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Travel insurance and natural disasters

Will travel insurance cover natural disasters?

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Written by  Jake Edmonds
10 min read
Updated: 30 Jan 2024

This guide will outline who you can turn to for help or compensation in the event of a natural disaster – whether you've booked a package holiday or are travelling independently.

Navigating natural disasters: A British holidaymaker's guide to travel safety

man at airport

Have plans to travel? Here’s what you need to know

For those who have not yet set off on their journey, it's crucial to understand the implications of a natural disaster on your travel plans. Knowing what to do before you leave can save you a significant amount of stress and financial loss.

What will my travel insurance cover?

Not all travel insurance policies will cover natural disasters as standard, so it’s important that you check your policy details carefully when shopping or making a claim. For those that do offer this cover, in the event of a natural disaster before your trip, you can typically claim for travel disruption and cancellations.

However, be wary of the small print. Even policies that include natural disaster coverage may have specific terms that could preclude you from making a successful claim.

Contact your airline or tour operator first

Before you reach out to your insurance provider for a cancelled trip, it's advisable to contact your airline or tour operator. They may offer solutions for booked activities or accommodations that could save you the hassle of filing an insurance claim.

No cancellation cover without an FCDO warning

Travel insurance will only pay out for holiday cancellations in the event of a natural disaster if the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advises against anything except essential travel to your destination. Some providers also require the local or national authorities to say that it’s unsafe to travel.

If you decide to cancel your holiday while the travel provider is still operating as usual and there's no FCDO warning, you will not be eligible for cancellation cover from your insurance.

You won't be covered if the event is 'anticipated'

If a natural disaster was predicted before you booked or departed, or if it occurs around the time you're scheduled to fly, your insurance may not cover it. It's important to get in touch with your insurance provider for clarification if you're worried about coverage for anticipated events.

Booked a package holiday?

If you've booked a package holiday and a cancellation occurs and you have ATOL protection, your tour operator is obligated to provide you with a refund. However, this doesn't apply to plans made independently, where travel insurance may step in to cover cancellation fees.

Booked an independent holiday?

For those who have pieced together their holiday independently, the responsibility for cancelling bookings falls on you. Airlines typically do not offer compensation for delays or cancellations due to 'extraordinary circumstances' like natural disasters.

Airlines are expected to offer assistance with rebooking or refunds, and if there's an FCDO travel advisory, your travel insurance may cover cancelled activities and accommodations.

Where to find help if you’re being evacuated

In the event that you find yourself needing to be evacuated from a disaster-stricken area, it's essential to know where to turn for compensation and support.

What will travel insurance cover?

If you are stranded abroad because of a catastrophic event recognized by the FCDO, your travel insurance provider will usually extend your cover until you get home. So, you don’t have to worry about your cover ending too soon if you are out of the country past your policy’s end date or your per-trip limit if you have an annual policy.

In the case of an evacuation, travel insurance may cover emergency accommodation, transport, and activities, emergency medical care, and emergency evacuation and repatriation to the UK.

Baggage cover is another important aspect during evacuations. Your insurance may reimburse you for lost, damaged, or stolen baggage, but keep in mind there are limits and conditions to this coverage.

Baggage insurance has restrictions on the value of single items and total claims, and certain possessions may require additional coverage like gadget cover or passport cover. It's also worth noting that travel insurance does not cover items while in the care of an airline.

Booked a package holiday?

If you need to evacuate your accommodation, your holiday provider is responsible for finding you new accommodation or emergency accommodation if necessary. Your provider will also be responsible for arranging your transport home to the UK if your travel was booked through them. If they are unable to fly you home or can’t find a flight with another airline, you may need a chartered flight organised by the UK government. Check the FCDO for more information and contact your nearest British embassy if you’re unable to arrange travel back to the UK.

Booked an independent holiday?

Independent travellers have to manage their own cancellations and secure emergency accommodation and return flights. However, if your return flight is cancelled or delayed, airlines are required to help with alternative travel arrangements and provide necessities during the wait.

If a delay extends beyond 24 hours, your travel insurance might cover the costs of cancellation.

Travel Tips for natural disasters

The first thing you should be doing when booking a holiday is checking FCDO’s travel advice. The FCDO provide all sorts of useful information about each destination and up-to-date travel warnings. Travel insurance will not cover any destinations that the FCDO has advised against travelling to, so you should confirm that it’s safe to travel before making any plans. It may also be useful to familiarize yourself with your air passenger rights to know what sort of travel issues are the responsibility of the airline to resolve.

Secondly, it's important that you take out travel insurance. The UK government advises that you take out appropriate travel insurance if you’re travelling abroad. Even if you have booked a package holiday, a travel insurance policy can help you protect the aspects of your travel plans that aren’t the responsibility of your provider. By taking out a travel insurance policy at the same time as when you book your trip, you can benefit from cancellation cover if you are forced to cancel your holiday because of a natural disaster or medical emergency.

To mitigate the impact of natural disasters on your travel plans, always check the FCDO advice before booking and familiarize yourself with your rights as a traveller.

Securing travel insurance is crucial, and it's most beneficial to purchase it at the time of booking your trip. This ensures you have cancellation cover in the event of a natural disaster or medical emergency.

Understanding your travel insurance policy, staying in touch with service providers, and keeping an eye on travel advisories from the FCDO are key to navigating the unpredictable nature of traveling during times of natural disasters. Whether you've booked a package or an independent holiday, knowing your coverage and rights can make all the difference in managing the unexpected. Stay safe and informed, and may your travels be as smooth as possible.

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