Tips for the average punter
Insurers may love combing the fine print but for the rest of us, there are a few things to watch for:
- Do you have an existing medical condition? Insurance that won't cover you is no better than having no travel insurance at all. Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) advises you fully disclose any pre-existing medical conditions to the insurer and, if in doubt, contact the insurer to discuss your needs. Read our case study of one traveller who was glad he forked out extra to be covered for existing medical conditions.
- Even if you book a cruise in Australian waters, CLIA says you'll probably still need travel insurance as shipboard medical expenses mightn't be covered by Medicare. Check that your travel insurance does cover medical costs – you may need international or cruise-specific insurance. Domestic travel or health insurance won't cut it. See our two case studies from members who found just this issue when they took a cruise.
- Some insurance policies cover pregnancy up to 32 weeks, but most cruise lines don't allow women onboard who are more than 24 weeks pregnant.
- Several policies exclude cover for civil unrest, which could leave you out of pocket for onshore excursions that are cancelled due to a dicey political situation.
- Some policies cover you up to the age of 100 but others only up to 69 or even 45.
Check the policy age limit and other exclusions in our travel insurance reviews.
When to buy travel insurance for a cruise
Cruises are often booked well ahead of time so you could be forgiven for forgetting or delaying travel insurance. But if your cruise is cancelled ahead of time and you don't yet have cover, you could lose your money. The premium is based on the duration of your trip, so insurance will cost the same whether you buy a year in advance or the day before you leave. The earlier you buy the policy, the better.
On the flip side, there aren't many insurers that cover you more than a year out from starting your trip. If you have to buy earlier than a year out, you'll need to shop around.
My cruise isn't leaving Australian waters. Why do I need travel insurance?
"Our travel agent informed us after we fully paid for our cruise that the operator, CMV Cruises, have the right to refuse us getting on board unless we have insurance cover. We were told that it must be international insurance even though the cruise is from Adelaide to Port Lincoln and return via Kangaroo Island. Can CMV stop us from boarding?"
Doctors working on cruise ships don't need Medicare provider numbers. So if they treat you, you can't claim on Medicare or your private health insurance, even though you've never left Australian waters. This can leave you seriously out of pocket if you fall ill. CMV's Terms and Conditions state:
'5.2. All Passengers are required to have appropriate travel insurance prior to embarking on the Cruise or they will not be permitted to embark on the Cruise. All travel insurance policies must include cover for cancellation charges and the costs of assistance, including repatriation, in an emergency and for all conditions including those which are pre-existing.'
So yes, CMV can stop you from boarding if you don't have appropriate travel insurance. Domestic travel insurance doesn't cover medical costs, so you'd need either international travel insurance (check that it covers domestic cruises) or some insurers provide 'domestic cruise' policies.
"I took out an annual travel policy with Southern Cross. One of my trips was a cruise from Fremantle, WA, back to Fremantle – a three-night cruise with no port stops. Due to gastroenteritis I was unable to take the trip. I duly lodged a claim which was refused because the ship did not dock at an overseas port. It makes you wonder what is the purpose of taking out an annual policy. This is really quite unfair as various sites clearly state that one is not covered by Medicare or health insurance once you leave a port. So why doesn't the insurance policy therefore kick in?"
Unfortunately Southern Cross Travel Insurance doesn't cover people who aren't travelling to a destination outside Australia. Next time check with your insurer or use CHOICE's independent travel insurance reviews to check if your international travel insurance covers domestic cruises.
An unexpected stopover
CHOICE member Ken Siddle fell ill while on a Caribbean voyage with Princess Cruises and alighted the ship while docked in Cozumel, Mexico for treatment at the hospital.
Feeling better, Ken returned to the cruise ship only to be informed he and his wife couldn't board. Their possessions were offloaded and were told they couldn't leave the island without clearance by a doctor. The ship's doctor refused to see Ken, so he returned to the hospital, but there the doctor argued that Ken needed a series of expensive medical checks before he'd grant Ken clearance to travel.
A doctor himself, Ken eventually agreed to a coronary angiogram, a quick and painless procedure in his experience. Unfortunately, that was not the experience at this hospital. After a painful procedure, the doctor decided Ken's prognosis was normal and he was discharged with no follow-up. Ken waited four days in a hotel room before the certificate of travel came through.
This was clearly a terrible experience but it could've been much worse if Ken and his wife hadn't forked out a hefty insurance premium of $5841 to ensure he was covered for existing medical conditions. That premium was a steep ask, but it saved Ken and his wife the $41,000 bill the hospital left him with, and the insurer, InsureandGo, looked after Ken and his wife through a difficult experience.