Q

Does travel insurance cover coronavirus?

A

Travel insurance reimburses people for expenses and losses that are caused by certain events and circumstances. These covered reasons vary by provider and type of policy, but pandemics and fear of catching disease are typically not covered.

Elissa

Elissa Suh

Published March 16, 2020

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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Travel insurance reimburses you only for certain covered reasons specified by the policy and provider

  • If you cancel your flight due to coronavirus fears, then you probably won’t be reimbursed

  • If you cancel your flight because you have coronavirus, then you should be reimbursed

  • If you get a policy with medical coverage, then travel insurance will provide you with emergency health insurance during your trip

Travel insurance can protect you against unexpected incidents that can interrupt or cancel your trip and cause financial losses. That could mean reimbursing you for the cost of lost baggage, nonrefundable plane tickets, or an unexpected visit to the emergency room during your trip.

Coronavirus, or COVID-19, was first identified in Wuhan, China, but has infected people in more than 126 countries all over the world. The far-reaching effects of this disease are especially concerning to travelers who may be planning to visit an area that has been impacted by an outbreak.

Travel insurance can provide people emergency health insurance should they need care. It may also reimburse you if you get infected with the coronavirus and have to cancel or delay your flight. Travel insurance may not provide any benefits to travelers who choose to cancel an upcoming trip out of COVID-19 concerns, or who travel without taking reasonable care to protect themselves.

In this article:

What does travel insurance cover?

What’s covered by travel insurance depends on the policy and provider. You can buy an annual policy for travel insurance, the way you would with other insurance products (like life insurance) or you can buy insurance for a single trip that you plan to take. The insurance company will typically offer different levels of coverage, like basic trip cancellation to baggage delays or sports equipment or pet expenses.

Travel insurance broadly helps cover your in the following three ways:

  • Trip cancellation coverage
  • Trip interruption coverage and extras
  • Medical coverage

Trip cancellation is what comes to most people’s minds when they think about travel insurance — for example, refunding the cost of plane tickets or your hotel when your trip is cancelled. Trip interruption, on the other hand, entails covering losses due to inconveniences, like flight delays and lost or stolen baggage, as well as the costs of transportation and accommodation you incur as a result of the delay. Some travel insurance policies also let you extend coverage to the loss of pets or special sports equipment.

The catch with travel insurance is that for these benefits travel insurance doesn’t cover every risk. Instead they list certain covered reasons or covered events (similar to perils), like inclement weather or a strike that causes the airline to cease operations. Covered reasons are often narrowly defined and vary by travel insurance company so it’s crucial to know the terms of your policy.

Finally, travel insurance may cover the costs of medical coverage during your trip when your normal health insurance plan does not cover you in another country in the unfortunate event that you get into an accident and need care. However, many travel insurance plans do not carry this benefit, so confirm with your carrier if you’re concerned about health care costs.

How do travel insurance companies cover coronavirus?

Depending on your travel insurance carrier and your specific travel insurance policy terms, you, your family, anyone traveling with you, or a family member of anyone traveling with you, may be covered for these events related to COVID-19:

  • Illness or loss of life, if it occurred on or before your travel date
  • Quarantine imposed for health reasons
  • If your hotel or other accommodation is uninhabitable, such as if the building was locked down because of the coronavirus
  • Repatriation of remains should you or one of your traveling companions die while abroad

Travel insurance companies typically do not view the pandemic in and of itself as a valid reason for which you’re covered. That means if you cancel your flight due to fears of COVID-19, you should not expect to be reimbursed by your insurance provider. Similarly, if the airline cancels a flight due to coronavirus, the travel insurance company will not cover it unless pandemics are explicitly cited in your policy as something that they cover. (Note that many airlines themselves are fully reimbursing passengers who cancel their flights or have their flights cancelled anyway.)

However, insurance companies do cover trip cancellation due to illness. Cancelling a flight because you have contracted coronavirus should be covered by your policy. You may need to provide proof of diagnosis.

Medical coverage related to coronavirus is likely covered under travel health insurance, though be sure to read your policy and make sure you have this benefit. Furthermore, some travel insurance companies may have expanded their benefits during this time to cover health care related to coronavirus in light of recent events. (You will still need to have purchased a plan with an applicable benefit.)

What to do if you plan to travel

People intending to travel should always take precautionary measures and make informed decisions especially during a pandemic. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) makes travel recommendations regarding countries that are impacted by health problems. For more guidance, travelers should check the State Department website, which also issues travel advisories and alerts, including and beyond health-related concerns.

If you cannot avoid travelling during a pandemic, make sure your travel insurance covers enough of your expenses should the worst happen.

But buying travel insurance during a pandemic as a fail-safe for cancelled flights is usually not a wise idea, since there are strict rules about what’s covered. Perhaps counterintuitively, travel insurance companies do not cover any financial losses you might have due to expected or foreseen events. Think about it this way: if there was a hurricane headed toward the Caribbean, you might think to book a flight to the area and bank on travel insurance to help recover the costs if the flight is cancelled. Travel insurance companies are smarter than that and wouldn’t cover the cancellation because the hurricane, and its effects, have already been anticipated.

Similarly, you also won’t be covered if you’re already feeling COVID-19 symptoms and travel against a doctor’s orders. Since a policy typically doesn’t cover pandemics, you can approach getting travel insurance during a pandemic the same way you would for a trip during a less-fraught time.