Female tourist at Machu Picchu

Compare Travel Insurance Policies for South America

Travelling to South America? Find travel insurance for your next adventure

Australians are discovering that there’s simply so much to see and do in South America. From the mysterious ruins of the ancient Incas to the sandy beaches of Rio de Janeiro, a South American holiday can take in such a diverse range of sights and experiences. Before you set off on your dream trip to this wonderful part of the world, it’s important that you take out travel insurance cover for your holiday. Travel insurance offers vital financial protection against an extensive range of travel risks including

  • Overseas medical emergencies
  • Theft and stolen items
  • Personal liability
  • Travel delays and cancellations

A travel insurance policy for South America gives you the security and confidence you need when travelling the continent. If you would like to learn more about Travel Insurance for South America continue reading this comprehensive guide, or if you are ready to compare travel insurance for South America:

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5 reasons why Travel Insurance for South America is essential

What would you do if the illness of your travelling companion forced you to call off your trip one week into a four-week journey through Argentina and Brazil? Without travel insurance, you’d simply lose any money you had already handed over in deposits, not to mention possible cancellation fees. In addition to these common travel risks, some travel concerns unique to South America include:

  • High altitude regions. Some of the most beautiful sites of South America such as the Inca Trail are synonymous with high altitude sickness. The fatigue and nausea of a travelling at altitude could require costly medical attention - something that travel insurance can cover.
  • Malaria and other infections. In tropical regions such as the Amazon, there is a high risk of catching malaria from mosquitoes. Additionally, due to the humid climate conditions, the spread of flu and other viruses is quite significant.
  • Pickpockets and theft. Although South America provides many memorable experiences, many of its countries are impoverished, meaning there is a risk that people will try to steal your money and possessions.
  • Drugs and crime. While South America is generally safe, there has always been a long history of drug trade in areas like Columbia, and more recently Bolivia. While you should strictly avoid all drug related risks, you may be encounter circumstances where you are exposed to drugs related crime unintentionally e.g. your hotel is closed due to a police investigation for drug related activity.
  • Adventure activities. With its vast, diverse landscape, South America is perfect for adventure activities like hiking and paragliding. These activities of course, expose you to the risk of injury, and even death. Travel insurance is the most important consideration if you plan to partake in these activities.

Travel insurance is designed to cushion the costs that may arise from any of these risks.

The following is a case studies that highlights the importance of having travel insurance when travelling to South America.

Chilean ACL Surgery

It was no longer than a year ago, where Michael became a huge advocate of carrying a comprehensive travel insurance policy. Michael was approaching the last two weeks of his three month trip around South America where he had planned finish with a four day trek of the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. Before the final leg, Michael and his mates had a short two day stay in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. On one sunny afternoon, he decided to go sand-boarding on the infamous sand dunes at Valle de la Muerte... which turned out to be a not-so-bright idea.

As Michael carved up the dunes in style, he became a touch over confident and hurt his knee trying to land a trick. A physician at the local medical centre advised Michael that he had severe ligament tear and that he would need a proper MRI scan to determine which ligaments were damaged. Judging by his inability to walk and extreme swelling at the knee, Michael knew that all signs pointed to surgery.

On crutches and pain killers, Michael spent the rest of his night organising cover with his travel insurance provider, Travel Insurance Direct. To his surprise, Michael was able speak to someone on the phone and explain his situation. Because Michael had "sports coverage", he was told that he would be well covered medically. Michael was able to send through the necessary documentation to permit an MRI and surgery to repair his ACL on the same night. The cost of the surgery and hospital stay totalled over $15,000, but it was effectively taken care of by his travel insurance provider, allowing Michael to undergo his medical procedure without the added mental and financial stress.

During his stay at the city's top private hospital, Michael was was provided amenities including Wi-Fi, quality meals and his own private room before he was transported to the airport for his return home. The ability to have a smooth recovery process, without financial roadblocks was made possible by having an appropriate travel insurance cover.

What was covered?

  • Cost of changing his flight date and upgrade to business class for extra leg room
  • Medical expenses e.g. painkillers, initial check up
  • Return transport to his accommodation
  • Transport to the airport
  • Ambulance to the hospital
  • Surgery
  • Anesthetist
  • Hospital bed hire
  • Nursing

Final Cost Covered?

$16,000+

Michael's Advice?

