'Risk exposure is the same, regardless of distance'

'Risk exposure is the same, regardless of distance'

Although he travels to neighbouring countries at least thrice a year, Mr Sahmadi Nawawi Samsudin, 25, says he does not see the need for travel insurance.

The fresh graduate adds: "Throughout all my travelling experiences, I have not encountered any bad situations (and) I do not think that I should waste my money on it."

He travels around three times a year, for no longer than four days each time, mostly to Vietnam, Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia.

Mr Sahmadi is among the one in three Singaporeans who does not buy insurance when on short trips to nearby countries, according to a recent study by Nielsen, commissioned by insurance group AIG.

The study, conducted in April and involving 1,205 participants, shows that Singaporeans on average travel twice a year, with 48 per cent intending to take a short (fewer than three days) getaway to a nearby destination.

Although many do not believe in buying insurance, it appears that many do run into trouble.

AIG says it has seen more than 4,000 claims within the last 12 months, by travellers to neighbouring countries.

Four in 10 were claims for medical expenses. Another 28 per cent had lost or damaged their bags.

These scenarios could cost the uninsured traveller an arm and a leg.

Mr Tan Chien Wei, manager of medical concierge provider Ulink Assist, says: "Medical evacuations between Singapore and Jakarta can cost about US$16,000 (S$22,000)."

Medical evacuations are expensive because they require various logistical preparations including aeroplanes, ambulances from both countries and medical teams.

Ulink Assists handles around two or three evacuations a week.

Mr Tan says: "In my experience, travel insurance takes up only a small percentage of a person's travel expenses.

"When you are overseas, many things can happen. It does not have to be something adventurous or high risk. We have had cases of travellers on short shopping trips to Bangkok getting hit by motorcycles.

"It is better to get yourself covered in case anything bad happens."

Medical evacuation

Dr David Teo says: "Medical evacuation becomes necessary when a location lacks the international standard medical care, typically in remote locations or when the local sites can no longer manage the intensity of the medical condition or the medical expenses."

"In many cases, a medical evacuation can be averted if preparation and planning are conducted and completed in advance," adds Dr Teo, who is the Regional Medical Director, South & South-East Asia, of medical and travel security risk services company International SOS.

"It can be a costly mistake to overlook travel insurance with medical evacuation coverage for international trips.

Some do not buy travel insurance because they think it's a hassle.

Mr Movin Nyanasengeran does not buy travel insurance because he believes it is unnecessary.

The 23-year-old undergraduate, who travels to Johor once a month with his family for weekend trips, acknowledges there are dangers on the road, but still does not see the need for travel insurance.

He says: "Since we have been travelling to Johor quite regularly, we feel that it is not dangerous as nothing bad such as thefts or medical emergencies have ever occurred.

"Also, we do not need to fly there. We feel in control and safer since we drive there."

Head of AIG Travel, Ms Anita Tan, says: "Trips to nearby countries do not necessarily present fewer risks and inconveniences.

"The risk exposure is the same regardless of the distance travelled ­- from cancelled flights to significant events such as natural disasters."

Most recently, volcanic ash from Indonesia's Mount Raung caused the shutdown of airports and cancellation of flights, leaving tourists stranded in Bali.

Other natural disasters include the Sabah earthquake in June and the eruptions of Indonesia's Mount Sinabung and Mount Merapi in 2013, which forced flight cancellations.

Mr Sahmadi is still reluctant to purchase travel insurance. But, to ensure his safety, he says: "In light of the recent natural disasters, I will now do more research beforehand about the countries I intend to visit."

How $89 saved me when I broke my leg in a rainforest

Stories of how friends lost their wallets to pickpockets and how their luggage never arrived at their destination had always scared me into buying travel insurance whenever I go overseas - be it for a vacation or work.

While forking out that $89 gave me a sense of security, I never really understood the implications of buying the insurance - until April 7, 2014.

The deep scar on my right leg today serves as a reminder of just how vital insurance can be.

My friends and I were on a river safari in Sukau, Sabah. At 6am, while on the way to the jetty to go on a cruise up the Kinabatangan River, I slipped.

It had rained the night before and the slopes were slippery.

The irony: I was the only one wearing proper trekking sandals. The rest were in flip-flops.

The grooves of my sandals must have got caught in the underbrush.

Just as I landed, there was a loud "crack".

I had broken my right shin. And it left a bone exposed.

Unfortunately, it was in the most inconvenient of locations - a remote rainforest.

The only transport out was a motorboat, then it was a minibus, to get to the nearest hospital.

It took me over six hours before the orthopaedic surgeon at Duchess of Kent Hospital in Sandakan performed debridement - to remove dead tissue and other foreign material - around the wound and put a plaster cast on my broken leg.

It was clear that I needed to get back to Singapore fast. A medical evacuation had to be performed.

Truth be told, it wasn't the easiest of processes. There was a lot of red tape and the insurers needed proof that I had indeed broken my leg in a bad way.

The moment the private plane landed to take me back to Singapore to a team of surgeons was sheer, sweet relief.


According to medical staff on the plane flying me back, the trip from Sabah alone would have cost in excess of $40,000. (The perils of being a journalist I suppose, even in pain, I still ask nosy questions.)

So when I read about how people don't think it's necessary, I shudder.

I know we all think we're invincible and nothing will happen to us.

And in fact, I can almost sympathise when someone says, 'Aiyah, waste money.' Almost, but not quite.

Take it from the scar on my leg. Just buy it. You never know when you will need it.

This article was first published on August 2, 2015.
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