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Trip ruined but insurer picks up big bill

Having travel insurance is as important as packing your plane ticket or passport. Just ask Consumer NZ life member Rob Crozier.

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Taking out a policy before heading to the United States saved Mr Crozier and his partner Joan returning home to a bill running into the hundreds of thousands.

Joan was hit by a car in Atlantic City when crossing a road while the walk sign was on. Her tibia was fractured in two places and other bones were crushed. The hospital bill alone was $US162,000 ($NZ226,000). The bills for 12 days in a rehab centre, business class flights home accompanied by a doctor, and an air ambulance transfer from Auckland to Wellington are still to arrive. There’s also the loss of a $30,000 deposit for a trip to Africa the couple had planned. Their ASB credit card travel insurance, underwritten by Tower, will cover the costs.

Mr Crozier wanted to share their story after seeing we had recently published a travel insurance guide in association with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).

“I'm constantly amazed by the number of people I know who will take a chance and self-insure because they see themselves as healthy and very careful with their possessions,” Mr Crozier said.

“My advice is always take out travel insurance, carry a copy of the policy with you so you can determine what your entitlements are, contact the underwriter as soon as possible, try and establish a contact person in the organisation (we had some initial difficulty with this but, once resolved, I had daily contact with the person handling our claim), document everything and keep receipts.”

Our travel insurance guide is free and includes real-life stories to illustrate the importance of cover. Consumer NZ Chief Executive Sue Chetwin says “if you suffer a mishap overseas, comprehensive travel insurance can cover your medical expenses and personal liability. It can also compensate you if your luggage goes walkabout or you need to alter a travel booking”.

MFAT Consular Divisional Manager Lyndal Walker says New Zealand embassies and consulates can provide assistance if you run into trouble but travellers need to be aware the government won’t pay their bills.

“If you’re heading overseas, it’s important you make your own arrangements to meet any unforeseen costs,” Ms Walker says.

While planning your trip:

  • Check the MFAT website safetravel.govt.nz for the latest travel advice about your planned destination.

  • Take out comprehensive travel insurance as soon as you finalise your travel arrangements. If you intend on using credit card travel insurance, make sure you meet the requirements for cover before completing your bookings.

  • Ensure you have the necessary visas and a valid passport. Some countries require passports to be valid six months beyond your visit. Your travel agent or the embassies of the countries you intend to visit or transit through can explain the visa and passport requirements.

  • Consult a doctor about vaccinations and a medical kit for your planned destinations six to eight weeks before you leave. Some categories of prescription medicines should be carried with a medical certificate signed by a doctor.

Before departure:

  • Register your travel details on safetravel.govt.nz. During a major overseas incident, those registered as being in the vicinity of the incident are contacted first by MFAT to confirm their safety and wellbeing.

  • Note contact details of the nearest New Zealand embassy, high commission or consulate in your planned destination.

  • Give a family member or friend your travel information, such as accommodation details and photocopies of your itinerary, passport and certificate of insurance.

  • Prepare a mixture of payment options for your trip, such as a credit card and cash (including foreign currency for your transit and arrival). Ask your bank about your destination’s ATM facilities and inform it you’ll be using your cards overseas.

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