Does Travel Insurance Cover Covid-19?
With the government simplifying travel for the fully vaccinated, you may be dusting off your passport and planning a getaway. But as Covid-19 hasn’t gone away, it’s important to be clear about what your travel insurance will cover if the virus disrupts your plans.
International travel is set to pick up again after changes to the UK’s traffic light system and testing regime has made going abroad easier and cheaper.
Holidaymakers now just have a single red list to consider, reduced to just seven countries on 11 October. And with the US easing restrictions for entry from November, more destinations are opening up for travel.
If you’re fully vaccinated and arriving in the UK from non-red list countries, you no longer need to take a pre-departure test. And from 24 October, to coincide with the half-term break, the two-day PCR test after you return to England or Scotland can be replaced by a cheaper lateral flow test. Wales and Northern Ireland have yet to confirm their position on this.
If all this talk of more straightforward travel has convinced you to book a break, your next concern might be what your travel insurance will cover if your trip is affected by Covid-19.
Here’s how insurers are approaching cover before you go and while you’re away, and the key features to look out for when you’re checking an existing policy or buying a new one.
What Covid-19 cover does travel insurance provide?
Travel insurance is there to cover you for unexpected events, including changes to your plans that are beyond your control, and emergency medical care when you’re away. If this sounds like cover for Covid-19 will automatically be included, it’s unfortunately not quite as simple as that.
In 2020, nearly all insurers did not offer full cover for holiday disruption due to Covid-19. Added to that, there is no standard coronavirus cover, so what you are insured for will depend on your provider and your specific policy.
Even so, all travel insurers should cover emergency medical expenses for Covid-19 while you are overseas. A basic level of cover will pay for you having to return home early and emergency healthcare cover if you contract the virus. Treatment and repatriation costs can be incredibly expensive, so this cover is important.
More comprehensive cover may include cancellation of your holiday if you have Covid-19 or have to self-isolate, and cutting your holiday short while you are away due to travel advice changing or a lockdown being introduced. It may also include accommodation costs if you have been told to quarantine and have to extend your stay. But this reads more like a wishlist than what is currently covered by the majority of policies.
Now that non-essential travel is possible again, the picture is changing, though. Some providers are reversing exclusions added in 2020 and now offer cancellation cover if you or a travel companion contracts Covid-19 and can’t travel, or you are instructed to self-isolate or quarantine. It’s possible that others will follow their lead.
If you booked your holiday before March 2020, your travel insurance may cover you if your getaway is cancelled or cut short due to the virus, before Covid-19 was a known risk. For holidays booked after that, there may be specific Covid-19 exclusions for cancelled plans due to the virus.
As cover varies so widely, it’s essential to check the wording of your policy so you know what you can and can’t make a claim for.
What won’t travel insurance cover with Covid-19?
Exclusions are important to be aware of before you go, especially as it’s possible that your level of protection isn’t quite what you’d expect when it comes to Covid-19.
Your travel insurer is unlikely to provide cover in the following situations:
Holiday costs other parties are liable for
If your holiday has been cancelled due to Covid-19, contact the package holiday, accommodation or transport provider to ask for a refund or replacement. Your insurer will expect you to take this route first.
You will need to go through the necessary steps with these providers, and be persistent with following up your query, before attempting a claim on your insurance policy.
If the provider cancelled the booking, it should issue a refund. You are entitled to a full refund if the company is UK-based, though this may not be the case if it’s based abroad. If you, rather than your provider, cancelled the booking due to Covid-19, you may not be entitled to a refund, depending on the conditions of the agreement. But it’s still worth explaining your situation and requesting one.
Between March 2020 and May 2021 the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) received over 23,000 complaints from people struggling to secure refunds for holidays they couldn't take. The CMA responded by reminding travel companies in two open letters of their obligation to offer refunds, including when Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advice changes before they go away.
Some holiday companies may offer credit notes or vouchers, though agreeing to take these will rule out being able to claim on your travel insurance. If your provider won’t refund you and tells you to claim on your travel insurance, get it in writing as proof for your insurer.
If these options aren’t working out, and you paid for your holiday with a credit or debit card, you could consider contacting your card provider under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act and the chargeback scheme.
If you booked your holiday against FCDO advice
Most insurers won’t provide any cover if you travel to a red list country or go against FCDO advice, regardless of whether or not you are fully vaccinated. If you already have travel insurance, going against this advice will likely invalidate your entire policy.
When it comes to testing, if you travel to a red list country, you will still need to quarantine in a managed quarantine hotel and follow the rules for testing. And wherever you’re going, you will need to follow the testing, vaccination and entry rules of your destination country and check them regularly. If you don’t keep to these rules, you will have to pay the cost of getting home.
