Kiwi travellers don't need to be on an intrepid journey to land themselves in a foreign hospital with a massive bill – it could happen from something as simple as falling down stairs.

Southern Cross Travel Insurance (SCTI) has released its most expensive medical claims from last year, which was topped by one of the biggest claims in its 36-year history.

The top claim was $682,000 for a lengthy hospital stay and an air ambulance flight home for a Kiwi who suffered a heart attack while travelling in Europe.

The second and third top billings were made by claims from people who were travelling in the United States - $212,000 for a person suffering from a bowel illness and $182,000 for a person who had a heart attack.


The fourth largest claim of $176,500 allowed a person who was suffering from pneumonia to fly from Antarctica to South America in an air ambulance flight.

Another SCTI customer racked up a $110,000 medical bill in the Pacific Islands after tripping and falling down a flight of steps, and injuring their hip.

Nearly half of the top 10 claims in 2017 were made while in the United States, which is renowned for having some of the highest medical care costs in the world.

SCTI Chief Executive Chris White said some hospitals in the United States may request a large deposit before they will even start providing treatment.

"This is one of the key areas where having travel insurance is important. Our emergency assistance team can provide payment guarantees to hospitals, keep immediate family advised of the situation and coordinate emergency medical evacuations," he said.

"They're available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, no matter where you are in the world.

"New Zealand's public healthcare system means we generally don't have to worry about the financial cost when we get injured or sick, but this isn't the case overseas. It doesn't take long for the bills to reach eye-watering amounts — it can cost up to $US50,000 a day for intensive care treatment at a US hospital."

White said the most expensive medical claims list showed the importance of buying travel insurance before heading overseas.


"The average price of a Southern Cross Travel Insurance policy can be as little as the cost of a coffee a day so it's an affordable one-off payment that could end up saving you tens of thousands of dollars."