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COVID-19 Travel Insurance for International Travellers Information

1 October 2020. Cape Town, South Africa · 15 min read

Cape Town Luxury Escapes has received a number of COVID-19 related queries and decided to do research around what insurance policies cover, and found the following information as of 1 October 2020.

Important: The state of the global pandemic is a fast-changing situation in every country. The info below is the best we have currently, but we’ll be updating this guide frequently. The information may change and become outdated.

As the country’s international borders start to reopen on 1 October 2020, a travel ban will remain in place for leisure travellers from 57 countries deemed to be high risk. We will focus on what you should know about travel insurance and cancellations due to COVID-19 by exploring the following topics in this post:

  1. Summary
  2. Travel restrictions being reimposed for many countries
  3. Most new policies won’t now cover coronavirus cancellation
  4. Some airlines will now let you cancel or rebook
  5. If your passport is nearing expiry, renew it ASAP
  6. Cover for coronavirus cancellation – what each insurers published about different scenarios
  7. Tips for choosing the right insurance policy for 2021
  8. FAQs
  9. Cancellation terms and conditions from Cape Town Luxury Escapes
  10. COVID-19 cancellation insurance
  11. Disclaimer


An outbreak of respiratory infections was first seen in early December 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. On 7 January 2020, this outbreak was identified as being caused by Coronavirus (COVID-19). On 30 January, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency, and on March 11, WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Therefore, any losses for trip cancellation, trip interruption and/or trip curtailment and/or trip delay caused by or due to COVID-19 are not considered unexpected, unknown or unforeseeable and will not be covered under the terms and conditions of most insurance policies.

If you contract COVID-19 prior to departure, you may be covered for trip cancellation, if you have a confirmed and documented diagnosis at the time of departure due to COVID-19. If you contract COVID-19 while on a covered trip, you may be covered for medical expenses and trip interruption/curtailment benefits if you have a confirmed and documented diagnosis.

If you have already purchased an insurance policy, the facts and circumstances surrounding your trip and the terms and conditions of your policy will determine the extent of coverage for COVID-19 related claims.

International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor said that the list was drawn up in terms of World Health Organization criteria and will be reviewed every two weeks, taking into account changing rates of infection and death around the world.

Travel restrictions being reimposed for many countries

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issues advice to UK nationals on where it’s safe to travel abroad. As well as being a useful safety guide, this can sometimes determine whether or not you’re able to get a refund or insurance payout if you’re due to travel to specific locations.

When the coronavirus outbreak first spread, the FCO began gradually warning against travel to certain countries, and between March and July it advised against all but essential travel to ALL overseas destinations. In early July it looked like travel was gradually opening up. Yet, as coronavirus cases had surged again across Europe, travel restrictions had been reimposed for several destinations, including AndorraAustria, the BahamasBelgiumCroatiaCuraçao, the Czech RepublicDenmarkFranceGuadeloupeJamaicaLuxembourg, the Netherlands, mainland Portugal, SlovakiaSloveniaSpainSwitzerland,and Trinidad & Tobago:

  • The Foreign Office had advised against all but essential travel to all those countries.
  • Anyone arriving from those countries must self-isolate for 14 days. This includes returning UK holidaymakers.
  • Brits currently overseas weren’t advised to return immediately.So they didn’t need to cut their holiday short.

The quarantine requirements also affected Greece (for returnees from any part of the country to Scotland, or from certain Greek islands to England or Wales).

FCO advice isn’t the only consideration when working out where you can go. Quarantine requirements for those returning to the UK are an important consideration – those arriving from many destinations must still self-isolate for two weeks, which may make travelling impractical.

Most new policies won’t now cover coronavirus cancellation

We always say get your travel insurance ASAB (As Soon As you Book). Normally that’s because if you leave getting insurance until just before you travel, you’re not covered for anything that happens before the point you get it which stops you going – thus you’ve waved off half the value of the cover.

After the FCO warned against all non-essential travel in mid-March, many insurers stopped selling new policies altogether and we had to pull our travel insurance best buys as a result. Yet a few are now offering cover again – dirt-cheap prices have gone, so prices are higher, but it’s still affordable.

