Thinking of visiting an unstable country against official government advice? Make sure your travel insurance covers the destination.
If you’re planning to travel to a country that is unstable, it’s crucial you find out if your destination is covered by your insurer. Insurers exclude certain countries from cover due to the high risk they present to travellers.
Often travel insurers will reference the alert levels from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trading (DFAT). Exclusions may apply to destinations with DFAT warnings advising either:
- Do not travel
- Reconsider your need to travel
If Australian Government warnings exist or are upgraded to before the date your policy is issued, this is how you will be covered:
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*Reasonable care: not deliberately putting yourself in danger and avoid specific parts of a country which may actually be considered "Do not travel".
The Australian Government website smartraveller.gov.au currently advises against travelling to these 12 countries as destinations you should not travel to under any circumstances:
- Central African Republic
- South Sudan
These countries are considered too dangerous for travel due to reasons such as war, civil unrest and the high possibility of kidnapping and terrorism.
There are 19 countries that have "reconsider your need to travel" status according to the DFAT advisory:
- Burkina Faso
- Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Saudi Arabia
- Sierra Leone
*Last confirmed as correct on March 2016.
Some countries are considered dangerous but not enough to attract any official warning from travel advisories.
For example, India is known for high levels of crime, civil unrest and traffic accidents, but no more so than many other developing nations, so they do not attract an overall travel warning. However, the Australian Government advisers against travel to some parts of India due to local political and religious tensions and the threat of terrorism. The same is true for parts of southern Thailand.
While you are covered you must avoid dangerous areas and take care
If a country is not under an official government warning, you should be covered by your travel insurance policy as long as you exercise caution at all times and avoid high-risk situations. Failure to do so could mean you fall foul of the following exclusion found in many policies:
We will not provide cover if you fail to take reasonable precautions to avoid a financial loss after a public warning of a strike, riot, civil commotion or natural disaster has been issued.
All travel insurance policies have exclusions that apply if you don’t take necessary precautions to avoid high-risk situations or at the very least reduce the likelihood of a claim. Events you are unlikely to be covered for include:
- Severe weather
- Contagious diseases and epidemics
- Terrorist attacks
- Any act of war, whether war has been declared or not as a result of rebellion, revolution, insurrection or taking of power by the military
- Nuclear reaction or contamination as a result of nuclear weapons or radioactivity
- Biological and/or chemical materials, substances or compounds
Am I covered for pandemics and epidemics?
When health scares arise in countries around the world, your pre-arranged travel plans can be thrown into disarray. Most recently, thousands of travellers had their travel disrupted by the widely publicised outbreak of the Zika Virus.
When an infectious disease becomes widespread across a community, the term epidemic is used to describe it. If that disease is prevalent throughout an entire country or around the world, the term pandemic applies. But if you’ve already booked and paid for your holiday and a pandemic or epidemic arises in a country you plan on visiting, will your travel insurance provide any cover?
Well, that depends on your insurer. The majority of travel insurance policies contain an exclusion for claims resulting from pandemics or epidemics, with some even excluding claims due to a “likely” pandemic or epidemic or even the “threat” of one occurring. This means that if an outbreak of an infectious disease interrupts your travel plans, you won’t be covered for trip cancellations, interruptions, disruptions and rescheduling that result. However, there are some circumstances where cover may apply, so check with your insurance provider for more information.
In some cases, whether or not you can access cover may depend on when the outbreak of a disease is declared a pandemic or epidemic. For example, if you purchased cover before a pandemic was announced by the World Health Organisation and included in DFAT travel advice, your insurer might provide cover if you decide to cancel your trip.
Am I covered for the recent Zika virus?
In January and February of 2016, mainstream media reports were filled with warnings and advice about the outbreak of the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean. The virus was first discovered in Uganda and is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also carries other viruses such as dengue fever and yellow fever. The outbreak of the virus has been most worrying in Brazil, where more than 1.5 million people have been infected.
While Zika usually only results in a mild form of dengue fever that can be treated with nothing more than bed rest, it does pose a significant threat to pregnant mothers and their unborn babies. Zika has been linked to babies born with the birth defect microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with undersized heads and decreased brain function.
If your travel plans will be disrupted by the Zika virus, you’ll need to check with your insurance provider to find out whether you will be covered. At the time of writing, the World Health Organisation had classified the Zika virus as an "emergency" - no mention of the word pandemic - but you will have to check the wording on your policy to find out whether you are covered.
