Which? has previously warned that travellers are being given a “false impression” as to what insurers will, and will not, cover. This is due to a raft of exclusions, brought in due to the pandemic, and ambiguities over what ‘Covid cover’ actually means.
Right at the start of the pandemic, insurance providers moved swiftly to exclude claims related to the pandemic. Generally speaking, all policies sold after March 17, 2020, greatly reduced their cover and virtually all these have now expired. Only during last summer and autumn did less restrictive policies start to be offered, and many of these still had important exclusions.
However, in a sign of normalcy, major insurers Direct Line and Churchill now offer comprehensive Covid Cover, meaning you can get money back if Covid rules change in your destination, or if you contract the virus. Others have announced that they will follow suit.
So what should you do about covering yourself? How can you be sure you have a decent policy which isn’t loaded with exclusions and restrictions? And how do you get a refund?
Here are your key questions answered.
Will insurers cover travel to all countries?
Remember the red list? Thankfully it has long been scrapped, meaning that no countries are off-limits from the UK Government’s perspective (in theory, at least). However, the Foreign Office (FCDO) issues separate advice – whether Covid-related or not – which can affect the validity of your travel insurance.
Iraq, for example, has the ‘green light’ for its Covid status, but the FCDO advises against travel. Very few travel insurers will cover destinations proscribed by the FCDO (see below), so double-check your destination on its gov.uk website.
Does it make a difference how I am travelling?
Tour operators are legally obliged to cancel your trip and offer you a refund if the destination you are booked to go to is proscribed by the FCDO. However, travellers who have booked independently are still free to travel, so it is they who are most affected by any insurance issues.
How do I get insurance if the FCDO advises against travel to a country
A handful of insurers do offer cover for many countries even when the FCDO advises against all but essential travel. These include Staysure (staysure.co.uk), Campbell Irvine (campbellirvinedirect.com) and Battleface (battleface.com), but expect to pay a premium, as you would if you were seeking cover for visiting somewhere against FCDO advice before the pandemic, like Iran or Afghanistan.
Will a GHIC card cover me?
The Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) replaces the old EHIC arrangements, which gave British citizens access to free or low-cost medical treatment in EU countries. It doesn’t offer you anything like the same protections that travel insurance does, but it does entitle you to “free or reduced cost state-provided healthcare where treatment becomes medically necessary during a temporary visit to the European Union (EU).” If you still have a valid EHIC, then it will remain valid in EU countries until its expiry date. If not, you can order a new GHIC up to six months before the expiry of an existing card. You can also order one for your partner and any dependent children. Apply at ghic.org.uk. There is also a phone number (0300 330 1350) or you could print off the online application form and apply by post.
Anything else I should consider?
When you buy cover, ask for explicit reassurance that your intended destination will be covered. And remember that, if you aren’t travelling for a few weeks yet, it’s perfectly possible that the country’s Covid status and FCDO advice, or both, may well change before you depart. So you don’t need to panic yet, just keep a close eye on it.
Can I get a refund if my policy isn’t valid?
That’s a tricky question. Certainly, if you bought it after May 17 2020, you told the insurer where you were travelling, and the trip was happening within the next month or so, then you should ask for your money back. If not you will have a harder time of it: most policies now exclude the risks of changing FCDO advice.
What if I catch Covid before my holiday and can’t fly?
No insurance policy covers your costs if you unilaterally decide to cancel your holiday; this remains the case even if you believe there is very reasonable cause for you to do so.
However, Covid-19 has brought a whole new dimension to the risks of having to cancel or change your holiday. There are obvious ones, such as contracting the disease prior to departure (or testing positive) and a requirement to self isolate because of exposure to someone who has the disease. Some policies do cover this, though all are subject to strict definitions – operators may also allow you to amend your trip if you are forced to isolate. Find out what happens if you get track-and-traced before your holiday here.
What if I have to cancel due to a national or local lockdown?
Note that I couldn’t find any policies which would cover cancellation because of the imposition of a national or local lockdown or a change in FCDO advice here or in the intended destination.
However, many airlines and tour operators have introduced flexible booking policies which enable you to postpone or rebook your travel until a later date. In some cases – British Airways, for example – these are as late as the opening of check-in just before a flight departs. This means in effect that the financial consequences of cancellation are much lower than they used to be. Since you are much better off booking with an airline or operator which offers such flexibility, then you don’t need to worry so much about this aspect of the policy.
See here for more information.
What if I catch Covid-19 while abroad?
Good travel insurance policies do now cover the cost of private treatment and also medical repatriation if necessary, and they will also give you cover outside the EU.
What if I catch Covid and have to extend my stay?
Less certain is cover for the additional accommodation and travel costs if you are forced to extend your holiday because of Covid-19. Some policies do cover you if you suffer a positive test and have to do this. But a requirement to self isolate because of exposure to someone with the virus is a much greyer area. Only one insurer in our survey – Campbell Irvine – said that it would also cover this if the instruction to self isolate was given by a “treating” doctor or the local authorities.
What if my tour operator or airline collapses?
Obviously tour operators and airlines are not in great shape at the moment. So you do need to be wary of the risks of financial collapse. A few policies offer cover for this, though sometimes you have to pay an extra premium. But the best protection is make sure you book with an Atol-bonded tour operator (caa.co.uk/atol-protection) which guarantees a refund in the event of a collapse. An alternative back up is to book your travel arrangements using a credit card. The bank or card issuer is liable under the Consumer Credit Act if you lose money when the company you have paid with that card goes out of business.