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Have you ever dreamed of visiting the world’s largest salt lakes in Bolivia or snorkelling among the vast marine life at the Galapagos Islands? If so, South America is the continent for you!

From hikes through Torres del Paine to architectural spectacles like Santuario de las Lajas in Colombia, there’s so much to see and do.

However, for the ultimate travel experience, we recommend getting travel insurance for South America. Not only does travel insurance help to protect you financially from the unexpected, but it can also provide peace of mind by offering access to 24/7 emergency services.

Do I need travel insurance for South America?

While it’s not mandatory to travel with insurance, it might be a good idea, particularly for South America. According to the Igarapé Institute, South America is home to 43 out of the 50 most dangerous cities and eight out of 10 most dangerous countries in the world.1

Not only is petty theft prevalent, but this continent is also notorious for its high rate of violent crimes. Although many travellers have incredible and positive experiences travelling through South America, it’s important to take precautions and stay safe.

Vinicunca, Cusco Region, Peru. Montana de Siete Colores, or Rainbow Mountain.

What should my travel insurance for South America include?

There are several essential features and benefits that are typically included in travel insurance for South America, which we outline below. While some of these may already come standard in travel insurance policies, it’s essential to understand the specific inclusions and claim limits.

You may need to purchase other features as an add-on, depending on how dangerous or risky your itinerary is. All this information can be found in your policy’s Product Disclosure Statement (PDS).

Cover for medical expenses

South America generally has more affordable healthcare than other continents, and its healthcare system has improved significantly over recent years. Emergency healthcare is free for citizens and visitors alike in many countries in South America, such as Brazil and Argentina; however, complex surgeries won’t likely be free.

Despite this, medical bills can still get expensive depending on the injury or illness, particularly if the condition is complicated or life-threatening.

Most travel insurance policies include cover for medical expenses; as such, make sure you’re getting an adequate level of cover that works for you. If you have any pre-existing conditions, disclose these to your insurer so that you may have coverage for claims related to your condition as well – always remember to read your PDS to understand how your insurer does or doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions.

Emergency repatriation

While the availability of quality healthcare may be high in some countries, it can wear thin in developing countries. Depending on your itinerary, you may want to consider getting travel insurance that includes emergency repatriation.

This type of cover will ensure that you can be evacuated back to Australia as soon as possible if required. Note that most insurers will provide 24/7 assistance in emergency situations. Any necessary evacuation will be managed by your insurer and it’s important that you contact them immediately if anything happens.

Cover for medical expenses is vital to any trip. Accidents and illnesses are unexpected mishaps that can potentially be life-threatening and derail your holiday.

Having adequate medical cover will not only provide “peace of mind” but can help protect you from financial hardship if the unexpected happens.  It’s always important to check your PDS to ensure that you have the cover you need and are aware of the policy limits, conditions and exclusions.

Cover for theft and loss of luggage and personal belongings

As a traveller in South America, you may be a target for petty theft. It’s not uncommon for travellers to carry their backpacks on their front to prevent thieves from stealing their belongings.

However, in the case that you lost your luggage or personal belongings, this benefit may cover you for lost goods. There are usually limits as to how much you can claim, so make sure you read your policy’s PDS for more details.

Adventure cover

South America is a vast continent that’s rich in landscapes. As such, you may want to engage in several thrilling activities, including:

  • paragliding off the Miraflores Cliffs in Lima, Peru
  • white water rafting in Banos, Ecuador
  • sea kayaking around Costa Verde, Brazil
  • sandboarding in the Atacama Desert, Chile
  • scuba diving in Los Roques National Park, Venezuela.

Insurers don’t always cover high-risk activities as a part of their standard cover. If you intent to participate in high-risk activities, you may want to consider getting an adventure cover add-on if your policy allows it. This add-on will provide additional cover in the case of any mishaps during your adventures.

Coverage on roads

If you’re planning on road tripping to Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni (salt flats) or through Argentina’s Seven Lakes with a rental car during your travels in South America, you may want to consider getting car rental excess cover.

If you are involved in an accident or your rental is broken into, you may be liable to pay an excess to cover the damage costs, which can sometimes be thousands of dollars.

While most roads throughout South America are in good condition, going off the beaten track may take a toll on your rental.

Furthermore, driving laws and vehicle safety standards aren’t as strict as Australia, meaning there’s a chance you could get into an accident in South America. According to the World Health Organisation, the road death toll in South America is, on average, three to four times higher than Australia.3

Alternatively, if you’re planning on motorbiking your way through the continent, consider getting motorcycle and scooter cover.

Natural disaster cover

There has been some volcanic activity in Chile in recent years that have affected travel. If you’re planning on travelling to a country that has had volcanic activity warnings in the past, it would be a good idea to ensure that your policy covers volcano and ash clouds with natural disaster cover for greater peace of mind.

