For the first time in a long while, an American passport is nearly as good as kindling. To travel abroad, your options are few and far between. Restrictions are always changing, however, and some countries are moving to allow Americans entry with proof of travel insurance that covers COVID-19.
Aruba, Bermuda, and Dubai are already on the list, and several other countries — like Turks and Caicos — will join the ranks when their doors open. These countries, by and large, are looking for policies that cover the visitor should they contract COVID-19 directly before or during their visit and cover medical evacuation. Other requirements, like quarantining, may also be required.
As vaccines roll out around the world in 2021, the safest option is to get vaccinated as soon as possible. But if you must go beforehand, here’s the nitty-gritty on travel insurance plans.
Which plans cover COVID-19?
Here are a few companies that explicitly cover travelers if they get COVID-19 abroad or directly before their trip (as of mid-July):
1. April International
April International’s Pandemic Plus Plan has the basics written into its name. It covers trip cancellation and interruption, emergency medical expenses up to $50,000, emergency evacuation up to $500,000, missed connections, baggage protection, and more. You can purchase an optional Cancel For Any Reason benefit separately (which could reimburse you up to 75 percent of your trip costs).
What it doesn’t cover are expenses lost due to government bans or other restrictions, so check beforehand and keep apprised of current trends. If you do purchase a plan with April International and find out within 14 days that it doesn’t meet your needs, you can cancel for a full refund.
2. Berkshire Hathaway
Berkshire Hathaway has three main plans, and all of them cover COVID-19 issues up to their respective limits — the most budget-friendly option covers up to $15,000 worth of medical expenses; the most expensive plan offers up to $50,000 of coverage. Each plan also covers trip cancellation (not including personal cancellations except in the case of illness), trip interruption, and travel delays. Like most other companies on this list, you can purchase CFAR (Cancel For Any Reason) coverage separately.
3. Seven Corners
Seven Corners’ Liaison Travel Plus plan is cut and dry: It covers COVID-19 medical expenses up to $100,000.
Seven Corners also offers various RoundTrip Protection Plans that may meet your criteria — these have components of coverage for trip cancellation and interruption, medical expenses, and protection for personal belongings. All of these plans cover COVID-19 to the limit they cover any other illness; the RoundTrip Elite Plan has the highest coverage, with a $250,000 emergency accident and sickness benefit as part of the plan.
4. World Nomads
World Nomads offers plans that cover COVID-19 treatment up to and including medical evacuation, if you test positive during your trip. It also does not currently have a pandemic exclusion in its plans, meaning COVID-19 claims are allowed. According to its website, benefits include trip interruption coverage, travel delay coverage, doctors’ visits, and hospital stays up to your plan’s limit. Medical evacuation and certain pre-paid travel arrangements may also be covered. World Nomads also covers COVID-19 testing with some conditions: If a registered physician requires a COVID-19 test after departure, it’s likely to be covered.
World Nomads does not cover canceled trips, regardless of whether cancellation was your call or any third party’s.
Per Generali’s website, “If you, a family member or a traveling companion are diagnosed with COVID-19 before or during your trip, and meet the requirements for coverage due to sickness, you can be covered for Trip Cancellation, Trip Interruption, Travel Delay, Medical & Dental, and Emergency Assistance & Transportation, in addition to 24/7 Emergency Assistance services” (a team that will coordinate local treatment on your behalf). This vague language — “if you meet the requirements” — is a good example of what to look out for. Always verify what plans deem as “sickness,” “requirements,” etc.
Generali offers three tiers of plans: standard, preferred, and premium.
Travel insurance options for backpacking and long-term travel
World Nomads is the strongest of the above options for longer-term travel, as it has plans tailored to vagabonding. But if you’re the type prone to hand in your notice and buy a one-way ticket to Southeast Asia, the increasing presence of digital nomads has born “nomad-specific” insurance options for a post-COVID world.
Safety Wing operates much like a stripped-down health insurance policy. It’s built for the long-term traveler with rates and options designed for trips of at least four weeks. Beginning August 1, 2020, Safety Wing began covering COVID-19 to include medical treatments “deemed medically necessary by a physician.” This coverage is currently automatically written into all new policies, so you don’t even have to call and ask for it. And because it’s built for extended vagabonding, trips back to your home country are included, so there’s no reason to hang onto that pricey health insurance back home unless you plan to spend ample time there.
Kids are also covered in certain plans. So if you were to take a work assignment abroad, or just wanted the kids to spend a semester immersed in a foreign culture, Safety Wing allows up to two children under age 10 to be added to a policy without added fees. Plans start at $40 for four weeks of coverage and go up from there.
International health insurance
If you’re heading to a specific location, or will be staying in a country for a month or more rather than hopping between destinations, you may want to consider an international health insurance option. Companies such as Pacific Prime work with insurers that cover COVID-19 to build plans based on where a customer is going and what they intend to do while there.
Price varies by country, your personal background (age, residence, and needs), and length of travel. In general, prices land far cheaper than most health care plans in the US but are more expensive than travel insurance. For example, a traveler in their mid-30s from the US, heading to Thailand for three months could choose from plans that cover COVID-19 treatment, ranging from about $250 to about $500, total for the three months.
Alternative routes to getting insured
Of course, you could always go the travel agency route, and they’ll compare whatever sellers they work with for you. An example of this is Wanderwell, which offers travelers medical-only coverage and short-term trip protection coverage (in addition to long-term coverage, which is not an option discussed in this article). They’ll be able to discuss with you specifically which plans cover testing, if any, and which cover COVID-19 treatment, trip interruption due to COVID-19, etc. Note that they only have access to companies they are partnered with.
Then there’s through your hotel. Palladium Hotel Group — with hotels all across the Americas — is offering free medical insurance to their customers for the next year, and other hotels are starting to follow suit. Coverage includes expenses due to illness (including COVID-19 up to $100,000), medical transfer, emergency transfer, necessary stay extensions, repatriation, and more, should these issues arise during your stay. But just like with anything else, call ahead to make sure you understand the details.
What’s the fine print?
The keywords here are often “unforeseen events.” If your provider uses that language, know that they may argue that COVID-19 is entirely predictable — and definitely not “unforeseen.” If you have any doubts, call your provider in advance of your trip.
For the record, even if it looks like your plan covers COVID-19, it may not — make sure you have it in writing that your plan does. What’s more, as outlined above, most companies require you purchase a separate Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) policy if your plans get derailed (including if you change your mind). Though do note that CFAR policies often tack on a significant markup, around 40 percent.
Then there’s pre-existing conditions. Even if treatment of COVID-19 is “covered” under your plan, make sure any pre-existing conditions clause does not exempt you from said treatment. You may be in for a battle, if so.
And then there’s the phrase “reasonable and customary charges.” Often, insurers will not pay benefits in excess of this arbitrarily defined amount. If you get care at a clinic or institution that charges more than the insurance company expects, you could be left footing the bill.
Certain insurance companies may have policies that vary depending on which state you live in and what country you’re departing to as well. Before you make the leap, definitely check this off your research list.
In short, contact any company before purchasing any travel insurance plan. As with any insurance plan, there are a lot of loopholes. To protect yourself, ask around, do your research, and be like a Boy Scout — always prepared.
A version of this article was previously published on July 17, 2020, and was updated on December 21, 2020, with more information.