Travel Insurance

Do I need travel insurance? I ask this question every time I plan to travel abroad. Fortunately, I’ve never missed a flight, lost my luggage or got sick abroad. So every time I bought travel insurance, nothing happened, and I could easily claim that it was overkill and a waste of money. Yet, I’ve heard horror stories about people landing in a foreign country with just a camera, and their luggage takes forever to find them or never finds them at all. I’ve heard of people getting sick abroad and not being able to seek medical attention or accrue substantial medical bills.

Travel insurance is a plan you purchase that protects you from certain financial risks and losses that can occur while travelling. These losses can be minor, like a delayed suitcase, or significant, like last-minute trip cancellations or an overseas medical emergency. Purchasing travel insurance ensures comprehensive coverage in case of any trouble while you’re travelling.

Benefits vary by plan. It’s essential to choose a plan that fits your needs, your budget and your travel plans. You should also remember that travel insurance can’t cover every possible situation. Insurance covers only the specific cases, events, and losses included in your plan and only under the conditions the provider describes.

There is a wide range of packages offered by the various insurance companies for domestic and international travel. You’d need to choose what makes sense for your trip and finances or stick to what is required to get a visa. Some types of insurance are listed below:

  • Personal effects/baggage coverage: This is one of the more common insurance covers and provides coverage if your personal belongings are lost, stolen, or damaged during your trip. A variation includes baggage delay insurance if your luggage arrives at the destination well after you do. In addition to reimbursing replacement costs of stolen items, some covers offer reimbursement for fees associated with replacing passports, visas, and other travel documents as well as the charges and interest accrued from lost or stolen credit cards.
  • Emergency medical assistance: This insurance covers any illnesses or accidents abroad as specified within the cover, allowing you to seek medical treatment. Medical insurance is often one of the requirements when applying for visas to some destinations, but it is prudent to have this covered even if they don’t ask for it. If you already have medical insurance, check the terms for coverage abroad and any limitations before purchasing additional insurance. You could probably use the same cover for your travel.
  • Trip cancellation insurance: This insurance reimburses you when specific circumstances prevent you from travelling – illness, death in the family, a natural disaster at your travel destination or even your hotel or tour company going out of business. There’s a bit of a grey area when it comes to COVID and travel. Since COVID is classified as a pandemic, it is not an unforeseen event. You may not get reimbursed if you have to cancel your trip because your destination is now on the red list.
  • Missed connection insurance: Missing a connecting flight or not making a tour departure time is inconvenient and very costly. For instance, getting a new flight a few hours before departure can be expensive. This insurance reimburses costs to connect to the next leg of your trip. However, please note that oversleeping is not grounds for reimbursement. This insurance covers only a certified delay from a common carrier, documented weather conditions preventing you from reaching your departure location, being quarantined, a strike, or a natural disaster. All other reasons are typically not covered. Check the fine print on this insurance as some will not apply for the return leg of the trip; that is, if you miss a connecting flight on your way back home, you’re on your own. Ironic, given you probably need it most, having spent all your money during the vacay.
  • Travel delay:  This is not the same as the missed connection insurance and covers additional accommodation, meals and other expenses if you are stuck in transit. Reasons covered include delay of a common carrier, loss or theft of passports, natural disasters, sickness/ injury (yourself or of a travelling companion), death of a travelling companion, civil disorder, unannounced strike or a documented traffic accident en route to departure. Do note that airlines are obligated to take care of you for delayed flights, although the number of hours to qualify for the support vary by airline. This could be a suitable alternative, but without naming names, some budget airlines will have you sleeping in the airport to avoid spending.
  • Travel interruption: This insurance covers you when you have to cut your trip short for unforeseen reasons covered in the policy. When you interrupt your trip, the insurance company reimburses you for the unused portion and the costs to change travel plans and get back home.
  • Emergency medical evacuation: This cover is in addition to the medical insurance and covers transportation to the nearest medical facility or a medical facility of your choice. Depending on your cover, medical transportation can be by road or air, based on location and your medical condition. It may also include your transport back home once you’re well enough to travel or even bringing someone to stay with you at the hospital if you were travelling alone. This insurance covers any accidents, injuries and illnesses as prescribed within the policy while you’re away.
  • Security evacuation insurance: In an unsafe situation/location, this cover provides for evacuation for you and your dependents (only if you put their names in the policy) to a place of safety. It is non-medical and invoked when you become persona non grata in your host country, are expelled from your host country, encounter civil or political unrest or a natural disaster in your host country. The cover typically includes flight arrangements, securing visas, ground transport and housing, and in some cases, repatriation to your home country.

With all these opportunities to get your money back and protect your interests, you’d think it should be commonplace to get travel insurance, right? Wrong! The trouble with travel insurance is that many combinations are available, and you will not often know what is covered or not until you make a claim. It is essential to understand must-haves and nice-to-haves when you reach out to the insurance company and the exclusions of the package you’re purchasing. For instance, your medical cover may not cover injuries incurred if you were scuba diving, sky diving, mountain climbing, or doing other adventurous activities. You would need to include a sports cover, but nobody tells you that until you make a claim.

As with all other insurance covers, you must read the fine print to avoid surprises. A good one to watch for is how your insurance handles COVID. Given it is a pandemic, you may need a COVID add-on to ensure you receive treatment if you get sick. However, you should not expect the insurance company to pay for COVID tests to enable you to travel. Those costs are coming out of pocket; include them in your travel budget.

I’d also like to highlight that having insurance doesn’t mean you won’t need to make out of pocket payments. As I’m sure you’ve noted, the word frequently used here is reimbursed. Your local medical insurance probably doesn’t link with hospitals abroad, and you may need to pay first and claim the expenses later. However, for expensive treatment, reach out to the insurance company and see how they want you to progress. Sometimes, they can make an upfront payment.

Last but not least, be clear on the cap of how much they will refund you and the documents required for claim processing. You will not always get 100% refunds, and lacking the necessary documentation can disqualify your claim.

Last word

I can’t say I’m a fan of travel insurance; I can make a case for or against purchasing travel insurance. I don’t buy it for every trip, especially not domestic travel, but I understand the intention. Insurance really can save you a lot of money in an emergency. A mere KES 5,000 can cover losses up to KES 500,000. That’s money well spent when you’re stranded abroad.

However tempting it is to purchase the insurance online, first-timers should consult an expert and understand the policy in its entirety before purchase. You can then renew online. If you’re a frequent traveller, consider an annual policy instead of paying every time you travel.