Coronavirus and travel insurance cover and claims

One of the most common questions asked by travellers at the moment is if their travel insurance is affected by the coronavirus outbreak and will they still be able to claim for any losses.

The coronavirus or COVID-19 has thrown into doubt many travel plans since the World Health Organisation declared it a global public health emergency.

As a result, many people may be considering cancelling their bookings as a precaution or are facing newly imposed travel bans to their chosen destination.

In some instances, travel insurance may be able to help travellers meet some of the extra costs incurred when cancelling or changing plans because of the coronavirus.

Here are some common scenarios and some tips to help guide you in relation to coronavirus and travel insurance.

I booked a trip to an area before coronavirus travel bans were put in place (such as China or Italy). What should I do?

  • The first step is to contact the travel agent, airline or cruise liner through which you booked your holiday and find out what the contract says about cancellations in the terms and conditions. It may be they will provide a refund or a credit to you.
  • Check the websites of the travel and transport companies for announcements regarding coronavirus-impacted travel.
  • If they refuse to provide a refund or credit for a cancellation, then you must get confirmation of that in writing from the company because that will demonstrate your financial loss.
  • Lodge a travel insurance claim for the costs of the cancelled trip with your travel insurer.
  • Some insurers have only put in place exclusion clauses for coronavirus-affected claims since January 2020 so your coverage may be unaffected.
  • Other insurers don’t offer any coverage for pandemics, epidemics or other infectious disease outbreaks if a customer’s insurance was issued after an alert or warning about an outbreak. However, you still may have cover if there were no alerts or warnings in place depending on the terms of the particular policy.
  • If your travel insurance claim is rejected, seek an internal review of the decision. If that’s not successful, consider lodging a complaint to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) and/or seek legal advice.

I booked a trip to an area that currently isn’t affected by the coronavirus, but I’m worried I might have to cancel my trip. What should I do?

  • You should contact the travel and transport companies through which you have booked your holiday and check what the cancellation policy is and whether they have made any announcements on their websites.
  • Carefully check your travel insurance policy and see what it covers. Some policies will cover the cost of cancelled trips in certain circumstances, some will cover the cost if a travel company becomes insolvent, and some will cover the cost of alternative travel arrangements.
  • Check your policy for any types of events that are excluded from insurance coverage. Some policies exclude cover if the World Health Organisation declares an outbreak such as the coronavirus is an epidemic or pandemic, while others expand that exclusion to include “the threat of” an epidemic or pandemic. In that circumstance you may have difficulty in making a claim.
  • If you are not sure of the terms of your insurance, you should contact your insurer for advice or obtain legal advice so you know where you stand.

I am intending to book a trip somewhere not yet affected by the coronavirus, but am worried if I’ll be able to recoup the cost of the trip if the situation changes.

  • Before you book any overseas travel you should search the cancellation policies of all the businesses and companies involved. In particular, check the terms and conditions of your booking to find out whether you will be refunded if you cancel your trip and in what circumstance. For example, many budget airlines have a strict non-cancellation policy while many budget travel companies have very broad terms and conditions.
  • Make sure you are aware if the travel insurance policy you are considering has exclusions for epidemics and pandemics and whether these must be officially declared by the World Health Organisation or simply be described in the policy as “a threat”. Either way, if such an exclusion exists you may have difficulty in claiming the cost of cancelling a trip if the travel company you use won’t refund any cancellation costs.
  • Monitor Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade website for travel advisories and be as well informed as you possibly can prior to booking your travel. 

What if I become ill and need treatment for coronavirus symptoms while travelling? Will I be able to claim travel insurance?

  • Depending on the wording of your travel insurance, you may still have medical coverage even if the insurer won’t meet the costs of cancelling a trip or changes to bookings.
  • Australia has reciprocal health care agreements with certain countries, including Italy, in case the travel insurer refuses to pay a claim. You can find more about it here.
  • As with any other trip, make sure you pack any relevant medical histories and prescriptions, insurance details and have all your personal paperwork in order, including a will. Make sure a family member or friend has a copy of these documents at home and have a soft copy saved.



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Kim Shaw

Maurice Blackburn Melbourne
Kim Shaw is an accredited personal injury specialist and is the Division Head of our national Personal Legal Services Division managing our Super and Insurance and Wills and Estates teams based in Maurice Blackburn's Melbourne office. She was named the Lawyers Weekly Partner of the ...

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