Don’t let the cost of overseas medical emergencies give you heart failure

By Janice Roberts

Tony Singleton

By Tony Singleton, CEO at Turnberry.


If you’re planning to go to another country for business or leisure, having international travel cover is vital – potentially saving you from astronomical medical costs in foreign currencies.

Even if your Medical Aid provides some form of travel benefits, they’re often not comprehensive enough to protect you from all risks.

Many hospitals often impose substantial surcharges on non-residents (depending on the country in question), which serves to further inflate any hospital or specialist bills.

So, as many South Africans gear up for holidays, let’s look at why having Gap Cover with international travel benefits is the smart choice – whatever your reason for travelling, and whatever your destination.

Full coverage

A healthy range of international travel benefits may well be provided as part-and-parcel of any good Gap Cover option. To enhance these benefits, most Gap Cover providers will also offer you a host of bolt-on additional cover items for a once-off fee.

It’s important to check the benefits of your Gap Cover policy to find out if it includes international travel benefits.

These could include the likes of additional cover for medical expenses, cover for pre-existing conditions, disability, death benefits, as well as a host of non-medical benefits – helping cover the costs of things like missed connections, lost luggage, travel delays, replacement airfares, and journey extensions.

From the smallest medical issues, to the most life-changing major incidents, with Gap Cover and international travel cover in place, you won’t have to worry about extra costs which put a damper on your holidays, or even place you at severe financial risk.

In times of greatest need

In some cases, having travel benefits can literally mean the difference between life and death. We’ve seen a number of traumatic cases where, without the cover, clients would have been liable for millions of rands in medical costs.

One example, a Mrs Sithole, collapsed unexpectedly while travelling in China, suffering from cerebral bleeding and a ruptured brain aneurysm. This required four and a half months in hospital. Not only were all her specialists’ bills paid for, but her travel insurer also arranged for a complementary, compassionate visit from one of Mrs Sithole’s relatives.

The total rand cost of her medical expenses – R4.5 million – would have been borne by her and her family if she hadn’t taken out international travel insurance prior to departing for China.

In another example, 20-year old Callum was hospitalised in the United States after a terrible motor vehicle collision. Suffering from many fractures, lacerations and haemorrhages, he was airlifted between specialist medical facilities, and treated by many different doctors. The total cost of his care reached an astonishing R5 million.

But with international travel cover, all of this was catered for, and his mother was given complimentary tickets to be at his bedside during the early phases of his recovery.

As heart-wrenching as these stories may be, they serve to underscore the importance of travel cover.

As you plan your travels, keep these tips in mind, to ensure that you are covered for every eventuality:

  • Review the current cover that you have, and discuss this with your broker to find the option that best matches your needs and financial position.
  • Arrange your International Travel Insurance before you depart (i.e. not in the first few days of your holiday)
  • Understand the duration of your International Travel Insurance cover (in Turnberry’s case, we cover you for 90 days, with the option to extend that if needed)
  • If you take out international travel insurance after certain travel warnings about particularly dangerous locations (such as war zones or erupting volcanoes for instance), you may not be covered
  • Irresponsible actions – such as excessive drinking or other reckless behaviour – may also nullify your international travel cover
  • If you are travelling with your family and dependants, remember to specify their details on any top-up products that you may take (in Turnberry’s case, the essentials of international cover are included in all our Gap Cover options, and automatically extend to the family members listed on your policy).


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