Coronavirus and travel insurance

Travel insurance and coronavirus – what you need to know

By Laura Howard on 

With the government advising against all but essential international travel for an indefinite period, how is travel insurance affected?


  • The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has now advised against all non-essential international travel for an indefinite period, having initially issued the advice for 30 days (on 17 March)

  • The government has also advised British tourists and short-stay travellers currently abroad to return to the UK immediately. Where commercial flights are no longer available, the government is offering up to £75m to enable special charter flights to bring stranded UK residents back home

  • Some countries – including the US – have closed their borders entirely to UK travellers, while others are imposing restrictions on entry or ordering all travellers arriving from overseas to enter a period of quarantine. Check before you travel

  • Many travel insurers have now suspended the sale of new policies entirely

  • No travel insurer is currently offering new policies which cover coronavirus-related claims

In light of the new guidance, here are some of the most commonly-asked questions around how global travel restrictions for the foreseeable future will affect both new and existing travel insurance policies.


Can I still buy a new travel insurance policy?

While some providers might still be offering specialist travel insurance, the government’s effective ban on travel now applies indefinitely. In this case it makes sense to wait until restrictions are lifted – and you have a clear date when you can travel again – to buy a new travel insurance policy.

If you have a trip booked for later in the year but do not have insurance, you might consider looking for a policy to provide cancellation cover for a reason other than a coronavirus-related issue, such as bereavement or divorce.

However, you would need to scrutinise the policy wording to check what cover was provided and confirm your understanding with the insurer before buying. You would also have to consider the fact that you might not be able to undertake the trip anyway because of the pandemic restrictions, in which case you would not be able to claim.

No new travel insurance policy is currently covering coronavirus-related claims.

Will I be covered for coronavirus cancellations with an existing policy?

This will depend on your circumstances:

  • If you’ve booked your holiday before the destination was listed by the FCO you may be able to claim for cancellation, curtailment or rearrangement. However, if you are able to claim, you may not be able to claim for the entire cost, depending on the amount of cover you’ve taken out
  • If you booked your trip after the destination was listed by the FCO, travel insurers won’t cover you for cancellation – which is why it’s important to keep up to date with government advice before booking holidays

What can I expect from my existing travel insurance policy?

Check to see if it is a member of the Association of British Insurers. Collectively, these insurers have pledged to:

  • Ensure that customers are provided with, or directed to, the most up-to-date information around the coronavirus outbreak and publish clear information at the point-of-sale around the valid coverage of their policies.
  • Work closely with customers to signpost them to where compensation may be received for cancelled transport, holidays or an inability to travel abroad, such as airlines, travel providers and travel agents.
  • Upon notification from their customers, help them consider their options for transferring their travel insurance to cover a new destination should people wish to make alternative travel plans.
  • Implement business continuity plans to be able to continue to handle travel insurance claims in challenging circumstances.
  • Be understanding of the difficulties customers may have in getting medical certification and consider, where appropriate, alternative evidence that customers may be able to provide.

Do I get my money back if the airline collapses?

This guidance applies to passengers with Flybe, which went into administration on 5 March, but is likely to apply in the same way if other airlines or travel providers do the same.

You almost certainly won’t get a refund from the collapsed airline itself. But if your flight was part of an ATOL-protected package holiday, the travel firm you booked with should organise alternative outbound and inbound travel or provide a full refund.

If you made independent arrangements and paid by credit card or debit card, you may be able to recoup the price of your ticket via the chargeback scheme – VISA, Mastercard and American Express all belong to it.

Under the scheme, your card provider will seek a return of your money from Flybe’s payments operator. Your provider will advise you on the process – but they’ll do the legwork on your behalf.

If you paid by credit card (and spent more than £100 on your ticket), you have recourse to a piece of consumer protection regulation known as Section 75. More details here.

If you have spent money on accommodation or car hire or other services and are out of pocket because you have not been able to travel, you should first of all try to get a refund from the business concerned.

If this doesn’t work, you may be able to claim on your travel insurance but only if the policy includes ‘scheduled airline failure’ cover – many do not.

What does essential travel mean?

The FCO has advised against all but ‘essential’ global travel. With the UK itself in lockdown, what constitutes ‘essential’ is extremely limited.

The only example the FCO offers is if you are involved in any kind of freight transport, including by air, ship, road and rail.

Visiting friends and family abroad does not constitute essential travel. And be aware that even if you can get abroad, it may not then be possible to then return to the UK.

What happens if I travel anyway?

Even if you can get a flight out of the UK and your overseas destination permits entry, if you travel against government advice – currently anywhere in the world – you’ll render your travel insurance invalid and won’t be able to make a claim.

Airlines that have cancelled flights are offering refunds or alternatives to those affected. If you have a flight booked, contact your airline to see what their policy is. Given the government’s advice, you should also be able to cancel or change your itinerary.

What if I’ve booked an overseas trip for later in 2020?

If you no longer need insurance because you are not travelling due to the indefinite term during which the FCO advises against travel, you may be able to obtain a refund of some or all of your premium.

However, many providers will allow you to transfer your policy over to a new date of travel (so long as it’s a like-for-like in terms of destination and duration). This is especially useful if you bought your insurance before coronavirus was removed from policies as the level of cover should be the same.

What if I contract coronavirus while overseas?

If you’re diagnosed with coronavirus before you are able to get home to the UK, you will need to seek medical treatment first. If you fall ill, tell your insurer immediately and they will advise you of your options.

As far as travel insurance is concerned, your situation will depend on where you are, what treatment you receive and your medical prognosis.

Insurers are responding differently to the situation as it develops, so you’ll need to ask them for advice and support.

If you fall ill in Europe, your European Health Insurance Card will entitle you to treatment on the same terms as a local citizen (this will remain the case at least until the end of the Brexit transition period, which runs until 31 December 2020).

If you are further afield, your travel insurance should meet any medical expenses you incur, provided you did not ignore government travel advice. You may also be able to claim for additional expenses incurred because of your prolonged stay overseas, such as bed and board for other members of your party.

If you are placed into quarantine abroad, you may also be able to claim for out-of-pocket expenses. And many insurers are paying out for claims for emergency medical and repatriation related to coronavirus. As ever, check with your insurer.

Information in this article is correct as of 11 May 2020.

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