For travellers who seek the finest that the world has to offer
 

Navigating the travel insurance maze in a post-Covid world

From policy types to must-have inclusions, travel insurance has changed in Covid times, writes Caroline Davidson.

Yes, let’s rejoice! Travel, even international travel, is back! But there’s an elephant in the room…travel insurance. Let’s face it; enough things went wrong over the last two years to make us desperate for a holiday or to see loved ones from whom we were separated.

If, like many people, you are looking forward to seeing your special ones, navigating the new pre-travel requirements and purchasing the travel insurance that’s right for you will be a challenge, even for frequent and experienced travellers.

We don’t need anything to go wrong when we are travelling; but it can.

Travel insurance offers peace of mind, financial protection, and the help you need if that worst-case scenario comes to pass. Often regarded as the one of the least exciting, non-sexy parts of the travel process, travel insurance is however, as essential as a passport and is now more important than ever.

travel insurance covid
Do you have the right cover before you head off? Image: Canva

What could possibly go wrong?

Apart from catching COVID-19, travel insurance protects travellers for many situations unrelated to COVID, which can include medical cover and assistance, dental cover, changed or cancelled travel plans, lost luggage, and theft.

Travel insurance remains essential for all the reasons it was pre-pandemic: to provide protection when the unexpected occurs far from home.

For those who believe travel insurance is an unnecessary expense, it may be well worth reconsidering. Even in countries which order reciprocal medical coverage to visiting Australians, many services and medical expenses are not covered and can add-up if you become ill or have an accident.

Travel insurance has changed

The travel insurance landscape has, like most travel businesses, been affected by the pandemic. Many previously well-known and trusted providers ceased offering a travel product altogether or are revamping their offering for a future relaunch. Do not assume the provider you have used for your last trip will be able to cover you now. Costs, inclusions and coverage may also have undergone major changes.

Be sure to read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) for any insurance product you may be considering, before you buy, to ensure it is right for your needs.

Here’s what we know to help you find your way through the maze of information:

As of November 1st, the Australian government has lifted its total outgoing travel ban which previously required anyone wishing to travel overseas to apply for an exemption to be allowed to travel.

All destinations listed on the Smartraveller website have carried a Level 4: Do Not Travel warning during the pandemic.

This has now been revised for many destinations:

  • Level 3: Reconsider your need to travel or
  • Level 2: Exercise a high degree of caution, depending on the assessment of risk.

When considering travel insurance, the first thing you should check is how your destination, and any planned stopovers, are rated. Travel insurers usually accept level 2 but may have added restrictions, costs or offer no coverage at all if your destination is rated level 3 or is still at level 4.

Smartraveller advice states, “It has never been more important to secure travel insurance than in this current environment. You should always check details of your insurance coverage, particularly how it applies to COVID-19 and travel disruptions. You should also check if your destination requires compulsory insurance cover.” The site also provides a helpful Pre-travel Basics checklist.

If you're planning a multi-stop trip make sure to list any stopovers. Image: Canva

COVID-19 insurance

But what if you get COVID-19 overseas?

The Smartraveller website has a CHOICE travel insurance buying guide which addresses travel insurance needs and various available coverage for COVID-19.

In a positive move and to encourage international travel and give customers confidence, Emirates, Etihad and Cathay Pacific airlines currently offer complimentary cover for COVID along with tickets purchased on these carriers. Qantas offers COVID cover as an add-on option for purchase at the time of booking and Jetstar offers cover for domestic travel only for $27.50 per person but expect an announcement on international travel soon. Each company’s offering is different, so be sure to read the terms and conditions carefully.

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) advises that, “The introduction of COVID cover has not significantly impacted premium costs, and travel insurance remains good value given the benefits it provides travellers if the unexpected happens. An increasing number of destinations, including Singapore, the UAE and Thailand, require overseas visitors to have cover for COVID-related medical treatment.

Travellers should read their policies carefully to make sure it provides cover for their particular circumstances and destinations. Check your destination’s COVID requirements – some countries will require inbound travellers to not only be vaccinated but have a minimum amount of cover specifically for COVID related medical expenses. The destination may also require you to produce a negative pre-trip COVID test.

