Each year, millions of backpackers travel around for extended stays of three months, six months, and quite often a year straight.
I am one of those people.
Doing so means you have to purchase ‘long stay' or ‘backpacker' travel insurance.
But what 90% of travellers don't realise is that their travel insurance is invalid.
That's right, thousands, right now, are travelling with invalid insurance, thinking they are fully covered.
Indeed, unbeknown to me, I was travelling with invalid travel insurance for two years!
All because of one simple clause that I'd never read:
You must have a return ticket pre-booked to be able to purchase the policy.
Or, as another policy put it:
You must have a return ticket or an open ticket pre-booked to be able to purchase the policy.
Can't I Just Make up a Date for My Policy?
What most travellers will do is state a return date on their travel insurance policy without actually having a return ticket for that date.
On the face of it this doesn't seem like a problem, because you can always get a ticket and come back before that date, or book a ticket in the future to return on that date.
But here's the thing: most policies require you to have that ticket when you take out the insurance. If you don't have a ticket for the return date on your policy when you take out the policy, your insurance will be invalid.
The majority of us who travel to countries in SE Asia for extended periods don't have a return flight date.
I don't have one because I have a Non-immigrant ‘O' 1 year Thai visa, which means that I can stay for a year (more if I extend) – so I don't know when I'll return.
I don't buy a return ticket.
You might think “why can't I just make up a date that I intend to return on? Because, to reiterate, if you don't have a ticket that matches that date then it invalidates the policy.
Moreover, your insurance will run out on that date and you'll be uninsured. What then?
Why Don't People Know This?
Quite simply because the large majority of us don't read the terms and conditions. When was the last time you purchased a service or booked a flight or a hotel and actually sat down and read through the 5 or 10 pages worth of legal spiel?
I'm willing to bet never.
And of course, insurance companies do not point this out to you for two reasons:
- They expect you to thoroughly read the terms and conditions.
- They don't want to point this out because it's technically free money for them.
Fortunately, most travellers don't end up making a serious claim for expensive medical care or loss of baggage.
But if you do, and you are asked for your return flight date when you call up to activate the claim, you may – depending on your policy – get a nasty surprise.
You may get away with small claims on theft and baggage, but believe me, if you put in for a substantial medical claim, your insurance company will be double-checking to see whether they can wriggle out of paying you by tripping you up on this heavily overlooked clause.
It makes no sense to expect all travellers to have a return flight date when the at the very heart of travelling is the freedom to choose when you return, visa permitting, of course.
But it is equally stupid not to read the terms and conditions.
Once I'd realised the fact that my travel insurance had been invalidated because my lack of a return flight date, I set out to find an insurance company that didn't require a return flight date and would cover me regardless.
And I found one!
I spoke to World Nomads and explained I had a 1-year visa and had no return flight date.
They knew all about this naughty clause imposed by some companies and assured me I didn't need to have a return flight booked with their insurance.
What If I'm Already Travelling?
World Nomads will insure you when you're abroad, even if you've forgotten to get insurance before you left.
They will insure you if your insurance has run out and you are still abroad.
This was pleasing because they are also one of the cheapest (with great cover) companies I could find, providing pricing tiers for economy (backpacker) and premium (extended business) travellers.
Don't get caught out by not reading the small print.
This schoolboy error could cost you big time, especially if you get sick, which does happen to thousands of people travelling to Thailand and neighbouring countries each year.
The bottom line is that with the large majority of travel insurance companies, you must have a return flight date to your home country when you take out the policy. If you just make up a date to secure the policy your insurance will be invalid.
When you try to make a claim they may ask to see evidence of your return ticket; if you don't have one then you are in trouble and they won't pay out.
Of course, if you don't know when you are coming back you could potentially book a return ticket so that you do have a flight, and then change that date nearer the time. The problem with that is the insurance policy will become invalid because you will have stayed past the date that you stated on your policy.
What you could do at this point is take out travel insurance with one of my recommended companies, both of which you will insure you while you are travelling.
Whatever you decide to do just make sure that you have this issue covered.