your policy into your e-mail, so that if your stuff gets stolen you can access it there.

At the time of your accident
If the police get involved ask an officer for a report, detailing the accident. Also ask your doctor for a medical report. Be sure it is on hospital letterhead, and includes the date of the accident, the injuries suffered, their advice regarding treatment and whether you’re fit to travel. Ask your doc for contact details, should you later need to clarify anything.

If your injury doesn’t require any further treatment beyond that day, be sure to take home any X-rays or scans. These are yours, and may be useful if there are complications down the line.

From the moment of your injury, keep every single receipt of anything you pay for. Later when you get home you can check exactly what your policy allows you to claim, but at the very least it should include treatment, tests, and medicine and travel costs.

This is a strange one, and may depend on your insurance company, but I wish I’d paid for everything with a credit card, not cash. When I did my claims my insurance company paid exactly the amount that turned up on my statement – including any foreign currency conversion fees. This way you won’t get stung if the Australian dollar fluctuates between the time of your accident and when you settle your claim.

After the hospital
Call your insurance company. They will set up a case file for you, and put you through to their medical team. If you’re in a non-English-speaking country this is a great opportunity to check that the treatment you received correlates with what you would have received in the UK, and any further questions you have that were too difficult to ask at the hospital.

Did you have to alter your travel plans due to the injury? You should be able to claim any costs of pre-booked travel plans. However, you may have to try refunding plane tickets through the airline first.

Does your injury require ongoing treatment? Things get a bit more complicated now, and you’ll probably work things out with your insurance company. If you have the full policy in your e-mail, read it now!

Here are some handy tips that the insurance company may not share with you:

Your insurance company will ask you attend one of the hospitals that has been vetted by them as up to UK healthcare grade. However, if you have a particular hospital you want to go to -perhaps a local friend has advised you -you can explain this to the insurance company who may then offer to have that hospital vetted.

If you have friends in a different city who can take care of you, or you feel you will receive better treatment in a different city, your policy should cover any costs incurred by travelling there.

You may be able to claim any accommodation or food costs if the injury has altered your travel plans. Again, just stick with my blanket suggestion -keep all receipts!

Remember, the insurance company’s number-one goal is to only get you fit enough so that you can fly home, because as soon as you land, domestic healthcare system takes over responsibility. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for what you feel is best for you. Even if you do have to fly home for treatment, a policy like mine covered costs for a flight back to the holiday destination if there was at least one month remaining on my scheduled trip.

If it is necessary for you to fly home, your insurance company should fully arrange and pay for that flight. Ensure they organise anything extra, like ground assistance or business class that you may require after your injury.”

Making your claim
Once you return home you will need to compose a letter to your insurance company, which includes the following:

all receipts, plus a list recording any foreign currency exchange fees;
police report, doctor’s reports, prescriptions;
bank statements; and
travel insurance certificate
Keep photocopies of everything you send.

A few weeks later the insurance company e-mailed me a list of everything they were willing to refund me (practically everything). I double checked it was added up correctly, and approved it. A week later I had a cheque come through the mail!