Even if you’re struggling to get a policy that’ll cover coronavirus cancellation, it’s still worth getting insurance as soon as you book if planning a trip. There are a whole host of reasons you might need to claim which have nothing to do with coronavirus – for example if other illness or a bereavement stops you travelling, or you have something stolen while abroad.

FCO advice isn’t the only consideration when working out where you can go. Quarantine requirements for those returning to the UK are an important consideration – those arriving from many destinations must still self-isolate for two weeks, which may make travelling impractical.

Some airlines will now let you cancel or rebook

At Cape Town Luxury Escapes, we provide special COVID-19 cancellation terms here. With regards to flights and other travel bookings, it’s worth checking directly with your airline even if your original booking was on a non-refundable basis, as some have started to introduce special cancellation or rebooking policies to help those affected by coronavirus.

Airline cancellation and rebooking rights

Airline (and link to full info)Cancellation and rebooking policy
British AirwaysCan cancel any booking made after 3 Mar 2020 and is due to take place before 31 Aug 2021 and get a voucher valid for 2yrs. No late notice fees apply
EasyjetHas temporarily waived flight change fees for bookings 14+ days away – so anyone with an existing booking can move it to another date if they give notice. A £5 fee applies if making the change over the phone
Jet2No refund if you cancel. £35 fee to change date
NorwegianCosts may be involved in changing your booking, unless it’s a Flex or Premium Flex booking
RyanairFrom 10 Jun 2020, no change fee if you move Jul and Aug bookings up until 31 Dec 2020, so long as you give at least seven days’ notice. From 17 Jul 2020, no change fee if you move Sep bookings up until 31 Dec 2020 – same notice applies
Virgin AtlanticCustomers with flights booked between 12 Jun 2020 and 30 Sep 2020 can rebook up until 30 Sep 2022 without fees, so long as they give 21+ days’ notice

Cover for coronavirus cancellation – what insurers published about different scenarios

On 10 March 2020, a number of big insurers were asked what their policies are on cancellation due to coronavirus. What they published is outlined in the table below, though only use this as a very rough guide, as it will vary by policy and may have changed over time.

Where we’ve been told an insurer has changed its policy we’ve updated the table, but the info below may not be fully up-to-date. We’ve left it in to give you a general idea of what insurers have said, but ALWAYS check your cover directly with your insurer.

Which insurers will cover you if your travel is affected by coronavirus?

ScenarioIs my policy valid if I travel when the FCO advises against all but essential travel?If the FCO advises against travel after I’ve bought the policy, can I get travel/accommodation costs back?If there’s no FCO warning and my flight’s cancelled, can I claim back hotel and other costs (eg, car hire)?If there’s no FCO warning and my hotel’s cancelled, can I claim back flight and other costs (eg, car hire)?
AA (1)Only if your travel’s essentialYesOnly if you have travel disruption coverOnly if you have a policy with the level of cover to cancel or cut short a trip in the event of a catastrophe
Admiral (2)NoYesYesNo
Allianz Assistance (3)NoNoNoNo
Aviva (4)YesOnly with travel disruption add-onYesNo
Axa (5)Only if your travel’s essentialYesOnly if you have travel disruption coverDepends on circumstances
Churchill (6)YesYesDepends on circumstancesYes
Coverwise (5)NoYesNoNo
Co-op (7)Only if your travel’s essentialYesYesNo
Direct Line (8)YesYesDepends on circumstancesYes
HalifaxOnly if your travel’s essentialYesYesDepends on circumstances
Leisure Guard (9)Only if your travel’s essentialYesNoNo
LV Only if your travel’s essentialOnly with the Premier policyOnly with the Premier policyNo
NationwideYesYesDepends on circumstancesYes
Planet Earth (10)Only if your travel’s essentialYesNoNo
Post Office (11)NoMaybeMaybeNo
Virgin Money (12)YesYesDepends on policyCase-by-case basis

