If you are travelling to Europe you may require a visa... and travel insurance.
The Schengen Zone is an area made up of 30 European countries and states who are parties to the Schengen Agreement. For Australian travellers, a visa is required if the length of your travel in the Schengen Zone is greater than 90 days.
So why do I need travel insurance?
If you plan to stay within the Schengen Zone for 90 days or greater a common visa requirement for many member countries is that you have travel insurance with at least €30,000 in medical benefits and repatriation back to Australia. If you are travelling for longer than 90 days, make sure you meet travel insurance requirements of the Schengen country by comparing policies.
Meet Schengen entry requirements: Compare deals for trips over 90 days.
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The Schengen Zone should not be confused with the European Union (EU). While 22 of the Schengen member states are also members of the EU, they have different trade and travel regulations.
How do I apply for a visa?
You can typically apply for a Schengen visa for the Schengen country that you plan to spend the most time in. Make sure you apply for your visa in advanced of booking your trip in case it is denied, as travel insurance won't cover you for cancellations due to visa refusal.
Many credit cards come with complimentary travel insurance, but watch out for the following traps.
Cards with less than €30,000 in medical cover
While most policies will come with at least AUD$2.5 million of cover, a few offer far less. For example, the Victoria Teachers Mutual Bank Visa Platinum Credit Card only has AUD$50,000 in medical cover. With the fluctuations in the Aussie dollar, it’s wise to stay clear of travel insurance policies with a level of cover this low.
Cards that have a maximum trip length of 90 days
While some credit card travel insurance policies will cover you up to 18 months, most don’t have the typical length of cover of standalone policies. For example, the American Express Qantas Premium Card will only cover you for trips up to 62 consecutive days and a total of 120 days.
Cards that exclude travellers over 75
If you’re over 75, it’s unlikely your credit card’s travel insurance policy will cover you for medical expenses, which means you won’t be eligible for long-stay visas for most countries in the Schengen Zone.
Consider a standalone travel insurance policy for peace of mind
A standalone travel insurance policy will ensure you meet long-stay visa requirements and help you avoid some of the conditions and exclusions typically found on a credit card’s travel insurance policy.
If you’re staying for less than 90 days, you don’t need a visa and can travel between the countries within the Schengen Zone with ease. Travel insurance is not compulsory.
Travel insurance is still highly recommended
If you want cover for overseas medical and hospital treatment, flight cancellations and lost or stolen luggage, you should have travel insurance, regardless of where you are and how long you will be staying.
Schengen countries under the Reciprocal Healthcare Agreement
Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Belgium, Malta, Slovenia and Norway are Schengen Zone countries under the Reciprocal Healthcare Agreement (RHCA) with Australia. You are entitled to public healthcare benefits similar to Medicare. If you choose to rely on this method of cover, make sure you are aware the limitations of the RHCA
Before their 28-day trip to Greece, Marcus and Jane decided not to take out travel cover because it wasn’t required in the Schengen Area. While holidaying in Mykonos, Jane became ill and was hospitalised with a kidney complaint. After several days in hospital, Jane was evacuated back to Australia for further treatment. Because Jane and Marcus had no overseas medical cover, they were forced to take out a second mortgage on their home to pay for it. $65,000 Get travel insurance, even if it is not required.
Why travel insurance is will important
Total medical costs
Moral of the story
Before their 28-day trip to Greece, Marcus and Jane decided not to take out travel cover because it wasn’t required in the Schengen Area. While holidaying in Mykonos, Jane became ill and was hospitalised with a kidney complaint. After several days in hospital, Jane was evacuated back to Australia for further treatment. Because Jane and Marcus had no overseas medical cover, they were forced to take out a second mortgage on their home to pay for it.
Get travel insurance, even if it is not required.
Travel insurance will protect you wherever you are, as long as you nominate where you will be travelling and your insurer agrees to cover you. If you’re planning to visit countries outside the Schengen Zone during your trip, advise your insurance provider.
Your premium may be affected
Depending on the countries you plan to visit, your insurance premium may be higher because of additional risk factors such as high healthcare costs, political instability, lack of medical facilities or threats from natural disasters, as is often the case in developing countries.
There is a growing trend among many countries to make travel insurance compulsory, including adequate medical cover, as a condition of entry. This is because of the perceived additional pressure placed on taxpayer-funded local healthcare systems by ill or injured foreign tourists. Countries where this is occurring include:
- Cuba. If you don’t have medical cover when you arrive, you will be forced to take it out at the airport (often at a higher premium) before being granted entry.
- United Arab Emirates. A visa will not be issued without proof of adequate medical cover.
- Qatar. All visitors must have mandatory medical cover and all companies must provide medical cover for their expat employees.
- Turkey. All visitors under 65 on long-stay tourist visas must have unlimited comprehensive cover for inpatient treatment and minimum cover for outpatient treatment.
- Russia. Visitors from every country except the UK (NHS cover is valid in Russia) must have travel insurance with medical cover that is valid for the duration of their trip.
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