For example, if you purchased your travel insurance policy before the World Health Organisation made its announcement regarding the virus on February 1, you may be covered for cancellation costs. However, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a warning on January 25 advising pregnant women to reconsider their need to travel to Zika-affected countries, so expectant mothers may only be eligible to claim if they purchased their travel insurance policy before that date.
Am I covered for political unrest?
It’s a nightmare scenario that many travellers have faced over the years: you’re all set to fly out to on your dream holiday in a couple of days time when political unrest breaks out at your travel destination. There’s a military coup, violent protests in the streets and the country doesn’t seem like the safe tropical paradise it once did.
The good news is that travel insurance will typically cover you for cancellation fees and lost deposits in such an event. You’ll also receive trip disruption cover for your additional travel and accommodation expenses as a result of any strike, riot or civil protest if you have already started your journey.
However, nearly every travel insurance policy contains an exclusion with words to the effect that if you don’t take reasonable steps to avoid or minimise any potential claim, you will not receive any cover. So if a strike, riot or civil protest is occurring, take appropriate action and stay well away.
Cover for civil unrest
Whilst holidaying in Bangkok, Thailand, Sam gets word of a massive public protest planned for the weekend. The protest is widely publicised in the mass media in Thailand and back home in Australia, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issues an advisory warning Australian travellers to avoid travelling to Bangkok.
Sam is due to leave Bangkok the day after the protest, and instead of moving his travel plans forward and getting away from the city he decides to stay and watch the protest unfold. When the protest turns violent and the city is put in lockdown, all train travel is cancelled indefinitely. Sam is left stranded in Bangkok and must fork out extra money to find hotel accommodation. In addition, he has already pre-paid for accommodation and a range of activities at his next destination - and none of the expenses are refundable.
Worse, because Sam failed to take appropriate action and avoid the civil unrest, his travel insurer refuses his claim, eventually leaving Sam almost $1,000 out of pocket.
The only circumstance in which you will be covered for countries with travel warnings is if the warning is issued after you have booked your trip and purchased your travel insurance. In this situation, you are sometimes covered for any cancellations that occur.
You won’t be covered if you purchase your trip and policy and then decide not to travel to a country where no warning has been issued because you feel you would be unsafe. Most insurers will not accept change of mind as an acceptable reason for trip cancellations, although some providers such as InsureandGo will cover you if a travel warning is upgraded before you leave and you decide not to travel to the destination as a result.
Countries that have recently been issued with government warnings
Direct losses from civil unrest, violence or terrorism are not covered by most insurers. If sudden instability in country is unforeseen, you can still get cover if you are injured in the country you are visiting due to these reasons. However, you must adhere to government advice and not deliberately put yourself in danger.
How travelling against government advice can void your travel insurance:
Simon travelled home to visit his family in Somalia, a country where a civil war has been raging for years. Simon knew there was a government warning advising against travel to Somalia but he took out travel insurance anyway, believing he would be covered.
Simon had his belongings and travel documents stolen at gun point by a young group of thugs, as he made his way through a backstreet in a rental vehicle . Simon tried to make a claim with his insurer, only to discover he was not covered. He was forced to remain with his relatives in Somalia for several harrowing weeks until his travel documents could be replaced by friends in Australia. If he had been covered by travel insurance, the problem would have been fixed in a matter of days.
A "do not travel" warning means a country is extremely dangerous to visit, if not because it is a war zone then at the very least because there is armed conflict or violent crime occurring and the risk to personal safety is extreme.
If must travel to a 'do not travel' country
If you must travel to such a country for personal or business reasons, the Australian Government advises that it’s not responsible for your safety and consular assistance won’t be provided. You must take your own security precautions while you are there.
Countries with a "do not travel" status are generally highly unstable environments and you should not visit them for this reason. If you’re already there, consider leaving immediately if the status is upgraded to "do not travel".
According to the Global Peace Index by the Institute for Economics and Peace, the world’s five most dangerous travel destinations are:
- Somalia. A civil war has been raging since 1991, claiming hundreds of thousands of casualties.
- Iraq. The Iraqi people are dealing with the expansion of the Islamic State.
- South Sudan. Ethnic violence between rival nomadic tribes has led to numerous casualties and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.
- Afghanistan. The ongoing Afghan civil war and military action by allied forces has seen tens of thousands of casualties since 2001.
- Syria. The civil war is believed to be responsible for almost 200,000 deaths since 2011.
Not sure whether your destination is considered high-risk? Jump on the Smartraveller website to see the latest travel warnings. You might also want to check our travel destination pages to learn more about the common travel risks of these countries. If you’re still not sure whether or not you will be covered, check with your insurer before purchasing your policy.
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