To say the global pandemic has put a wrinkle in travelers’ plans is an understatement. The effect of global travel restrictions is more akin to sewn-in pleats. Entire swaths of the planet are closed to travelers. Recently-announced restrictions in the EU exclude Americans, Russians, and Brazilians from its borders. In fact, only 15 countries made the EU’s list. There’s a bit of a cat and mouse game going on with some countries only opening their borders under reciprocal travel relationships. It’s hard to predict where anyone will be able to visit and when.
Global health experts are still recommending that people avoid unnecessary travel. They point out the specific risks of air travel and provide guidelines for keeping yourself safe when you must fly. They also recommend deferring all travel on cruise ships. The media has reported on numerous cases where a single location or event resulted in an immediate uptick in new infections. While new coronavirus infections are declining in some parts of the world, even a tiny town can become a hotspot in an instant. So please don’t take undue risks. If you must travel, exercise the utmost care when it comes to social distancing and disinfection.
The time will come when skies, oceans, hotels, and restaurants open again. But travelers have learned some valuable lessons in the meantime. First, we are one population on this earth. And second, the best-laid travel plans can be foiled by events well out of our control. That’s why, even if you’ve never considered it before, investing in travel insurance before you book your next, long-awaited trip might be a prudent move. Let’s take a look at what the best travel insurance policies have to offer.
Travel Medical Insurance Makes More Sense Than Ever
Global pandemics aside, safeguarding your health while traveling internationally should always be of paramount concern. Not only does the quality of healthcare vary from nation to nation, but your responsibility for healthcare expenses changes when you leave home.
In India, citizens are fortunate to have access to government-funded healthcare. But those benefits don’t extend to Indians who require healthcare while traveling in the US, for example. In the US, the average cost of a three-day hospital stay is $30,000—an expense few foreign travelers are prepared to cover. Conversely, the private health insurance that Americans routinely pay for does not cover medical expenses incurred in Mumbai. But travel medical insurance bridges that gap in both instances. It covers such critical services as emergency healthcare, hospitalization, diagnostic testing, and more.
Protect Your Investment with Trip Cancellation Insurance
Planning a trip involves paying many expenses up front. Airfare is a big one and many people choose non-refundable flights to save money. Hotel deposits, event tickets, golf reservations, and other expenses also add up. Trip cancellation insurance policies reimburse non-refundable expenses such as these, should travelers have to cancel their trips for a wide variety of reasons. Depending on the policy, you may be covered if you need to cancel your trip due to your own illness, the illness of a family member, a family death, a natural disaster in your destination, or even when an event you were planning on attending is cancelled. It’s important to review and understand the terms of any policy you select so as not to run afoul of restrictions that may only be listed in the fine print. For example, if you don’t visit a doctor prior to cancelling your trip for medical reasons, your claim may be denied. Many insurers require you to provide prior notification not only to them, but to airlines and hotels before you cancel your trip or they may not cover your claim.
There’s a subset of trip cancellation policies known as CFAR or Cancel for Any Reason. These policies generally allow you to cancel your trip within a couple of days of departure, and as it says on the tin, you can do so for any reason, no matter how frivolous. These policies come at a steep price, though. But if you’re a surgeon or you’re caring for someone in precarious health, or simply need the ultimate in travel flexibility, you may want to consider a CFAR policy.
It’s important to note that the travel insurance industry’s response to the coronavirus crisis has been largely to deny trip cancellation claims. Insurers contend that the pandemic falls into the category of unforeseeable events. But the industry has taken some fire for doing so and some have recently amended their policies to allow for cancellation in the event that you become infected before departure. Other changes may be afoot, as well. But for now, know that border closings and the safety risks of travel are typically not covered reasons for cancellation.
Protect Your Belongings with Baggage Insurance
Most seasoned travelers have experienced a minor baggage mishap or two. Having to buy a toothbrush or a change of clothes may be annoying but not fatal to your adventure. But what if you’re traveling to your own destination wedding and your wedding gown is lost? That’s a different story altogether. For photography enthusiasts, taking pictures while abroad is half the fun and for the rest of us, losing the opportunity to create visual memories of our travel can be very disheartening. A travel blogger whose laptop never arrives is not only handicapped, but possibly out a fair amount of money. Many bloggers pay for their own travel with the understanding that they will recoup their expenses through publishing. In each of these scenarios, baggage insurance can help soften the blow by allowing you to replace expensive belongings immediately, knowing you’ll later be reimbursed under your policy. This is where paying attention to the upper limits of your policy is crucial. Some policies limit coverage to an amount far less than replacing your equipment will cost. So if you’re carrying expensive electronics or couture clothing, be sure your policy limits are high enough to cover your potential loss. You may have to pay a bit more—higher policy limits come with higher premiums—but in the end, you might be grateful you added more coverage.
Finding the Right Policy
As a percentage of the expenses associated with any given trip, the price of a travel insurance policy is pretty reasonable: on average you can expect to pay between 4% and 10% of the cost of your trip. Prices vary by company, of course, but as with an auto or homeowner’s insurance, coverage type, coverage limits, and deductibles are the driving factors in pricing. The good news is that there’s often a lot of flexibility in travel insurance policies. You can pick and choose the type of coverage that makes sense for you. Optional riders can be added to standard policies to cover you under a wide range of circumstances. Most companies offer an extreme sports rider, for example. If you’re planning on hang-gliding or cave-diving you might want to pick up one of those.
One bit of practical advice we might offer is this. While most travel insurance companies offer global coverage, their staffs are likely to be nationally located. Choosing a travel insurance company from your home country can make claims processing go more smoothly. And during a travel emergency, you’re going to want to speak with someone in your native language.
Susan Doktor is a journalist and business strategist who hails from New York City. She writes, guest-, and ghost-blogs internationally on a wide range of topics including travel, family, and food and wine.
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