Four FAQs about travelling with a medical condition

Planning a holiday or trip abroad when you have a long-term medical condition can cause a lot of anxiety. If your condition affects your health day to day, inevitably you will ask yourself if you are well enough to go.

But even if you feel fit and healthy and your condition is well managed, you might have concerns about carrying medication with you, being able to find affordable travel insurance, or even that an airline won’t let you fly.

Travelling with a medical condition is very common and in the vast majority of cases, people have no issues at all. But that doesn’t stop you from worrying, especially if you haven’t travelled abroad in some time or you’ve had a recent diagnosis.

Here are answers to four commonly asked questions about travelling with a medical condition to help set your mind at ease.

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Do I have to tell my insurance company about my medical condition, even if I’m in good health?

As a general rule, you absolutely must tell your travel insurance provider about any medical conditions you have before you buy a policy. This is because a medical condition will change the type of medical cover they offer you (the part of the insurance policy that pays out for the cost of any medical attention you might need while abroad).

Standard travel insurance only covers medical emergencies (accidents and illnesses) not related to any existing condition. But as any condition increases the likelihood of falling ill and needing care, all insurers will charge a higher premium (see below) to cover this extra risk.

If you don’t tell your insurance company about a condition, they will argue that they could not sell you the right policy because they weren’t made aware of all the facts. If you do fall ill and make a claim, they will investigate your medical history and declare your policy void when they discover you have an existing medical condition. That will leave you to pay a potentially very high bill for your medical care.

There are limits, however, on how long back into your medical history you have to go when declaring any medical conditions. Most insurers will only ask you to declare things you have had treatment for or taken medication for in the past two years. Some diseases, including cancer, epilepsy, high blood pressure and many respiratory diseases, you will have to declare no matter how long ago you were diagnosed and even if you’ve been symptom-free for years.

But the terms and conditions vary from insurer to insurer, so take care to read what is required before you buy.

Should I consult my doctor before travelling?

There’s a widespread perception that if you have a medical condition of any kind, you absolutely must consult your doctor before making travel plans to get their opinion on whether it’s safe for you or not.

That’s not necessarily true. A lot of people have well-managed conditions that don’t really affect their day to day lives. They are in good health otherwise and only need to see a doctor every now and then for a check-up, with only very rare bouts of symptoms flaring up.

If this is you, you probably don’t need to consult your doctor to get their opinion before booking a holiday as such. Millions of people travel all the time with medical conditions that are well managed and don’t seriously affect their health day-to-day. If they all sought their doctor’s opinion before every trip, GPs would be inundated!

Where it is important to seek medical advice is if you have a serious condition and are not in the best of health. There are also certain conditions that you must consult your doctor to see if it is safe for you to fly (see below). You should also consult your doctor if you have any concerns that travel or planned activities could trigger symptoms, for example, if you want to do some hiking but have a respiratory condition.

On a slightly different issue, if you are on any regular medication, you should plan in advance to get a prescription to cover all you will need for your trip. It’s also good advice to get a letter from your doctor to explain what your medication is. Different countries have different restrictions on pharmaceuticals. Plus, they may not recognise brand names.

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Are there any medical conditions that might stop me flying?

Yes. Certain conditions mean that the pressure changes experienced during a flight pose a health risk. If you suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or have ever had a stroke, you should definitely consult your doctor. Your airline may also require a fit to fly certificate signed off by your doctor.

The same applies if you have undergone surgery in the last three months. Changes in pressure can affect circulation around a healing wound, increasing the risk of DVT. In any of these cases, your doctor may recommend precautionary measures you can take and be happy to declare you fit to fly. But if they judge the risks too great, you could be advised to look to another form of transport instead.

Will I be able to afford travel insurance?

There’s a lot of bad press about the amount some people with medical conditions are charged for travel insurance. But research has shown that three-quarters of people who buy travel insurance with a medical condition don’t face overly inflated premiums. It’s the minority that does, who stand out.

The likelihood is that you will have to pay more for travel insurance if you have a long term medical condition compared to if you don’t. But not significantly more. There are a lot of variables, such as the type of condition you have, your age and your current state of health. But as a general rule of thumb, you can increase your chances of finding affordable policies for most conditions by going through a specialist medical travel insurance cover provider rather than sticking to the big-name mainstream companies.

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