Worried about what travel in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic might bring? With so much uncertainty surrounding overseas travel, the argument for protecting yourself with travel insurance has never been stronger.
But like most things, travel insurance has been changed by the pandemic, too. Insurance providers took a PR battering in the early months of the first lockdown when holidaymakers complained they were not getting pay outs for trips they couldn’t take. In response, the travel insurance sector swiftly added ‘COVID cover’ as a standard item on policy schedules.
But how exactly do you make sure you are fully protected by your travel policy when you plan a trip in the wake of the pandemic? Let’s look at three golden rules to follow.
Lots of travel insurance companies are understandably shouting about the ‘COVID cover’ they offer on their policies. But don’t fall into the trap of assuming that those two words will automatically give you complete protection to claim against any COVID-related incident that happens on your trip.
The reality is that ‘COVID cover’ can mean many different things. Nearly all policies you find advertising COVID protection will pay out if you happen to fall ill with the virus and need medical attention while you are away. Because of the incubation times involved, the likelihood of this happening is actually quite low.
Much more likely is that you will test positive for the virus before you travel, and therefore not be able to take your trip (lab-based tests within 72 hours of arrival have become a standard condition of entry to most countries). Many travel insurance firms will offer to pay out the cost of having to cancel should this happen, but not all.
Even fewer (roughly one in three, according to Which?) will pay out if you have to cancel because you come into close contact with someone who tests positive and have to self-isolate. And only a tiny fraction offer cover if your trip is cancelled because of a change in travel or lockdown rules.
The golden rule here is, read the wording carefully so you know exactly what ‘COVID cover’ means on each individual policy.
Another easy trap to fall into is the ambiguity that surrounds travel to so-called ‘amber list’ countries, which include popular holiday destinations like Spain, Greece and France. Even though it is not illegal to travel to these places, and the UK government has even lifted the requirement for fully vaccinated people returning from them to self-isolate for 10 days, the official advice is that you shouldn’t travel unless it is essential.
While thousands of people are happily ignoring that advice, it does present a problem when it comes to travel insurance. By convention, travel insurers will not cover anyone who decides to travel to a country when official advice warns against it. That means if you do, say, travel to Spain, fall ill and need medical treatment, your insurer is unlikely to pay out on the costs, even if you have bought what you thought was a valid policy.
What we have seen in response to this is travel insurance companies starting to offer special ‘amber country cover’ to smooth over this rather grey area in the rules. It’s a sensible step, not least because insurance companies recognise there is now a big market of people willing to head to countries on the amber list.
But ‘amber cover’ is by no means automatic, and in many cases it is available only as a paid-for extra. If you are planning on travelling to a country on the amber list, make sure you ask your travel insurance provider whether they offer this service.
This is a piece of advice that has always applied to buying travel insurance, and is very important. The reason to highlight it in the wake of the pandemic is that insurance companies have arguably become more twitchy than ever about the number of pay-outs they have to make and, quite frankly, are looking for any reason to refuse a claim.
While all travel policies include medical cover, this is only intended for general and emergency medical care. Yes, the cover limits can be considerable (typically in the millions), to reflect the fact that the costs of life-saving medical treatment in a foreign country should you suffer a terrible accident can be extremely high.
But this is worst-case scenario, unforeseen emergency stuff. What the medical schedule in a travel insurance policy is not designed to do is cover the cost of specific treatments for specific illnesses or conditions. If you travel abroad with a standard policy and end up needing medical attention for a pre-existing condition, your insurance company will simply refuse to pay.
In fact, they will refuse to pay for any medical treatment you might need, even if completely unrelated to your condition, on the grounds that your non-disclosure makes the policy void. Put simply, you have to declare your medical condition to give the insurance company the opportunity to decide if they want to sell you a policy or not (or charge you more for doing so).
There’s no way around having to declare a medical condition to a travel insurance provider. But what you can do is choose a company that specialises in policies for people with pre-existing conditions, who will be able to offer a tailored level of cover designed to meet your needs at a fair price. Find out more here.