03 March 2020 by Christina Sharp
Article updated 24th March 2020.
Coronavirus is spreading daily to multiple countries, with the latest cases globally in their hundreds of thousands, so how might it impact your next trip?
If we’ve learnt anything over the past weeks, it’s that the situation is very fluid. The best guidance is keep abreast of the FCO travel advice pages, WHO (World Health Organisation), and that of official Government bodies in your home country relating to the coronavirus. Don’t be surprised if the advice changes frequently to reflect changes in circumstance. All countries may restrict travel without notice.
We have reached the unprecedented stage where international travel is very limited as air routes and land borders close and new restrictions increasingly prevent travel.
The advice being mirrored across multiple countries, including the UK (as at 23rd March 2020) is stay at home; all non-essential shops and community spaces closed; stop all gatherings of more than two people in public.
Governments are working with airlines to keep routes open, and calling for international action enable people to return home on commercial flights.
In short - it depends and it's a changing landscape. All travel insurance policies are different so it’s impossible to provide a set of answers that fits all. See Globelink Home Page for our latest Coronavirus Update on Globelink Travel Insurance. In the meantime, we have pulled together information that will help you understand travel insurance and the coronavirus, but you will need to check the terms of your policy to be sure if they apply to you. And if you haven't bought a policy yet, check the terms carefully and ask questions before you buy.
Right now travel is almost impossible due to restrictions. If you have a trip planned for the future, do your homework – especially if you may have a compromised immune system, or you are travelling with very young or old family member whose health may be more vulnerable, or you have a pre-existing medical condition. Choose destinations carefully; speak to your travel providers; check your insurance cover and stay abreast of FCO and local Government advice and comply with it!
At the moment it's hard to find a travel destination that isn’t subject to some kind of restriction, so speak to your travel provider and you may have to wait a while. You will not be covered by your travel insurance if you travel to a destination which the FCO or WHO has advised against all or all but essential travel at the time of booking or travelling. If you find yourself in a location and the restrictions change, then that is different. Keep a regular check after you’ve booked, as the situation may change. The FCO publishes country by country health and safety advice that’s updated regularly and includes any locations where they advise against travel. Coronavirus aside, we always recommend you check the FCO site for a wide variety of health and safety updates.
You can prepare for a trip and reduce risk of exposure to coronavirus by checking the advice of the TravelHealthPro website according to the FCO. The WHO also provides the advice on protective measures against the virus.
All policies are different and insurers are reacting differently to the coronavirus situation, so it's best to check beforehand what their position is. Unless health outbreaks are a general exclusion on your insurance, you should be covered for emergency medical expenses if you contract coronavirus while on your trip. This is provided that you have complied with the terms and conditions of your travel insurance and you are not travelling against the advice of the FCO, WHO, or other recognised Government body. Some policies may cover you for compulsory quarantine costs too, like Globelink. Most travel insurers have a 24 Hour Emergency Medical Assistance Service, so get in touch with them as soon as possible if you fall ill and need hospital admission during your trip. They will assist with advice and cover costs of necessary emergency treatment.
If you are an EU resident and fall ill in Europe, your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles you to state provided medical treatment (this is still applicable for UK citizens until the end of the Brexit transition period, 31 December 2020).
You may also be able to claim for additional necessary expenses if you can't travel back on your original return date because you are ill from coronavirus.
Travel insurance is intended to cover unforeseen events. The coronavirus is now a known event. This means that if you haven’t already purchased travel insurance for your trip to China, or other locations where the FCO have now advised against travel, you will not be able to claim for cancelling your trip, or for extra costs you may incur because of the coronavirus.
In addition, because of the unprecedented nature of this pandemic, currently over 30 insurers have decided to stop, or suspend selling travel insurance, so you may find choice much more limited for the time being.
Read also: What Are Prices for Brits' Treatment Abroad?
It’s understandable that everyone is thinking twice about travelling, even if your trip is a while off yet. However, if this is your disinclination to travel, rather than complying with the advice of the FCO, or WHO restrictions, then most travel insurance policies won’t cover you for lost holiday or cancellation costs.
This depends on your travel insurance policy. Many policies do not cover health outbreaks like the coronavirus (usually with the exception of emergency medical costs incurred while you are away).
If the FCO or WHO have advised against all but essential travel to the region you were planning to visit and you booked the trip and purchased insurance PRIOR to this advice, your first port of call should be your tour operator, airline, or other travel provider. Many are being flexible due to the coronavirus, so you may have the option to change your destination to somewhere different, change your trip dates, or obtain a refund. The quicker you do this, the more likely you will be to get your money back or a different deal.
If you make alternative travel plans, then you should be able to transfer your travel insurance to cover your new destination.
Some policies may cover you for cancellation costs if the FCO says you can't travel to your location, so check with your insurance provider.
All travel insurance policies have a ‘cooling off period’ which is a period of days – usually 14 – in which you can change your mind and get a full refund. If you don’t want to travel at all and don’t plan to make an insurance claim, you may be able to get a refund on your travel insurance, even if it’s after the ‘cooling off period’. Many travel insurance companies are being more flexible with cancellations due to the coronavirus, so it’s worth checking.
Most travel insurance policies will not cover costs incurred resulting from denied entry to a country due to a health outbreak. However, in most cases your carrier will help with essentials. Also in many cases, your local Government may also step in and work with commercial airlines to help arrange ‘rescue flights’ to help return stranded nationals back home.
Usually compulsory quarantine costs are the responsibility of the local authority who has enforced the quarantine. The ship, hotel or other location where you may find yourself compulsory quarantined will usually be responsible for providing essentials and food etc. If you become the subject of a compulsory quarantine while you are away you should get in touch with your travel insurance 24 hour Emergency Medical Assistance Service as soon as possible. They may be able to assist with advice and they will know if you are covered for any costs under your travel policy.
Coronavirus aside, it's always a good idea to check the FCO’s travel advice when choosing your destination and keep a watchful eye after you’ve booked, as the situation may change.
Information in this article is correct as at 24th March 2020.