What You Need to Know Now About Travel Insurance

When the pandemic struck, many travel insurance policies failed to cover Covid-19-related trip interruptions and cancellations, often because they excluded pandemics. But in the intervening months, the travel insurance industry has introduced a spate of new policies covering the disease just as many foreign destinations begin to require them.

“We’ve seen progress in that many plans will now treat Covid like any other unexpected sickness or illness,” said Stan Sandberg, a co-founder of the comparison website Travelinsurance.com. “If you have a trip and travel insurance and came down with Covid-19, which made it impossible to travel, that would fall under cancellation coverage as an unexpected illness that prevents you from traveling.”

Likewise, policies now including Covid-19 would cover holders in the event that a doctor diagnosed them with the virus while traveling under the trip interruption benefit.

Not all travel insurance excluded pandemics when the coronavirus began to spread early this year; Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection was one exception. But the broader change partially arises from consumer demand, a better understanding of the virus — including mortality rates and hospital costs — and the industry’s eagerness for travel to resume.

“People who are traveling are more conscious of their risks and thinking about protecting themselves and their investment,” said Jeremy Murchland, the president of the travel insurer Seven Corners. The company launched policies that included Covid-19 coverage in June; they now account for more than 80 percent of sales.

But, like all insurance, the devil is in the details when it comes to understanding travel insurance, including what’s covered, destinations where it’s required, and the inevitable caveats, as follows.

How travel insurance covers Covid-19

The new Covid-inclusive insurance generally covers travelers from the day after purchase until their return home. During that period, if you become sick and a doctor determines you cannot travel (because of the virus or another illness), trip cancellation and trip interruption benefits would kick in.

These benefits vary by policy, but a search to insure a $2,000 weeklong trip to Costa Rica in December on Travelinsurance.com turned up a $69.75 Generali Global Assistance Standard policy with Covid-19 benefits that would be triggered if you, your host at your destination, a travel companion or a family member tested positive for the virus.

If this happened before your departure, the policy would cover your prepaid travel expenses. If you or your travel companion contracted Covid-19 during the trip and were diagnosed by a physician, it would reimburse prepaid arrangements, such as lodgings, and cover additional airfare to return home — once a doctor deems it safe to travel — up to $2,500. Should you be required to quarantine and can’t travel, travel delay coverage for lodging, meals and local transportation would pay up to $1,000. The policy also covers medical expenses for up to one year, even after you return home, up to $50,000 — though the policy also states that a holder would have to exhaust their own health insurance benefits before seeking coverage under the travel insurance plan.

Travelers should read these policies carefully to understand the benefits (for example, some rules vary by your state of residence), but brokers like TravelInsurance.com, InsureMyTrip and Squaremouth are making them easier to find through filters, F.A.Q.s and flags.

The new more comprehensive policies don’t necessarily cost more. On a Squaremouth search for insurance for two 40-year-olds on a two-week trip costing $5,000, the site turned up a variety of policies with or without coronavirus exclusions from $130 to $300, with no apparent premium for Covid-19 coverage.

Not every Covid-19-related expense is covered by many of these policies, including tests for the virus that many destinations require before arrival (those may be covered by private insurance).

Many policies include medical evacuation to a nearby facility, but won’t necessarily transport you home. For those concerned about treatment abroad, Medjet, a medical evacuation specialist, now offers Covid-19-related evacuations in the 48 contiguous United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean that will transport you to the hospital of your choice in your home country (trip coverage starts at $99; annual memberships start at $189).

“Covid-19 requires special transport pods to protect the crew and others, which adds logistical issues,” said John Gobbels, the vice president and chief operating officer for Medjet.

In addition to the Medjet plan, travelers would need separate travel insurance with medical benefits to cover treatment costs and trip interruption.

Destination insurance requirements

Travelers aren’t the only ones worried about health. A growing list of countries are mandating medical coverage for Covid-19 as a prerequisite for visiting, often along with other measures like pre-trip virus testing and health screenings for symptoms on arrival.

Many Caribbean islands are among those requiring travel medical insurance, including Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. St. Maarten requires health insurance coverage and strongly recommends additional travel insurance covering Covid-19.

Farther-flung countries also require policies that cover Covid-19, including French Polynesia and the Maldives.

Some destinations specify the required plan as a way to ensure travelers have the correct coverage and to expedite treatment. Aruba requires visitors to buy its Aruba Visitors Insurance, regardless of any other plans you may have.

“Insurance through a destination typically only covers Covid and infection while you’re there,” said Kasara Barto, a spokeswoman for Squaremouth.com. “If you catch Covid before, they don’t offer cancellation coverage. If you break a leg, the policy may only cover Covid medication. It varies by country.”

Costa Rica also requires insurance that includes an unusual benefit stipulating a policy cover up to $2,000 in expenses for a potential Covid-19 quarantine while in the country.

In response to the new requirement, which Costa Rica announced in October, insurers, including Trawick International, have begun introducing policies that meet the standard.

“It was a pretty quick and nimble reaction,” Mr. Sandberg of TravelInsurance.com said.

Normally, travel insurance varies by factors including the age of the traveler, destination, trip length and cost (most range from 4 to 10 percent of the trip cost). But some destinations are providing it at a flat fee, with most policies spelling out coverage limits and terms for emergency medical services, evacuation and costs associated with quarantines.

Jamaica, which will require insurance, but has not said when the new rule will go into effect, plans to charge $40 for each traveler. The Bahamas will include the insurance in the cost of its Travel Health Visa, an application that requires negative Covid-19 test results, which runs $40 to $60 depending on length of stay (free for children 10 and younger). The Turks and Caicos is offering a policy for $9.80 a day, and Costa Rica’s policies, if purchased locally, cost roughly $10 a day.

Expect this list of destinations to grow. In January, the Spanish region of Andalusia plans to require travel medical insurance and is working on finding a provider to make it easy for travelers to buy it.

Gaps in travel insurance

Policies that cover Covid-19 as a medical event that may cause trip cancellation or disruption, or those that provide coverage for medical treatment and evacuation still don’t necessarily cover travelers who have a change of heart when they learn they will have to quarantine upon arrival, even if they don’t have the virus. Nor are policies necessarily tied to conditions on the ground, like a spike in infections, State Department travel warnings, a government travel ban or the cessation of flights to and from a destination.

For those events, there’s Cancel For Any Reason, or CFAR, an upgrade to plans that generally only returns 50 to 75 percent of your nonrefundable trip costs.

“Prior to the pandemic, we wouldn’t necessarily recommend CFAR because most of travelers’ concerns were covered by standard plans,” Ms. Barto of Squaremouth.com said. “It’s about 40 percent more expensive and we didn’t want travelers to pay for additional coverage.” Now, she added, there’s been a surge in interest in the upgrade, including in 22 percent of policies sold at the site since mid-March.

Industry experts predict some of these outstanding issues may work their way into policies of the future as they adapt to enduring realities, much as they did after 9/11 in covering travelers in case of terrorist events, which was not the norm before.

The pandemic “was unprecedented, but once it happened, the industry has been pretty quick to react and create coverage, and that’s in the spirit of how this industry is trying to define itself, to be one of those subtle but valuable assets,” Mr. Sandberg said. “Once the world opens back up, we expect travel insurance to be much more top of mind with travelers.”

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