Travel Insurance and COVID-19

Many aspects of life, work, business, and travel were changed by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that began early in 2020. It’s still too soon to say which of these changes will be permanent. However, the need for travel insurance for both domestic and international travel is more critical than ever. For some time, travel within Australia was challenging, while international travel was all but impossible.

This has started to change, with international borders opening and international travel–for both leisure and business–once again allowed. This isn’t the result of the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus disappearing. Rather it is because vaccinations and other preventative measures have allowed us to lessen the risks of COVID-19.

The risks of border closures, quarantines, or getting sick–and even needing to be hospitalised–because of COVID-19 are still there. But although they appear to be less common, the chance of any of them affecting your travel plans is far from zero. This is why travel insurance is now an essential part of any trip, regardless of your age, destination, or current health.

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Travel Insurance and COVID-19

Most travel insurance plans continue to exclude cover for pandemics, epidemics, and outbreaks of infectious disease, but many have started to include some cover for COVID-19 related incidents. Being a new inclusion, it is necessary for you to carefully read through the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) for any policies you are considering and note what the COVID-19 inclusions actually cover.

Pay attention not only to what COVID-19 related events are covered but also the level of cover and the benefits. These will vary from one provider to the next, but you can also expect different plans from the same provider to vary. And you can also expect cover and benefits to differ for domestic and international travel, and according to destination.

Even before COVID-19, some countries presented a higher risk for travel. COVID-19 hasn’t necessarily changed this, but it could mean that countries that weren’t previously a high-risk destination are now considered somewhat unsafe.

Always Start with Smartraveller

Using the information provided on the Smartraveller website has always been recommended when planning any international trip. And just as COVID-19 has made travel insurance more essential than ever, so too is the use of Smartraveller before and during your trip.

The Smartraveller website doesn’t only assess all risks associated with travelling to different global destinations, it also includes travel advisories such as:

  • Exercise normal safety precautions
  • Exercise a high degree of caution
  • Reconsider your need to travel
  • Do not travel

These are then broken down into greater detail, and for COVID-19 they may include:

  • Whether COVID-19 is still a risk in the country or specific regions.
  • COVID−19 control measures that are in place, including whether the wearing of masks is required.
  • COVID-19 vaccination and diagnostic test requirements.
  • How often border and travel risk mitigation measures are reviewed.
  • Quarantine requirements when travelling to or from specific destinations, including returning home.
  • The standard of medical facilities and medical care, and whether there are any reciprocal health agreements with Australia’s Medicare.

Because travel advisories and specific details for each destination can change between the time you initially research the destination country and when your trip starts, you should subscribe to receive push or email notifications of changes.

Which Insurers Provide Travel Insurance with COVID-19 Cover?

As domestic and international travel becomes more widely available again, more companies offering travel insurance are amending their benefits to include some COVID-19 cover and benefits. This includes the larger insurers along with travel insurance offered by some airlines.

However, don’t assume COVID-19 cover is included, but rather take time to read the PDS to check if COVID-19 is listed. If COVID-19 or coronavirus are not specifically mentioned, the normal travel insurance benefits likely don’t cover any COVID-19 related events. If COVID-19 is included, read through the benefits carefully. Some policies only cover COVID-19 related events for travel in Australia or to New Zealand. Additionally, cancellations or trip interruptions due to COVID-19–either because you fall ill before your departure date, or because of government border closures or restrictions–are only covered on comprehensive plans with some insurers. And most don’t offer any COVID-19 benefits for multi-night cruises.

Does Travel Insurance Cover COVID Related Cancellations?

This varies considerably between insurers and plans. Most times it is only included with comprehensive plans for both international and domestic travel. However, even if included, pay close attention to any exclusions. Where cancellations due to coronavirus are included, they usually cover:

  • Non-refundable travel costs if you or someone in your travelling party is diagnosed with COVID-19 and cannot travel. This only applies if the diagnoses happens after you have purchased your policy. Some insurers might limit this to policies purchased at least 21 days prior to the diagnoses.
  • Non-refundable trip costs if a close relative in Australia is hospitalised due to COVID-19. This only applies if the diagnoses comes after you purchased your policy.
  • Non-refundable travel costs if your leave is cancelled due to COVID-19. This only applies to permanent healthcare workers, residential care workers, and law enforcement officers living and working in Australia.
  • Having to change your accommodation when your original accommodation is closed for cleaning as a result of COVID-191.
  • You need to make alternative travel arrangements because you are suspected of having COVID-19 and cannot board your original flight1.

What is not covered might include:

  • Any COVID-19 related claims–cancellations and others–if you travelled to a country or destination with a “Do not travel” advisory in place on the Smartraveller website at the time of your departure.
  • COVID-19 related claims for a multi-night cruise.

You could be asked to provide a PCR or registered Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) test result, or a letter from a medical practitioner confirming that you were unfit to travel due to COVID-19.

1 You may be asked to provide a letter of confirmation from the original accommodation or carrier.

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Does Travel Insurance Cover COVID Related Hospitalisation?

Many of the insurers who now include cover for COVID-19 or coronavirus related events have also extended the Overseas Medical and Dental Expenses benefit. However, this is still subject to the plan you purchase. Basic plans typically don’t have this benefit, while more comprehensive plans either offer unlimited cover or have sub-limits for:

  • Medical and dental treatment, including hospitalisation.
  • Ambulance transportation.
  • The cost of emergency repatriation or evacuation2.

2 Claim must have been approved by your insurer and repatriation or evacuation must also have been considered necessary and arranged by the insurer’s emergency assistance network.

