‘Tis the holiday season and for many, time to pack up, take time out and destress. Most of us are vigilant about our preparations ahead of going away. ‘But don’t forget your medical cover when planning a holiday,’ warns Gerhard Van Emmenis, Principal Officer of Bonitas Medical Scheme.  ‘There is nothing worse than being unprepared when it comes to an accident or medical emergency’.

Medical aid card

Remember to carry this with you.  In the case of an emergency it will streamline the process of being admitted to hospital or getting emergency care.


Check if the country of your destination requires certain vaccination certificates for entry, for example Yellow Fever. Some of these vaccinations need to be done months prior to travelling so ensure that you plan well in advance.  Check if your medical aid will pay for these vaccinations (which can be expensive – especially if you have a big family).

Travel insurance policies

Medical expenses that you might encounter when travelling in Africa or other international destinations can be prohibitively expensive, especially with a fluctuating exchange rate. Van Emmenis says that to avoid having your holiday and finances totally ruined, look at what your current medical aid scheme offers in terms of medical travel cover and, if necessary, top this up with additional travel insurance.

Tell your medical aid scheme you are travelling internationally

It is important to check with your medical aid scheme to see what you are covered for and, just as vital, is notifying them of your travel plans. Medical aid members often need to activate the international travel cover before they travel. This is because the cover is usually underwritten by an authorised financial services provider, who needs time to activate the policy.  Ensuring you have cover prior to leaving will allow the medical aid to provide you with the necessary information needed in terms of vaccinations, as well as who to contact in case of an emergency abroad.

Shop around

Make sure you know what is covered, what the total monetary value of the cover is and where there might be a shortfall. However, it is wise to shop around for a plan that covers all bases, don’t assume that because you have travel insurance you are covered for every eventuality.

Carry your policies

Travel insurance policies give detailed information about what to do in an emergency situation and have international call centres to assist you. Make sure everyone in the family has these numbers at hand.

The claiming process

In addition, check what the claim process is as you might have to keep all records, bills and payment receipts while travelling. Most medical insurance requires the invoice as well as the proof of payment, or receipt, in order for them to reimburse you.

Cover for the adventurous

Although there are various policies you can take out for a short term period, ie. for the duration of your holiday, you do need to also consider the type of holiday you are going on and the country you are visiting.  Good advice to follow to us to check whether there are any travel warnings or restrictions around the city or country you are visiting and plan accordingly. Make sure you have natural disasters covered on your travel plan.

The adrenaline junkie

Often perceived dangerous adventure trips for the adrenaline junkie seeker will not be covered or there will be a surcharge. For example if you are going snow skiing, you may need to specifically look at taking out ‘hazardous activity cover’. Remember all travel insurance has limits so check those before you go.  

What is covered?

Cover varies from one insurance company to another. The International Travel Benefit, offered by Bonitas covers medical emergencies when you travel outside the borders of South Africa. Remember to check for exclusions and pre-existing conditions and dangerous activities.

The benefits include cover for:

  • Mandatory vaccine expenses (when a country you’re travelling to requires certain vaccinations)
  • Emergency medical expenses
  • Medical evacuation and transport
  • Hospitalisation
  • Out-patient and in-patient treatment
  • Optical and dental expenses
  • Travel assist services

Life is unpredictable so the best thing you can do before your next holiday is be prepared. Find out what your existing medical aid policy covers, research additional travel insurance options and make sure you have adequate cover. And, above all, read all the fine print. Stay healthy and safe these holidays!

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