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With international travel opening up, travel insurers are again selling international travel insurance to Australians, in addition to domestic travel insurance.
But will travel insurance cover COVID-19 medical expenses or cancellation due to related government travel bans or isolation requirements?
Many travel insurance policies will provide limited cover if you or your travelling companion get COVID-19.
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.
Travel insurance is unlikely to cover you for cancellation due to government travel bans.
The drop-down table below shows which international travel insurance policies cover COVID-19 medical and repatriation costs if you're diagnosed with COVID-19 while overseas. These policies may also cover cancellation expenses for COVID-19. Please read the product disclosure statement (PDS) for your policy to understand your cover.
If you notice an insurer that covers COVID-19 medical costs who's not on this list, or any insurer on this list whose cover has changed, please let us know.
Cover for medical expenses for COVID-19
Policies that cover medical expenses for COVID-19 will pay for emergency medical and hospital, and medically assisted repatriation to Australia if deemed necessary. Most policies provide unlimited cover for medical expenses, though some policies may limit cover to a dollar amount.
Cover for cancellation costs for COVID-19
Some policies will cover cancellation and amendment expenses if you get COVID-19 before you leave, or while you're overseas. These policies may also cover you for cancellation and amendment expenses if you're deemed a close contact of someone who tests positive to COVID-19, but this isn't always the case. The cover amount can be limited to as little as a couple thousand dollars, so check with your travel insurer specifically to find out what they'll cover because it can be tricky.
Below are some of the typical exclusions for cancellation cover.
- Cooling off periods for COVID-19 cancellation cover might usually be 72 hours, but Cover-more and other policies underwritten by Zurich don't cover cancellations if you test positive to COVID-19 within 21 days of the policy purchase date.
- Travel insurance is unlikely to cover cancellation costs if you're unable to travel due to general travel restrictions, like lockdowns at home or at your destination, or government travel alerts due to COVID-19.
- In addition, COVID-19 is classified as a 'known event' by insurers. If a Smartraveller alert level is raised to 'Reconsider your need to travel' or 'Do not travel' due to a COVID outbreak at your destination, many insurers won't cover you to cancel your trip.
- This exclusion usually also applies to border closures, mandatory quarantine, or self-isolation requirements at your destination that are not due to you contracting COVID-19 or being a close contact.
- Travel insurance that covers cancellation for COVID-19 usually covers you to cancel if you or a travelling companion get COVID-19. A 'travelling companion' may be defined as someone who is travelling at least 50% of the trip with you. Read the policy fine print to understand what that means for your cover.
Cover for quarantine costs for COVID-19
If you're ordered into quarantine while overseas because you've contracted COVID-19, some policies will cover your quarantine expenses. However, if you're ordered into quarantine without having contracted COVID-19, very few policies will cover your expenses in this scenario.
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 cover you for government travel bans.
Travel insurance for an Aussie holiday may be worth considering if you're:
- spending a lot of money on your trip
- carrying expensive equipment, such as custom-made surfboards
- hiring a car, as some travel insurance can cover the damage excess.
All Australian domestic airlines currently offer flexible ticket booking, so check what your rebooking options are before you fork out for domestic travel insurance.
Be sure to check the following cover 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'.
- Does your destination require proof that you're insured for COVID-19 related medical expenses? For example, Singapore requires minimum coverage of SGD $30,000.
- Are you covered for the full duration of your trip? For example, can you extend your cover if you end up stuck outside Australia for longer than planned due to a cancelled flight or travel ban?
- Are stopovers on the way to your destination covered, and is there a restriction on the amount of time you can be at the stopover location? What happens if you remain stuck for an extended period of time?
- Are you covered if you can't travel or your stay gets extended because you or your travelling companion test positive for COVID-19? What if you have to go into isolation due to being a close contact of someone who tested positive?
- Are you covered for cancellation costs if your business partner or a relative back home gets sick with COVID-19 and you need to return earlier than planned?
- What happens if you were going to stay with someone and they contract COVID-19, or your accommodation or tour company gets shut down because of COVID-19? Are your additional expenses covered?
- If you're planning to go on a cruise, be extra careful as some travel insurers currently do not offer COVID-19 cover for multi-night cruises.
