Backpacker Travel Insurance
+ 5 Things to Know Before You Get Any
For a backpacker - travel insurance can be costly, confusing and really frustrating.
But it can be much easier.
Most travel insurance is a waste of money becasue it is aimed at tourists and holiday makers.
In this page, we show you what you might like get insurance for and how to get it at a reasonable cost. Backpackers (unlike holiday makers) tend to have quite specific needs!
- Do even need insurance if you can get access to the healthcare system?
Check out this video (if you can) for some quick tips.
If you are on a working holiday visa you MAY have access to parts of the medical system of that country. For example for either Australia (417), Canada or the UK (Tier 5) you may be eligible for Medicare, Provincial Systems or the NHS.
The problem is coverage in these contries does not cover you for things like lost belongings, missed flights and many other potentially expensive costs like ambulance travel or getting you home (or family to you) if you really need it.
Many travellers also forget if they travel outside of those countries like to Continental Europe from the UK, NZ or Asia from Australia or the USA from Canada - you will only be covered for medical.
Your visa application may require it
So unfortunately, not having insurance can affect your application. We wondered if there was a way around this, so we did our homework and it turns out that getting it is a good idea anyway. But all travel insurance is not created equal. Infact, most travel insurance is really designed for tourists and not backpackers who need coverage for things like outback adventures, surf lessons and especially manual work which a holiday work visa often leads to.
Yes we have learned the hard way but way before that we have been on a mission to find insurance that meets the needs of backpackers who need flexibility in the length of their stay but also want to choose the activities they are covered for without paying too much. We also wanted coverage for the things that really mattered like our laptop or our iPad.
And what about coverage if you lose or damage your passport just before a flight (I washed mine)?
When you are shopping for travel insurance you will be confronted with long lists of what is covered and what is not - especially if you refer to the fine print. What do you really need to look out for? Here are our top five things that we think are important.
- Flexibility in Duration of Stay. Second year visas and side trips mean that backpackers need flexibility. Find a policy that covers you for the length of time you know you will need like 1 year but also enables you to extend the policy for however long you want and charge you for only that time. The reality of long term travel in Australia with the potential to get a second year work visa, is that you never know what you will need - maybe 1 year or just a few extra months. Many policies will have only limited options. Some annual insurance policies only enable you to renew yearly. Ideally you should be able to choose the number of extra months after your initial agreement and be able to change this easily.
- Adequate Emergency Medical Including Transport. As we discuss below in more detail, some nationalities are covered by the subsidised public healthcare system in Australia (Medicare) and this does have some advantages for those who can get it. However if you plan to travel internationally (like New Zealand, Thailand or Indonesia) Medicare will not cover you for those trips. Also emergency transport such as road or more often - air ambulance in the outback is not covered by Medicare. Therefore it is important to ensure your policy contains a medical transport component.
- Adventure Sports. Choosing the sports or adventure activities you need coverage for without paying for the ones you don't is the key here. Most insurance policies have two levels of coverage, a basic and a premium coverage for "adrenaline sports". However, what we found is even the premium coverage does not actually cover travellers for many activites they are likely to want to do and the basic coverage is far too restrictive.
- Destinations. As a general rule, your policy should enable you to choose the specific destinations you need coverage for. In general, if you are not travelling to Asia or North America, insurance should be significantly cheaper.
- Personal Items. Your passport, iPod, cameras and laptop, apart from the clothes on your back, can be expensive to replace and easy to loose while backpacking. You may want to consider insurance that enables you to replace these highly prized items.
For many long term travellers to Australia, you can get access to the country's national healthcare system called Medicare.
If your home country has a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement (RHCA) with Australia, receiving a Medicare card is often as easy as applying on the government's Medicare website which will enable you to access Australia's public health system. For example, if you are from New Zealand, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Sweden, Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Belgium, Malta, Slovenia or Norway you will be able to get one. However, there are some exceptions so be sure to check out the RHCA page.
If you apply for Medicare, do this as soon as you arrive in the country. It is an easy process which you can do here. You will get access to the system through a temporary number immediately and then a card is posted out to you. If by chance you need to go to a Doctor or hospital in the meantime, you will be charged for the service but you will also be able to get a refund once you have applied.
If you hold a passport from Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan unfortunately at this time Medicare is not available but even if you could get Medicare you would likely need travel insurance anyway.
As we have already pointed out, you will need insurance anyway if you are applying for a holiday work visa but if you can get Medicare it means that you do not have to make claims while you are in Australia such as a doctor's visit and public hospital care. There is also subsidised prescription medicine available under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme PBS. There is a big long list on what is covered on the PBS right here.
If you can get Medicare please be aware that there are many things that are not covered by Medicare and indeed most Aussies have private health insurance to fill the gaps.
Some things not covered by Medicare which you may need:
- Medicines not covered under the PBS
- Treatment organised before your visit to Australia
- Private hospital care
- Emergency transport
- Dental checks and treatments
- Common care such Physiotherapy, Chiropractor, Eye Therapy and more
It is important to note that travel health insurance often does not cover you for many of these things either although emergency transport is in our "Top 5 things backpackers need" list. The purpose of travel insurance is geared more to getting you through emergencies so that you can get longer term care in your home country if you need it.
What if you decide to stay in Australia indefinitely?
Private Medical health insurance for Australian residents is what the majority of people have in addition to Medicare and for most travellers this is seen as an unnecessary expense. However, if you decide to stay longer term then you might like to make the switch from being a traveller to getting insurance that covers being a resident.
The most important part of a travel health insurance policy is coverage for your emergency medical expenses.
