Under US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and State Department guidelines, a number of destinations have been designated Level 4, and people are asked to "avoid travel" to these places. But if you have a trip already booked, or are currently in a Level 4 country, how does the advisory impact your travel insurance plan? Would you be covered if you went against government guidelines and traveled to a place you were advised to avoid? Let's find out.
What are the US travel advisories?
The ongoing risks associated with COVID-19, particularly as new variants emerge, present challenges and uncertainties for travel. To make the experience a little less confusing, the State Department has aligned its travel advisories with the CDC's Travel Health Notices to warn travelers about dangers and COVID-19 threats overseas.
With the recent surge in variants, the department and the CDC designated their Level 4 advisory, the highest alert, to a number of popular destinations, including France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Israel, Panama, and more. Americans are still permitted to travel to these places but do so at their own risk; a decision that could ultimately have an impact on the validity of their travel insurance.
Traveling during a pandemic can present many challenges Getty Images/Westend61
How do travel advisories impact insurance coverage?
In general, the ways in which advisories impact travel insurance varies by carrier and plan. Each policy differs widely, and when you purchase it matters. "Some plans in the market may not cover you if you knowingly travel to a country that is a Level 4," Jeremy Murchland, president of Seven Corners, tells Lonely Planet. "Others may provide coverage if the travel warning occurred after your arrival in the affected area."
If you're knowingly going against government guidelines and traveling to a high-risk place, you'll need to do your homework. In order to understand if your coverage is affected by a travel advisory, Murchland advises travelers to review document plans and ask providers specific questions about how your coverage works.
Can you claim any expenses back if you cancel your trip?
According to insurance experts, a travel advisory on its own is not typically a covered reason for trip cancellation coverage in standard travel insurance plans. If you cancel your trip because of a travel advisory, it's likely you won't be able to claim any pre-paid expenses back.
"Most travel insurance policies do not provide cancellation coverage for Department of State travel advisories," says Megan Moncrief, chief marketing officer at insurance comparison site Squaremouth. "Therefore, any new advisory issued for a traveler's current or future destination would not impact coverage, regardless of when the advisory was issued, or when the traveler was at the destination in question."
That said, coverage may be impacted if some policies include language within their cancellation or interruption benefits specifically for travel advisories. "In order to be eligible for these benefits in the event of a travel advisory, the policy must have been purchased prior to the date the advisory was issued," says Moncreif. "This coverage would only be impacted if the policy was purchased after the advisory was issued. Even in this case, only the trip cancellation and interruption benefits would be 'voided'."
So if a traveler is already abroad when the advisory is issued, the policy would remain intact and most benefits, to include emergency medical, and travel delay, would still be available.
Moncreif explains the majority of impacts to travel throughout the pandemic were due to travel bans, border closures and airline cancellations—not travel advisories—and some policies can protect you against these sudden changes in your vacation plan. "In most cases, the best chance of having coverage in these circumstances is a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) policy," says Moncreif.
The policy is only available up to 21 days after the initial trip booking and is considered an upgrade, which means it will cost about 40% more than a standard policy but according to Moncreif "for travelers who want the best chance of coverage for any COVID-related travel impacts, it is the benefit we recommend."
Medical coverage is generally not impacted by travel advsories ©David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe/Getty Images
What if I get ill in a Level 4 country?
Again, it depends on the policy you purchased but Meghan Walch, InsureMyTrip product manager, says that most will still include medical coverage even if you travel to a Level 4 country. But it's important to check your coverage details first.
"Most travel insurance plans today will treat COVID-19 like any other unexpected medical condition. So if a traveler holding a travel insurance policy unexpectedly contracts COVID prior to their departure or during their trip, the coverages should be available, irrespective of the State Department advisories," she explains.
Standard trip-cancellation policies typically cover you if you have to cancel or postpone due to unforeseen reasons ©Getty Images
What benefits should people look for when traveling during the pandemic?
Apart from the advisories, there are many things to consider when planning a trip overseas during the pandemic. As we've seen this past year-and-a-half, the situation can change suddenly and rules around travel are constantly in flux. If you want your insurance to offer you extra peace of mind, it's best to go for a plan with benefits to cover you in most situations.
Murchland says: "having trip cancellation and delay benefits will help minimize losses when plans are cancelled or changed at the last minute. It is especially important that you prepare for the possibility of getting ill or injured by having travel medical insurance, particularly if you are leaving your home country as your medical insurance provider may not cover you in other countries."
Bottom line: generally you can still visit a country that the US Department of State advises against travel without invalidating your insurance—you just need to do your research and find a provider who will cover it. Don't just look at whether a policy will include COVID-19 claims. Ask your provider specific questions and shop around for the best travel insurance quotes. And always stay up-to-date on your destination's latest public health guidelines.
You might also like: