It has been a long time since we were able to pack our suitcases and jet off for an overseas trip. But before we book our flights and head to the airport, it's important to know we are covered for all contingencies.
Insurance has always been an important part of travel, but will travel insurance cover COVID-19? And if so, exactly what is covered? Medical expenses? Cancellation due to related government travel bans or isolation requirements?
Consumer watchdog CHOICE has compiled a helpful guide for travellers looking for comprehensive insurance in a post COVID world.
Can you get travel insurance to cover COVID-19?
Yes, some policies will provide limited cover if the person or people named on the policy get COVID-19. However, travel insurance is unlikely to cover for cancellation due to government travel bans.
Cover will likely be limited to medical, quarantine and sometimes cancellation costs if you contract COVID-19, but some policies may cover you for expenses if you're deemed a close contact.
CHOICE has a comprehensive list of insurers who provide COVID coverage. For more information see the link at the bottom of the page.
Cover for medical expenses
Policies that cover medical expenses for COVID-19 will pay for emergency medical and hospital costs. they will also cover medically assisted repatriation to Australia, if required. Most policies provide unlimited cover for medical expenses, though some policies may be limited to a specific dollar amount.
Cover for cancellation costs
Some policies will also cover cancellation or amendment expenses if the policy holder catches COVID-19 before departure, or while overseas. These policies may also cover cancellation and amendment expenses if the policy holder is deemed a close contact of someone who tests positive to COVID-19, but not in all cases, so it's important to check with your insurer.
Cover for quarantine costs
Some policies will cover quarantine costs if the policy holder is ordered into quarantine while overseas because they have contracted COVID-19, but very few policies will cover expenses for someone ordered into quarantine if they have not contracted COVID-19.
'Complimentary' COVID-19 insurance
Some tour operators or airlines are offering complimentary 'COVID insurance 'for those who book a tour with them, but it is important to read policies carefully to ensure you understand them.
Complimentary 'COVID insurance' might only cover COVID-19 and nothing else. And it might be issued by an overseas insurance company, which means it will be subject to the regulations of the country of the insurer. A comprehensive Australian travel insurance policy is probably the best option.
Domestic travel insurance
There are several insurers selling domestic travel insurance, but not all insurers will cover COVID-19. Read the travel insurance PDS to check if you're covered for cancellation if you or someone you're travelling with catches COVID-19. Travel insurance is unlikely to provide coverage for government travel bans.
COVID-19 cover checklist
Be sure to check the following policy details when considering travel insurance for your next trip.
- Is your destination covered? Insurers may not cover travel to destinations where Smartraveller advice levels are 'Do not travel' or 'Reconsider your need to travel'. Insurers might also limit cover to countries that have a travel zone agreement with Australia, or countries that Medicare has a reciprocal agreement with, such as the UK.
- Are you covered for the full duration of your trip? Can you extend your cover should you end up stuck outside Australia for longer than originally planned?
- Are stopovers on the way to your destination covered?If so, check if there is a restriction on the amount of time you can spend at a stopover location. Ask what happens if you remain stuck for an extended period of time.
- Are you covered if your trip is cancelled, or your stay is extended because you or your travelling companion tests positive to COVID-19? Also ask what would happen if you had to go into isolation because you became a close contact of someone who tested positive.
- Are you covered for cancellation costs if a family member or business partner catches COVID-19 and you need to return earlier than planned?
- Are additional expenses covered if the person you were planning to stay with catches COVID, or your accommodation or tour company is shut down due to COVID?
- Be extra careful if you are planning a cruise. Some travel insurers do not offer COVID-19 cover for multi-night cruises
- Ask whether claims caused by government travel bans, 'Do not travel' warnings, border closures, or mandatory quarantine or self-isolation requirements are covered.
For more information, see the CHOICE travel insurance buying guide on Smartraveller and subscribe to Smartraveller alerts for the destination you're travelling to.
Can you get a refund on travel insurance?
If your trip gets cancelled because of a government travel ban, your insurer may allow you to reschedule your insurance, or cancel it and claim credit towards a future premium. Make sure to ask insurers about their policies.
Policies have a cooling off period of 14 days. If you change your mind in this period, you can cancel your policy and get a refund.
Some insurers may decline to refund, reschedule or provide a credit for unused premiums.
The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) considers a credit or refund of your premium a fair outcome where:
- You got a refund or credit from all travel providers and there is nothing left to claim on your travel insurance
- Your travel insurance policy has a COVID-19-related exclusion that prevents you from claiming on the policy
Partial policy refunds
If you buy a travel insurance policy, cover immediately kicks in for cancellation due to unforeseen events. If your insurer offers you a refund, they may calculate a partial refund, factoring in cover that has already been received through the policy.
AFCA considers proportionate refunds fair, but insurers should be transparent about their calculation methods.
If your travel insurer has knocked back your request for a credit or refund, you can take the following steps:
- Lodge an objection with the insurer, noting AFCA's stated approach
- If the insurer still refuses, you can escalate a complaint to AFCA
What to do if your insurer denies your claim
It is up to you as the policyholder to establish that you have a valid claim under the policy's terms and conditions. Then it's up to the insurer to determine the validity of your claim.
If you disagree with the insurer's decision, you can lodge a complaint through the company's internal dispute resolution service.
If this doesn't give you a satisfactory result, you can escalate your complaint to AFCA.
For more information, including the outcomes of complaints to the AFCA which have been successful click HERE