Travel Insurance


Are You Covered?

Call it fate, Murphy’s Law, kismet, comeuppance or just plain old bad luck. If you spend enough time travelling in Africa, chances are that – sooner or later – something will go wrong. So, make sure you have the requisite cover, as you may live to regret it, if you don’t.

If you’re lucky, your African travel disaster will take the form of a cancelled credit card or a delayed flight. If you’re not, it could mean a night in jail or an emergency medical evacuation. Either way, chances are that those travel hiccups are going to hit you where it hurts – your pocket.

Which is why it’s a rare – some would say foolish – traveller who checks in for their flight without a travel insurance policy tucked safely in their briefcase. Because you just never know when disaster is going to strike. 

“Travel insurance isn’t an annoying afterthought, or a needless expense. It is a necessity, and can save a traveller hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of rands in the event of an unforeseen disaster,” says Simmy Micheli, Sales Manager for insurance consultants TIC.

From flight delays to family emergencies, “there are hundreds of circumstances that could cause you to cancel your trip, return home early or force you to seek emergency medical treatment while travelling,” agrees Uriah Jansen, Managing Director of Oojah Travel Protection.

And while the consequences can be dire, avoiding them involves remarkably little outlay, says Leon Smith, franchise owner of Club Travel Ontdekkers in Johannesburg.

“At R45 to R50 per day – the cost of a hamburger – for total peace of mind, travel insurance is the cheapest investment, with the highest yield, you could ever make,” says Smith, who adds that corporate travellers are often the most responsible when it comes to ensuring they are properly covered for their trip.

Leisure travellers, however, are more likely to put their faith in the free insurance credit card companies hand out with air ticket purchases.

“The insurance may be free, but will it have the cover you need? The general cover offered by credit cards is inflexible, impractical, and contains a minefield of issues,” warns Jansen. “Sadly, many travellers don’t realise this until they try to make a claim.”

Apart from making you jump through hoops to recoup expenses, emergency medical costs on credit card cover are usually capped at around R1-million, which can be quite limited if one needs medical treatment as well as evacuation by an air ambulance, warns Louise Cockcroft, Travel and Personal Accident Manager for Regent Insurance. “Another problem is that the free cover usually does not provide cover for pre-existing medical conditions.”

Medical concerns are without doubt the most pressing reason to ensure you have adequate travel insurance. While lost luggage can be easily replaced, and a missed flight is rarely a disaster, liability for a serious medical incident abroad can easily plunge a person – or a company – into bankruptcy.

Hospital bills in Europe and North America can run to millions of rands for serious cases, and while costs in Africa may be lower, a lack of suitable medical facilities means even minor complications can require expensive medical evacuations.

“Apart from South Africa, the only other country on the African continent that we consider to have adequate medical facilities is Kenya,” explains Jansen. “If you are travelling to any other African country and you require in-patient treatment, we would have to arrange for either a medical evacuation to Kenya, or a medical repatriation to South Africa.”

An evacuation from central Africa to southern Africa can cost from R300 000 to R500 000, warns Cockcroft. “The more north the insured traveller is, the cost is higher and can rise to around R1-million.”

And that, of course, is on top of the bill for hospitals, doctors and medication. So, hopefully, by now you’re convinced that travel insurance is a good idea?

But where do you start?

Well happily, savvy insurance companies have made it fairly easy to get covered, and corporate travellers receive some of the best deals. With most businessmen abroad spending their days in the safe confines of an office, cover for work-related travel usually offers a better rate than similar leisure-focused products.

“Business policies usually have higher limits at a lower premium – business travellers are considered to be a lower risk than leisure travellers,” notes Jansen. “You also have the option to pay a daily rate, rather than a rate that is grouped in bands of period of travel.  For example, as a business traveller, you can pay for eight days only, whereas a leisure traveller would have to pay the premium that falls in the band of eight to 14 days.”

However, other insurance policies expect you to be on the road for longer periods.