  • Take out insurance and know exactly what events you are covered for. Many insurers do not cover sand-boarding.
  • Keep a copy of your insurance policy number in your bag or have a photo of your insurance card with yo.
  • Don't get too overzealous with the tricks on a sand-board, even an experienced snowboarder can be prone to injury.
  • If you partake in any sporting activities overseas, avoid doing drugs or alcohol as injuries that occur under the influence will not be covered. Your insurance provider will usually grab the medical report from the ambulance that will include your toxicology.


Who is travelling to South America and how much did travel insurance cost them?

From a study of 10,000 quotes requested through finder.com.au's quote engine, the most common age of traveller to South America were 18 to 25 years olds. The average cost of travel insurance for a 18 to 25 year old is $91.80.

Data last obtained on October 2015. Average cost based on a two week trip to South America.

What does a policy at $91.80 for an 18 to 25 year old traveller look like?

Policy FeaturesBenefit levels
Cancellation fees and lost deposits
  • Unlimited
Dental Expenses
  • $750
Hijack
  • $2,500
Overseas emergency medical assistance
  • Unlimited
Rental vehicle excess
  • $4,000
Travel documents and travellers cheque
  • $5,000
Accidental death
  • $25,000
Credit card fraud and replacement
  • $5,000
Luggage and personal effects
  • $8,000
Personal liability
  • $2,500,000
Resumption of journey
  • $3,000
Travel delay
  • $1,500
Overseas emergency medical and hospital expenses
  • Unlimited
Default excess on claims
  • $100

What adventure activities should I add as extras?

If you plan to have adventures while in South America, you may want to take out extra cover for activities considered more risky by insurers. Make sure you check with the policy provider to double check if they cover for specific adventure activities. This will leave you with the best possible travel insurance for your trip to South America. These extras could include:

  • Biking the Death Road in Bolivia. Estimated at 300 deaths per year, this is considered the world’s most dangerous road yet it is a road travelled regularly by many tourists.
  • Hiking Perito Moreno. An enormous and mysterious glacier in Argentina, and one of its most important tourist attractions.
  • Canoeing down a river in the Bolivian Pampas. A river which is teeming with caiman, piranhas and giant anacondas
  • Jungle trekking on an Amazon survival tour from Manaus. in search of anacondas, jaguars, piranhas, poison dart frogs and vampire bats
  • Climbing Nevado Ojos del Salado in the Andes. This is the world’s highest active volcano, sitting at 8,693km in elevation.
  • Diving with sharks in Atol das Rocas, Brazil. An adrenaline pumping activity, where you dive in waters where sharks gather in swarms of up to thirty or more.

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Am I covered for Cuba?

Cuba is a fascinating country that has been left in something of a time warp since its estrangement with the USA all those years ago. While travel to Cuba is as safe today as travelling to most South American countries, some insurers still may not cover you for.

American Express Travel Insurance for instance will not cover travel to Cuba at all, while others such as 1Cover classify it as part of the North America region and offer a range of cover options. Make sure you read the PDS to ensure your policy for South America covers Cuba.

Travel Insurance ProviderCover for Cuba?
1CoverYes
AIGNo
AMEX Travel InsuranceNo
Budget DirectYes
CitibankNo
Columbus DirectYes
CoverMoreYes
EasyYes
Fast CoverYes
Go InsuranceYes
InsureandGoYes
ITREKYes
SimplyYes
Ski-insuranceYes
Southern Cross Travel InsuranceYes
Travel Insurance DirectYes
Travel Insurance SaverYes
Travel InsuranzYes
Virgin MoneyYes
WoolworthsYes
WorldcareYes
YouGoYes
ZujiYes

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Am I covered for chartered boat tours?

Yes, but a proper license is usually required

While travelling in South America, you may decide to take a boat trip down the Amazon Basin and it is essential that you are covered by your travel insurance.

While the boat may look seaworthy and be skippered by a capable enough looking captain, your insurance cover is entirely dependent on whether the captain is licensed or not. Boats that are legal for charter have papers stating that they are licensed passenger vessels operated by a licensed captain, If you are unsure, ask to see their papers.