As a general rule, most policies will cover you for $2 - $5 million (£1.5 - £4 million). Although it is possible (though highly unlikely) you will need more than $1 million, the reality is that less coverage will most likely not save you much.
For backpackers, a lot of travel insurance offering simply do not work - you end up paying too much for coverage you do not need OR don't have the coverage you do need especially in the case of adventure sports.
At a bare minimum, you should consider the activities you are likely to want to engage in and make sure you are covered for those. Beyond the basic emergency medical needs like transport, we recommend you should make a little list of things that are most important to you. That way you can compare insurance companies based on your requirements.
- Trip Cancellation
- Emergency Evacuation
- Repatriation (getting your body home should something really bad and unlikely happen)
- Baggage and Personal
Insurance is usually sold as part of a package with some optional extras. If you start by knowing what you do want and need, it is much easier to find a good match.
Finally a company that has recognised the needs of "real" travellers. World Nomads are a clear standout amongst their competitors who prefer to focus on the tourist crowd.
World Nomads focuses on the needs of backpackers:
- Policies, claims and coverage levels are all available for review and modification online 24/7. Of course you can also get a quote online. (Forget about carrying around a phone number on a card that may get lost)
- Coverage for workplace activities (especially important for working holiday makers)
- There are four levels of coverage offered for "extreme activities" such as not so extreme bush walking (level 1), white-water rafting, bungee-jumping right up to mountaineering (level 4). This means you can choose the right cover based on what you plan to do without extra costs.
- They have baggage insurance, but they also have optional cover for personal items like laptops and camera gear.
Best of all, because they only offer insurance online they are able to keep costs lower and pass the savings on without compromise. You see a full review here including what happened when we made a claim.
Final Personal Word
Insurance expenses are annoying especially when you are on budget and feeling that you will probably not not needing to use the insurance anyway - well that's the way we feel. So we are pleased to find at least one company that actually seems to be trying hard to do the right thing. The bible for backpackers - Lonely Planet even recommends this travel insurance.
Australia is a favourite destination for worldwide-travellers and with lots of adventures in store - what could be better than to be worry free and to explore fully!
Here is more information about travel insurance for Aussie backpackers.
Why do get Medicare and insurance while in Australia?
Not every nationality can get Medicare, but everyone needs travel insurance to cover them. As the Aussie government says "Reciprocal Health Care Agreements (ie Medicare) isn’t designed to replace private travel health insurance for overseas travel" Source: Human Services Government Website Australia. They also ask you if you have it as part of the visa application.
So is Medicare worth getting if you are insured?
The beauty of Medicare (if you can get it - see above) is that if you do get sick “sudden illness” or “seriously injured” you can go to a Doctor’s office or Hospital and may not make need to make a claim through your insurer. Although medical transport is NOT covered by Medicare. This saves on paperwork but you can also go to the doctor for a minor injury or check-up (which may not be covered) and the Medicare system will reimburse you the cost.
Why not just get travel insurance?
Backpacker insurance is designed specifically for the needs of long term travel.
There are three (3) important elements:
- Coverage for working overseas
- Normal activities which would otherwise be seen as high risk activities (like surfing, diving) are covered or can be covered.
- Flexibility in the amount of time you can add on. For example, many people want to stay for weeks or months. Most companies only allow “a further 12 month period”. This is essential for Australia because you may want to get a 2nd working holiday visa or perhaps you simply want to travel in other countries for a while on the way.
How "travel" different from "health" policies?
There is a huge difference. In overly simple terms, travel covers health from the perspective of being overseas. This may include moving you to a hospital at home and getting your body home if the worst happens. In addition to this there are many other things you may want coverage for trip cancellation, baggage and personal belongings.
Why have you recommended just one insurer (from the hundreds of others)?
Insurance is something we highly recommend to working holiday makers and students from overseas and so we investigated and even purchased a bunch of different ones. More recently one has stood out like a beacon because of their backpacker focus as opposed to a tourist focus. Ideally we would be able to provide some choice as we try to do throughout the website, but for now we are confident in our recommendation and we have even used them ourselves including making a successful claim.
If I need to see a doctor do I use my insurance or Medicare?
As you can imagine a visit to the doctors while you are overseas long term is a very big possibility. If you can get Medicare it may save you paperwork and hassle of making a claim. You also should consider that most insurers require that you pay an “excess” which you need to pay before the policy takes effect. This means that it may not be worth making a claim for smaller expenses like a doctors visit.
If I have a pre-existing condition will I be covered?
The idea of insurance is to cover you for the unexpected so you will find that you need to declare pre-existing conditions and then any claims made that could be related to those conditions will not be covered. The alternative is to not mention your pre-existing conditions but this is strongly not advised as any checks on your medical records would likely reveal this and potentially make your claims unsuccessful.
I have a credit card with a travel insurance, will that be enough?
Credit card insurance is often a case of, “you get what you pay for”. In generally it is quite limited and will not give you the coverage especially for long term travel. Reading the fine print will expose its weaknesses. You also have to consider how easy it would be to make a claim and there may be other conditions like having to pay for the travel with that particular card.
How do I claim and what happens then?
This is where the rubber hits the road! Each company is different. The traditional way was to give you a 24hr hotline phone number and get you to send receipts. Many make you download a form and print it out for filling out and sending. For backpackers or long term travellers this can be easier said than done. A handful also offer the ability to upload documents online which is far better for someone on the road.
Why are there so many other insurance sites and recommendations?
As far as recommendations go most are focused on Travel NOT backpackers and as we have discussed there is some very important differences. (see above “the difference”)