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Common travel insurance exclusions

What won't your insurance cover?

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Last updated: 03 May 2019


Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Travel insurers are getting increasingly tight-fisted with paying out claims. Part of the reason is that the industry is becoming stricter in interpreting their policies, meaning more people being left holding the bag when the unexpected happens on holiday.

Below we look at some of the most common policy exclusions that catch people out on vacation, sometimes leaving them many thousands of dollars out of pocket.

Pre-existing medical conditions

Falling ill or getting injured while on holiday is never fun, and it can be a lot worse if a hospital visit is due to a condition you had before setting out.

Anything from recurring bronchitis to a previously broken bone can be grounds for an insurer to reject a claim if they can connect your holiday health worries to something you had before you left home. In extreme cases, this can cost you tens of thousands of dollars in hospital and surgical bills, and even evacuation costs if you reinjure yourself while away from civilisation.

Mental health conditions

Pre-existing mental health issues are rarely covered by travel insurance, but many insurers don't cover first-time mental health illness either. 


For a lot of people, a vacation is a time to let your hair down and indulge in a drink or three. But if things go sideways when you're under the influence, you might find yourself without insurance to help you.

Insurers will take claims where alcohol is a factor on a case-by-case basis, but they seem to be enthusiastic in jumping on this exclusion as a way out of paying a claim. In a real life case reported by DFAT, a man attending a wedding in Phuket, Thailand, fell down a set of stairs and broke his leg and some ribs. Because he had been celebrating with some drinks, his insurer decided to deny him his claim, leaving him stuck with the $10,300 medical bill.

Insurers have also been known to refuse claims from people who've had their drinks spiked or suffered methanol poisoning from dodgy cocktails. Long story short: read the fine print, and beware the brew!

(Not so) public places

Most people expect insurance to cover the replacement costs of any stolen property, provided they do the right thing and keep their belongings safe and secure.

But a couple on holiday in Glasgow found out the hard way that some insurers don't include in that definition a locked car parked on the street. When thieves broke into their vehicle and stole their luggage and other items, they were left $3000 out of pocket due to their insurer's interpretation of the public space exclusion.

It's important to check with your insurer about what they consider public places, so you know what your responsibilities are.

Unlicensed driving and risky activities

Some young (and not so young) Aussies get off the plane in somewhere like Denpasar or Bangkok and head straight out to rent a motorbike. What better way to experience the world than with a 150cc engine purring under you?

Better make sure you've got your licence sorted out, though. An accident on a quad bike or a motorcycle can be grounds for your insurer to reject a claim, if you aren't properly licensed to drive the vehicle in the country you're in. You might also run afoul of the risky activities exclusion, so make sure you know what you can and can't do before you buy!

Telling your insurer if you expect to get up to anything risky on your holiday can be a good way to help find the best level of cover for you. An insurer will be less likely to pay out a claim if you got hurt in the Running of the Bulls and hadn't told them you were entering.

How you can be sure you're covered

Always read the product disclosure statement (PDS) before you buy travel insurance. In Smartraveller's 2017 Understand Insurance survey, 33% of respondents said they just buy the cheapest policy without even checking the small print. 

  • The PDS will tell you what's covered and what's excluded. 
  • If you have any questions about specific situation, contact the insurance provider. 
  • If you're making a claim and the insurer is resisting, persevere. 
  • Keep all your relevant receipts, police reports and medical reports, as they can help you.

And before you buy anything, be sure to consult CHOICE's travel insurance buying guide to see what to look for when buying travel policy, and check out our latest travel insurance reviews to find the best policy for you.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.