Travel Insurance Can Help in a Disaster Zone

The world has had more than its share of natural and manmade disasters in the past 12 months, and thanks to travel insurance, many thousands of travellers have been spared great financial losses. You can’t predict the next disruption. Get covered early. Don’t wait until the day before you leave.

Travelling without insurance is no longer an option. There is no place on earth where your safety can be guaranteed, where you are isolated from risk of accident, injury, financial loss, travel disruption, sickness, epidemic, terrorism, or civil unrest. In the past 12 months, we have seen Europe covered by volcanic ash, the Middle East and North Africa under siege, New Zealand and Japan rocked by disastrous earthquakes, Australia ravaged by floods, Mexico wracked by drug violence—and that’s only a short list of danger zones.

In each of these areas, travel insurance has brought medical aid to the injured; covered financial losses due to cancelled or interrupted flights, tours, and hotel reservations; and has extricated stranded travellers and helped bring them home safely. But those who benefitted most were those who took the time to understand what their insurance covered, what it excluded, and what their own responsibilities were when buying insurance and when they were suddenly confronted with an emergency and needed help.

Travel insurers like to make the purchase of their products look effortless. It’s not. And don’t rely on wording in promotional brochures to decide which plan to buy. You need to know the details. But with many policies now running to 30 or 40 pages of fine print, I doubt if even one out of one hundred purchasers is really going to read it all. That’s why it’s really important to talk to an agent who specializes in travel insurance and one who is willing to answer your questions.

But if you’re going to buy online, be prepared to invest some time. It will be worth it.

What should you look out for?

  • The definition of “pre-existing condition” and how it applies to you.
  • The definition of a “stable” condition.
  • Read the exclusions and limitations.
  • Read the details about trip cancellation/interruption. These benefits have a lot of loopholes—for example, if your father-in-law died of a condition he had before you purchased your insurance, your trip cancellation benefit will likely be invalidated due to a pre-existing condition.
  • If you are asked medical questions, be precise and complete. Non-disclosure can invalidate your coverage.
  • If you are buying “Cancel for Any Reason” coverage, read the fine print well. Chances are you’re only going to get part of your prepaid money back.

Most importantly, leave plenty of time to shop for your policy and don’t buy on price alone. Higher prices only cover greater risks. They don’t necessarily provide better coverage. On the other hand, avoid sites that compare plans by price, which many travel insurance aggregators do. Unless you know what that price includes, you’re buying blindly. There is so much variation in what travel insurers offer that it’s virtually impossible to make a meaningful direct comparison between plans.

Buy what you need. The best plan for you is one that fits your health, age, financial circumstances, and destination. If it doesn’t fit, it’s a bad buy.

Travel insurance is a serious purchase, not because the premiums are necessarily expensive, but because if you buy a plan that leaves you exposed to exclusions, you can be left with massive bills that the insurer won’t cover. I have seen insured travellers stuck with medical bills of close to half a million dollars—not because their insurer cheated them, but because they didn’t understand what they were buying.

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