Are you heading overseas to a country with volatile weather conditions? Find travel insurance with natural disaster cover
Your flights are booked, your bags are packed and you’re ready to depart on your dream holiday.
The night before you’re meant to leave, you’re sitting on the couch watching the news when a bulletin ticks across the bottom of your TV:
A volcano erupting in the Pacific Region is affecting air travel in the area, causing mass delays and cancellations.
While you’re concerned for the safety of all those involved, it doesn’t take long before you think, “What does this mean for my travel plans?”
This guide looks at the importance of having travel insurance in place for when the unexpected happens such as a volcanic eruption or other natural disaster.
When are natural disasters covered?
Unexpected events can wreak havoc on your travel plans, as many travellers to Bali found during 2015, thanks to the volcanic ash cloud. This is why it's important to have travel insurance with natural disaster cover in place once you've booked your trip. Below is a table of the brands in our panel that offer travel insurance for natural disasters.
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Coverage of covered natural disasters and extreme weather events differs between insurance brand, but they generally include cover for:
- Volcanic eruption
Read your product disclosure statement (PDS) to make sure you’re fully aware of the natural disasters your insurer will cover.
It’s worth pointing out that you should take out a travel insurance policy when you book your trip, as you won’t be able to receive any cover if a natural disaster has already occurred when you purchase a policy.
Most insurance providers will provide cover in the following situations:
- Trip cancellation. If a natural disaster forces you to cancel your trip before departure, you’ll be covered for any non-refundable bookings and deposits. Cover is also available for the costs you incur if you decide to reschedule your trip.
- Trip interruption. If a natural disaster forces you to return home early from your trip, you’ll be covered for the cost of the additional travel expenses you incur and any cancellation fees and non-refundable deposits.
- Travel delay. Cover is available if your pre-booked transport is delayed by more than a certain amount of time, for example 6 or 12 continuous hours. This includes cover for additional accommodation and meals.
- Missed connection. If a natural disaster causes you to incur travel costs to catch up to your tour or cruise, those expenses will be covered by your insurer.
- Non-medical emergency evacuation. If local authorities issue a formal recommendation for travellers to leave a country following a natural disaster, the cost of your evacuation will be covered.
- Medical expenses. The cover for overseas medical and hospital expenses included in every travel insurance policy will also offer protection if you suffer an illness or injury or die as the result of a natural disaster.
Cover for cancellation because of severe weather conditions
Nat and Leezel Liggins were on a tour around the Mediterranean. Their next port of call was to be Turkey, where they planned to go to a Süper Lig football match because the name of the competition was comically similar to their own last name.
However, before they were able to leave Greece there was a severe weather warning that forced the cancellation of their boat. This not only meant they lost would miss the game but also a connecting flight from Turkey to Malta the next afternoon.
Luckily the two had taken out comprehensive travel insurance, which meant that they would not only be covered for any additional costs they incurred due to the inclement weather but also be reimbursed for the costs of the prepaid tickets to the Süper Lig match.
Am I covered for cyclones and hurricanes?
Travel insurance provides a wide range of cover when your travel plans are disrupted by a natural disaster, including a cyclone or hurricane. While the exact type and level of cover differs between insurers, you will usually be covered for:
- Trip cancellation. If a cyclone or hurricane forces you to cancel your trip before you leave home, your insurer will cover any cancellation fees you are charged and non-refundable pre-paid deposits.
- Trip interruption. If a cyclone or hurricane forces you to abandon your trip part-way through, the additional travel expenses you incur will be covered along with cancellation fees and lost deposits.
- Travel delay. If a cyclone or hurricane delays your pre-booked transport by six hours or more, you’ll receive cover for additional accommodation and meal expenses.
- Overseas medical expenses. You’ll also receive cover for any overseas medical or hospital expenses you incur if you are injured by a cyclone or hurricane.
- Missed connection. Your insurer will cover the additional travel expenses you incur to catch up to your tour or cruise when you have been delayed by a cyclone or hurricane.
- Emergency evacuation. If local authorities issue a recommendation for travellers to leave a country following a cyclone or hurricane, the cost of your evacuation will be covered.
Check the product disclosure statement (PDS) closely to find out exactly what cover your policy offers for cyclones and hurricanes.
- Check weather reports. Stay up to date with local media bulletins and keep an eye out for weather reports. Staying informed allows you to act quickly when danger approaches.
- Follow advice. If the staff at your accommodation tell you it’s time to check out of your hotel and find a safer place to hole up, follow their advice. The last thing you want to do is get stuck somewhere that can’t handle the extreme weather conditions.
- Plan ahead. Make sure to stock up on plenty of bottled water and non-perishable food. Torches and candles will also come in handy as the power may be out for some time.
- Stay central. Stay in a central area of the accommodation - make sure to always remain well away from any windows.
- Don’t be a storm tourist. While it might be tempting to go and check out the huge waves at the beach, don’t put yourself in unnecessary danger. Stay inside and stay safe.
- Watch where you swim. Rising flood waters in a cyclone can swamp sewage systems and lead to the spread of disease, so stay out of rivers and lakes after the cyclone.
There are limits and exclusions that apply to the level of cover available following a natural disaster:
- You will need to have taken out a policy before the insured event occurs.
- If you’re stranded overseas and incurring additional accommodation and meals expenses, check the daily limits that apply to claimable amounts under your travel delay coverage.
- Travel insurance policies specify that they will cover “reasonable” additional expenses you incur to get home safely if you are ordered to evacuate after a natural disaster, so don’t expect an insurer to cover you for business class tickets home.
- Be wary of insurance policies that include the ambiguous term “act of God”. This term has been phased out by many insurers following the volcanic ash cloud in Iceland in 2010, but keep an eye out just in case.
