Accidents and illness when travelling independently

This advice applies to Scotland. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Wales

This page explains what you can do if you’re an independent traveller and you fall ill or have an accident while you’re on holiday abroad.

What you need to know

This page explains how to deal with illness and accidents abroad if you’re an independent traveller.

You’re an independent traveller if you organised your holiday yourself, booking flights, accommodation and services separately.

If you booked a package holiday, you will be protected by special regulations. This means your holiday company should help you sort out any problems because of accidents or illness.

Adventure travel or volunteering

If you're planning a trip abroad that involves adventure activities or volunteering work, you should make sure you know the risks.

This adventure activities checklist includes questions you should ask your travel provider, as well as other travel safety aspects to consider before committing to a trip.

What should your travel insurance cover?

As an independent traveller you can’t rely on a holiday rep to help you if you have a medical emergency so it’s especially important to have medical insurance. Without insurance medical emergencies abroad can cost thousands of pounds. The most comprehensive travel insurance policies will offer at least £2 million of medical cover. This cover normally includes the cost of an air ambulance to get you home, should this be necessary. When you’re buying travel insurance, make sure that it includes this kind of medical cover.

Should you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)?

If you're a UK resident and have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), you can still use it to get healthcare in EU countries until it expires.

If you don't have an EHIC or it has expired, you can apply for a UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) on the NHS website. You can use a GHIC to get healthcare in EU countries at a reduced cost or sometimes for free. If you’re visiting Norway you can use your UK passport to get medically necessary healthcare there.

If you’re travelling outside the EU you may be entitled to reduced cost or free  healthcare if the country has a healthcare arrangement with the UK. You can check the rules for different countries on the NHS choices website.

Who should you contact in an emergency?

If you have travel insurance you should contact your insurance company if you have a medical emergency. Your insurance policy should have given you an international number that you can use to get in touch with your insurers. Your call will usually be dealt with by an assistance company which is appointed by the insurer to arrange the necessary medical treatment.

You can also contact your local British Consul for help. Consular staff can offer practical advice, help and support with things like finding a local doctor.

Will you have to pay for your medical treatment?

If you have travel insurance

If you have travel insurance you will normally be expected to pay for minor claims.

For example, you’ll probably be expected to pay a bill of £50 charged by a local doctor for a consultation and drugs and claim the money back when you get home. Make sure you keep receipts for any money you spend. If you are hospitalised, the insurer’s assistance company will usually deal with medical bills as they come in.

If you have an EHIC

When you use an EHIC, you may have to pay for your treatment and then  claim some or all of the money back. You can check what the rules are in different countries on the NHS choices website. If you have to pay for treatment and are entitled to the money back you should try and make a claim while you’re still abroad. Make sure you keep all your receipts and paperwork. If you can’t get a refund while abroad you can get a claim form from Department of Work and Pensions by phoning 0191 2181999.

What should you do if you think your illness or accident was caused by your hotel or accommodation?

If you think your illness or accident was caused by your hotel or accommodation, you might need to think about making a personal injury claim. However, as an independent traveller it can be very complicated and expensive to make a personal injury claim. You are unlikely to be able to make your claim in a British court. Instead, you will probably have to make a claim in the country where you had your accident or became ill. If you are thinking of making a claim for an accident you had on holiday you should get legal advice.

Next steps

To find a solicitor who can give you legal advice on making a personal injury claim, contact The Law Society of Scotland:

Telephone: 0131 226 7411


Other useful information

Page last reviewed on 20 February 2020