Wednesday 17 January 2018

A break that won't leave you broke

Gemma O'Doherty

'Passports, boarding passes, money' might be your normal pre-holiday mantra, but in these days of threatened airline strikes and volatile volcanoes, insurance should really be top of your list.

Yet many of us are still lax when it comes to taking out cover, especially when it comes to visiting friends and family abroad.

A new survey in Britain has revealed that almost 80pc of people don't bother to take out insurance when they go to visit family and friends overseas. Do they really think their sister in Sydney or nephew in New York is going to fork out on hospital fees if they end up with a broken back and have to be stretchered home?

The poll also showed the key factor in their decision came down to cash. The research was published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as part of its new Know Before you Go campaign.

One of its recent cases involved a man who was visiting his mother in Canada when he suffered a heart attack. He had to pay more than C$40,000 (€28,000) in medical bills, as his insurance had lapsed during the prolonged trip.

In another case, it cited a woman who did not take anti-malarial medication before visiting her mother in Tanzania because she had been to the area many times and had never had any problems before.

She became sick and was diagnosed with cerebral malaria, from which she later died.

If you fall seriously ill abroad and need hospital treatment, the average cost of a stay is about €2,300. Have even a minor accident in the US, the most expensive country for in-patient care, and you could be faced with a massive bill. The average hospital stay there costs €7,500. Thailand and the Canary Islands are the next priciest countries in the world.

Greece is the country where the highest number of holidaymakers fall ill, followed by Turkey and the Balearics, with gastroenteritis being the most common reason for a hospital stay.

And don't presume, just because you have the free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), you will be fully covered. While the EHIC gives you access to some state- provided healthcare, each country's health system is different and your card might not cover everything you would expect to be provided at home. The cost of mountain rescue in ski resorts or being brought back home after an accident, for example, is excluded.

Nor should you expect succour from your nearest Irish Embassy. A visit to the Department of Foreign Affairs website will leave you under no illusion about your entitlements as an Irish citizen when you are abroad.

Diplomatic officials will offer advice on local medical services, arrange interpretation and assist in repatriation to Ireland in the event of urgent medical treatment being required.

However, they will not pay medical bills, provide medical advice, pursue claims for compensation or pay for visits by relatives.

And in the event of a relative dying while on holiday, the cost of returning the remains, and paying for family to come over, is not covered either.

So, before you pack the Lyons tea and Tayto for your family abroad, make sure your travel insurance is up to date. You could save yourself a few sleepless nights, and a large dent in your savings.

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