Air travel

To coincide with the launch of its new travel insurance guide the ABI reveals the startling costs of falling ill abroad this year. Have an accident and you could have to work for over 25 years to pay for emergency medical care without insurance.

Find that hard to believe? These are some figures recently released by British insurance companies:

  • £200 million paid out a year to help 150,000 people who fall seriously ill overseas
  • One claim for treating a stroke in the USA has cost £760,000, at least 25 years wages for the average worker
  • Another claim, for a jet-ski accident in Turkey, cost £125,000.
  • The cost of the average medical claim at £1,300 rose by 40% between 2011 and 2016
  • It is not uncommon for medical bills to run into tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds


The staggering potential costs of emergency medical treatment faced by UK travellers abroad this year is highlighted by the Association of British Insurers (ABI). Six-figure medical bills are now not uncommon.

The figures come as the ABI launches its new guide to travel insurance to help travellers ensure they have the right travel insurance to cover any sky high overseas medical bills and emergency repatriation to get back home (click here for your copy).

The USA, which attracts 3.8 million UK visitors a year, has some of the highest medical costs. For example:

  • £768,000 has been paid to cover the medical costs of treating a traveller who suffered a stroke. This includes £60,000 for an air ambulance back to the UK.
  • £252,000 to treat a brain haemorrhage and broken shoulder suffered by a traveller when he fell off a cycle.
  • £32,000 to pay for a four day hospital stay to treat a 12 year-old girl who caught pneumonia on a school trip. The travel insurer also paid for the cost of flying out a member of the family to be with her.


Elsewhere in the world, examples of emergency medical bills faced by British travellers that travel insurers have paid include:

  • £136,000 for treating complications following an insect bite in Chile. This included paying for a nurse to escort the traveller home.
  • £81,000 to cover ongoing costs of treating a holidaymaker who contracted pancreatitis in Greece.
  • £74,000 paid to treat a brain haemorrhage in Cuba.
  • £60,000 to treat injuries sustained in a road accident in El Salvador. This included £33,000 for an air ambulance back to the UK.


When travelling in Europe, the free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) gives you access to state-provided healthcare available to a resident. However, it is no substitute for having travel insurance as it will not cover all medical costs, or the cost of emergency repatriation back to the UK. From Spain an air ambulance can cost £25,000.

Mark Shepherd, Assistant Director, Head of Property, Commercial and Specialist Lines at the ABI, said: “While most travellers enjoy their breaks, falling seriously ill overseas is stressful enough, without the added worry of how to pay for potentially very expensive medical bills.

“Yet incredibly an estimated one in four travellers still travel without insurance, despite the fact that the average cost of a single trip policy can be less than what a family spends on snacks at the airport.

“With a wide range of competitively priced policies available, shop around, don’t forget to disclose any pre-existing medical conditions, and remember that the cheapest policy may not be best for your needs.”