(1) The AA is no longer quoting for single-trip policies covering France, Italy or Spain. Customers who previously got quotes and are within their 30-day ‘quote guarantee period’ can still purchase their policy, while policies already purchased will be honoured. Annual multi-trip policies for Europe will cover France, Italy and Spain as normal. The AA also says any new policy purchased after 3pm on 13 March 2020, or any new trip booked after 3pm on 13 March 2020 under an existing annual multi-trip policy, will not cover any cancellation claim in relation to coronavirus.
(2) Admiral has paused offering policies to new customers.
(3) Allianz Assistance warns customers: “Be aware that financial losses as a result of epidemics or pandemics are not covered under most policies.”
(4) Aviva has paused offering policies to new customers.
(5) Axa and Coverwise say that any new policy purchased, or any new trip booked, that is covered by an existing annual multi-trip policy after 9am on 13 March 2020 will not cover any cancellation claim in relation to coronavirus.
(6) Churchill has paused offering policies to new customers.
(7) Co-op has paused offering policies to new customers.
(8) Direct Line has paused offering policies to new customers.
(9) This info doesn’t apply to older Leisure Guard policies purchased before 12 September 2019 – for info on these policies, contact Leisure Guard. Leisure Guard also says that for any policy issued from 11.59pm on 13 March 2020 there will be no cover provided for any claim directly or indirectly caused by, arising or resulting from, or in connection with the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) or any mutation of the disease.
(10) Planet Earth has paused offering policies to new customers.
(11) Post Office has paused offering policies to new customers.
(12) Virgin Money has paused offering policies to new customers.

Tips for choosing the right insurance policy for 2021

Identify your needs

Do you want to travel to a country on a “no-go” list? Do you need an insurance company that covers people over 65? These questions will help guide you as to which kind of policy you need and help refine your search.

Do your research

It has never been more important to read the fine print. Once you’ve identified your insurance needs, dig deep into each policy to see whether it covers every base. If the documentation isn’t clear enough or it doesn’t cover essential points like the ones we’ve mentioned above, call the company and pose your questions directly to a representative. Reading up on recent customer reviews can also help establish whether the company delivers on its policy.

Comprehensive disruption cover is key

Most insurance companies will cover medical emergencies, but the best policies have comprehensive disruption cover. This means that the insurance firm won’t just help you if you get sick, but they’ll also be able to reimburse you for delays, enforced stays, or a missed departure.

If your passport is nearing expiry, renew it ASAP

The Passport Offices around the world is warning that renewing is taking longer than the usual time. We’re hearing reports that at the extreme, some are taking three months or more, while Fast Track face-to-face services are suspended. For instance, the UK Government now admits there is a backlog of more than 400,000 passport applications.

Cancellation terms and conditions from Cape Town Luxury Escapes

Please note: The cancellation terms stated below are for informational purposes only and by no means state the final terms for specific accommodation bookings. The final cancellation terms will always be stated in the final rental agreement with the client. You can view all Booking Terms & Conditions here.

COVID-19 cancellation insurance

In most cases, all travellers must generally get travel insurance from their own country. We are happy to provide any booking confirmations, invoices and rental agreements for any claims made.

There are, however, some travel insurance policy providers in South Africa who accommodate international travellers to South Africa. These travel insurance policy-holders are generally fully covered for emergency medical and related expenses should the traveller contract the coronavirus whilst on an international journey. The related expenses include medical transportation and medical repatriation, repatriation of children and/or travel companions and burial or cremation or return of mortal remains.

All policies we normally recommend to clients does not provide cover for cancellation, curtailment or extension costs and expenses arising as a result from:

  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) or any variant or mutation of such virus; and/or
  • Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) or any variant or mutation of such disease; and/or
  • Any epidemic, pandemic or health emergency declared or classified as such by the World Health Organization or any national, regional or local governmental authority; and/or
  • Any fear or threat of 1, 2 or 3 above, whether actual or perceived.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do travel insurance companies cover pandemics?

