Traveling During the Pandemic: What You Need to Know About COVID-19 and Your Insurance

Everything feels a little different during a global health emergency: in addition to rationing flour, I stopped dreaming of traveling the world, and started dreaming of traveling to the grocery store guilt-free. For some, however, trips had been booked, and others were already traveling when the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) escalated.

To understand whether your travel insurance will cover you for pandemic-related problems, we need to consider a few things: the date you booked your trip, your date of departure, and the government advisories in effect.

Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption Coverage

Purchasing trip cancellation and interruption coverage is always recommended: it covers the non-refundable parts of a trip you booked if you are suddenly and unexpectedly unable to depart or forced to return home early. Covered reasons include: illness, injury or death of your traveling companion; death of an immediate family member; your own sickness or injury; job loss; missed connections; and denied visas, among other things. Trip cancellation and interruption insurance also covers you if there is a natural disaster or travel advisory at your destination. However, for there to be coverage, these events must be unforeseen, and arise after you book your trip.

By early March, COVID-19 was considered a “known event.” This means that people were aware of the virus, and travelers could have reasonably foreseen it impacting their travel plans. Therefore, if you booked a trip on or after March 4th or 5th, 2020 (the exact date depends on your travel insurance provider), you would not have coverage if it was cancelled or interrupted by factors related to coronavirus. If you need to cancel your trip due to a parent’s heart attack, or a child’s broken leg, you would have trip cancellation and interruption coverage no matter the date on which you purchased it.

For those who booked their trips and bought their trip cancellation or interruption insurance prior to March 4th or 5th, you do have coverage if you trip is cancelled or interrupted due to COVID-19, if the Canadian government has formally advised to avoid all travel or all non-essential travel to your destination. Currently, Canada’s Public Health Service has advised to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada (which probably means your destination is included).

Often, people who care for elderly family members think to buy insurance for cancelled or interrupted trips, but as global pandemics remind us, anyone (and everyone) can be impacted by travel advisories.

Emergency Medical Coverage

During a pandemic, emergency travel medical coverage works similarly to trip cancellation interruption coverage. Essentially, if you departed on your trip before March 13th – 16th (again, the exact “safe” date varies by insurance company), and there was no travel advisory for your destination at that time, you have coverage for emergency medical expenses related to COVID-19. If you departed on or after March 13th – 16th, you would not have coverage for any coronavirus-related medical expenses incurred on your trip (but you would still coverage for other medical emergencies).

It does get a little more complicated than that, though.

Medical coverage for travelers experiencing coronavirus-related illness could be jeopardized the longer they stay abroad, even if they departed before mid-March. Since the Canadian Government has recommended all travelers “consider returning to Canada as soon as possible,” travel insurance providers may start limiting coverage for COVID-19. Insurers must give ten days’ notice before restricting coverage to give time to return home, but after that coverage for any illness or injury directly or indirectly related to coronavirus could be removed.

In addition to limiting your transportation options, and staying in a country with a possibly overwhelmed healthcare system, not repatriating might eventually leave you without coverage.

Some travel insurance companies will provide coverage extensions for those travelers who are delayed in returning due to COVID-19, or who are unable to return home due to quarantine.

Should you cancel your trip after purchasing travel medical insurance, contact your insurance broker before the effective date of the policy (usually the departure date), to request a refund.

If you do not have the financial means to return to Canada, government assistance may be available. After assessing your circumstances, a loan may be provided to help cover the costs of transportation home.

In short, don’t leave Canada, and for those who already have, come home as soon as you can.

For more information on COVID-19, visit the Government of Canada website, or that of the World Health Organization.

Pandemic or not, before you travel, check out the government advisories to learn about the possible health and safety risks, as well the laws and culture, at your destination(s).

Morgan Thomas, BA (Dtn.)
Project Management & Customer Experience Coordinator