- Some tour operators or airlines offer complimentary 'COVID insurance' when you book a ticket or tour with 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 that country. If that's the case, it probably isn't a good substitute for a comprehensive Australian travel insurance policy.
- If you're an essential healthcare worker, including a pharmacist, nurse, doctor or paramedic, make sure you're covered if your leave gets cancelled due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
For more information, see the CHOICE travel insurance buying guide on Smartraveller and subscribe to Smartraveller alerts for the destination you're travelling to.
If your trip gets cancelled because of a government travel ban, your travel insurer may allow you to reschedule your travel insurance or cancel and claim a credit towards a future premium. Ask your travel insurer what they can do for you.
Travel insurance policies have a 14-day cooling off period. If you change your mind in this period, you can cancel your policy and get your money back from the insurer.
Otherwise, some insurers may decline to refund, reschedule or provide a credit for unused travel insurance premiums.
However, AFCA (the Australian Financial Complaints Authority) considers a credit or refund of your premium a fair outcome where:
- you got a refund or credit from all of your travel providers, so there's 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
From the moment you buy a travel insurance policy, cover kicks in for cancellation due to unforeseen events. So if your insurer offers you a refund, they may calculate a partial refund to take into account the cover that you've already received with your policy.
AFCA considers proportionate refunds for the remaining unused period fair, but your insurer should outline how they calculate it.
Visit AFCA's website for more information on what they deem fair treatment from insurers when it comes to COVID-19 claims.
Escalating complaints about credits and refunds
If your travel insurer has knocked back your request for a credit or refund, you should try the below.
- Lodge an internal dispute with the insurer, noting AFCA's stated approach.
- If they still refuse, escalate a complaint to AFCA.
Read your travel PDS. In the first instance, it's up to you as the policyholder to establish that you have a valid claim under the policy terms and conditions. That generally means handing in lots of documentation.
Then it's up to the insurer to decide if your claim is valid and that there are no policy exclusions that should be applied.
If you disagree with the insurer's decision regarding your claim, raise a complaint via their internal dispute resolution service.
If you don't get a satisfactory result from the insurer's internal dispute resolution, escalate your complaint to AFCA, which is the external ombudsman for the insurance industry. Below are some examples of AFCA rulings since the pandemic started.
Travel insurance should protect your safety
In an AFCA dispute, some travellers cancelled a trip to Great Britain and Ireland on 5 March 2020 amid increasing concerns about COVID-19.
Their Auto & General (provider of Budget Direct and other travel insurance products) policy covered epidemics, but the insurer denied their claim on the basis that there was no travel ban in place at that time – the Australian government travel ban didn't come into effect until 25 March 2020.
AFCA ruled that the travellers' decision to cancel the trip was necessary for their safety
The travellers were aged in their 60s, making them potentially more vulnerable to serious ill health if they caught the virus that causes COVID-19. AFCA ruled that the policy covered epidemics and that the travellers' decision to cancel the trip was necessary for their safety. This means the Insurance Contracts Act 1984 doesn't allow the insurer to decline the claim.
If your travel insurance policy covers pandemics or epidemics but you've had a claim denied for similar reasons, raise a complaint with your insurer, citing section 54(5)(a) of the Insurance Contracts Act 1984.
To add a rather disheartening footnote, Auto & General travel insurance policies no longer cover pandemics or epidemics.
Is a pandemic a natural disaster?
If an insurer defines natural disaster as a list of events like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, floods, wildfires and heat, then cover for pandemic will probably be excluded from the definition of natural disaster.
However, in an AFCA ruling, insurer Tokio Marine (provider of RACV and World2Cover travel insurance) did not define natural disaster in its policy and didn't specifically exclude pandemic or epidemic, so AFCA ruled that COVID-19 should be covered by the policy as a natural event.
What is a known event?
In a COVID-19 dispute ruling, AFCA stated that the insurer couldn't rely on articles published on a website to declare an event as known. AFCA also said that the 'known event' exclusion in the insurer's policy related to whether the policyholder was aware of COVID-19 and if any potential claims could arise from it.
So even though the insurer, Mitsui Sumitomo (provider of InsureandGo and Tick Travel Insurance), sought to deny that person's claim because they deemed it a known event, AFCA directed them to pay the claim.