Common boating routes in the Amazon Basin

  • Napo river in Ecuador,
  • The Urubamba, Ucayali,
  • Huallaga and Marañon rivers in Peru and the Rio Solimões
  • Rio Madeira,
  • Rio Purus,
  • Rio Juruá,
  • Rio Negro and
  • Rio Japurá in Brazil

The benefits of taking out backpacker insurance

salt-flatsThere are several unique benefits offered by Backpacker travel insurance;

  • Up to 18-month's coverage length. Unlike normal travel insurance, which puts a cap on the length of your trip, usually between 30 and 60 days, Backpacker travel insurance covers you continuously for up to 18 months, which is great if you plan backpack over the whole of South America over an extended period of time.
  • Wider region cover. Backpacker travel insurance insures you for a whole host of countries on one trip, meaning you don't need to arrange cover for each country you plan to visit in South America individually
  • Designed for workers. Backpacker travel insurance will often incorporate cover for working abroad and travellers who commonly teach English or other skills to locals in South America in order to fund their travels
  • Automatically covers some adventure activities. Backpacker travel insurance covers a range of adventure activities popular with younger travellers, which are not usually covered by regular travel insurance. This is highly beneficial for a South America trip that presents so many opportunities for adventurous activities.

If something goes wrong, what do I need to make a claim?

What do I need?

If you need to make a claim on your travel insurance, particularly a medical claim, you will need to have original documents relating not only to your medical expenses, but also to the cause of your accident or illness. That’s why it’s important to get everything in writing, such as contracts with tour operators or adventure activity providers, so your insurer can accurately assess your claim.

General steps when making a claim

  • Collect all documents. This includes police reports, details of a tour company/airline/hotel, receipts for belongings, medical bills etc. For instance if your wallet has been pick-pocketed, you will need a police report and a receipt or proof of purchase of your wallet.
  • Contact your insurer. This is where you will provide all the details of an incident so that they can access your claim. You may need to scan these documents and send them through along with the providers claims form.
  • Request upfront payment from the insurer. In some medical emergency cases, South American hospitals will require an upfront payment from your insurer. This is where should attempt get a guarantee of payment or an upfront payment from your insurer.
  • Make sure you double check the policy fine print. Check for exclusions to make sure you are covered as well as any wording that allows you to claim in situations where your claim is denied.

Case Study: South American tour accident

The following is a case study which highlights the importance of getting it in writing and reading the terms and conditions of service providers and what can happen if you don’t.

Read and hold on to all documents

Damien was excited to begin a 3 day tour of the Salar de Uyuni desert with his friends from back home, after watching videos of the picturesque wonder on YouTube. To start their South American adventure, they ventured into the desert with a Bolivian Tour Company. Their tour however, was unfortunately was cut short on the second day due to a combination of the bus drivers negligence and the wet surface of the flats.

The vehicle owned by a Bolivian tour company was being driven at excessive speed on the Salt Flats, when the driver lost control, causing the vehicle to roll over and crashed. Damien was one of several passengers who suffered severe injuries, fracturing the shin of his left leg as the bus flipped and landed on its side. Damien required serious medical attention.

When the other passengers contacted the tour company office, they refused to accept responsibility for their driver’s negligence and refused to provide the information needed for insurance claims. This was until the police were finally called in and the information was handed over. Damien able provide his insurer with the details of the tour company, along with the police report. After his cover provider confirmed the claim, Damien was able to receive upfront payment for the the surgery at a hospital in Sucre along with payment for the cost of the hospital stay.


Who do I contact in an emergency?

If you find yourself in an emergency in South America, some of helpful contacts include:

  • You travel insurer. You insurance provider will have an 24/7 helpline for claims and medical emergencies.
  • Australian Embassies and Consulates. You can find the contact details of Australian Embassies and Consulates in South America below.

When is the best time to travel to South America?

South America is a vast and diverse continent and knowing when to travel there and avoid the rainy season depends on which part you intend to visit. The rainy season, when it can be humid and unpleasant, is usually late in the year and during the first few months of the following year. For example:

Region/Country

When to go

Andes

October to April

Bolivia

November to March

Amazon

November to May

EquadorNovember to May
ParaguayDecember to April
SurinameDecember to July
French Guiana.January to June
Buenos Aires, Chile, Venezuela and the cities of Brazil.All year round

What currency do I need for my trip?

Currencies in South America

South America is comprised of a number of different countries, each with its own unique currency. These include:

  • The Peso in Argentina
  • The Boliviano in Bolivia
  • The Real in Brazil
  • The Nuevo Sol in Peru
  • The Bolivar in Venezuela.

If I plan to travel multiple countries, do I need currency for each country?

If travelling to more than one country, it is a good idea to have some local currency for each destination you plan to visit; at least enough to cover immediate needs when you arrive such as taxis and meals. After that, you can exchange a larger amount for local money and will often get a better exchange rate than you would at home.

