At times even basic UK government Covid-19 advice can be challenging to understand, let alone when different parts of the UK operate various travel regulations. Amid signs that some parts of the UK could allow overseas holidays in the coming weeks and months, we have seen a growing number of frequently asked questions. We will now look at areas to consider, potential issues and ultimately, how you can protect yourself when travelling overseas.
Travel regulations vary across the UK
At this moment in time, there are significant restrictions across the UK with regards to international travel. While the UK government has indicated a potential loosening of these restrictions in the coming months, this is a very fluid situation. It is also worth noting that while the UK government will make the decision for England, it is not clear that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will follow suit or the same timetable.
Will you be able to buy travel insurance?
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has been continuously publishing updated Covid-19 related travel guidance throughout the pandemic. As UK and international destinations (hopefully) begin to open up later this year, there should be no issues securing travel insurance. However, it is essential you purchase travel insurance to suit your particular scenario.
For example, travel insurance acquired before the pandemic is unlikely to offer any significant degree of cover for Covid-19 related expenses. It is essential to update your travel insurance if this is the case.
Which countries can you travel to?
Since the pandemic began, we have seen a range of different strategies introduced by countries worldwide. We have seen countries added to the UK's "travel bridge" and then removed just days later. There is a definitive list of allowed/banned travel destinations on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) website. If you enter your intended country of destination, you will see specific guidance for that country.
If you are travelling to a country that is on the banned list, there is every chance that your travel insurance will be invalid. Therefore, it is imperative to stick to the guidance from the FCDO.
Will your travel insurance cover Covid-19 related medical expenses?
It is encouraging to see that the ABI has been extremely proactive regarding Covid-19 medical expenses while overseas. Most travel insurance companies already offer cover for emergency medical treatment, with many adding Covid-19 to the list. As Covid-19 is likely to be a significant consideration for international travellers for some time to come, it makes sense to include any related medical expenses. However, if you are uncertain about your degree of cover for Covid-19 related expenses, speak to your insurance company.
What happens if you are quarantined overseas?
There are two critical issues to take into consideration regarding the challenge of quarantine overseas.
Cover for medical expenses
As we touched on above, as long as there is no specific exclusion regarding Covid-19, you should be covered for overseas medical expenses. It will be interesting to see how travel insurance premiums are adjusted to take account of the threat of Covid-19 in the future. This is the time to read the small print in your policy!
Additional expenses caused by the delay
If you are quarantined in a foreign country, you will likely incur additional expenses and probably travel costs. Some insurers may consider applications for additional costs as a consequence of being quarantined. We know that some leading ABI members have already committed to extending customer travel cover to include medical expenses for a minimum of 60 days. This is on the proviso that you will seek to return home at the earliest opportunity.
At the moment, this level of cover is not compulsory across ABI members, and you may wish to formally extend your travel insurance cover. This should be reasonably easy to arrange, even from your overseas destination. This will ensure that your travel insurance covers any costs relating to your extended quarantine.
What if Covid-19 guidance changes when you are overseas?
If your destination was on the list of banned countries maintained by the FCDO, your travel insurance might be invalid. Consequently, you would likely need to cover any additional expenses yourself, not only those related to Covid-19.
However, if your destination was allowed by the UK government when you left the country, then your travel insurance will still be valid. The ABI has been very proactive about "going the extra mile" for customers stranded overseas. Consequently, while worth checking before leaving, you should be covered for any additional expenses in the usual manner.
Can you claim a refund if your holiday is cancelled?
Whether or not your holiday is cancelled due to Covid-19 or some other event, there are several factors to consider. The traditional process for claiming a refund will involve approaching the following parties:
- Accommodation provider
- Tour operator
As many people have found to their benefit, under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, you may be able to claim a full refund if paid for with a credit card. Where none of these approaches leads to reimbursement of costs, your insurance company would likely consider a full refund.
There is no specific reference to refunds in travel insurance because to charge separately would likely duplicate consumer protections already in place. That said, where there are gaps in the system, and the traditional compensation routes are not available, your travel insurance provider will likely refund you. However, it is essential to ask the question before you sign-up for your travel insurance policy.
General guidance from the ABI
Interestingly, the ABI has been working with members to create a safety net for those impacted by Covid-19, often stranded overseas and needing support and guidance. ABI travel insurance members have pledged to:
- Immediately make customers aware of changes in Covid-19 guidance/regulations and provide clear information about what their policies do and do not cover.
- Assist customers when looking for compensation as a consequence of cancelled travel arrangements.
- Look to fast-track all valid travel insurance claims to reduce disruption and the financial impact on customers.
- Take a flexible approach to insurance transfer options involving new destinations and alternative travel plans.
- Undertake practical changes to how travel insurance companies operate during the Covid-19 pandemic, so customers are not disadvantaged.
- Consider alternative documentary evidence, where historically they may have required medical certificates to release payments.
It is welcoming to see the ABI taking a practical approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, ensuring that customers are not disadvantaged.
It’s now a waiting game…..
There has been and will continue to be intense speculation around future travel options as, slowly but surely, the UK government starts to lift Covid-19 restrictions. There is no doubt that the ABI has been extremely helpful and pragmatic in its approach to a challenging situation. Quite when British tourists will again feel the sun on their backs remains to be seen.