Getting the right policy for your adventure is incredibly important. Here’s how to avoid travel insurance pitfalls and make sure you’re properly covered.
Motorcycle travel insurance, like riding gear, isn’t important until the second you need it. Then it’s quickly the most important thing in your entire life. After 16 years of riding and travelling in far flung countries all over the world, travel insurance has pushed its way further back in mind, relegated to an afterthought – something I’ll sort out a few days before leaving, a cheap deal and a piece of paper with some random numbers on it.
Only when Alissa severely broke her leg in Nepal and we faced a £20,000 hospital bill did it become our now most important document.
Luckily, we took out our policy with Navigator Travel Insurance Services. Navigator insured us with Voyager who covered our hospital bills and put both of us on a first-class flight home.
It’s not something we can mess around with or do half-heartedly as motorcycle travellers. It’s incredibly important and needs to be done right. So, we got in touch with Navigator’s Director, Richard Would, and compiled this article on how to get the right travel insurance, what to look out for, how to avoid the big pitfalls and a handy insider’s checklist. Stay safe out there and keep covered.
The Biggest Travel Insurance Pitfalls for UK Policy Holders
Travel Insurance vs Motorcycle Insurance
Your travel insurance policy and motorcycle insurance policy are two completely separate things. Neither cover the other. Personal vehicle insurance will not cover your health while abroad, and once you’re out of Europe it won’t cover your bike either.
Generally speaking, your motorcycle itself is not covered in any way by a travel insurance policy. There are one or two policies that offer limited cover, such as a contribution towards the cost of getting your bike back to the UK if you have had to be repatriated following an accident. However, most will not offer this, and you will need some separate form of recovery or breakdown cover.
Similarly, most policies will not cover your helmet, leathers and boots, as they regard these as accessories to the bike. These items can often be covered as an optional extra on your motorcycle insurance, but if not, make sure that you go for one of the few travel insurance policies that will cover them, usually the same ones that offer the contribution towards getting your bike home (see above).
You might also like to check if the policy duration is extendable, if you decide to stay longer, as some are not.
Not insuring the entire trip can leave you uninsured
You should insure the whole trip and your policy should start on your UK departure date. It might be tempting to leave the purchase of travel insurance until you get overseas and start the serious riding. For instance, if you are hiring a Harley to do Route 66, many people think it’s fine to just get travel insurance for the rental period. This is a mistake, the policy must cover the entire trip, from UK departure until the day that you arrive back in the UK.
“Most UK travel insurance policies are invalid if they are started after departure or don’t cover the whole trip.”
We have one or two policies which can be started after departure, but they carry many conditions and they tend to be the flexible, more expensive ones, so this option is rarely worth it, if you have a choice.
You might not be covered if you’re out of the UK for more than six months
Most of the cheaper travel insurance policies carry a little-known definition of UK residency, which states that, in order to qualify as a UK resident (which you need to be to be eligible to buy the policy), you must not have been out of the UK for more than 6 months out of the past 12 months.
This crazy rule is an attempt to exclude non-UK residents, but in reality, it can penalize UK residents who travel a lot, or have recently returned from a long overseas trip and now want to buy cover for another trip. If you are in this situation, we have a few policies that do not use this definition. These merely state that, in order to qualify, you must have a home here and be registered with a GP here.
Watch out for capacity and condition restrictions in the small print
Some travel insurance policies will not cover motorcycling at all. Others say that it is covered, but on checking the small print, you will find that it restricted to 125cc. Make sure that you choose a policy that will cover motorcycling up to the cc of the bike that you are using. A good motorcycling policy will cover you to ride any cc bike, as long as you are licensed to ride a similar sized bike in the UK.
You also need to check whether there are restrictions for off-road use, if that is what you are doing. There are not many policies that cover off-roading, most will say on-road only, though often, this does not have to be tarmac roads, as long as they are official highways, marked on a map as such, and passable to “normal” traffic, such as cars, buses and trucks. There will almost certainly be a requirement to wear a helmet, even if local law does not insist on it.
Are you covered to ride full-time?
You should also check for clauses stating that motorcycling is only covered “on an incidental basis”, meaning that it will not be covered, if motorcycling forms a significant part of the trip or is your main mode of transport.
What about risky countries?