Not all travel policies will automatically cover COVID – some insurers may have this cover as an add-on for an additional cost and some will include it in the policy as part of the overall cost.”

Some providers are currently only offering insurance for travel within Australia. Of those that do offer international travel insurance, many do not include coverage for getting COVID 19 while you are away. Cover-more and 1Cover are two companies that are now offering limited coverage for COVID-related medical expenses for their international policies. More are likely to join in as vaccination rates rise and countries continue to open borders to travellers.

Comparison sites such as finder.com.au can help you compare policies and coverage options.

Even global insurers such as World Nomads, which previously allowed you to buy insurance anywhere in the world, even while travelling, are currently not offering travel insurance. So do research and buy your insurance before you depart on your travels.

travel insurance covid
Shop around for your travel insurance before you settle. Image Canva

What policy types are available?

Basic

Basic medical cover may suit budget travellers or backpackers without expensive luggage items who want the cheapest option. These policies cover you for medical assistance and health emergencies which can be extremely costly, if experienced overseas.

General inclusions will be:

  • Emergency medical treatment.
  • General medical assistance.
  • Patient transport to hospital by helicopter or ambulance.
  • Medical evacuations back to Australia.
  • Injuries and accidents unless it’s from an excluded activity such as skiing.

Comprehensive

These policies cover most things for most people in most situations and suit most Australian travellers. However, as with all policies, you will need to check the insurer’s optional extras, or item limits if you’re carrying expensive items.

Most comprehensive travel insurance policies exclude pre-existing physical and mental health conditions. Some insurers will cover you if you pay extra.

Businessman waiting for airport
Always read the fine print on your insurance policy, you don't want to be left behind. Image: Canva

Annual multi-trip

These annual travel insurance policies can be good value for frequent travellers but may restrict the length of each trip. Be sure to consider this before you buy. These policies may now be harder to get and may be more expensive. You can get a quote from some providers online but you may have to contact the company for a quote to see if they will offer you this product, and at what cost.

Free credit card travel insurance may also have changed. Double check with your card provider and the conditions under which you are covered. It may be obvious but worth noting, you will need to purchase the travel with the credit card to be eligible for their travel insurance product. Before you are tempted to go with the free option, make sure you research what is covered, the level of coverage and what you must do to be eligible for it. Check how your free credit card travel insurance policy compares with CHOICE reviews.

Considerations when buying travel insurance:

Where are you going?

Check your destination and any stopovers for travel status and requirements. Most insurers will not cover you if the advice is Level 4: Do Not Travel.

How long are you going to be away?

If choosing an annual policy, your selected trip length is applied to your whole annual policy so if only one trip is going to be long and most much shorter, you may be better getting a single trip policy for the long trip and then an annual policy with a specified shorter trip length to cover your usual travel.

Your age and ages of your travelling companions.

Most policies have an age limit. After the age of 60 premiums can be steeper or conditions for coverage restrictive.

Your health

You must divulge underlying known health or medical conditions to the insurance company. This may affect the level or cost of cover provided.

Your trip specifics

Extras, extensions or specific types of cover (e.g. for Covid19, skiing or cruising) may be offered but will add to the cost, sometimes significantly.

The advice of the ICA is to carefully consider your needs and not to select a policy or level of cover on cost alone as it could end up costing you much more. One size does not fit all; check inclusions, exclusions and limits, and how the cover responds to various Covid-19 related situations.

Ski holiday
Trip specifics like if you're holidaying at an adventure destination could affect your cover. Image Canva

The fine print (and why you should always read it)

You must take responsibility for your situation when you travel, including your finances. If you do not have insurance the Australian government cannot pay your bills or loan you money. To understand how consular services work and how they can help, check the consular services charter.

It may be difficult and more expensive to get insurance once you have left Australia. Buy your insurance when you purchase your other major travel components; that way you may be covered if your trip is unexpectedly cancelled. Healthcare overseas can be costly. Most countries will not give you free or even subsidised medical care. Hospitals may refuse to treat you if you do not have insurance. Some countries have mandated a level of coverage for COVID to be granted entry.

So, if you’re ready to get out into that glorious wide world and travel again, remember, before you head to the nearest airport, if you can’t afford insurance, you can’t afford to travel.

This article originally appeared in volume 40 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. Subscribe to the latest issue today.