After the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the coronavirus was a global pandemic on 11 March, many travel insurance companies wouldn’t cover COVID-19-related claims. However, there are still many travel insurance policies that are covering medical expenses for COVID-19-related incidents while on holiday, provided that the destination isn’t on non-essential travel advisories before departure.

Are any travel insurance companies covering trip cancellation or disruption due to COVID-19?

While most companies issuing travel insurance during COVID-19 will cover urgent medical care and repatriation, it’s unlikely that they’ll cover other COVID-related issues such as flight or hotel cancellations. If your package holiday, flights, or accommodation are cancelled due to COVID-19, you can usually request a refund or postpone your trip directly with the airline, hotel, or tour operator anyway.

If I want to cancel my trip because of COVID-19, should my insurance company cover the costs?

It depends. Suppose you knowingly booked a holiday to a destination that was under government non-essential travel advisories and just changed your mind. In that case, it’s unlikely that your insurance will cover you. However, if a last-minute change in government advice forces you to cancel your holiday, then you may be able to claim. As always, though, this depends entirely on your provider, and you should check with them directly.

Am I covered if I miss my holiday because the area where I live has entered into a localised lockdown?

If you live in an area that has been ordered into a local lockdown (as has now happened across several areas), then you may be required to stay at home if the Government advises against all but essential travel to, from and within the area. That means if you had an overseas trip booked during this period, you wouldn’t be able to go.

Unfortunately, in this situation you’ve no special refund rights with your travel firm, so if the flight’s still running and your accommodation’s open, you won’t be automatically due a refund – but your travel provider may offer you some flexibility if you explain the situation.

Your first step, in this case, would be to speak to your airline, hotel or package provider and ask if you could postpone the trip to a later date, or cancel it and get a refund. However, if your trip’s still running, ultimately your rights depend on what terms you booked the trip on and the cancellation and refund policies of the travel firm.

How can I check which countries are fine to visit?

The three key considerations to check are:

  • Is the FCO advising against travel? For help, see the latest FCO travel advice.
  • Will you have to quarantine on return? See the latest advice for those returning to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Will the country you’re going to let you in (or require you to quarantine)? For this you’ll need to check with the country in question – its UK embassy website is often a good starting point.

When are airlines restarting flights, and what are their rules on masks?

Most major airlines have now restarted some flights, as restrictions put in place due to the pandemic are gradually relaxed. (Crucially, once airlines restart flights they’re no longer obliged to offer you a refund – you can try going to your travel insurer, but whether you can get money back likely depends on whether an FCO warning is still in place at the time you’re due to travel.)

Airlines are putting new rules in place too – for example, all those we’ve heard from say you will be required to wear a face mask or covering while on board. Here’s a rundown of what we’ve been told so far about how things will work – we’ll continue to update this table as more info becomes available:

How airlines will restart flights and protect passengers

Airline When do flights restart? Face masks mandatory? New rules on going to the toilet? Seats left empty for social distancing? How will onboard services differ?
British Airways Some already running Yes, must bring your own No, though queuing discouraged No, but you’re asked to limit movement in cabin Multiple changes incl kids’ meals not available (see full info)
Easyjet Some already running Yes, must bring your own Cabin crew to manage use No, but space left between different parties where seats avail Food won’t be sold & Boutique shop closed on flights initially
Emirates Now flying to 60+ destinations Yes, masks provided No No Offering ltd menu (see full info)
Jet2 “Most” flights now going ahead, though operating a reduced flying programme Yes, must bring your own Being decided currently Being decided currently Being decided currently
KLM Now “gradually resuming” some flights Yes, must bring your own No No, but aims for ‘max distance’ between passengers Crew will “minimise passenger contact” when serving food
Norwegian Some already running. Long-haul flights planned to resume in Dec Yes, must bring your own No No, but gaps left between groups where poss No food or drink service
Qatar Airways Now flying to 70+ destinations Yes, must bring your own Waiting for reply No, but gaps encouraged where possible on lighter-load flights Multiple changes incl pre-order meals suspended
Ryanair Many routes now operating Yes, must bring your own Yes, you’ll have to ask to go to the toilet. No queuing No, but social distancing encouraged when poss Ltd in-flight service of pre-packaged snacks and drinks, no cash sales
Tui Flying to many destinations already Yes, must bring your own No No, but seats assigned apart where poss Pre-order & cashless payments only for food & drink
Virgin Atlantic Some already running Yes, masks provided No Yes when poss – empty seats marked with pillows Will offer ltd hot food service
Wizz Air Some already running Yes, must bring your own No, though queuing discouraged No, but cabin crew may reseat passengers apart if space Contactless payment encouraged

What if the country I’m going to says I can’t come in or I have to quarantine?

