With international travel set to return from December 2021 and across 2022, travel insurance will be more critical than ever before – but where do you stand when it comes to COVID-19?
What if you catch the coronavirus during your journey, or if you’re unexpectedly required to isolate, potentially for two weeks away from home and at your own expense?
Some insurers and even some airlines are now offering COVID cover – but what’s included can vary significantly between policies and providers.
Which airlines offer COVID travel insurance?
A host of airlines now offer some degree of protection against the costs of COVID-19, including Qantas, Emirates, Cathay Pacific and more.
With some, such as Emirates, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines, that coverage is complimentary with your ticket – although of these three, only Emirates provides coverage without an 'end date', as Cathay and JAL currently list their offers as expiring across December 2021/January 2022.
Etihad, having previously extended its COVID policy by one year, also has eligible passengers covered until March 31 2022.
Qantas offers COVID insurance as a cost-extra item, as part of a much broader travel insurance plan.
The airline says its policy covers Australians travelling abroad if they catch COVID, which includes related medical expenses (generally, unlimited), as well as the costs of unexpected quarantine overseas if required after testing positive (up to $2,500).
Australian travel insurance with COVID-19 cover
The big question: what happens if you test positive to COVID-19 while overseas?
The answer really depends on where you are in the world and the requirements of the country you visit – but if a hospital stay gets added to your itinerary, that’s where travel insurance typically has your back.
Allianz, for example, provides overseas medical and hospital cover on its latest policies “if, during your period of cover, you are positively diagnosed as suffering a sickness recognised as an epidemic or pandemic, such as COVID-19”.
But that comes with a catch.
If the place you’ve travelled to is marked as “reconsider your need to travel” or “do not travel” by Smartraveller – which currently applies to every country in the world other than New Zealand – coverage doesn’t apply.
Other insurers, like Covermore, aren’t as restrictive with new policies.
Covermore excludes only destinations zoned at the highest level of “do not travel”, and insures a broader range of scenarios like the cost of changing plans if a family member catches COVID, or if you test positive before your travels and then can’t fly.
The takeaway: Every insurer is different – and for that matter, different policies may cover different things, and coverage can change over time – so before relying on travel insurance, be sure to read the fine print, and be aware of any restrictions, exclusions and limits that may apply.
After COVID, travel insurance may be compulsory
As international travel returns, some countries may make insurance a requirement of entry: particularly when it comes to COVID-19.
Under the recently-launched 'Vaccinated Travel Lane' between Singapore and Germany, for example, travellers can only fly if they have COVID cover.
Singapore requires those visitors to have insurance with at least S$30,000 in cover for COVID-related hospitalisation and medical costs while in Singapore.
In that instance, the insurance policy doesn't need to be purchased in Singapore: just valid in Singapore.
This highlights how things could work for Australia-Singapore travel, once those borders reopen.
Medicare COVID-19 cover overseas
Many Australians don’t realise that Medicare isn’t just your safety net at home: it can also help with medical costs when you’ve travelled overseas.
While not being a true replacement for commercial travel insurance, Australia maintains ‘Reciprocal Health Care Agreements’ with 11 other countries – and if you do require medical care or medicine while abroad, those costs may be significantly reduced, or even ‘bulk billed’ back to Australia.
This applies in popular destinations such as New Zealand and the United Kingdom, as well as Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Slovenia and Sweden.
The Services Australia website outlines exactly what’s covered in each country, and what you need to do.
But, there's a golden rule: you need to bring your Medicare card with you when you travel.
While it’s now possible to load a digital Medicare card onto your phone through the Express Plus Medicare app for Android and iOS – and that’s a great backup to have – slipping the plastic card into your passport wallet before jetting abroad could prove a lifesaver.
In fact, even if you do have travel insurance, many insurers won’t pay for costs that you could have claimed through this Medicare scheme, giving even more reason to travel with your Medicare card.