Preparing for Travel in a World of Civil Unrest – Part II

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“The city of Istanbul is in complete shock the government used such heavy handed measures. — in Taksim, Istanbul.” –- Thomas Yaccato

Joanne Thomas Yaccato was travelling in Turkey in early June when police and protesters clashed outside of her Istanbul hotel. Her experience led Facebook friends to wonder: What would travel insurance cover in this scenario? And what is the real definition of “terrorist”?

So what do you think?

Did Thomas Yaccato witness terrorism, a legal demonstration, a riot, or a mere protest?  The Insurance Institute of Canada defines terrorism as an act or threat of violence or force that is ideologically motivated and unlawful on behalf of a group, organization, or government that intends to instill fear in the public. A legal demonstration, protest, or act of self-expression may be marked by the actions of individuals who commit malicious acts or vandalism, but are not acting on behalf of the group. A riot is defined by law in Canada as an act of violence that could involve as few as three persons, including strikers, when one or more persons commit malicious acts or vandalism. Remember though, it’s important to check if terms like “terrorism” or “riot” are defined in your particular travel insurance policy. The policy wording will typically take precedence, although disputes can arise if the definition lacks clarity. If there is no definition and a dispute arises, a court could apply commonly accepted wordings to these terms.

Who do you trust?

Thomas Yaccato decided long before receiving a travel warning from the Canadian consulate that she had more to fear from the police than the protesters. So she relied on the advice from her Facebook friends watching news reports at home and on CBC correspondent Saša Petricic, also a Facebook friend. She said some advice that calmed her nerves and “transformed [her experience] from panic into a world-class adventure.” Then eight hours later, Petricic pecked out a one-word message on Twitter: “Arrested.” He was doing professionally no more than she had been doing as an amateur: Taking pictures and reporting home. She was able to get to the airport and catch a flight home before he was released from jail.

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Policy Exclusions

Inexpensive travel medical policies often exclude coverage for medical expenses in countries the Department of External Affairs has warned Canadians not to visit, or to visit only when necessary. (As of June 2013, the department listed 13 countries in the first category and 11 in the second.) Matt Davies, Senior Product Specialist at Ingle International, notes that “some policies exclude only expenses related to [a Department of External Affairs] warning, while others exclude all expenses incurred in the country or region for which the warning was issued. The exclusions vary quite a bit from plan to plan, so it’s important for consumers to understand their coverage and make sure they get the right plan,” Davies adds.

Choosing the Right Travel Insurance

Turkey was one of 100 countries where the department merely urged a high degree of caution. Only travel near Turkey’s border with Syria was to be avoided. Thomas Yaccato’s credit card’s medical policy makes no mention of exclusions due to travel warnings. So she would not have been excluded from coverage for that reason. She might, however, have been excluded from coverage if she had been injured as a result of terrorism, riot, or civil unrest. The fact the unrest resulted in police action after she arrived might not have mattered. As best Thomas Yaccato and her husband can tell, their group medical plan offers advice without excluding coverage for the sort of situation she encountered. “It’s quite an excellent plan,” she has decided. “We just went through it, and it covers stuff I wouldn’t even know to ask for.” But she and others who travel widely, and are thus more likely to require coverage for expenses related to terrorism, war, or civil unrest, may wish to purchase “special risk” insurance, says Davies. Such policies have a longer application process and “costs quite a bit more than regular travel medical insurance.” If you are unsure about which coverage is best for your upcoming trip, always speak with an expert first. They can talk you through your options, and make sure you get the right travel insurance for your unique needs.

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