Some travellers are now facing another dilemma – their Government says they can travel, yet the country they’re going to won’t let them in or insists they must quarantine for a certain amount of time on arrival.

If you do need to quarantine when you get to your holiday destination, it’s unlikely airlines or hotels will offer a refund if they’re open and running services. You also won’t be able to use credit or debit card protection, because the service is still available.

So if you don’t want to go, you’ll likely have to see if you’re covered on your travel insurance. But it’ll depend on the policy you have and who it’s with, as answers vary.

Can I still travel despite the Foreign Office warning?

Despite lifting restrictions for some destinations, the FCO is still warning against non-essential travel to many countries.

This doesn’t mean you need to cancel trips booked to places where the advisory is not being lifted if the trips are in the future, as the lifting will eventually be expanded to further countries, and you may be able to go.

If you absolutely have to travel while an advisory is in place, you may still be able to but will need to carefully consider all the risks and also check the entry restrictions of the country you’re travelling to – in some cases, British visitors have been barred altogether.

See the UK Government’s guidance on international travel for more help, and also bear in mind your travel insurance may be voided if you travel while an advisory’s in place, so check with your insurer.

Can I get a refund for extra costs if I’m quarantined abroad?

If you are quarantined during a trip abroad, you may incur extra costs, such as paying for more accommodation or booking new flights home.

The first thing to do in this situation is to speak to your tour operator or the agent you booked your trip through to see if you can recover any extra costs.

For any unrecoverable costs, you may be able to make a claim through your travel insurer if you have the right kind of policy. This situation will generally fall under ‘disruption to travel’, so check for this clause in your travel insurance documents – though in any case, it’s worth speaking to your insurer directly to see if you’re covered.

Can I cancel and get a refund if my trip is still running but I don’t want to go?

To be eligible for a refund, it’s usually the case that the firm needs to cancel the booking rather than you doing it, as if you cancel, unfortunately, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a refund. Plus, you’re unlikely to be covered by travel insurance, providers of which would usually regard you cancelling as a ‘disinclination to travel’.

There are a few exceptions to this though. For example, if you booked a package to attend a specific event which has now been cancelled, such as the 2020 Olympics, then under the Package Travel Regulations this may count as a “significant change” and so you may be entitled to a refund.

Of course, what constitutes a “significant change” is slightly ambiguous, so if you feel you won’t be getting the same holiday you paid for and no longer want to travel as a result, it’s worth requesting a refund and seeing how you get on.

Will my insurance policy become invalid if my government advises against travel to my destination after I’ve arrived?

If a government removes a destination from its travel corridor list while you’re on holiday, your policy should still stand, provided you bought the insurance before departing. Check with your travel insurance provider before taking out the insurance and only go for a company that is prepared to offer cover in this situation.

Will my insurance still be valid if I have to quarantine while abroad?

If you’re forced to extend your stay due to reasons out of your control (for example, if you’re unexpectedly required to quarantine during your holiday), some travel insurance policies will automatically extend your policy and cover any additional costs of your stay. However, not all insurance companies do this, so it’s best to check your policy’s disruption cover in detail.

DisclaimerCape Town Luxury Escapes is a travel website and aims to provide the best service in booking luxury villa accommodation in Cape Town with other luxury services such as chefs, day tours, airport transfers, chauffeurs, spa & beauty treatments, baby equipment hire, butlers, private security and childcare services. We cannot guarantee all the information to be exact and updated at all times, so do note you use the information at your own risk and we can’t accept liability if things go wrong.

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