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Cancelling an eagerly awaited family holiday is a heartbreaking experience. Requiring hospitalisation abroad or having to fly back home following the death of a relative, meanwhile, can prove truly harrowing. In such instances, the last thing you need is to have to worry about the financial implications. The following should help prevent salt from being rubbed into the wounds.
At least give it some thought
We have all heard – and, with reason, mocked – the spiel from the hi-fi salesperson trying desperately to sell extended warranties. Your health, your finances and the morale of your loved ones, however, deserve more consideration than the lifespan of a DVD player. One sobering figure estimates at a staggering €42,000 to €55,000 the cost of an air ambulance from the east coast of the US. Pretty extreme as an example, perhaps, but it underlines why travel insurance shouldn’t be dismissed outright. The same applies for cancellation insurance. Maybe it won’t hurt your bank balance too much to cancel a non-refundable weekend break in the Ardennes, but what about a family holiday to a more exotic location?
European health insurance card
Your Belgian national health insurance (SIS) card cannot be used abroad. If you’re travelling in one of the countries of the European Union (plus Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) and require medical attention, your health-related expenses can be taken care of, or at least partly reimbursed, if you have your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) on you. This card is valid for two years and can be obtained free from your health fund (so long as you are up to date with your mandatory health insurance contributions). It replaces the old E111 form, which long-time Brussels residents will remember as particularly difficult to get hold of.
Who offers what?
Choosing the right travel insurance policy and the right company is made more complicated by the fact that, nowadays, insurance is offered, sometimes free of charge, by other bodies. Many holidaymakers think their credit card accident and cancellation cover, home insurance or private health cover is sufficient. While it is true that most credit cards (especially the ‘gold’ ones) now come with a built-in cancellation policy, and that your private health and home insurance company will cover you to an extent, it is worth remembering that it is not their primary function to provide cover against holiday-related mishaps. It may be the case that, in an unfortunate chain of events, all your expenses are covered, but by separate bodies – a rather taxing prospect. A one-stop, all-in-one travel insurance policy is therefore the most stress-free solution. There are now many insurance companies specialising in holiday cover, from cancellation to hospitalisation.
The devil is in the detail
There are, always, numerous exceptions, both of the regular- and small-print variety, and it is strongly recommended that you pay attention to them when considering taking out a policy. On top of medical bills, a good insurance policy will cover you for cancelling, postponing or cutting a trip short. Less obvious reasons for this may include redundancy, jury service, burglary, strike action, pregnancy – as well as bereavement, of course. Again, read the contract carefully before signing – if you’re going to pay a ‘specialist’ holiday insurance, you might as well get the most comprehensive one. Since 9/11, the majority of policies now cover acts of terrorism – make sure that your policy is no exception. Note that many insurance policies will be declared null and void if an accident is drug- or drink-related, or the result of dangerous sports and hobbies. Also, what constitutes an Act of God is not always clear-cut. If in doubt, ask for a detailed list – you are entitled to it. After all, nothing beats peace of mind.
Where to turn
General travel advice from the Belgian Foreign Office (in French or Dutch):
More details about the European health insurance card (in English):
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