Cover for volcano and ash cloud will help ensure that you’ll be covered if volcanic activity severely disrupts your travels or puts you in medical risk. Make sure you read your insurer’s PDS to find out exactly what you’re covered for as this can vary between insurers.

Cancellation and delay cover

If your flights get cancelled or delayed, cancellation and delay cover can cover you for any financial losses regarding accommodation bookings or deposits for activities.

Furthermore, if you need to cancel your holiday prior to leaving Australia, your cancellation cover may be able to cover a portion of your losses. This may include cover for reasons such as:

  • you lost your job
  • you were involved in an accident
  • your family member is sick
  • your home is damaged and left uninhabitable before your flight.

While most exclusions are policy-specific and vary depending on your insurer, travel insurers may enforce these common exclusions:

  • injuries sustained while under the influence. Insurers typically won’t cover any incidents related to drugs and alcohol;
  • incidents arising from your disregard for local laws and authorities. If you break the law, disregard road rules or go against the advice of local authorities/travel guides, your insurer won’t be able to help you;
  • lost luggage or personal belongings due to carelessness. If you didn’t take the proper precautions to keep your belongings safe (i.e. by leaving them unattended), your insurer wouldn’t reimburse you if those items are stolen; and
  • driving incidents where you didn’t have the right license. You will likely need an international driver’s licence in most countries in South America. Not having the proper licence will void any related claims.

For more information, check out our page on common travel insurance exclusions.

Machu Picchu Inca Lost city in mist

Which vaccinations do I need for South America?

One way you can keep yourself safe is by taking the necessary travel vaccinations for South America to protect yourself from the dangers that can’t be seen.

It’s a good idea to make sure that you’re up to date on all your childhood vaccinations. However, some additional vaccinations for South America may include:

  • hepatitis A. Developing countries may require travellers to get Hep-A vaccinations before departure.
  • hepatitis B. Hep-B can be a risk for anyone who may have an undergo a medical procedure, tattoo or by sexual transmission;
  • typhoid fever. This illness can be found in contaminated food and water, and may be common in developing countries;
  • Rabies is present in many countries and can be fatal. The Australian government recommends getting a vaccination for rabies before you travel; and
  • yellow fever. Depending on where you go, this may be a mandatory vaccine.2

Don’t wait until the last week before you travel to get vaccinated. There may be waiting times for some vaccines to become available and others may cause mild flu symptoms. What’s more, it may take time for the vaccine to take effect.

Keep in mind that your doctor may not recommend all these vaccines. You should always seek medical advice from a licensed medical professional, such as your local general practitioner, for information specific to your health needs.

Top travel tips for South America

1. Learn some Spanish!

While some locals may speak English in big cities where there are lots of tourists, English isn’t common in most parts of the continent. Learn some basic phrases such as:

  • Hello, how are you? / ¡Hola! ¿Cómo estás?
  • Thank you! You’re welcome. / Por favour. ¡Gracias! De nada.
  • Excuse me. Sorry. / Lo siento
  • Can you help me? / ¿Puede ayudarme?
  • Can you speak more slowly? / ¿Puedes hablar más despacio?

2. Prepare for altitude sickness if you’re hiking

If you’re planning to travel in areas above 2,400 metres, there’s a good chance that you’ll experience altitude sickness, which can be both unpleasant and dangerous. Prepare for the worst: go with an experienced guide and climb slowly to give your body the chance to acclimate to the new altitudes.

Bring altitude sickness tablets and drink plenty of water. Eating carbs may also help

3. Don’t book the first tour you see

There are lots of tour operators and vendors throughout tourist areas. As such, tour prices may vary significantly. Chances are, you’ll be able to find a much more affordable tour that’s equally as fun. Make sure you compare prices, check the reviews and avoid booking tours recommended by your hotel.

4. Barter responsibly

As a tourist, there’s a good chance that locals will mark up prices just for you. Do your research to make sure you have a good understanding of the currency and the average prices of goods and services.

Have fun haggling with the locals but remember that, depending on where you go, what you consider as loose change may mean significantly more to locals.

Compare travel insurance for South America

Are you excited about your holiday to South America? Great! Make sure you use our travel insurance comparison service to compare the features, limits, prices and inclusions from some of Australia’s top travel insurers.

It’s easy to find great-value policies in minutes! And the best part is that if you find a policy you like, it costs the same as going direct!

Simples!

Make sure you check out our page on travel insurance for Brazil if you’re planning on visiting this incredible destination.

Sources

1 Igarapé Institute. 2017. The world’s most dangerous cities. Accessed 9 September 2020.

2 International Travel Vaccination Centre. Travel Health Advice for South America | ITVC. Accessed 9 September 2020.

3 World Health Organisation. (2018). Death on the roads: Based on the WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018. Accessed 10 September 2020.

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