“Our most popular travel insurance product is our Business Complete Cover. This is a policy specifically developed for business trips up to 92 days, and will cover the business traveller worldwide,” explains Cockcroft.

And if you’re planning on escaping Kampala for some time river rafting on the White Nile, “the cover allows the business traveller some leisure time out by providing cover for adventure activities as well,” she adds.  

“TIC’s Leisure Comprehensive and Business Administrative policies are the most popular products because they offer the maximum limits of all benefits provided for travellers up to the age of 79,” says Micheli. “Both products also include pre-existing illness cover, which includes hospitalisation cover in the event of a pre-existing illness.”

Cover for pre-existing illness – which can include anything from asthma to diabetes – is essential, but it’s important to note that companies usually require you declare the illness when applying for cover.

“We provide pre-existing medical cover in all our products, even for senior travellers,” says Jansen, but “the client must disclose his/her condition to us before they purchase the product, in order for us to underwrite the specific condition.”

In addition to pre-existing conditions you bring to the airport, your age is also an important consideration when purchasing a policy. While premiums – perhaps surprisingly – don’t vary according to destination, and Sierra Leone costs the same as Stellenbosch, travellers over the age of 69 can expect to pay more.

“The age limits on our leisure products, and including our Business Complete Cover, are up to age 69 years,” explains Cockroft. “Our Senior Cover has an age limit from age 70 to 80 years, and we also offer cover to those travellers who are between 81 and 85 years – our Extended Senior Cover.”

While medical emergencies are the thing that should keep uninsured travellers up at night, falling sick is not the only hiccup you need to be covered for. When hotels go bankrupt, or your airline is grounded, you’ll be glad you played it safe. Just ask the travellers caught up in 2010’s Icelandic volcano debacle.

Comprehensive policies cover travellers for everything from baggage delays – when you need to rush out and buy a fresh shirt for tomorrow’s meeting – through to airlines going belly-up and expensive replacement tickets needing to be bought at the last minute. Throw in cover for cancellation – if circumstances require you to cut your trip short – and luggage theft, and there’s no shortage of reasons to invest in an insurance policy. 

Those benefits all come bundled with comprehensive policies, but insurance companies also offer a range of niche products that can make doing business in Africa easier.

Regent Insurance, for instance, offers a policy aimed specifically at expatriates working abroad on fixed contracts.

“This is specifically provided for emergency medical and related expenses, and does not always provide the additional benefits such as cancellation and loss of baggage,” explains Cockcroft. “The product can be tailored as per the insured’s requirements, and can be rated to provide cover for manual labour.”

That’s an important point, too. Most ‘administrative’ business travel policies don’t cover manual labour, which needs to be underwritten as an added extra.

“For business travellers who are performing manual labour when travelling – a common exclusion on travel insurance policies – TIC’s ‘Business Industrial’ policy includes separate cover for any medical claims related to this activity,” says Micheli.

Oojah has also launched an innovative product aimed specifically at travellers purchasing insurance required for visa applications.

“As many clients are forced to purchase travel insurance in order to obtain a Schengen visa, this is a cost-effective product for the budget-conscious traveller who only requires medical cover,” explains Jansen.

If your budget only stretches to medical cover, then at least ensure you’ll return home safe and sound. As JRR Tolkien wrote in the Lord of the Rings, “It’s a dangerous business, going out your door.” That may be true, but at least make sure you’re covered for the journey.

Richard Holmes


These real-life travellers found insurance a worthy investment…

Sierra Leone: Traveller contracted cerebral meningitis. Evacuation – R450 000

Zambia: Complications from malaria. Treatment – R300 000

Tanzania: Hospitalisation for stomach pains and med-evac – R500 000

Mozambique: Ruptured ulcer led to evacuation – R250 000

Zambia: Severe chest pains. Evacuation – R300 000

Uganda: Hospitalisation for skeleto-muscular disorder – R40 000

Rwanda: Road accident required med-evac to London – R778 000

Mozambique: Heart attack required repatriation – R2 000 000

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