Australia is preparing to open the international border as early as November. But if you do go overseas, can you get travel insurance to cover COVID?
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many travel insurers would not cover COVID-19. But that is now changing as Australia looks to open up to the world.
Choice insurance expert Jodi Bird told Vacations & Travel some insurers do now sell international travel insurance. And it’s likely that more insurers will start selling policies again as travel borders open up.
At the moment, it really is “watch this space”. The rules do change constantly. But here’s what we know so far.
Read the fine print
Now more than ever before, travellers need to read every line of the policy to understand what they are covered for.
“It’s tempting to skip over the boring fine print when you’re excited about booking a trip, but there’s nothing worse than losing money on a trip that you had to cancel through no fault of your own,” Bird said.
“Read the travel insurance fine print to understand what you’re covered for and what’s excluded. If you’re unsure, ask the insurer.”
You should also ensure that you get that reply in writing. Over the phone won’t cut it when you want to make a claim.
Yes, you can get COVID cover…
Several insurance companies do now sell travel insurance policies with COVID inclusions.
“Some, but not all travel insurance policies will cover medical and cancellation costs if you or someone you’re travelling with get COVID,” Bird said.
Many airlines including Qantas, Emirates, Etihad, Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific also offer protection against the costs of COVID-19.
Qantas’ policy is a cost-extra add-on to an existing insurance plan. Of the others, only Japan Airlines’ policy comes without an expiry date. The others will STOP covering COVID between January and March 2022.
“You’ll need to read the policy fine print to confirm if you’re covered for COVID.”
Travel insurance company policies
Allianz includes overseas medical and hospital cover “if, during your period of cover, you are positively diagnosed as suffering a sickness recognised as an epidemic or pandemic, such as COVID-19”.
But, again there’s a catch. Allianz will not provide cover if you are in a country Smart Traveller has listed as “reconsider your need to travel” or “do not travel”.
At the moment, that includes everywhere but New Zealand.
Covermore is less restrictive and will only exclude destinations listed as “do not travel”. It will insure against the cost of changing plans if you or a family member catches COVID, or if you test positive before your holiday and can’t fly.
Bird said many people buy travel insurance presuming they’ll be covered for cancellation due to border closures. That’s a big mistake.
“So far, CHOICE hasn’t come across any policies that will cover cancellation of a trip due to travel restrictions,” he said.
“You’ll need to ensure you have flexible cancellation conditions on any airlines and accommodation you’re booking.”
When should you buy travel insurance?
In general, you should buy travel insurance when you book. However, with the borders about to open you could get a better deal by waiting for the rules to change.
“It’s generally best to buy your travel insurance when you actually fork over the money for your trip because it will cover you to cancel your trip before you leave, subject to the policy fine print of course,” Bird said.
“Don’t fret if you leave it too late though, you can still get it the day before, and some companies will even let you purchase it after you’ve departed.”
Reciprocal Health Care Agreement
You can also use Medicare to cover your health costs overseas, in certain countries.
Under the reciprocal health care agreement, Australia guarantees access to health care for foreign citizens in Australia in return for cover for Australians overseas.
The countries covered are Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
You can check out the details of what is covered in each country on the Services Australia website.
Make sure that when you travel you take your Medicare card with you and you can also download it onto your phone through the Express Plus Medicare app.
Compulsory travel insurance
Before you book your holiday and your flights you should also check the requirements of travel.
If you plan to use the ‘Vaccinated Travel Lane’ from Singapore, you will only be able to fly if you have COVID cover.
And importantly, Singapore requires visitors to have insurance with at least S$30,000 in cover for COVID-related hospitalisation and medical costs.
Will it cost more?
Yes, probably. COVID travel insurance is currently an extra cost on most policies. We expect several insurers to price in the risk to their policies as Australians do start to travel overseas.
Many insurers also stopped offering travel insurance as the pandemic hit, and that means there’s less choice for consumers.
“The more you pay, the more you’ll be covered for,” Bird said.
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