While these benefits have been extended to include cover for COVID-19 related medical treatment and hospitalisation, there are conditions that need to be met, along with some exclusions:

  • Treatment must be by or on the advice of a qualified medical practitioner.
  • Cover does not include the continuation, or the follow-up of treatment started before your trip.
  • Cover does not cover routine medical or dental treatment.
  • Cover excludes private medical or hospital treatment where public funded services are available and in countries with a Reciprocal Health Agreement with Australia.
  • Cover does not apply for any COVID-19 related claims–hospitalisation and others–if you travelled to a country or destination with a “Do not travel” advisory in place on the Smartraveller website at the time of your departure.
  • Cover does not apply to COVID-19 related claims for a multi-night cruise.

It is important to remember that what is covered–along with specific conditions and exclusions–differs amongst insurers and plans. Always read the PDS to ensure you are aware of specific details before purchasing your travel insurance.

Does Travel Insurance Cover COVID Related Border Closures?

The most disruptive part of both domestic and international travel as a result of COVID-19 has been border closures and travel bans. These have been affected by countries whenever there is a surge in COVID-19 cases, and usually within only a few days of being announced. Sometimes they apply to the entire country, affecting all inbound and outbound travel, and sometimes they only apply to travel between regions and territories. Regardless of how and where they apply, they can result in you having to stay in a country or region longer than originally planned.

Unfortunately, such events are not covered by travel insurance, even plans with COVID-19 cover. This also includes any mandatory quarantine requirements imposed by the government of the country you are travelling to. However, if you need to cancel or amend travel arrangements due to border closures before you depart, these might be covered by your policy. This is why it is crucial that you first check the Smartraveller website for travel advisories and mandatory quarantine requirements.

Are COVID Tests for Travel Covered by Insurance?

In addition to vaccination requirements, some countries still have COVID-19 testing requirements. These are either for inbound travellers to have a COVID-19 test performed on arrival, or to provide proof of a negative test result not older than 48 or 72 hours. The cost of these mandated COVID-19 tests is not covered by travel insurance. However, being tested for COVID-19 while travelling because of possible exposure or to confirm a suspected case might be covered by the medical treatment benefit. Check with the insurer beforehand to confirm this.

How Does COVID-19 Cover Differ for Local and International Travel?

You will find that most policies offering some COVID-19 related benefits have the same exclusions, restrictions, or conditions for both international and domestic (within Australia) travel. However, benefit limits and sub-limits may differ, so always look for this when reading through the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS). You may also find that some benefits for COVID-19 related events are only available for travel within Australia or to New Zealand, and not for any other international destination or multi-night cruises.

Countries with a Reciprocal Healthcare Agreements

Australia currently has Reciprocal Healthcare Agreements with:

  • Belgium
  • Finland
  • Italy
  • Malta
  • The Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • The Republic of Ireland
  • Slovenia
  • Sweden
  • The United Kingdom

Australian residents who are eligible for Medicare can get help with costs for medically necessary care when visiting any of these countries. This includes emergency care and care for illnesses or injuries that can’t wait till you get home.

However, it is subsidised care, and will only cover some of your medical costs when using the public health system in these countries. Additionally, each country decides what is covered, with the treating doctor determining if your condition is a medical necessity. Travelling to any of these countries does not mean you should forego buying travel insurance that does include COVID-19 related benefits.

Travel Insurance and Other COVID Related Benefits

Cover for trip cancellations, delays, and medical treatment including hospitalisation as a result of COVID-19 are the most critical when travelling to any international destination. The elderly and people with certain pre-existing health conditions are still most at risk for severe complications because of COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean a zero risk for younger, fitter travellers.

Travel insurance is always useful for any travellers because of all the other benefits it offers, from lost, delayed, or damaged luggage, through to cover for death, disability, and loss of income. And cover for COVID-19 related events can still benefit you if you receive a positive diagnosis while travelling but don’t require hospitalisation or urgent medical treatment. Some of these might include:

  • Costs related to compulsory quarantine because you are a confirmed close contact or are yourself diagnosed with COVID-19. This should include hotel costs and meals3.
  • Childcare or pet care costs if you get coronavirus during your trip and need to quarantine. Your pets might need to stay in the pet hotel longer until you are considered fit to return home, and some insurers might cover this additional cost. Similarly, if your children are healthy, but you need to quarantine, the cost of having someone care for them and keep them entertained might be covered by some insurers.

3 This does not include Australian quarantine requirements for Australian residents or citizens when travelling to Australia.

Adding COVID-19 Cover to Your Travel Insurance

Coronavirus and COVID-19 cover is not available as a standalone option that can be added to your existing travel insurance plan. If you originally bought a basic travel insurance plan with no included COVID-19 benefits and want to change, you will need to cancel your current policy. If you do this within the cooling-off period and before you depart–either 14 or 21 days, depending on the insurer–you will receive a full refund. If you cancel outside of the cooling-off period so that you can purchase a more comprehensive plan, your insurer might offer a full or partial refund. This is only if you have not yet made any claims but is at the discretion of the insurer.

It is understandable that after such a lengthy period of not being able to travel you would be eager to once again visit family-based overseas, or resume ticking destinations off your bucket list. But it is important to remember that coronavirus and COVID-19 are still around and still a serious health concern. Avoid the risk of devastating out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 related events by investing in a travel insurance policy that offers some cover for these.

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Travel insurance documentation can be quite complex and difficult to understand. If you have a query we are only too willing to find the answer for you.