While many school leavers will be heading off to university this month, some will be getting things organised to take the travelling plunge. Admittedly, insurance is not the most exciting part of this. While you're planning your route, packing, finding work and accommodation, the paperwork can easily get pushed down to the bottom of the list.
Unfortunately, this can be what catches gap year travellers out. While you could think that having an insurance policy is enough to cover all bases, small details can have huge effects. Take many of the leading insurance providers and look at their policies for working abroad - there is a LOT of small print.
Problems can arise depending on what kind of work you're covered for: does it include heavy manual work, or using vehicles? For example, in Australia - which is still the number one destination for gap year travellers - a lot of the jobs available involve manual work. Aside from it not being glamourous, some insurance firms make it difficult to determine if policies cover accidents and injuries while doing this work. Many policies do not clarify what the difference is between "manual" or "light manual work", or define how long "occasional manual work" is, for example.
Sadly, this was the case for one of our clients, 24-year-old British backpacker Holly Raper, In 2011 while on her gap year, Holly was working on a dairy farm in Australia. Despite not receiving a helmet or proper training, she was expected to use a quad bike to herd cattle. While working she came off her bike and suffered horrific injuries, which have left her confined to her bed and wheelchair. She has been in a minimally conscious state ever since, and is unable to communicate.
Holly had insurance to cover working abroad, but was told that her policy did not include 'heavy manual work' and classed the use of a quadbike as extreme sport - despite this being used for her work. They refused to cover any of her repatriation, care or treatment, so a Tasmanian state scheme insurer funded her transfer back to the UK. This led to a five-year legal battle to ensure Holly and her family received compensation. They finally received almost £7 million this year, which will help pay for the 24-hour care that Holly now needs.
Health and travel insurance policies are, of course, something we all hope will never become necessary. But in the event that they are, not being fully covered can make the already terrible situation of being injured abroad even worse. Clarifying anything ambiguous with the insurer is the best way around this - it really is better to be safe than sorry.
Aside from backpackers checking their insurance fully, the providers also need to be doing more to ensure that their policies are completely clear and that customers are informed before travelling and working abroad.
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