Travelling to South America? Heed the Warnings

Though much of the world’s media is focused on riots in Hong Kong and the Middle East, business, leisure, and adventure travellers need to stay on high alert in the face of rampaging civil disturbances, government upheavals, and outbreaks of crime throughout South America.

Just in recent months, riot police throughout Ecuador were struggling to hold back protestors furious about fuel price increases many just couldn’t afford, and the protests grew so violent that government officials deserted the capital city, Quito. In Chile, violence and looting repeatedly broke out in protest against severe public transportation price hikes, forcing the government to declare states of emergency in and around the capital city of Santiago.

In Peru, the president was forced to dissolve Congress amid repeated charges of flagrant corruption as angry crowds took to the streets. The past four presidents have all been charged with corruption and all have denied the charges.

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales was forced to leave the country for safer haven in Mexico in the wake of a mid-November coup that generated riots. Morales, supported by much of Bolivia’s indigenous population, vowed to return if called for by the populace, likely presaging future unrest, or worse.

Keep abreast of your government’s warnings

In mid-November, the governments of Britain, the US, and Canada all warned their citizens to “Avoid All Travel” to Bolivia, the strongest warning level they have. This is the same warning level they have issued against Venezuela, where a crumbling economy has propelled more than 10 per cent of the population to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.

The US and Canada have also raised “Avoid All Travel” warnings for large areas of Colombia, particularly its border areas with Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador, as well as raising warnings on large areas within Brazil.

The UK, US, and Canada are members, along with Australia and New Zealand, of the “Five Eyes” alliance, an anglophone intelligence-sharing system that had its origins in a post-World War II UK/US agreement. Consequently, their four-level travel warnings are similar:

  1. Exercise Normal Precautions
  2. Exercise Heightened Precautions
  3. Avoid All Non-essential Travel—or Reconsider Travel
  4. Avoid All Travel

 The UK deviates from this four-stage paradigm slightly, but the substance of its warnings is the same as that of its partners.

You can sign up to any or all of the following:

For travellers to South America, or destinations elsewhere, the government warnings issued are essential protective contingencies—not only to keep you of out harm’s way, but to protect the integrity of your travel insurance benefits, which are designed to cover your costs of emergency medical care, baggage, interruption of travel itinerary, delays, alternate accommodations, and other out-of-pocket costs.

Generally, if your government warns you to “Avoid All Non-essential Travel” (in the US, “Reconsider Travel”) or “Avoid All Travel” to any country or region of that country prior to your trip, your travel insurer may well not cover losses—or may limit the benefits incurred in that country or region. If the warnings are raised only after you’re already in the country, you had best leave as quickly as you can (some warnings may set a specific exit time) or you risk loss of benefits.

These conditions and limitations are listed in your policy, but you may not read the fine print. You’re not alone. It’s important, therefore, that before you travel to any country with an elevated risk (and that includes a great many you would not suspect of being high risk, e.g., France, the UK, Greece), you should ask your travel insurance advisor to clearly explain these travel warning limitations in your policy, and if possible,  give you any additional information they may have about your destination.

You’ll find the same cautionary advice provided by your government travel advisory services—all of which strongly advise purchasing travel insurance before you travel anywhere, and some of which actually provide excellent explanations of how travel insurance works and why it’s an indispensable component of any international travel.

You can’t afford to be without these warning systems. They can keep you out of harm’s way or even save your life. And they can keep you from curtailing the valuable benefits you paid for in your travel insurance.

Discover new worlds, fearlessly. We cover International Travellers going anywhere in the world with medical insurance. This also includes trip interruption and baggage. Let us give you peace of mind while you enjoy your trip. For more information, visit, call us at 1-800-360-3234 or email us at

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