Travel and holidays

What are the most dangerous countries to visit on holiday?

Whether it’s a quick road trip, a weekend at a festival or a month long excursion to South America, everyone gets excited for the summer holidays. But in the midst of all the planning, people often don’t consider the risks involved with travelling abroad. You not only need to consider the value of the items you take with you, and whether you would be covered if they were to be lost or stolen, but also the dangers you could potentially face in the country you’re travelling to.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) provides guidance on which countries are safe for UK residents to travel to, and there may be some countries where they advise against ‘all but essential travel’ or ‘all travel.’ This would usually be applied to war and conflict zones, as well as countries suffering from civil or political unrest. You should also consider the risk of natural disaster in certain countries when deciding where to travel, such as earthquakes, hurricanes or volcanic eruption. Do some research on your destination before you head off, as travelling to a country deemed unsafe by the FCO could even invalidate a claim on your travel insurance policy - so it’s worth double checking.

To help you feel prepared before you jet off on your travels this summer, we’ve done some research into the world’s riskiest travel destinations:

What are the most dangerous countries to visit?

1. Thailand

Our research shows that 23% of all claims in 2017 were made in Thailand, a country known for its idyllic sandy beaches, ornate temples and gourmet cuisine. However, it’s important to bear in mind that the local laws and customs are very different in Thailand, so do your research before you travel as their penalties for certain offences can be very severe.

The FCO website also advises against ‘all but essential travel’ to provinces on the Thai-Malaysia border, including Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Southern Songkhla province, and to “avoid any protests, political gatherings, demonstrations or marches, and be wary of making political statements in public.”

2. Chile

Bordering Peru and Argentina, and home to San Pedro de Atacama (the driest desert in the world), around 80,000 British tourists visit Chile each year. However, our research shows that 15% of all travel claims were made in Chile in 2017, so be careful if you’re backpacking through Santiago this summer.

It’s worth bearing in mind that violent crime is not so much an issue in Chile as pickpocketing and carjacking, so read our hacks below to find out some easy ways to mitigate the risk of losing your money and belongings abroad.

3. USA

Tied in second place with Chile, our research shows that the USA also saw 15% of all claims made in 2017. The USA is a big place, and crime rates vary massively between states, so factor this into your decision when deciding where to travel - especially if you’re travelling alone.

You’ll also want to consider geographical features if you’re travelling to the US – the Hawaiian volcano of Kilauea, for example, has been active throughout 2018, with many local residents having to evacuate from the nearby areas - so keep an eye on the news to find out if you’ll be affected by any natural disasters.

4. Spain

Our research shows that 8% of all claims were made in Spain in 2017, a spot that sees around 12 million British tourists each year.

While travel in Spain isn’t considered particularly dangerous, it’s worth bearing in mind that there is currently some political tension in Barcelona and other areas of the Catalonia region - so if you’re travelling to Spain this summer, be aware that there may be some demonstrations and gatherings that can, on some occasions, turn confrontational. The FCO advice is to stay alert, and be aware that such demonstrations may impact public transport services.

5. Germany

Our research shows that 8% of all claims were made in Germany in 2017, with the FCO website stating that “terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Germany. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in public places visited by foreigners,” following two such attacks in 2016.

However, it’s also worth noting that around 2 million Brits visit Germany each year with very few issues, so don’t let the fear of an attack stop you from immersing yourself in the history and culture of Berlin.

What other countries featured on the list?

Nepal and Peru featured highly on the list of the most dangerous countries to visit, each with 8 per cent of all claims made. This was closely followed by France, with 7% of all claims made.

Only 4 per cent of claims were made in the Bahamas and Brazil, both popular tourist spots for Brits. However, while the Bahamas ranked low on the list in terms of the number of claims made, you’ll need to consider the time of year that you travel there, as the hurricane season normally runs from June to November.

What are the most common travel insurance claims?

Our study revealed that almost three quarters (71 per cent) of all travel claims last year were for emergency medical expenses abroad, with the average claim costing an eye-watering £1,319.

It’s a common misconception that your medical expenses abroad will automatically be covered by your EHIC card, and government research shows that 25 per cent of 15-24-year-olds incorrectly believe the UK Government will cover their medical expenses if something goes wrong abroad – but this isn’t necessarily the case.

To make sure you’re not left out of pocket should you fall ill or get injured abroad, consider whether you need travel insurance cover for your trip, with medical expenses included. The medical cover section of your policy will cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad, and potentially the cost of repatriation as well.

It’s also important to make sure you declare any pre-existing medical conditions, as these will usually be excluded by the insurer. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions and you’re planning on travelling abroad, have a plan in place should something unexpected happen.

The study also found that lost or damaged baggage accounted for 11 per cent of all claims made in 2017, with 4 per cent being made for dental expenses and just 2 per cent for missed departures.

Who are the most ‘accident prone’ travellers?

Our research revealed that females are the most likely to be involved in travel or holiday mishaps, making up 62 per cent of claims last year. 22 year olds made the riskiest travellers overall, accounting for 63 per cent of claims, with 19 year olds making up 9 per cent and 25 year olds just 4 per cent – so be careful if you’re a 22 year old female travelling through Thailand this summer!

What other factors should be considered when deciding where to travel?

When it comes to safety when travelling, there are a number of things you should consider alongside the risks associated with the country that you’ll be travelling to:

Who are you travelling with?

If you’re travelling with a group, get to know them before you head off to give yourself some peace of mind that you, and your belongings, will be safe when travelling together. Travelling as a group will also make it easier to keep an eye on everybody’s belongings when you’re out and about.

