Does travel insurance cover countries with travel warnings?
Travelling overseas is one of the most exciting, life changing things you can do, but it can also carry potential risks. Aussies take over eight million trips overseas each year and approximately 20,000 Australians find themselves in need of consular assistance.
Now, we don’t want to be the travel fun police, dictating where you can and can’t travel, but it is in your best interest to know whether or not you’re covered by travel insurance.
Ebola breakout in Africa, Sars in China, Tsunami in Thailand, Earthquake in New Zealand, or bombings in Bali whatever the scary situation, if a destination has a travel warning from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade it's important to know you’re not always covered by your travel insurance.
It can be confusing to understand exactly when you are protected in these situations. We help to explain the ins and outs of your cover in relation to travel warnings.
What are the exclusions?
Most policies in Australia have exclusions in their policies, and won’t cover you if you do not take appropriate action to avoid, or minimise, any potential claims relating to travel warnings from:
- Severe weather
- Civil protest and political instability
- Any act of war, whether war is declared or not or from any rebellion, revolution, insurrection or taking of power by the military
- Nuclear reaction or contamination from nuclear weapons or radioactivity
- Biological and/or chemical materials, substances, compounds or the like used directly or indirectly for the purpose to harm or to destroy human life and/or create public fear
- Contagious disease and/or Epidemic or Pandemic
Travel warnings explained: Zika virus outbreak
An example of a current travel warning worth understanding relates to the recent Zika Virus outbreak.
On the 29th of January 2016 new warnings were released regarding the outbreak of the Zika Virus. The virus, transmitted through infected mosquito bites, raised particular concerns due to its links to birth defects in pregnant women. Reported in Tonga, the Dominican Republic and the US Virgin Islands, the virus is said to have spread to 24 nations and territories in the Americas.
A Smart traveller Zika Virus bulletin warns pregnant women to be “aware of the areas of ongoing transmission.” Australians residing in or travelling to these regions should are also advised to pay close attention to any relevant travel advisory and to stay informed.
Women who are pregnant (in any trimester) or those who are actively seeking to get pregnant are advised to consider postponing travel to any area where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. A full list of countries currently affected by the virus can be found here: https://smartraveller.gov.au/bulletins/zika_virus.
If you do intend to travel to a Zika virus prone region, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip. Be warned however, that travel insurance will generally not cover pandemics, particularly after official travel warnings have been released.
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.
When you are covered …
It’s not all doom and gloom. If you’re visiting somewhere and an incident happens unexpectedly then you will be covered for any medical expenses and medical evacuation. For example, if you’re injured during a terrorist attack that happened without warning, then your insurer will cover all medical expenses.
You’re allowed to claim for cancellation as long as the alert happened after the issue date of your insurance policy, not before.
Disruption of journey
If your journey is disrupted due to circumstances out of your control, you will be covered for any food and accommodation expenses you experience up to a limit.
When you are not covered…
Intentionally putting yourself in harm’s way
You can’t claim for anything that happens to you in a destination that you knew was risky to travel to, and decided to go anyway.
You are not able to claim for trip cancellation in response to a travel warning. If a destination is known to be experiencing problems and a travel alert is heightened before your trip commences, you probably won’t be covered for any claims relating to cancellation if you decide not to go.
Travel insurance post travel warning
You can’t claim if you didn’t already have travel insurance when the warning was raised. For example if you hear about a hurricane warning in the mass media and then you decide to buy insurance, you couldn’t cancel your holiday and claim.
Act of war
Travel insurers do not provide any cover for incidents involving acts of war, so any claims you make relating to this would not be covered.
Can I buy travel insurance for high risk countries?
Even if Smart Traveller says you should not travel, you can still buy travel insurance that will cover you for anything else unrelated to the warning.
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 or natural disaster, and you needed medical evacuation, you would be covered even though the country has a 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 of course you’re covered for 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) would be invalid.
You can use comparetravelinsurance.com.au to compare policies now, and see if you can find a one that suits your holiday.
How can I find out if the destination I’m visiting has a travel warning?
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.