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The secret side of travel sanctions

13 August, 2019 By Natali Mansberg

Do you prefer travel destinations with a side of danger? Prefer to walk on the wild side? If your holiday choices are far from faint-heated take note that travel insurance may not cover you.

It’s a fact that many Aussies may be unaware of; a recent survey by reveals that 70% of travellers aren’t clear that insurance policies do not cover all destinations as standard.

As tight travel regulations become the norm, heightened security risks are commonplace, and terrorism may be a real concern when planning your next trip abroad. Be warned that government sanctions may restrict your ability to travel to certain regions and as a result, your insurer may not actually cover you.

What are travel sanctions?

In order to influence countries and reduce harm to citizens both here and abroad, the UN and the Australian Government imposes sanctions which limit travel and economic engagement with various countries. Travel to these countries therefore may be restricted. 

Sanctions make it difficult for travel insurance companies to cover travellers who choose to visit these countries. The legal issues are daunting, and many insurers are simply unwilling or unable to provide coverage, as any claims paid would be in breach of these sanctions.

It worth noting however, that some insurers will still sell you a policy to sanctioned countries even though you may not in fact be covered. While you may be able to purchase a policy to a restricted country, be mindful that your insurer may not be allowed to make payments to a medical facility, travel provider or emergency evacuation supplier. In an emergency scenario you may be left to your own devices.

What does a sanction mean for someone who wants to buy travel insurance?

Travel bans that apply to natural disasters or terror attacks are usually well documented. When travel warnings to certain countries are in place, information is usually prominent on sites like Smart Traveller and insurers will usually alert customers as to any cover limitations. However, information on government-restricted countries may not be as obvious.

Most insurers will not allow travellers to buy a policy for certain sanctioned countries. For example, when trying to purchase a policy for North Korea, TID states, ‘We are unable to provide ANY cover to North Korea’. Travellers are then advised to remove the sanctioned country in order to proceed with their quote.”

However,  a fair number of insurers have no such warning in place. For instance, American Express, Covermore, Virgin Money, Worldcare and Webjet do not restrict travellers from buying cover to countries like Syria, Iraq and Libya. The government’s official warning to these destinations is ‘do not travel’.  It's important to remember that even though travellers are able to purchase cover for sanctioned countries they may not actually be protected.

Would insurers really not pay out a claim from a sanctioned country?

Whether Australian insurers would apply blanket bans on sanctioned countries, or just to specific regions is unclear.

For example, due to the current political conflict in Myanmar Smart Traveller’s advice varies by region. While certain townships in the Northern region have been classed as ‘do not travel,’ other areas are only categorized as ‘reconsider your need to travel’, or, ‘exercise a high degree of caution’.

Whether an insurer would honour a cover ban across an entire country, or just to a region where ‘do not travel,’ is advised is hard to say. Given the option of saving an Australian life, or disregarding a sanction, insurers may choose to help if they can.

Could you go to jail for visiting a restricted destination?

It’s unlikely but travellers should seek advice before travel. Take into account that it is a criminal offence to travel to certain regions of Iraq and Syria without a legitimate reason and travel to certain countries may be a red flag for law enforcement. It’s a good idea to speak with a lawyer before travelling to a sanctioned country to be sure of your rights.

Current UN sanctioned countries include:

Central African Republic, Crimea and Sevastopol, Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Former Yugoslavia, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Iraq, ISIL (Da'esh) and Al-Qaida, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Russia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, The Taliban, Ukraine, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

Current Australian sanctioned countries include:

Iran, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, Russia/Ukraine, Syria, The former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Zimbabwe.

Ensure your safety

Keep safe with these travel tips:

Contact your travel insurer: See what they say about coverage to government restricted countries and make sure you’re on the same page regarding your coverage

Read the PDS: Understand any destination exclusions that may apply to your travels

Check Smart Traveller: The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) website, can be a very useful resource and one worth checking regularly to stay abreast of any current events

Sanctioned countries change all the time: To see the current list of sanctioned countries visit:

Register your travel plans: Providing with your trip itinerary can assist DFAT to contact you or your family in the event of an emergency

Already overseas? If you need help, go to your embassy to see if they can offer any advice

Get across the border: Logistically this may be troublesome and unrealistic. But if you’re in need of assistance, your insurer may be able to help you if you get yourself to a country that has no government sanctions

Lastly, travellers should remember to take all necessary travel precautions when travelling to troubled regions. Stay in the know about your chosen destination and keep your eye on Smart Traveller for any breaking updates.

Contributor Natali Mansberg

Natali Mansberg

Natali is a former kids magazine writer whose credits include working for the mouse (Mickey that is). An avid traveller, Natali spent part of her childhood in Israel and enjoyed several stints across the globe. Having worked in travel insurance for three years, Natali likes to simplify the fine-print and help Aussies make sense of their insurance policies. She currently lives in Sydney with her husband and one-year old son.


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