Travel Insurance and COVID-19: What you need to know

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In this article, we take an in-depth look at travel insurance in a time of COVID-19.

In the current climate, there are many factors outside of your control which could result in expensive bills.

If you've ever wondered what your risks when traveling are, or what you should have in terms of insurance, this guide will help you understand it all.

What are the risks of traveling in the time of COVID-19?

There are three basic categories of risk when traveling during COVID-19:

  • Contracting COVID-19 away from home and needing medical assistance
  • Contracting COVID-19 and having to isolate or be unable to travel
  • Being subject to a COVID-19 related closure or travel advisory

Each of these will wreak havoc on your travel plans, and could cause you to be out thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) of dollars.  We will look at each of these scenarios in the next sections. 

What happens if you get COVID-19 on your trip and need medical assistance?

Generally, the health insurance plan you get from work or through the government (Medicare, etc.) will cover some expenses but not all of them. There are many exceptions to health insurance plans which restrict what will be covered when you're traveling -- especially if you're traveling out of your country.

This extends to COVID-19 as well. Some insurers will cover all expenses, while most will cover certain emergency assistance, but you could be responsible for all of the ancillary costs.

Furthermore, most insurers will make you pay out of pocket for out-of-network coverage, leaving you with high bills that you may not have enough cash to pay.

And they will generally not cover evacuation/repatriation expenses, which can go well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars range.

We recommend that you contact your health insurer to determine exactly what they would cover.

Your credit card may also provide some benefits, though they are limited in scope. Then you can choose whether you need additional travel insurance to cover the gaps.

One other important thing to consider: some destinations require insurance coverage that includes COVID-19, so you should check with the travel office for your destination on what is required.

TIP: Look for a travel insurance plan that treats COVID-19 like any other illness. You will can find this information on travelinsurance.com in each plan's COVID-19 FAQ. Click here to search plans.

What happens if you get COVID-19 and have to isolate while traveling?

In general, if you or a travel companion get COVID-19 and have to isolate, you won't be protected by your health insurance or personal insurance.

You will still be responsible for all costs associated with isolation, and (more importantly) all of the costs incurred due to canceling flights and hotels.

In many cases, you need a negative COVID-19 test in order to get on an airplane, so if you contract the virus, you will forfeit the money you spent on a ticket.

You will also have to pay for additional hotel nights.

Insurance from your credit card company may provide a small benefit here, but it will often be far less than the costs you can incur. Also, some credit cards specifically exempt COVID-19 related coverage.

And there are additional hoops you may have to go through in order to be reimbursed by your credit card company.

This is a scenario where travel insurance is especially helpful.

Depending on what plan you choose, it can cover the expenses due to cancellations, as well as any repatriation and additional travel costs.

The best travel insurance plans have an extension clause, which will automatically extend the insurance (up to a maximum) if your trip gets extended.

TIP: Look for a travel insurance policy that includes fill trip delay coverage and has an extension clause. You can find these by searching plans here, and then browsing the plans' COVID-19 FAQs

What happens if you get COVID-19 and have to isolate before you depart?

In this case, you're likely out of luck if you don't have a good travel insurance plan.  Your credit card may provide some coverage here, but the amount of coverage and the exclusions can vary wildly between companies.  

TIP: Search here for top travel insurance plans. You can check the COVID-19 FAQ links on the left to ensure that they cover your specific scenario.

What happens if there is a COVID-19 related travel advisory at your destination?

The answer to this depends on the level of travel advisories. In many cases, insurance will not cover this at all.

Even if you have travel insurance, you may be covered for top level travel advisories, but not lower level advisories.

The way to be truly protected in this scenario is to purchase a travel insurance policy with a "Cancel for Any Reason" clause.  That allows you to cancel due to any travel advisory, as well as other occurrences. 

TIP: You can find plans that cover a level 4 (top level) travel advisory.  Click here to search, and then look for a travel advisory clause in the plans' COVID-19 FAQs.  

What happens if your destination won't allow you in due to COVID-19 policies?

This depends on why you aren't allowed in to your destination. 

If you or a travel companion tested positive for COVID-19, you won't be covered by your health insurance plan, and you are unlikely to be fully covered by your credit card or personal insurance plans.

A good travel insurance plan, however, will cover you and reimburse your trip costs.

If you (or a travel companion) don't have COVID-19, but the destination has closed due to a policy change, you will have to cancel your tickets and hotel reservations.

In this case, a good travel insurance policy (but not all) will provide coverage.

TIP: Policies always list covered reasons for trip cancellation.  Click here to search for plans, and then read the coverage details before buying.  

What happens if your flight/hotel/etc. is canceled or closed due to COVID-19?

In this case, your credit card may provide some protection.

However, the limits on credit card protection tend to be low, and will generally be too small to cover your trip. To understand what is covered and what amounts are provided, call your credit card company.

Here, again, a good travel insurance policy will provide the most protection.

TIP: Call your credit card company and check if this is fully covered.  If not, search here for travel insurance policies, and check the COVID-19 FAQs for the appropriate cancellation coverage.

How can I find good COVID-19 travel insurance?

Travelinsurance.com is a great place to find the best plans.

Once you have entered your trip information, the site lists the best plans, and each one has a link on the left to a complete COVID-19 FAQ, which gives you all of the details about the COVID-19 coverage.