Being Visited by Friends or Family Abroad?

With 5 million British expats and 200 million expats in total across the world, there is going to be a lot of friends and family wanting to to make a visit to experience the expat lifestyle. The problem is it seems that health insurance is not at the top of the list when planning the trip.

A survey of more than 4,500 adults carried out on behalf of the FCO has revealed that a third of Britons who visit friends and family abroad fail to take out insurance, with many admitting that they prioritise packing gifts such as teabags for their hosts above buying cover. Which does seem silly, considering that near most expat communities are dedicated ‘English’ shops which sell all the things that Brits can’t seem to live without.

One of the main reasons for not arranging cover appears to be cost, with around three-quarters of survey respondents (77%) blaming their lack of insurance on the need to save money. The younger age group of this brave (or stupid) section of those surveyed – aged between 16 and 24 – are the worst offenders for not taking the necessary precautions. Nearly half of this age group (45.4%) failed to take out a policy.

But being injured or getting sick during the visit is not just a problem for the person who becomes ill or is involved in an accident…what about the host? The FCO, which issued the research alongside an advisory video as part of its “Know Before you Go” campaign, warned that not being insured was a “false economy”, as it was all too common for Britons – or their unlucky hosts – to end up with unexpected bills. 39 per cent of survey respondents said that they had ended up having to rely on their expat host for help when problems occurred.

The 77% of survey respondents who had said that the reason they did not take out any type of cover is because they were trying to save money obviously already have something wrong with them! Insurance is something you pay to make sure you don’t pay huge sums of money if something does go wrong. Dean Churm, the British consul for Florida, asked: “What would your host appreciate more? A box of teabags or dealing with a hefty medical bill because you had an accident and were not insured? Getting comprehensive travel insurance means that whilst an accident may disrupt your holiday, it won’t bankrupt you in extortionate medical or repatriation bills.”

Here are some examples of people who should have had insurance and that were handled by the Foreign Office:

  • A man was visiting his mother in Canada and extended his stay.  He suffered a heart attack and had to pay over $40,000 in medical bills as his insurance had lapsed during the prolonged trip.
  • A man had a stroke while visiting family in Cape Town. He was taken to a private hospital but could not pay for the treatment nor did he have any health insurance. The family could not cover the increasing costs and he was moved to state facilities where the level of treatment is significantly lower and where he eventually died.
  • A woman did not take anti-malarial medication before visiting her mother in Tanzania as she’d been to the area many times before.  She became sick and was diagnosed with cerebral malaria which she later died from.


The FCO’s “Know before you go” campaign was launched in 2011 and, along with around 400 travel industry partners, aims to help Brits stay safe and healthy abroad.  The key messages are as follows:

  • get comprehensive travel insurance, and read the small print
  • check the country info for expats section of the William Russell site
  • research your destination – know the local laws and customs
  • research the health risk on the NHS travel health information page as soon as possible before travelling, and if necessary visit your GP
  • check your passport is valid and you have all necessary visas
  • make copies of important travel documents and/or store them online using a secure data storage site
  • tell someone where you are going and leave emergency contact details with them
  • take enough money and have access to emergency funds

So if you are expecting friends or family to come and visit you; make sure that they have brought the right things with them, such as travel insurance, or you could be the one that they turn to when the bill for their treatments comes through – that might require you to get some medical attention!

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