Looking forward to reacquainting yourself with the Costas this summer? After dipping sharply due to COVID-19, the number of Brits taking their summer holidays in Spain is expected to rise to something approaching pre-pandemic levels again this year.
By far and away the most popular foreign holiday destination for Brits, in 2019 an estimated 18 million British tourists visited the country. With travel restrictions now eased, forecasts suggest that a quarter of all UK residents who go abroad this year will head to the Iberian country.
That’s great news for sun-starved holidaymakers and great for the Spanish tourist economy. But there are concerns that, after two years of living within the confines of tight COVID rules, people could be tempted to throw caution to the wind as they really let their hair down on holiday this year.
It isn’t just fears of, shall we say, over-exuberant behaviour from some holidaymakers as they pack into Spanish resorts. Or whether a general memory loss about social distancing could even trigger another wave of COVID infections.
There are also concerns that people may forget about basic precautions like travel insurance, which has been treated as a must-have for any form of travel throughout the pandemic because of the heightened risk of cancellations.
Before the pandemic, it was a well-known fact that millions of Brits travelled abroad on holiday every year without travel insurance. There has been something of an attitude change since, largely because of the increased risks associated with coronavirus. Those who did decide to travel abroad did so taking every extra precaution they could.
But with mass overseas tourism back on the cards and rules relaxed, will that mean a return to the days of treating travel insurance as an optional extra?
It shouldn’t do. There are several good reasons why travel insurance for Spain remains an essential purchase for any trip.
One is that Spain hasn’t yet lifted all its COVID restrictions on travel. If you’re an adult and haven’t been fully vaccinated, you won’t be allowed in the country full stop. There’s no point even booking a holiday to Spain unless you plan on getting double jabbed before you go.
Care needs to be taken if you are travelling with children who haven’t had both jabs. Unvaccinated children are allowed into Spain. But 12 to 18 year olds will have to take a COVID test before departure. If that comes out positive, you’d have little choice but to cancel your holiday last minute.
As that would likely fall outside the cancellation windows offered by travel companies, you would be at risk of losing at least some of the money you have spent on your holiday. Travel insurance is the only guaranteed way to get your money back.
Another reason why holidaymakers heading to Spain should prioritise travel insurance is the potential cost of medical care should they fall ill or injure themselves there.
Time to bust a myth – medical care in Spain is NOT free to foreign visitors, not even to citizens of other EU countries (not that that applies to British holidaymakers now, of course). In fact, it can be very expensive.
What EU citizens can do is get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which entitles the holder to public healthcare at the same rates as Spanish citizens. Some services are free, some carry a small charge. But the point is, it’s not automatic. If you turn up at a hospital without an EHIC card, you will be charged full whack for whatever care you need.
UK citizens can still take advantage of the same benefits as the EHIC through the new post-Brexit GHIC card. But again, you have to apply for and carry your GHIC to get the discounted care. Without it, a hospital stay for a broken arm or a nasty bout of gastroenteritis or for COVID-19 could end up costing you thousands.
Even then, having a GHIC is not a completely foolproof solution for avoiding having to pay for medical care. Spain has an excellent healthcare system, but the services it provides for free are not as comprehensive as the NHS. You could still be charged for treatments you are used to receiving for free at home.
Moreover, the GHIC is only valid at public hospitals and health centres. Some tourist areas of Spain remain relatively remote from major residential areas and are not well served by public health amenities. In an emergency or if public services are very busy, you could be taken to a private clinic or hospital. They are obliged under Spanish law to treat all patients, but not to accept the GHIC or EHIC. In other words, you would be charged private rates.
Whether you have a GHIC or not, whether you end up getting treated in a public or private hospital, travel insurance will cover all medical costs. It’s really not worth the risk of travelling to Spain without it.