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Travel insurance in 2021: everything you need to know and how to choose the best policy

Finding travel insurance during COVID-19 is challenging, but not impossible.
Finding travel insurance during COVID-19 is challenging, but not impossible.   -   Copyright  Getty Images
By Katy Dartford  & Jessica Vincent

While it may not be as easy as it once was, finding comprehensive travel insurance is still possible, even during a pandemic.

Here we answer the most common questions about choosing travel insurance in 2021, from finding specialist providers for “no-go” destinations to how to make a claim.

Will insurers demand vaccine passports or vaccine certification?

There has been much debate about the efficacy and ethics of vaccine 'passports', or certificates which would allow people who have had the coronavirus jab to travel abroad.

While most governments are yet to announce how they would actually work, some travel operators are already requiring customers who wish to travel with them to have had the vaccine.

So far, no travel insurer has added Covid vaccinations to its small print, but this may change depending on government actions. For example, if the European Union makes vaccination a requirement to holiday in EU countries, insurance providers will have to impose this on their customers.

Do travel insurance companies cover pandemics?

After the WHO announced that the coronavirus was a global pandemic on 11 March, many travel insurance companies said they wouldn’t cover COVID-19-related claims. However, nearly all providers will cover medical expenses for COVID-19-related incidents while on holiday, provided that the destination isn’t on non-essential travel advisories before departure.

Insurance price comparison website Compare the Market said that all the travel insurance policies listed on their website are “likely to cover claims related to COVID-19 for emergency medical and repatriation costs.” However, be aware that not all policies on Compare the Market cover non-medical issues, such as flight or hotel cancellations (see below for more information).

My country doesn’t have a travel corridor with my chosen holiday destination. Will I be able to get travel insurance?

It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible. If you plan to travel to a destination that is not on your country’s approved list of air bridges, most insurance companies won’t cover you.

However, there are a handful of specialist providers that are offering insurance to “no-go” destinations during COVID-19, such as Battleface and Wild Frontiers.

What if my government advises against travel to my destination after I’ve arrived? Will my insurance policy become invalid?

If a government removes a destination from its travel corridor list while you’re on holiday (and you bought the insurance before departing), your policy should still stand. Check with your provider before taking out the insurance and only go for a company that is prepared to offer cover in this situation.

Are any travel insurance companies covering trip cancellation or disruption due to COVID-19?

While most companies issuing travel insurance during COVID-19 will cover urgent medical care and repatriation, it’s unlikely that they’ll cover other COVID-related issues such as flight or hotel cancellations. But if your package holiday, flights, or accommodation are cancelled due to COVID-19, you can usually request a refund or postpone your trip directly with the airline, hotel, or tour operator.

If I want to cancel my trip because of COVID-19, should my insurance company cover the costs?

It depends. If you knowingly booked a holiday to a destination that was under government non-essential travel advisories then changed your mind, it’s unlikely that your insurance would cover you.

However, according to independent financial advisors Defaqto, three-quarters of plans in the UK will cover cancellation due to a positive Covid test before travel.

If a last minute change in government advice forces you to cancel your holiday, then you may be able to claim.

But if a government no longer advises against travel to your destination on the date of your departure and you decided not to go, your decision would likely be classed as “disinclination to travel”. Then, it is likely that you wouldn’t be covered by your travel insurance provider.

Similarly, if you decided not to travel because of the risk of self-isolation rules coming into effect, this may also be regarded as a “disinclination to travel”.

As always, though, this depends entirely on your provider, and you should check with them directly.

Will my insurance still be valid if I have to quarantine while abroad?

If you’re forced to extend your stay due to reasons out of your control (for example, if you’re unexpectedly required to quarantine during your holiday), some companies will automatically extend your policy and cover any additional costs of your stay. However, not all insurance companies do this, so it’s best to check your policy’s disruption cover in detail.

Should I take out insurance for a domestic trip or a weekend away?

As travel rules are so unpredictable right now, we would recommend it, yes. Almost all annual travel insurance policies cover such trips and the majority also cover you for cancelling a holiday if your pre-travel Covid test is positive.

It's worth checking if your policy has any rules on the length of the trip. A holiday provider with flexible booking terms may be the best choice.

Choosing the right insurance policy for 2021

Get the right policy for you and where you want to go

Do you want to travel to a country on a “no-go” list? Do you need an insurance company that covers people over 65? Have you got pre-existing health conditions? Do you want a one-off or an annual policy? These questions will help guide you as to which kind of policy you need and help refine your search.

Do your research - and always read the fine print

It has never been more important to read the terms and conditions. Once you’ve identified your insurance needs, dig deep into each policy to see whether it covers every base.

If the documentation isn’t clear or it doesn’t cover essential points like the ones we’ve mentioned above, call the company and ask them your questions. Reading up on recent customer reviews can also help establish whether the company delivers on its policy, readily accept valid claims and so on.

Comprehensive disruption cover is key

Most insurance companies will cover medical emergencies, but the best policies have comprehensive disruption cover. This means that the insurance firm won’t just help you if you get ill, but they’ll also be able to reimburse you for delays, enforced stays, or a missed departure.

Consider 'cancelling for any reason' cover

If you really want the widest flexibility for cancelling a trip then it's worth upgrading to a 'cancel for any reason' policy, also known as CFAR.

Reimbursement is typically between 50 and 75 per cent of the pre-paid, non-refundable trip cost, but it will increase the cost of the plan.

Got more questions? Head over to Twitter and we'll do our best to answer them.

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