The good news is that US dollars are accepted in most South American countries, so access to money is never further away than the nearest ATM. You can also take a travel money card with you, loaded with US dollars. These are offered by Visa, Mastercard and American Express and are widely accepted throughout South America.

Find out the best ways of taking your money to South America


Common South American travel scams

In South America and in many other parts of the world, there are some common scams you need to be aware of to ensure that no one takes advantage of you. These include:

  • Fake or dishonest taxi drivers. Make sure you’re travelling with a legitimate taxi driver before you set off. You may also need to agree on a price beforehand and familiarise yourself with the best route so the driver doesn’t try to jack up the price by taking you the long way round.
  • Keep an eye out for pickpockets. Especially at train stations and other crowded areas.
  • Avoid trouble areas. No matter where you are in the world, every city has an area where locals and tourists alike will recommend you don’t visit. Use your common sense and stay away from such areas.
  • Fake police officers. Be wary of scammers posing as police officers to try and swindle you out of your money—or worse.
  • Be careful with your passport. Make sure you’re aware of situations where you are required to hand over your passport (ie, border crossings), so you don’t let it out of your sight except when you absolutely have to.
  • Get the price and description of your hotel room in writing. This will prevent dodgy operators from claiming you ‘misheard’ something over the phone.
  • Don’t let anyone else get their hands on your luggage. Also, don’t leave your personal belongings unattended in a public place.
  • Check for extra items. Check items on the bill when you’re dining out.
  • Watch out for those claiming they want to practice their English on you. It starts with a friendly approach, but quickly turns to a sob story about poverty and increasingly aggressive pleas for money.

South America travel tips

So you’ve booked and paid for your South American adventure and now can’t wait to head off on your journey? Make sure you check out this handy list of tips before you hop on a plane.

  • Use your common sense. Some areas of South America have a pretty bad reputation for crime, drugs, corruption and a few other nasties. But don’t let this put you off visiting this beautiful part of the world. Use your common sense and you will most likely avoid any potential problems.
  • Buses are usually the best way to get around. Internal flights are quite expensive in South America, so be prepared to ride the bus to get around.
  • Don’t try and see it all at once. South America is a big continent with so much to see and do. Unless you’re planning an extended stay, don’t try to pack too much into one trip. Pick a couple of must-sees and then build an itinerary from there.
  • Learn Spanish. If you’re keen to broaden your horizons, consider taking Spanish lessons before you arrive. It’ll make it a whole lot easier to get around.
  • Keep a credit card separate. Don’t keep all your money and cards in your wallet—keeping one card separate can be a great help in an emergency if your wallet is stolen.
  • Scan your important travel documents. Keep all your files on a USB drive and on the cloud if neccessary.
  • Make sure you have all necessary vaccinations. Do this before travelling.
  • Don’t call attention to yourself. Don’t wave large amounts of money around or wear expensive jewellery. Stay away from dark alleys and dangerous areas of town.

Tips for purchasing Travel Insurance for South America

  • Beware of purchasing from a travel insurance agent. Many travellers simply purchase a policy from their travel agent when booking their trip. However, this is not always the best option as travel agents may add a sizeable commission on top of the price of the policies they sell, so you can end up paying much more than you should for cover.
  • Compare quotes for cover online. The best approach to take is to buy cover direct from an insurer online. It’s quicker and easier than ever to buy travel insurance direct, with a wide range of insurance providers vying for your business.
  • Take the time to research. If you’re looking for travel insurance cover for your South American holiday, the best thing you can do is plenty of research and find the right policy for your needs.
  • Consider what cover you need. First, consider the type of trip you will be planning. Where will you be going, how long will you be going for and what activities and experiences do you plan to enjoy? Next, think about the type of policy you want. Do you want comprehensive cover or a cheaper, no-frills policy? Is the cover just for you or for the whole family, and do you want cover for one trip or for multiple trips?
  • Read the terms and conditions. When you’ve found a few policies that sound suitable for your needs, read the product disclosure statement of each to find out exactly what each policy covers. Find out the benefits and limits that apply to each option, plus don’t forget to familiarise yourself with the ever-present list of exclusions.
  • Compare different options available. Once you’ve answered these questions you can start comparing insurers and their policies using finder.com.au’s handy comparison tools. It’s also a good idea to obtain quotes from a number of insurance providers to get a good idea of how much you will have to pay for cover. Remember, you’ll need to also take a policy’s features into account when ascertaining the true value of cover.

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What does travel insurance cover in general?

