At the doctor's instead of on the beach – what does travel insurance cover?

Remembered everything? Travel insurance can come in handy if you unexpectedly fall ill or have an accident when on holiday. Source: iStock / Sonja Rachbauer

Switzerland is a nation of travel lovers. Each year, people residing in Switzerland take an average of three holidays involving overnight stays. Around two thirds of these trips are abroad. But what happens in the event of illness or accident abroad? All too often in such cases, tourists end up in expensive private clinics or seeing a private doctor. Who foots the bill? And what is the benefit of travel insurance exactly? Comparis sheds light on the matter.

When they need medical treatment abroad, tourists often end up in a private clinic or seeing a private doctor. The problem with this is that neither mandatory basic insurance nor accident insurance covers the cost of private treatment. If you fall ill or have an accident abroad, you should go to a public hospital or to a doctor who bills at the basic rate. Remember that the cost of private treatment abroad is often considerably more expensive than in Switzerland. Policyholders who are inadequately insured can soon rack up costs of several tens of thousands of francs – costs they must pay themselves. This can quickly turn what was meant to be a dream holiday into a nightmare.

But is it enough to simply insist on treatment in a public hospital when abroad, to avoid the risk of these unpleasant surprises? Not quite. If you have mandatory basic insurance and accident insurance and you are holidaying in EU/EFTA countries, you are entitled to the same level of cost reimbursement as people insured in that country. However, in other countries, the cost of emergency medical treatment is only reimbursed up to double the amount the treatment would have cost in Switzerland. In countries with high medical costs (e.g. USA, United Arab Emirates, Japan and Canada), this limit is soon reached.

So is it better to take out travel insurance, to be on the safe side? 

Different travel policies offer different benefits

Not all travel insurance policies automatically cover the high cost of treatment in a private clinic abroad, so it's a good idea to check your policy carefully to see what is included. 

Travel insurance usually comprises the following components:

Cancellation insurance: This covers the reimbursement of costs incurred when someone is unable to go on a holiday for particular reasons (e.g. accident, illness, civil unrest at the destination, natural disasters).

Personal assistance: This covers any costs arising in connection with a serious illness, a severe accident or the death of the insured person during the holiday (search, rescue, repatriation, return of the deceased to Switzerland), but only covers cost advances for hospital treatment.

Luggage insurance: This covers loss, damage and theft of luggage up to an agreed sum insured.

Treatment costs abroad: Covers the costs incurred by emergency treatment abroad that are not covered by health insurance or accident insurance.

Roadside assistance: Covers vehicle breakdowns, towing and recovery as well as vehicle repatriation and additional transport costs. Roadside assistance is frequently already covered by car insurance policies or by the vehicle manufacturer.

So if you want to protect yourself from the additional costs of medical treatment abroad, you should check out the “treatment costs abroad” option. Note that not all travel insurers offer this option. However, some health insurers provide this type of cover through their supplemental insurance range. It’s therefore worth examining the benefits offered by the travel insurer as well as the health insurer carefully. 

Should I take out an annual or a single-trip travel insurance policy?

You can choose whether to take out a travel insurance policy for one particular trip, or one that covers you for the whole year. As a rule of thumb, if you travel more than twice a year, you're better off taking out an annual travel insurance policy. This option is a good choice for families as the insured persons can travel independently of each other and still benefit from the same protection. With an annual policy, there is also no need to take out the “compulsory” cancellation insurance offered by travel agencies.

Haven’t taken out any travel insurance yet?

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