July 20, 2020
By Christopher Elliott
Travel insurance is already a must for people like Barbara Howell. That’s because she’s used it time and again, to cover her doctor’s visits on a cruise and, this spring, to get a refund for a COVID-19 cancellation. But will travel insurance become a must-have for everyone else?
“The world has changed too much to travel without travel insurance,” says Howell, a frequent air traveler and registered nurse from Carpinteria, California. “I would not leave our shores without complete coverage – and I do mean total.”
In travel insurance, there’s mandatory – and then there’s mandatory.
Mandatory, in Howell’s sense of the word, means that travel insurance has become so important that she couldn’t imagine booking a trip without it. Although it isn’t required in the U.S. in a legal sense, some countries require travel insurance before you arrive. And for them, mandatory means if you don’t have it, you can’t visit.
Where is Travel Insurance Mandatory?
“Travel insurance is already mandatory for many countries around the world,” says Lum Kamishi, the travel insurance editor at VisaGuide.World.
The list can change but those destinations usually include:
The requirements vary by country, according to travel insurance insiders.
“A few countries require visitors to prove they have emergency medical travel insurance as a condition of entry,” explains Daniel Durazo, a spokesperson for Allianz Travel. Tourists to the Czech Republic, for example, must carry proof of a valid medical insurance policy that will cover hospitalization and medical treatment.
When Will Travel Insurance Become Mandatory Everywhere?
“Mandatory travel insurance is a matter of when,” says Rajeev Shrivastava, CEO of VisitorsCoverage.com, a travel insurance site. “Not if.”
Shrivastava believes mandatory travel insurance hasn’t happened yet because countries depend on tourism dollars.
“Governmental regulatory bodies were at odds with their tourism boards who did not want a mandate that might impact travel to their countries, even though the cost of medical care for uninsured foreign visitors was taking a huge toll on national healthcare systems across the globe,” he says. “In the wake of the pandemic, these systems have been pushed to the brink and won’t survive with any additional burdens of treating uninsured travelers.”
The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t start the process toward mandatory travel but has accelerated it, according to observers.
“It was already becoming a growing trend for countries to require medical coverage because of an increase in unsettled medical bills from foreign travelers,” notes Kasara Barto, a spokesperson for travel insure provider Squaremouth.
How much coverage do you need? A policy with at least $50,000 in emergency medical coverage and $100,000 for cruises or travel to a remote location, says Barto.
Travel Insurance is Mandatory for Some Activities
If you’re going somewhere off the grid, your tour operator may already require travel insurance. Mar Naibi, a product development manager for Pure Adventures, says some tours require insurance.
“We specialize primarily in self-guided adventure travel around the world,” she says. “Some of our partners require insurance. For example in parts of Argentina and Chile – highly remote areas where altitude may impact people – it makes sense” to require travel insurance.
Travel insurance may also become mandatory for some types of travelers. At least that’s the assessment of Steven Roy Goodman, an educational consultant and author of College Success Stories That Inspire.
“Some sort of travel insurance or enhanced travel insurance will likely become mandatory for international students,” he says. “For the U.S. student who plans to travel for study abroad or full-time degree work, many universities will simply do what some adventure tour companies do: They’ll require a supplemental policy like World Nomads.”
Will Travel Insurance be Mandatory for Your Next Trip?
Regardless of what some countries do – or don’t – require, you may want to think about your situation. Should you travel anywhere without travel insurance?
Travel insurance can cover you for a wide variety of problems, including hospitalization and medical evacuation. It can also help if you have to cancel a trip because you’ve been laid off, or your trip is delayed or interrupted by a missed connection, lost baggage or other problems. You may not be able to afford a trip without that kind of coverage.
“With the distress that the pandemic has caused for so many with cancellations and travelers losing extensive amounts of money, travelers will be more inclined to purchase travel insurance to ensure that they are covered should their trip be unexpectedly canceled again,” says Lee Gerry, an international healthcare manager for Expatriate Group.
How to Determine if Travel Insurance is Must-Have for You
“Travel insurance should definitely be more of a consideration now, especially as people prepare to travel abroad,” says Jeremy Murchland, president of travel insurance provider Seven Corners.
But how do you know if it’s must-have for your situation?
If you’re afraid of getting COVID-19 when you’re traveling. Travelers who are nervous about getting sick are turning to insurance companies that can cover a coronavirus-related claim. “Only a few insurance providers are still covering COVID-19 related expenses,” says PK Rao, president of INF Visitor Care, a provider of insurance to visitors to the U.S. and Canada.
If you spent more than $5,000 on a vacation. That’s known as a “big ticket” purchase. Even outside of a pandemic, you should consider insuring that kind of vacation.
If you’re a nervous traveler. Travel insurance offers peace of mind. And even if your problem doesn’t mean cancellation, there’s still trip interruption coverage and other benefits.
If you’re taking a tour. Tour operators – even during a pandemic – have some of the most restrictive refund rules. Better safe than sorry.
If you have a complicated or lengthy itinerary. If you’re on a tour that you booked yourself, with a lot of moving parts, insurance could be useful. When one part doesn’t go as planned, the right policy can help you quickly recover.
Anytime you leave the country. Medical providers abroad often require upfront payments for medical care. Travel insurance can provide these payments. Medical evacuations and repatriations can also run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
If you’re on Medicare and are traveling internationally. Look into travel insurance that covers medical expenses, because Medicare doesn’t typically cover problems outside the U.S.
Travel insurance may not be mandatory for your next trip. It may not ever become legally mandatory. But it could be a must-have for you if your circumstances warrant it.