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Travel Advice From Hard Learned Experience

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Credit:  Ian Shaw (Destinations Africa Supporter)

International travel has opened up so you’re off on a holiday. Below are a few recommendations and considerations (not advice) learnt from my personal experience 4 years ago when my 24 year old daughter fell ill and died within 48 hours in a Fiji hospital. The travel insurer had outsourced their claims reporting process to a business that raised every possible barrier to a medical evacuation until it was too late.   

General Recommendations

Read and understand the PDS fine print and ask the questions. If travelling as a couple you should both be covered by the policy. Remember though that the internet and mobile communications in some countries may not be as reliable and cheap as in Australia so your travelling companion may not be able to get messages and make calls without incurring exceptional expenses. It is best to get a local sim card in a separate phone – a smart phone is needed – and make sure that the trusted person in Australia has all the necessary phone numbers and email addresses.

Before you go

  1. Arrange travel insurance with a reputable travel insurer.
  2. Appoint a trusted person or family member as your contact in Australia. The trusted person should have internet, mobile and landline access.
  3. Leave a copy of your itinerary showing flights, hotels dates etc. with the trusted person in Australia
  4. Leave copies of passports of all in your family with that trusted person
  5. Leave a copy of your travel policy – certificate of cover and the copy of the application for your travel (what you filled in on the internet or hard copy) with the trusted person. This is to prove that you have disclosed any pre-existing conditions.
  6. Leave contact details of your family with the trusted person and nominate who to call in the event of an emergency.
  7. Record the Australian telephone numbers to call from overseas and in Australia to lodge a claim or report a problem.
  8. If you are likely to be away for an extended period of time leave a power of attorney nominating someone in Australia as your attorney. At the very least write a letter authorizing the trusted person to act on your behalf in an emergency and have the letter witnessed by two non family members.
  9. Have a credit card validated for travel to the countries that you are travelling through and to.
  10. Make sure that you have access to a smart phone with internet and call access while travelling. If purchasing a foreign sim card make sure that your phone is compatible with that sim card or that the phone is not blocked.
  11. Make sure that you are able to draw cash in the countries that you are travelling through and to. Medical expenses in some countries need to be paid in cash.
  12. Register with Smart Traveller – the Australian traveller’s website www.smartraveller.gov.au  Provide your Smart traveller login details and any log in details for bank accounts and travel policies in a sealed envelope with that trusted person to be opened in an emergency.
  13. Emergency consular assistance. The Australian Government provides 24-hour consular emergency assistance. Call +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas or 1300 555 135 from within Australia , sms +61 421 269 080.  
  14. Make sure that your family in Australia has your bank account details so that they can transfer funds to you, and that you are able to withdraw those funds in a time of emergency.
  15. If you are taking any medication, or undergoing any ongoing medical procedures or consultations, make sure that you provide the trusted person with the name and contact details of your medical practitioner and names and frequency of medication you may be taking. If you are carrying medication with you make sure you have a copy of the medication prescription or the container in which the medication was issued. Failing this, you could be prosecuted in a foreign country for carrying illegal drugs.
  16. Should there be a worst-case scenario where you are completely unresponsive or have suffered severe brain trauma, your family may need to make a decision to cease resuscitation. You need to discuss this with them before you travel.
  17. Do you have any life insurance? The cost of a simple funeral is approximately $20,000. Who would fund this if you die?
  18. Do you have a will? If not, the laws of intestate succession may apply. A simple will can be written by the testator making whatever directions he or she may wish as long as it’s signed and dated by the traveller in the presence of two independent witnesses. Remember that that will may be binding on your return to Australia, so it is then worth having a proper will drawn up by a solicitor. Particularly if fixed property is an asset of the traveller.

Travel Insurance

  1. Only deal with a reputable travel insurer whose main business is travel insurance.
  2. Ask your travel insurer where their call centre is for reporting of a claim. If the call centre is outside Australia, go to another travel insurer.
  3. Ask your travel insurer if they have outsourced the claims process to another company whose call centre is outside Australia. If the answer is yes, find another travel insurer.
  4. Ask your travel insurer what the reporting and claims process is and how long it will take to get a medical evacuation from the countries you are visiting. If they refer you to their PDS (product disclosure statement), ask them for the sections and the pages. Specifically ask them how you can ensure that the process is efficiently handled, as quickly as possible. Ask them if a medical evacuation possibility is quickly escalated to someone who can make decisions. Do not take out the minimum cover with your travel insurer. You do not want the stress of having to check whether you’re covered for this or that if you are injured or sick. Medical costs escalate extremely fast.
  5. Make sure you know what the exclusions in the travel policy are – for example dangerous sports may not be covered unless specifically included. Also make sure that you know what the excess is on your policy. A $250 excess is quite normal.
  6. Make sure that you disclose any pre-existing conditions to the insurer. Failure to do so, could invalidate your policy.
  7. Find out what medical facilities are available at your destinations. Check if the hospitals have basic equipment such as a defibrillator, dialysis machine, and high strength drugs to treat superbugs.

While travelling

  1. Share changes to your itinerary with the trusted person.
  2. You should maintain contact with the trusted person providing your location, (preferably an address) so that if they do not hear from you for a while, they can raise the alarm.
  3. Ensure that the smart phone you have overseas is able to make and receive calls and has internet access. Global roaming is extremely expensive so if a local sim card is used make sure that the trusted person has the new number including any international codes.

In the event of an incident or claim

  1. Apprise the trusted person in Australia of the circumstances.
  2. Ask them to inform the Australian Consular 24 hour emergency assistance officials in Canberra. Numbers: 1300 555 135 or +612 6261 3305 (calling from overseas) or sms +61 421 269 080 or www.smartraveller.gov.au
  3. If the traveler is calling the Australian Consular assistance line from overseas ask them to call back and give them a number including necessary international and area codes.
  4. Ask the Consular assistance person if necessary to contact the local consulate or high Commissioner’s office closest to where the traveler is situated.
  5. Make sure that the traveler and the trusted person keep a record of times dates and who they have spoken to. This may prove useful in a later claim against the travel insurer.
  6. If a medical emergency, record names of hospitals, ambulances, doctors names and necessary phone numbers of all. Medical reports are necessary and need to be obtained every step of the way.
  7. Ask the trusted person to advise the travel insurer and give as much detail as possible.
  8. The traveller should have sufficient cash funds available to pay for medical procedures or medications. Some hospitals in some countries do not take credit cards and will not release a patient until accounts are paid in cash.
  9. Do not be afraid to ask for your claim/situation to be escalated. Life and death situations should be escalated immediately.  If the call centre or claims person refuses to escalate, call the head office of the insurance company and ask to speak to the manager responsible for travel insurance. If the receptionist refuses, tell them you will be lodging a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman Service Phone: 1300 780 808 email: info@fos.org.au Address: Financial Ombudsman Service, GPO Box 3 Melbourne Vic 3001. If you are being shunted around from one person to the next with no action, do not be hesitant to contact the radio stations (2GB) and A Current Affair (Channel9)

Disclaimer: The above considerations are general in nature, not necessarily complete in every respect, and should not be taken as advice. Travellers should make their own enquiries and make decisions based on their specific personal circumstances.

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