The cost of quarantining in a hotel once you’re back in the UK won’t be covered by your insurer.
If travel rules change after you’ve booked
Most insurers will not pay out if lockdown, FCDO or entry rules change and you’re unable to travel by law.
However, a handful of insurers are beginning to reverse the exclusions of 2020. These policies may include cancellation cover for Covid-19 and if government and FCDO travel advice changes after you’ve booked your holiday or bought your travel insurance.
If you change your mind and don’t want to travel
If your holiday is still viable, but you don’t want to travel because you’re worried about Covid-19, or don’t want to risk quarantining, this won’t usually be covered by your insurance policy. You could get in touch with your holiday providers about refunds or moving your break to further in the future, though.
If you have holiday remaining that you can’t use
If your trip is cut short while you’re abroad and you’ve paid for accommodation or excursions you can’t use because you have to quarantine, or return to the UK due to government or FCDO travel restrictions, your insurer is unlikely to cover the cost.
However, if you have to self-isolate due to contracting Covid-19 or exposure to the virus while you’re away, this may be covered, depending on the insurer.
What Covid-19 cover should you look for in a travel policy?
You will want to be clear about your insurer’s approach to Covid-19 before you go and while you are away, so read the policy documents carefully. You won’t want to be constantly on edge, worrying about having to foot the bill for cancellations or changes in rules – it’s supposed to be a holiday, after all.
Before you go: cancellation of your holiday due to Covid-19
You will want to check if the following is covered:
- Cancellation of your holiday because you or someone you are travelling with has to self-isolate or quarantine, whether diagnosed with the virus or due to advice from the government or a public body.
- Cancellation due to the re-introduction of lockdown in the UK or a change of FCDO advice after you’ve booked your holiday or bought the travel insurance policy, which means you can’t travel.
While you’re abroad: if you contract Covid-19 or need to adjust your trip
You may also want to check if the following costs will be covered while you are away:
- Emergency medical care if you have Covid-19 while you’re abroad, and the cost of getting home if you’re requested to return to the UK.
- Extra accommodation if you have to extend your trip because you have to quarantine while you’re away.
- Excursions and trips booked before you went away that you can’t go on because you have Covid-19 or are told to self-isolate or quarantine.
- The cost of cutting your holiday short, such as accommodation you’re unable to use, because FCDO advice, or advice of overseas governments, changes while you are abroad.
Depending on the policy, you may also be covered if you have to cut your holiday short because a close family member is unwell with Covid-19 while you are away.
Do you need an EHIC or GHIC as well as travel insurance in Europe?
A health insurance card isn’t a replacement for travel insurance, so you will need both.
If you’re travelling to Europe, you should have a valid UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) or UK European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). GHICs are the post-Brexit replacement for EHICs, but you only need to apply for a GHIC once your existing EHIC expires. This will give you access to free or discounted state healthcare, which is medically necessary in an EU country you’re visiting. You can apply for your card free of charge, through the NHS website.
Travel insurance is important because it covers you for more eventualities and possible costs. GHICs and EHICs won’t cover you for all medical costs, or the cost of emergency travel back to the UK. Travel insurance can include repatriation costs, delayed or cancelled flights, private medical care costs where there is no state healthcare, lost or stolen cash or luggage, as well as the cost of healthcare if you’re travelling outside the EU.
Before you pack your suitcase
Despite positive signs that travel is getting easier and travel insurers updating their cover to better account for Covid-19, it’s not a static situation, and rule changes are possible.
Before you book and ahead of leaving on your trip, keep up to date with government travel advice and testing regimes both at home and in the country you are visiting. And bear in mind that the rules in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, such as how you prove your vaccination status, will differ.
If you’re sticking with a staycation, you may still want to consider travel insurance. While medical costs will be less of a concern, other risks such as injury or illness, including Covid-19, meaning you have to cancel your holiday or cut it short, lost belongings and personal liability cover may still apply. It’s worth checking your home insurance policy, as if you have personal possessions cover as part of your contents insurance, you may already have some protection for taking valuables outside your home.
Wherever you are travelling, assuming you’ll be covered by your travel insurance for Covid-19 is a risky business. Always check the details and exclusions before you buy cover and before you go away, and if you’re unsure, ask the insurer.
If you’re organising a hotel or flights, before you book, be clear about the refund policy if your plans do end up having to be cancelled.
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Holly champions clear, jargon-free writing. She’s been creating finance content for leading organisations for over 10 years, with expertise in insurance, wills and probate, and all things health. Read more