Insurance in risky countries is a major problem. What we mean by ‘risky’ are countries that the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against “all travel to” or “all but essential travel to”.
Our long-term motorcycle travel policy (where the amount of motorcycling cover is unrestricted within the duration of your policy) is the most common for bike travellers. But unfortunately, if you visit risky regions, your policy will be invalid and you will have no cover at all in those countries.
We do have an underwriter with a policy that covers riders for a maximum of 14 consecutive days motorcycling during a trip. This is a specialist policy for covering high risk areas of the world. This is almost useless for motorcycling, unless it’s a short trip. However, it can be started after departure (with conditions), so it can be used for to cover a maximum of 14 days motorcycling while you transit one of the above regions where your main policy will not cover you.
There may be “high risk” policies out there, but they’d need to be Googled to find the durations. It’s more common than not, that policies become invalid if you travel to dangerous areas. Consider the areas you’re travelling to carefully and whether or not you’ll be insured there.
Call First! This one’s important…
In the event of an emergency or serious medical problem, the 24-hour emergency number must be notified as soon as possible about the situation. It is often the hospital that makes this call, to get a guarantee for their charges, but you need to try and ensure that the contact details are available to them when they need them.
This is extremely important, as the insurer can refuse to pay a claim, if they were not given notice of the situation, as often absurdly expensive and unnecessary treatment can be put in place by unscrupulous organizations, and the insurer will want to have some input.
We know of a case recently, where someone was knocked off a motorcycle on a busy US highway, in a city central area. They suffered a relatively minor injury, and somebody called out a helicopter air ambulance when a standard road ambulance would have probably been quicker. The bill was sent into the insurer for about £45,000 and is still currently in dispute!
The amounts for air evacuation can be eye-watering. We know of another case where air ambulance evacuation was made from a remote area of Mongolia for a relatively minor motorcycling injury (broken leg). The bill for that evacuation was around £100,000 and was necessitated and agreed, due to the wild and remote location of the accident.
Motorcycle Travel Insurance Checklist
Click on the below checklist to make sure you’re fully covered.
It may surprise you, but travel insurance medical claims in excess of £1.5 million are virtually unheard of. £5 million medical cover should be more than enough. “Unlimited” medical cover is a gimmick and £10 million is a bit over the top. Check the other sections of the policy though, to ensure that it gives sufficient baggage and cancellation cover for your needs.
Make sure that your policy covers motorcycling up to the cc of the bike that you will be using.
If you want to venture off road, make sure your policy will cover you.
Unsurprisingly, insurance companies are not prepared to cover you to ride a bike that you cannot ride at home.
Either on your bike policy or on a specialist travel insurance policy.
Make sure that the residency requirements of your travel insurance policy are suitable for your situation. Some are for UK residents only, some for EU residents. Many have a clause stating that you must have been in the UK for at least 6 months out of the previous 12 months to be classed as a UK resident. This can make it very tricky for those who travel a lot.
Make sure you are legal to ride in your destination country. Is a UK licence OK? Or do you need an International licence or a local permit? Is your motorcycle insurance valid for riding in your destination country? If you get nicked for riding illegally, your travel insurance won’t help. Sometimes it is not a legal requirement to wear a crash helmet, but you must wear one to be covered on a travel insurance policy, irrespective of what the local law says.
Is there anything competitive about your riding? Motocross or motorcycle racing are not covered by normal travel policies, and in cases where these sports can be covered, there will be a large supplement to pay.
If you are buying Annual Multi-Trip travel insurance, make sure that the maximum individual trip duration is sufficient for your plans. Annual Multi-Trip policies always have an individual maximum trip duration, usually 31, 45 or 62 days per trip. Longer trips would need covering on a Single Trip policy.
Declare any pre-existing medical conditions. Many policies exclude cover for claims arising from any pre-existing medical conditions, unless you go through a medical screening process and have cover accepted, often at extra cost. Some policies automatically cover some stable and controlled conditions, without medical screening.
Electronic documentation has done away with the old system of giving you a card with your 24-hour emergency details on it, that you could carry in your wallet. Make a note of this number and your policy number, so that it is readily available in the event of an emergency.
ps. We’re not in anyway affiliated with Navigator, nor do we benefit or receive commission through any sales. This article was produced in collaboration purely to highlight some of the difficulties and hidden pitfalls in travel insurance. Thanks.