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How to avoid monumental bills if you are taken ill or injured abroad

By on April 5, 2017

For most holidaymakers, their break will be nothing but fun…but what happens if you suffer holiday sickness or are injured while abroad?

Holidaymakers who fall sick or have an accident while abroad are likely to call family, friends and their hotel or travel company for help – but it is vital to add a travel insurer to that list.

Without it travellers could be hit with monumental bills. An overnight stay in a Spanish hospital can cost £3,000 while treatment in the US for an accident involving a badly fractured leg, artery tear and an air ambulance home can top £500,000.

Cruise goers can face particularly big bills due to the difficulty of providing care mid-voyage or transporting a patient from a ship.

Travelling without insurance should therefore be a financial risk too far – yet more than one in five Britons still venture abroad without cover, according to the Association of British Travel Agents.

This is in spite of the fact that insurers help 3,000 holidaymakers a week with a medical emergency. Last year, medical claims by holidaymakers amounted to £196 million. The cost of protecting against these risks is as little as £39 with an annual travel policy.

When taking out a policy it is vital to declare any pre-existing medical conditions and any visits to the GP. Failure to do so could jeopardise a claim.

Those on medication should take a letter with them abroad describing their condition and possible assistance needed. Make sure any pills are clearly labelled and check they are not illegal at the holiday destination by asking a doctor or checking with the country’s embassy.

  • Tell an insurer of any pre-existing medical conditions.
  • Take out or renew your European Health Insurance Card using the free official website gov.uk/european-health-insurance-card. Put it in your travel bag.
  • Get an insurance card for all the family, including children.
  • Keep a note of your insurer’s 24-hour emergency assistance phone number.
  • Contact your travel insurer as soon as possible after any incident that occurs.
  • If it’s not an emergency go to a public hospital.
  • Try to avoid paying any medical costs upfront. If unavoidable, keep all receipts and get a copy of the medical report.



When travelling to European countries it is vital to take a European Health Insurance Card.

The card is free (while we remain in the EU) and entitles the holder to state-funded medical care in the European Union, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Treatment costs will be reduced or may even be free. For instance, in France, 80 per cent is covered leaving you to claim back the other 20 per cent from your travel insurer.

Having the card usually means the travel insurer will not charge an excess – the contribution that a policyholder makes to any claim. Some travel insurers even insist policyholders have the card.

Each member of a family – including children – must have their own European Health Insurance Card.

The card, which is valid for five years, covers treatment for pre-existing medical conditions and routine maternity care.

If holidaying outside the European Economic Area, some countries such as Australia and Russia have reciprocal arrangements with the UK for reduced cost or free healthcare. The card is not a replacement for travel insurance as it will not meet private medical bills or repatriation costs.

Even with the card it may be necessary to pay for treatment and claim it back from the insurer afterwards.


If you have an accident or holiday illness strikes, contact the travel insurer as soon as possible. All policies will provide a 24-hour emergency help-line and insurers often have local agents who can help with advice on where to go and even provide translators if necessary.

Nikki Sellers, head of travel at insurer esure, says: ‘If able to, you or your partner should call your insurer first, as they can direct you to the best local medical professional.’


Many standard travel policies do not cover private medical treatment if there is a public hospital available locally.

Tom Bishop, head of travel insurance at Direct Line, says: ‘You could be left seriously out of pocket if you don’t obtain prior approval from your insurer for meeting medical costs.

‘In an emergency we will allow customers to be treated in a private hospital. Once stable we will then assist you to move to a public hospital if further treatment is required.’

Hotels in Spain usually have agreements with private hospitals to take guests straight there in an emergency.

Many private hospitals insist passport details are given and credit card details are handed over before any treatment is undertaken.

According to Bishop, this is typical with hospitals in Mexico, the US, South Africa, South America and the Caribbean, despite the fact that all hospitals are duty bound to provide emergency medical treatment without requiring any initial payment or deposit. The insurer or its local agent can deal with the hospital directly to arrange payment for treatment but some hospitals refuse to speak to insurers.

Before leaving the hospital or doctor’s surgery, ask for a medical report and keep all receipts for any payments you have made including medicines.

This will speed up the payment of your insurance claim.

If you pay upfront for any medical care make sure you get a proper receipt and wherever possible pay by card. You should be able to claim back any medical expenses and prescription costs.

If for whatever reason you fall sick or have an accident, and your travel insurance does or doesn’t cover your costs, a compensation claim may well help to recover all of your out of pocket expenses and pay you compensation if it can be proven a third party is at fault.


I was really sick with suspected food poisoning
Me and my girlfriend went to Mexico on an All-Inclusive holiday and for the first few days we had concerns about the hygiene of the hotel and food that was served seemed to be luke warm. We were careful of what we ate which took the shine off the holiday anyway. On day 4 I got really sick and couldn’t stop vomiting and being on the toilet, I had a temperature and just felt awful. The next day my girlfriend ended up the same and so we asked reception for a doctor. The hotel said the doctor is far away and told us to go to the chemist which we did and purchased what the pharmacist suggested. Later that day we were so ill we asked the hotel again for a doctor and they said they would call one out. A doctor came out within 30 minutes, diagnosed food poisoning and charged us £150 call out charge plus almost £190 for our medication. The final 3 days of the holiday were a wipe out and we were both sick for a few days more when we got home.


We have contacted Holiday Sickness Claims who put us in touch with a solicitor based on our review of the hotel and the luke warm food, it seems we contracted food poisoning. A claim can now take up to 9 months if the Tour Operator want to drag their feet. We took a few photo’s but would urge anyone who has issues on holiday to take as many photo’s of any issues they encounter and keep a log of matters of concern.




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