Emotional Baggage: Finding Travel Insurance for Depression

Rain on window against grey sky

Lawrence Durrell once said that “Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection.” I’m a big advocate of travelling for wellbeing, but I’ve also blogged about what it’s like to be away when you’re depressed, and how you can get through it. One big issue remains: finding travel insurance to cover depression can be a bit of a nightmare because, as the FCO says, it needs to be declared as a pre-existing medical condition. That policy will protect you from any health-related issues that may crop up during your trip, but you’ll pay a lot for the privilege.

The thing is, travel can be hugely helpful for general recovery and also for getting alternative treatments abroad, especially with wellness retreats becoming more popular, from Buddhist centres in Asia to specialist depression retreats across the US. You could also be travelling for work, to see family,  or any number of other reasons.

By speaking to the Financial Ombudsman, the Guardian found the need for cover is even more important than many of us realise, due to the strict guidelines of many insurers. Writing for the newspaper last year, journalist Kara Gammell reported:

An insurer can reasonably reject a claim that has nothing to do with a pre-existing condition if they can show that they would not have allowed the policy to be taken out in the first place had the condition been disclosed.

Clearly it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Looking for fingerprints and criminal activity
You might feel interrogated when answering so many questions from insurers (picture taken at the Police Museum, Copenhagen).

The Insurance Process

When I recently went to renew my annual insurance, I found out just how dramatically the price can be increased once you admit depression has taken hold. There are five questions to answer after initially declaring the condition, then the sting in the tail comes with the reassessed price. You’re penalised for each question you’ve answered ‘yes’ to, covering pretty standard issues like taking medication (er, surely it would be more of a worry to need meds but refuse to take them?!), or seeing a psychiatrist (it seems this is still taboo in the UK…).

To save time, I filled in my answers on a price comparison site and watched the numbers come up from a range of different insurers. Some companies wouldn’t cover me at all (thanks, guys) and others leaped from £60-70 for a healthy traveller to £250-£400; However, the steep excesses on cheaper policies mean I wouldn’t recoup much money if I did need to make a claim. On an already tight budget, this made things more stressful.

Vintage till in Danish bar Hviids Vinstue
Be prepared to rack up a bill.

Paying for Honesty

I understand mental health conditions need to be given weight by insurers, as with all medical problems, but I do think the current prices will deter people from being honest. With 1 in 4 people suffering a mental health problem during their lifetime, perhaps these companies need to be more reasonable about the prices they charge. What’s more, there are plenty of healthy people out there making claim after claim with various insurers, but they don’t face such high fees. When you take out a policy you don’t need to admit you’re a huge risk-taker, a clumsy drunk or the kind of person who forgets to meet their ship at a cruise port.

After my own experience of claiming following a street robbery abroad, my policy for the next year barely increased, yet there was nothing to decrease the risk of being robbed on any future trips. Though I naturally became more safety-conscious afterwards, how did the insurers know I wouldn’t walk around with valuables held loosely in my hands, or a phone peeking out of my back pocket like an open invitation to pickpockets, as we all know many other people do? It’s frustrating to find that a health condition makes me seem so much more of a liability.

Men walking through American landscape during The Great Depression
Better travel light on that single trip. Credit: Studyblue.com.

Single Trip Insurance

My solution – if you can call it that – was to switch to single trip insurance rather than an annual renewal, to cut costs. I put in my details again and compared companies, then ended up choosing one I’d never heard of, called Get Going. Insuring a four day European city break cost me £20.50 at ‘Premier Single Trip’ level, including a medical screening (£10.03 of the total). Excesses on typical claims varied, but tended to be around £75-100.

Whoever you choose to go with, make sure you’ve answered the questions honestly, and you’d be happy to pay the relevant excesses if you did have to make a claim. Know what you’re not covered for, and read the small print, then save a copy of your policy documents as a PDF and keep a printed copy to carry with you during the holiday.

Whilst single trip cover isn’t ideal for a constant jet setter, I’ve had to make it work for me. If you’ve had problems getting insured for a medical condition, I’d love to hear your story.