Travel insurance offers you financial protection against a whole host of common travel risks in South America including;

  • overseas medical emergencies. This cost could include hospital stays, emergency surgeries and even medical evacuations e.g see Michael's ACL Tear
  • cancellation fees and lost deposits. This covers the costs that arise when unforeseen circumstances force you to cancel your trip e.g. sudden flooding in the Amazon.
  • lost or stolen luggage. Travel insurance will cover luggage that is lost or stolen between and on flights in accordance to the terms of their policy.
  • theft of cash and travel documents. If you are pick-pocketed as you travel through the South Americas, you will be covered for your cash or the cost of replacing a travel document e.g. a passport, assuming all necessary documents are provided to the insurer.
  • personal liability. Personal liability will help you cover for things such as damaged equipments that your hire e.g. damaged sandboards.
  • rental vehicle excess. This will protect you against expenses that occur if you are involved in an accident involving rental vehicles.
  • flight delays. Flight delays can often occur in South America so it is important that you are covered for unexpected delays and cancellations.

Having the right level of cover in place lets you simply enjoy your South American holiday without having to worry about how you will cope if disaster strikes.


When won't my claim be paid?

The following exclusions will typically apply to most travel insurance policies. Your claim will not be paid if:

  • It arises from a pre-existing medical condition not covered on your policy.
  • You travel to a region which the Australian government has issued a warning against visiting.
  • It is related to a pandemic or epidemic, or if it is related to a sexually transmitted disease.
  • It arises from pregnancy or childbirth.
  • You do not take reasonable action to limit your loss.
  • If your loss is a result of irresponsible behaviour on your part, such as leaving baggage unattended in a public place.
  • It relates to anxiety or any mental or nervous disorder.
  • It arises from you being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • It is the result of any intentional self-inflicted injury or attempted suicide.
  • It arises from you acting illegally or unlawfully.
  • It is a result of a government authority detaining, confiscating or destroying anything.
  • It is the result of you riding a motorcycle above a certain engine capacity.
  • You participate in certain extreme sports or adventure activities.
  • You undertake paid work on your trip which is not for your usual employer in Australia, and which was not organised before you began your journey.
  • It is related to acts of war or terrorism.

With a sensible approach and a willingness to shop around, you can be guaranteed of finding the right type and level of cover for your South American adventure.


Tips for purchasing travel insurance for South America

  • Beware of purchasing from a travel insurance agent. Many travellers simply purchase a policy from their travel agent when booking their trip. However, this is not always the best option as travel agents may add a sizeable commission on top of the price of the policies they sell, so you can end up paying much more than you should for cover.
  • Compare quotes for cover online. The best approach to take is to buy cover direct from an insurer online. It’s quicker and easier than ever to buy travel insurance direct, with a wide range of insurance providers vying for your business.
  • Take the time to research. If you’re looking for travel insurance cover for your South American holiday, the best thing you can do is plenty of research and find the right policy for your needs.
  • Consider what cover you need. First, consider the type of trip you will be planning. Where will you be going, how long will you be going for and what activities and experiences do you plan to enjoy? Next, think about the type of policy you want. Do you want comprehensive cover or a cheaper, no-frills policy? Is the cover just for you or for the whole family, and do you want cover for one trip or for multiple trips?
  • Read the terms and conditions. When you’ve found a few policies that sound suitable for your needs, read the product disclosure statement of each to find out exactly what each policy covers. Find out the benefits and limits that apply to each option, plus don’t forget to familiarise yourself with the ever-present list of exclusions.
  • Compare different options available. Once you’ve answered these questions you can start comparing insurers and their policies using finder.com.au’s handy comparison tools. It’s also a good idea to obtain quotes from a number of insurance providers to get a good idea of how much you will have to pay for cover. Remember, you’ll need to also take a policy’s features into account when ascertaining the true value of cover.

Compare travel insurance policies for South America

* The offers compared on this page are chosen from a range of products finder.com.au has access to track details from and is not representative of all the products available in the market. Products are displayed in no particular order or ranking. The use of terms 'Best' and 'Top' are not product ratings and are subject to our disclaimer. You should consider seeking independent financial advice and consider your personal financial circumstances when comparing products.
Picture: Shutterstock

William Eve

Will is a personal finance writer for finder.com.au specialising in content on insurance. While he cannot give personal advice to clients, Will enjoys explaining the intricacies of different types of protective cover to help individuals and businesses find affordable cover that won't leave them underinsured.

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