Travel insurance: What to know during the covid-19 pandemic

When people first started wondering if the novel coronavirus would impact their travel plans, many who had travel insurance got a rude awakening: Pandemics were typically excluded from coverage.

Over the next few months, insurers started to adjust and cover travelers if they contracted the virus and had to cancel a trip or seek medical attention while away. But there are plenty of other reasons people might need to cancel a trip during the pandemic that insurance may not cover.

“The first thing to understand is that travel insurance is not going to cover, sort of in a blanket fashion, all of the various issues or road blocks, if you will, for traveling in this time,” said Stan Sandberg, a co-founder of

Brian O’Connell, an analyst with InsuranceQuotes, said it is worth the effort to be savvy and well-informed about policies now.

“I know it’s boring, I know it’s dull,” he said. “Read the language and ask a lot of questions. I think that people are becoming better insurance consumers in the last 12 months.”

As we near the second year of the pandemic, here’s what people need to keep in mind when considering travel insurance and navigating the complicated task of planning any trips.

Cancellation because of a coronavirus diagnosis should be covered

Those who catch the virus before leaving on a trip shouldn’t have to worry about bearing the cost of canceling.

“If you get sick with covid, travel insurance plans today will treat that like really any other kind of unexpected illness or sickness,” Sandberg said. Insurance should cover the nonrefundable costs of the trip that you have to miss.

Megan Moncrief, the chief marketing officer for travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth, said some insurance providers will ask for a doctor’s note or proof of a positive test.

Getting sick while traveling should be covered, too

Now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requires a negative test before returning to the United States, travelers might discoverthey’re ill as they get ready to return home. Or they might develop symptoms even before they are scheduled for a return test.

Sandberg said the most common comprehensive policies should provide emergency medical expense coverage as well as coverage for the remaining nonrefundable costs of the trip, if it’s interrupted. For severe cases, he said, a comprehensive policy should also cover the cost of an emergency evacuation.

Moncrief said most policies will also pay for some of the costs of extending a trip if a traveler is forced to stay put and quarantine after a positive test result.

Government rule changes aren’t a good enough reason to cancel a trip

If we have learned anything in the past year, it is that countries, states or cities might suddenly change their rules depending on the spread of the virus. More countries are now requiring quarantines for anyone who arrives, for example, and the U.S. government’s pre-arrival testing requirement went into place last month.

“The nature of travel has become so unpredictable with opening and closing borders, and changing requirements from the CDC,” Moncrief said. “Travelers say, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen in three months, but I’m going to book this trip.’”

If travelers want any kind of protection for unforeseen government rule changes, their only option is to choose a “cancel for any reason” upgrade to a policy, if it’s available. That add-on comes with several caveats: It must typically be purchased within 14 days of the first payment made for a trip, and the traveler has to cancel the trip at least 48 hours before departure. It’s a costly option — roughly 40 percent more than a standard policy — and covers up to 75 percent of the nonrefundable cost of the trip.

Last-minute nerves? Insurance doesn’t have your back.

Experts also recommend the “cancel for any reason” upgrade if travelers are worried about an increase in cases in their destination or some other unforeseen crisis. Standard policies won’t help if new developments are scary enough to make people cancel their plans.

“We’re still hearing a lot of, ‘What if I’m afraid of travel?’” said Suzanne Morrow, vice president of business development at travel insurance comparison site InsureMyTrip. “Fear of travel never has been and never will be a covered reason.”

And remember, some countries are requiring medical insurance that can cover coronavirus expenses

According to a roundup by Squaremouth, about a dozen countries are taking steps to make sure tourists can cover their medical expenses if they are diagnosed with the coronavirus during their stay. Depending on the country, that could mean providing proof of coverage up to a certain amount or paying for a local policy or government fee.

Costa Rica also requires minimum coverage of up to $2,000 for “extended lodging expenses” in case of infection with the virus or trip interruption. This, according to the country’s tourism board, “covers the extra cost of the passenger due to quarantine.”

Travel during the pandemic:

Tips: Advice column | Coronavirus testing | Sanitizing your hotel | Updating documents

Flying: Pandemic packing | Airport protocol | Staying healthy on planes | Fly or drive? | Layovers

Road trips: Tips | Rental cars | Best snacks | Long-haul trains | Rest stops | Cross-country drive

Destinations: Hawaii | Puerto Rico | Private islands | 10 covid-free spots | Caribbean | Mexico