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Travel insurance and travel warnings

Seeing the world is one of the most exciting life changing things you can do, however travelling to new destinations and foreign lands certainly comes with it’s fair share of thrills and spills!

If you’re going to traverse the globe it’s a good idea to keep yourself informed about your chosen destination, and the go-to place for all travel advice is Smartraveller.gov.au.

What is Smartraveller?

The Goverment's Smartraveller website provides up-to-date advice and travel warnings for all destinations to ensure you stay smart when you’re travelling the world.

But what exactly is a travel warning?

travel warningtravel alert, or travel advisory is an official statement issued by a government agency to provide information about the relative safety of travelling to or visiting one or more specific foreign. They could be anything from a severe weather warning, civil unrest or an act of terror.

Some examples of recent travel safety updates included Ebola breakout in Africa, Sars in China, Tsunami in Thailand, Earthquake in New Zealand, Bali ash cloud or Zika virus.

So how do travel warnings affect my travel insurance policy?

Like every type of insurance there are conditions you need to pay attention to. You may find that travel to particularly risky or unstable regions may invalidate your cover. Especially so if you have not taken appropriate action to avoid, or minimise, any potential claims. The following points explain when you are unlikely to be covered in regards to updated travel warnings issued by the Australian government.

  • Travel insurance purchase as an afterthought
    You wouldn’t be covered if you decided you needed to purchase after a travel warning had been issued. For example, if you heard about a hurricane warning in the mass media and only then did you decided to buy insurance, you couldn't cancel your holiday and claim for any out of pocket expenses.
  • Intentionally putting yourself in harm’s way
    If you decide to visit a destination with a heightened travel warning and you were aware of the risks but decided to go anyway, it’s unlikely that you would be able to claim.
  • Deciding not to go 
    You are unlikely to be covered for wanting to cancel your trip ‘in response’ to a travel warning. For example, if a destination is known to be experiencing problems and a travel alert is heightened before your trip commences, you wouldn’t be covered for any claims relating to cancellation if you just decided not to go.
  • General exclusions
    Most standard travel insurance policies have a set of general exclusions that apply to your cover. So regardless of when a travel warning is issued, and whether you took advice from the government or not, you may find you will not be insured for certain events. General exclusions that tend to be across the board include: Strikes, riots, civil protest and political instability, any act of war, terrorism, any event to do with nuclear or chemical weapons, contagious diseases and/or epidemics or pandemics.

So when you are covered?

If you are affected by an event and subsequent warning is issued, you’d typically be covered for the following:

  • Medical treatment
    If you’re on holiday and an incident happens unexpectedly then you’ll be covered for any necessary medical treatment you require, including evacuation. Although most insurers exclude cover for acts of war or terrorist attacks, if you were injured in one of these scenarios, it’s likely you would still be covered for any injuries sustained.  See our guide for more information around travel insurance and terrorism.

  • Cancellation cover
    If an event has occurred and a warning is issued, you may have provision to claim for cancellation assuming the event happened after the issue date of your insurance policy, not before.

  • Disruption of journey
    If your trip is disrupted due to circumstances out of your control, you will be covered for any travel, and accommodation expenses you occur.

Can I still buy travel insurance for high risk countries?

Yes, irrespective of government warnings, you can still buy travel insurance for every country and plenty of the benefits will still apply.

For example, let’s say you were travelling to Thailand during their declaration of martial law in May 2014. While on holiday you were involved in an accident completely unrelated to the warning, and you needed medical evacuation. In this instance you would be covered for any treatment you required, irrespective of the upgraded travel warning.

Alternatively, if you were travelling in Egypt and you knew there are riots in the country. But while visiting the pyramids you accidently dropped your camera, then your policy would cover the cost to replace or fix your camera.

In both these examples, you would still have all the usual benefits of travel insurance, but any claims relating to the warning (that you already knew about) may be invalid.

How can I find out if the destination I’m visiting has a travel warning?

You should always check with smartraveller.gov.au and/or who.int before you even decide on your next holiday. Many insurers will also provide travel warning information on their websites.

Remember, if you do not follow the advice from the mass media or any government or official body’s warning against travel to a particular country or parts of a country, you could invalidate your cover.

In a nutshell if you intentionally expose yourself to unnecessary risk you’ll be travelling without protection. 

Always read the small print

All insurers have different rules when it comes to their policies. If you’re unsure if your destination is covered, or whether it is safe to go there, you should read the policy documentation to understand the insurer’s exclusions or simply give them a call.

Words of wisdom

We know it’s an exciting world out there, but its far better to live to tell the tale. Think twice before you decide to travel to a particularly dangerous destination. If Smart traveller is advising against all travel – just don’t go there. For those adventure seekers out there  - take a look at our tips on how to stay safe when you’re travelling.

It's far better to live to tell the tale!

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