Traveling This Summer? Here’s Why You Need COVID Travel Insurance

A young female sitting on a stone wall next to a young male; both are wearing face masks. They have luggage next to them with a city scape in the background.

Gabriella Clare Marino/Unsplash

Key Takeaways

  • Some travel insurance will cover COVID-19 infection and quarantine. However, the fear of contracting COVID is not covered under most plans. In that case, “Cancel for Any Reason” coverage may offer protection.
  • Many countries now require travel insurance. Depending on where you go, you may need to purchase a nationally administered plan.
  • If you’re planning a trip, know that these requirements are changing frequently. Always read the fine print on any coverage you’re considering. Before you depart, double-check your plan to make sure that it’s complying with the requirements of the country you’re traveling to.

Jonathan Tucker didn’t intend to contract COVID-19 in Ireland in early April.

Tucker, who plays djembe and sings with the pirate band The Musical Blades, was touring the Emerald Isle as part of a guided tour featuring the musical group.

After seeing many of the sights, he and roughly 20 of the 65 tour participants came down with COVID and had to stay behind to quarantine.

While quarantining in an Irish hotel room isn’t ideal, Tucker told Verywell that he was prepared for the possibility.

“We got travel insurance, although it wasn’t exclusively for COVID,” said Tucker. “We also made sure we saved enough for double the trip expenses just in the event that this happened. Otherwise, it would be irresponsible.”

Tucker chose a plan through Allianz that reimbursed his expenses, including accommodations while traveling.

Since Ireland’s quarantine time is counted from the first sign of COVID symptoms, without that coverage, Tucker would have been on the hook for an additional seven days of accommodations.

What Is Travel Insurance?

Travel insurance has been around far longer than COVID, but the pandemic has made it much more attractive to travelers.

Typical plans cover trip delays, lost baggage, or medical care if a traveler has to visit a healthcare facility abroad. Most domestic healthcare plans don’t offer coverage.

Some plans, like Tucker’s, work for solo travelers or couples traveling together—even if only one person tests positive for COVID.

Travel Insurance for COVID

While there are options for travelers trying to prepare for the possibility that COVID could derail their plans, it hasn't always been that way.

Damian Tysdal, the founder of CoverTrip, told Verywell that epidemics were historically excluded from travel insurance.

Tysdal has written about travel insurance trends on his blog since 2006. He told Verywell that he’s seen plans change throughout the pandemic.

“COVID coverage with travel insurance has been evolving since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Tysdal. “Some companies outright excluded any losses resulting from an epidemic. Others covered it, but only if you purchased insurance before it became a ‘known event’—after which it could not be insured.”

According to Tysdal, most companies covered COVID as if it were any other illness—they paid for medical care, or if you were diagnosed before your trip, they covered trip cancellation.

However, consumers need to read plans carefully and look for loopholes such as exclusions for epidemics.

Is COVID Fear Covered?

Tysdal said that one thing that most plans don’t cover is the fear of contracting COVID, even if case rates justify that fear.

“The main problem came down to people wanting to cancel out of fear of getting COVID. That is not covered,” said Tysdal.

According to Tysdal, an exception would be a plan with “Cancel for Any Reason” coverage, which is “an optional upgrade that extends your list of covered reasons for cancellation. In that case, you could cancel out of fear.”

What Will Travel Insurance Cover?

Joe Cronin, MBA, president of International Citizens Insurance, told Verywell that travel insurance plan coverage varies, particularly when it comes to COVID-related expenses.

For example, some plans will only cover the costs of medical treatment, while others will pay for the cost of quarantining (as in Tucker’s case).

For quarantine coverage, plans might pay a set amount of money for meals, transportation, and lodging.

Read the Fine Print

Cronin said that travelers need to know that self-administered COVID tests are not always enough to trigger plan coverage.

“In most cases, a physician must diagnose you with COVID to receive coverage,” said Cronin. “If you discover you have COVID through a self-administered test, you may have to go to a doctor to get the diagnosis confirmed for the coverage to take effect.”

Cronin explained that “some policies will only cover quarantine if you can show that a government authority or doctor mandated it and that it was because you tested positive or are symptomatic.”

To make sure you’re complying with the policy you’ve purchased, Cronin said it’s crucial that you read the fine print.

Some traditional travel insurance plans changed to accommodate COVID, but there are others that are specifically geared toward it. For example, CAP and Covac Global both offer programs that are optimized for COVID coverage.

Do I Need Travel Insurance?

Travel insurance used to be an optional expense, but Cronin said that many countries now require it for entry.

As borders open to summer travelers, some countries are starting to require travelers to purchase the insurance coverage that’s offered by their national governments.

As of February 2022, Belize requires all visitors to purchase mandatory international health insurance through their tourism portal and covers medical treatment in the country.

Other countries only require travel insurance if you’re unvaccinated.

For example, Singapore requires unvaccinated travelers to carry travel insurance with a minimum of S$30,000 coverage (about US$22,000). Vaccinated travelers are encouraged, but not required, to have insurance.

Know Requirements—and Check for Changes

Cronin said that the requirements for travel insurance change rapidly, so it can be hard to keep up.

“Some countries have said they are implementing a travel insurance requirement only to remove it at the last second,” said Cronin. “Other countries have officially removed their travel insurance requirement—but border control agents are still asking for your travel insurance plan on entry. It is important to check the requirements of the country you are going to.”

As of April 2022, the United States has no travel insurance requirement for entry. Still, White House representatives have stated that there is no intention of lifting the testing requirement for reentry into the U.S.

As that testing remains, more Americans could wind up stranded abroad with COVID—whether they are symptomatic or not. Travel insurance could be the only thing standing between them and a very expensive quarantine.

What This Means For You

Travel insurance used to be a precaution that many travelers considered an unnecessary expense. Now, it might be necessary for entry into a country you plan to visit.

If you choose to purchase travel insurance, read the fine print carefully. Make sure that you know what’s covered—and what’s not—when it comes to COVID medical care and quarantine support.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Rachel Murphy
Rachel Murphy is a Kansas City, MO, journalist with more than 10 years of experience.