Go round the world, not round the bend

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Most holiday money and insurance arrangements are designed for relatively short breaks of up to a few weeks. For those travelling for long periods or for an extended stay in one foreign country, there are different factors to be taken into account.

Students and recent graduates are noted for heading off the beaten track, where some of the traditional methods of accessing money might be more difficult, and hazards may be more extreme. Yet they are often the least prepared in financial and insurance terms.

A number of insurers offer policies aimed at round-the-world travellers, although with a cost of hundreds of pounds for a year, they can seem expensive. Europ Assistance recently launched its Voyager policy for single trips of up to 18 months. This includes pounds 1m of medical cover, and repatriation to the UK even if your house is burgled or a close relative goes into hospital. The maximum 18 months in a country such as Kenya or Egypt will set you back a hefty pounds 742, although even that may start to look like a good investment if you need expert medical treatment in a hurry. By contrast, a year in Switzerland comes at a more reasonable pounds 236.

Other insurers offering policies for long trips include WorldCover Direct and Columbus, the latter offering a basic worldwide "budget" policy at less than pounds 200 for a year. Even at this sort of price insurance may seem something of a luxury. But being able to access extra money is arguably a necessity.

Two weeks in France can be negotiated fairly comfortably with a few plastic cards and a clutch of travellers' cheques. A year-and-a-half in the middle of the scrub may well be more problematical. It would be unwise to take thousands of pounds' worth of currency in a rucksack. Mugging, or even murder, for a few pounds of currency is an occupational hazard not to be ignored in the wilder corners of the world.

Such circumstances may justify an arrangement to have money transferred at certain stages of a long trip. A survey published this week revealed that most people are unaware of hi-tech money transfer facilities and just how long such transfers might take. Despite all the technology at their disposal, the majority of UK banks would take between two days and a week to process a money transfer to Australia, for example. In many cases, especially where sending money abroad is part of a pre-arranged schedule, this may be fine. However, instant money transfer companies can act much faster - a potential life saver in an emergency. Funds can arrive in minutes.

Thomas Cook teamed up with MoneyGram this week to offer transfer services from its branches to foreign banks or other appointed agents. MoneyGram processes millions of international transfers every year through 20,000 outlets in 80 countries. The Thomas Cook link-up adds another 400 UK locations. Charges, which are paid at the sending end, vary according to the amount involved. But bearing in mind the relative speed of the transaction, they are perhaps not unreasonable. Sending pounds 750 from the UK to Jamaica would cost pounds 39 through MoneyGram, and take only 10 minutes. Western Union, another electronic transfer agency, would charge pounds 42 and take 15 minutes. Both pay out in cash.

If you have a NatWest account you could get the money to the West Indies in two days for a fee of pounds 18, or pounds 12 if five days is soon enough. However, the money must go to an account in a designated bank. Getting it out may be a bigger problem. Abbey National (account also required by sender) could deliver in five days at a charge of pounds 15 (arriving in sterling) or pounds 25 (local currency) but could only hand over the funds as a cheque rather than cash, except in an emergency. The Halifax takes about the same time for pounds 17 but the money must be paid into a bank account at the other end, and may also incur a separate charge to the recipient.