If you’re travelling alone around various countries, then it’s a good idea to let someone at home know where you’ll be heading and when, as well as the details of your accommodation when you arrive. Let them know when you’ll next check in, and stick to it.

It’s also a good idea to provide them with contact details for your accommodation, just so that they can raise the alarm should they need to. If you’re heading out on an excursion or day trip, it might also be a good idea to let your accommodation reception know where you’re going, and when you’re expected back.

How easy would it be to get home if things go wrong?

Whether you’re just trying to get back to hotel after a long day on your feet, or you need to be repatriated to the UK after being taken ill abroad, make sure you have some sort of contingency plan in place. Be careful when getting into the back of taxis, from both a financial and a safety perspective. In Cuba, for example, cars in general are in short supply, so getting a taxi around town can be a bit of a free-for-all. It’s a good idea to book a taxi in advance to make sure you’re hitching a ride with a legitimate taxi firm. They will also generally charge different fares for locals and tourists – so familiarise yourself with how much you might need to pay, and budget accordingly.

Consider what would happen if you got ill or injured while you’re away. Dependent on the circumstances, you might need to be repatriated to the UK for further treatment, which can end up being extremely costly. A comprehensive travel insurance policy will usually cover the costs of repatriation should you fall ill or get injured abroad, as well as the cost of the medical expenses - so check your policy to see what’s covered before you head off.

Do you need to get any vaccinations for the country you’re visiting?

If you’re travelling outside the UK, then you might need to be vaccinated against a number of serious diseases dependant on where you’re travelling to. Some countries will even require an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) before you’re allowed in, so do your research before you head off to make sure you won’t be turned away at the gate!

For more up-to-date information on which vaccinations you’ll need to arrange for each country, please visit the NHS travel website.

5 hacks to protect yourself when travelling abroad

1. Make sure everything’s secure on the home front

Before you head off, make sure your home will be safe while you’re away on holiday. Check the clauses for ‘unoccupied’ properties under your home insurance to see what’s required of you if the house is sitting empty. This could include collecting post, or switching off the boiler (dependant on the time of year). If you’re going to be away from home for longer than a week or two, it may also be worth asking a friend, relative or neighbour to check on the property at various intervals. You might even be able to convince them to feed your cat and water the plants at the same time!

To deter opportunistic thieves, it’s also a good idea to make it look as if there’s someone home by leaving a car on the drive, and a curtain or two open. You could even put your lights on a timer, which is a cost effective and energy efficient way of making it look as if people are visiting the house regularly.

2. Do your research

Find out everything you can about your destination country, as well as your method of transport and accommodation details to make sure you’re as prepared as possible before you head off. Find out what the potential risks are for the country you’re visiting by visiting the government website, and figure out the best way to mitigate them. Find out what vaccinations you’ll need for each country you’re travelling to.

If you’re driving, finding out whether you need a Green Card or International Driving Permit (IDP) to take your car across country borders. The Green Card will show foreign officials that you have the legal minimum car insurance in place (third party), while the IDP translates your driving licence should you get pulled over for speeding or be involved in an accident abroad.

3. Take measures to protect your money

It’s a sad fact that tourists are often a target for thieves, as they tend to carry more cash and aren’t as familiar with the local area. Protect your money abroad by splitting your cash when you’re out and about - then, if your bag gets stolen, you won’t lose everything in one fell swoop. It might even be a good idea to leave some of your cards at home – after all, you’re unlikely to need your library card whilst you’re travelling!

Invest in a theft-proof bag that zips up at the back, rather than the front, as this will make it difficult for thieves to open your bag without alerting you. You might also want to let your bank know you’re going away to prevent them from putting a stop on your bank card when it’s used abroad.

4. Take a pen and paper

Now that we live in a digital age, most of the important information we need is now stored on a laptop, phone or tablet, meaning that carrying a pen and paper can often feel surplus to requirements.

But imagine what would happen if you were to be struck abroad with no means of communication or satellite navigation, and no contact information for your friends or family to let them know what’s happened.

Jot down all of the important information you might need, including the contact numbers for close friends, relatives and your travel insurance company, on a piece of paper before you go on holiday – you can always use a payphone should you need to.

5. Make sure you’re covered

Let’s face it - insurance is probably not at the top of your priority list when planning your exciting get away. However it’s really important to make sure you’re covered against those unpredicted moments involved in any holiday; from losing your bag, to flight delays and getting ill abroad.

When it comes to travel insurance there are a number of different types of cover available. Policies should cover you for medical expenses, repatriation services and baggage loss or theft, but you might need to consider taking out specialist cover if you’ll be undertaking any ‘extreme sports’ while you’re travelling, such as winter sports insurance. Shop around to make sure you get the right travel insurance for your holiday.

It’s also worth considering what will be covered under your home insurance when travelling abroad. Some insurers will extend cover under your home insurance policy to protect gadgets and valuable items for up to 30 days worldwide, so check your policy to see what’s covered. Equally, will your home be sufficiently covered while the property sits empty? Or do you need to arrange to meet any special policy conditions while the property is unoccupied, such as collecting the mail on a weekly basis? If you’re going to be away for longer than 30 days, you might need to consider taking out specialist unoccupied home insurance, so do your research.

If you’re planning on driving abroad, you should also consider what car insurance you need to have in place, and whether your existing car insurance policy will cover you for driving abroad. In most cases, the minimum legal requirement for car insurance is third party insurance, but find out what the specific rules are for driving in the country you’re travelling to. Dependent on where you’re travelling, you might also need to arrange a Green Card, which should be provided by your insurer free of charge – so make sure to call them and ask about it.

This article was last updated 19/06/2018. To make sure you’re up-to-date with the most recent safety information for various travel destinations, please visit the government website.

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