Thousands of holidaymakers are running the risk of spending thousands of pounds on medical bills as they travel abroad without insurance.

According to the 2011 ABTA travel trends report, 21% of British holidaymakers travel abroad uninsured, mistakenly believing the government will cover their medical bills in case of an accident. This figure rises above 25% for young adults under 25 years of age.

Moreover, 17% of Brits travelling abroad rely solely on EHIC, the European Health Insurance Card to cover their medical bills and believe that an EHIC will cover their journey back to England should they become ill. However ABTA warns that the EHIC only provides access to basic medical care and does not cover repatriation costs.

Lynda St Cooke of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office commented on the findings: “If British travellers get into difficulties overseas, there are things the nearest British Embassy or Consulate can do, including contacting friends and family for them and giving them information on how to safely transfer money from the UK. But consular staff cannot pay hospital bills for British travellers, nor fly them home if they run out of holiday money.”

John de Vial, ABTA Head of Financial Protection said: “It is very worrying that so many people are putting their health and finances at risk by travelling abroad without insurance. Many wrongly assume that it is the Foreign Office’s responsibility to pay for their hospital bills, particularly younger travellers. In the current economic climate customers should be careful to purchase insurance at the time of booking their holiday to obtain cancellation cover for redundancy as well as any potential illness prior to travelling. ”

These high numbers of uninsured travellers can be partially attributed to FSA (Financial Services Authority) regulations on insurance sold by travel agencies. Since 2007, these regulations boggle travel agents down with extra costs and red tape dissuading them from selling travel insurance. Therefore travel insurance sold through travel agencies now account for less than 17% of the total sales since agencies chose not to sell travel insurance because of the regulations.

Greg Lawson, spokesperson for the travel insurance company Columbus Direct said: “No one wants an unexpected bill and certainly not on holiday. We would join with Association of British Travel Agents and the Foreign Office to recommend that, as well as an EHIC for travel in Europe, travellers take out insurance whenever they travel overseas or in the UK.”

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