- If your claim relates to a cyclone or hurricane, you will need to have taken out cover prior to the storm being named.
- In many cases, trip cancellation and trip interruption claims will only be paid if you stand to lose at least 50% of your trip due to evacuation orders.
- A destination will need to be uninhabitable for claims to be paid – if some facilities are unavailable or simply not as expected, that’s not enough for an insurer to pay out.
- Non-medical emergency evacuation claims will only be covered for the cost of getting you to “the nearest place of safety”.
- Limits apply to all areas of coverage, so make sure you’re aware of those limits as anything above that amount will need to be paid by you.
If you took out cover before the natural disaster occurred or before it became mainstream news, your travel insurer should still provide cover for additional expenses you incur on your holiday due to a natural disaster – so continuing with your travel plans may be an option.
However, you’ll need to check the benefit limits that apply to your policy and also check your policy’s list of general exclusions to make sure you will be covered. While you won’t be covered for anything that is related to the natural disaster, you will be covered for everything else on your policy.
The day before you’re due to depart on a tropical getaway, you check the weather forecast for your destination and are disappointed to find rain, wind and storms stretching for every day into the foreseeable future. There goes your plans of spending your holiday lying on the beach, so will your travel insurance cover you if you cancel your trip altogether?
In a word, no. You won’t be covered if you want to cancel your trip because of bad weather. Travel insurance will only cover you if the weather forces you to cancel your travel plans, for example if the resort you were booked to visit was severely damaged in a cyclone and unable to accept any guests.
What activities can travel insurance cover me for if they need to be cancelled due to bad weather?
- Snow sports. Many insurers offer a winter sports or snow sports pack that can be added to your travel insurance policy for an additional premium. These packs cover you if bad weather (or insufficient snow or power failure) cause all lift systems at your pre-booked resort to be closed for 24 hours, allowing you to pay for transport to the nearest open ski resort and purchase additional lift passes. In addition, if your outward or return journey is delayed for more than 12 hours by bad weather or avalanche, your extra travel and accommodation expenses will be covered.
- Golf. If you’re planning a golfing holiday, you can add specialist golf cover to your travel insurance policy. This type of plan will cover you when bad weather forces the closure of the golf course at your resort, allowing you to travel to the nearest golf course resort and cover the cost of playing.
Depending on your insurer, you may be covered when bad weather causes the cancellation of other activities, so read the PDS for more details.
- Take out a policy ASAP. Nature is unpredictable and disasters can occur at any time, so take out travel insurance as soon as you have booked and paid for your trip.
- Read the fine print. The treatment of natural disasters varies between insurers, while unexpected general exclusions have caught out many a traveller. Reading the fine print of the PDS before you take out cover will help you understand when you will and won’t be covered.
- Check the limits of coverage. Limits apply to many areas of cover, so check what those limits are before heading overseas.
- Emergency contacts. In the case of an emergency while overseas, most insurers offer 24/7 assistance lines that can help you find the assistance you need. It’s also a good idea to make yourself aware of emergency contacts (police, fire, ambulance) in the country you are visiting. You may also be able to receive assistance from the Australian Embassy.
- Know the risks before you travel. Certain regions of the world are more prone to earthquakes, cyclones, floods and fires, and some natural disasters are much more likely to occur at certain times of the year. Do your research before you travel so you know all the potential risks.
The maximum amount you can claim will be outlined in the PDS. For example, if you’re stranded overseas due to a natural disaster and you incur additional expenses, your insurer may provide $200 cover a day for accommodation and $50 a day for your living expenses, such as meals. As well as a daily limit, there will often also be a maximum benefit limit, for example $2,000.
It’s also important to remember that if you wish to make a claim for the additional expenses you incur due to a travel delay, you’ll need to keep your receipts. Once again, only "reasonable" accommodation and meals expenses will be covered, so don’t expect any assistance from your insurer if you book out the penthouse suite at a five-star hotel and then run up an astronomical room service bill.
What is a known event and why does it matter?
Travel insurance will not provide you with cover if your trip is disrupted due to an event that is known when you take out cover. A cyclone or hurricane that has been named is a known event, as is a volcanic eruption once it has begun. If a snowstorm or blizzard has been forecast, it is also a known event.
- Question: Can I make a claim if my flight is cancelled?
- Answer: If an airline cancels your departure flight from Australia, the airline is responsible for reimbursing you or providing alternative routing options. However, you can still claim on your travel insurance policy for resulting expenses such as unused travel and accommodation costs.
- Question: Will travel insurance pay for accommodation and meals if I’m stranded overseas following a natural disaster?
- Answer: Yes. Travel insurers will cover the reasonable costs you incur in these circumstances, but remember that daily and overall limits apply.
- Question: What if I’m stranded abroad and I exceed the maximum insured trip length as a result?
- Answer: In most cases, your insurer will automatically extend your cover, but check the fine print of your policy to be sure.
- Question: I’ve just read about a natural disaster in a destination I am travelling to next — will I be covered if I take out a travel insurance policy?
- Answer: No. The natural disaster is now a known event. You would only be covered if you already had a policy in place.
- Question: What should I do if I need emergency assistance and advice while overseas?
- Answer: You can contact your travel insurer’s emergency assistance hotline, which is usually staffed 24/7. In other situations, you may need to contact local emergency services or seek assistance from the Australian Embassy.
Compare natural disaster cover from the brands in our panel
Mother Nature can be incredibly unpredictable at times, so taking out travel insurance cover as soon as possible when planning a holiday is essential. Compare travel insurance for natural disasters at finder.com.au to find a policy that matches your needs and budget.