Eye on Travel Insurance » it can’t protect you everywhere

By Wayne Wirtanen
This item appears on page 59 of the November 2009 issue.

I found the following article with the above title, by Milan Korcok, editor of Travelinsurancefile.com, a Canadian website, of sufficient interest to get permission to reprint it in ITN, as follows.

“Travel insurance can’t protect you everywhere in this dangerous world. You need to check out your destination — and don’t take anything for granted — to verify if Travel Warnings have been issued against it by your government. If they have, your insurance may be invalid or severely restricted.

“As of the end of March 2009, the US State Department had 29 countries on its Travel Warnings list, which is ‘issued to describe long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable.’ A Travel Warning is also issued when the US Government’s ability to assist its citizens is constrained due to closure of an embassy or consulate. These Warnings are not placed casually; there are many political ramifications for governments that warn their citizens not to travel to another country.

“Currently, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade has officially listed Travel Warnings for 57 countries, emphasizing that travelers should either avoid nonessential travel to the designated country or to a specific region(s) of it, or avoid all travel to the country or to specific region(s) of it.

“And should you think these are all remote narco-havens or tribal kingdoms in deepest Africa, have a look at some on the US list: Israel, the Philippines, Algeria… Colombia, Lebanon, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Syria and more.

“The Canadian government’s list is even more extensive, listing most of the above plus countries such as Albania, Armenia, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Maylasia, Panama, Russia and Venezuela. This includes advisories to avoid all nonessential travel, all travel or travel to certain specific parts of those countries.

“What does a Travel Warning mean for your travel insurance? Though you will find some variation in benefit restrictions among individual travel insurers in the US and Canada, they often cancel or restrict benefits to countries that were on the official Warning lists before you bought your insurance. In effect, travel to a country on the list and you’re on your own for medical emergencies, evacuations, costs or prepaid reservations, baggage loss and many of those other benefits for which you bought insurance.

“What this means to you is that no matter where you travel, it is essential you first check the status of that country on the official government Warnings list, and then specifically research your policy for its limitations on travel to listed countries.

“And don’t be satisfied with old information or the urgings of friends or relatives who visited such and such a place a year ago and found it perfectly safe and friendly. That kind of anecdote doesn’t hold water when arguing benefit limitations with an insurer armed with an official government Warning.

“Circumstances change overnight. A bomb explodes, a riot erupts, ‘students’ take to the streets, civil authorities lose control, an epidemic erupts in ‘paradise’ and all the rules change. This kind of pre-travel check is now essential. Only a novice traveler would neglect it.”

My comments and advice

First of all, notice that the Canadian Travel Warnings list includes some countries that the US government differentiates by placing them on a second list of lesser cautions titled “Advisories, Consular Information Sheets and Public Announcements.” These announcements generally deal with short-term problems and typically advise “Avoid all nonessential travel” to a particular country and sometimes only to specific areas.

If you are reading this, you know that ITN’s News Watch section has pages of detailed information on the complete range of travelers’ concerns, including, of course, the list of countries with Travel Warnings. Contact information also is provided for the State Department and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

If you are planning a trip, contact one or two tour companies that are offering tours to your potential destination and ask about safety factors there. Tour companies usually have very detailed information regarding their areas of specialization. It’s not uncommon for there to be health and/or other safety factors in play in a country but not necessarily along the “tourist trails.”

It’s my opinion that State Department Warnings and Advisories can sometimes be biased on the alarmist side. Do not ignore these warning statements; instead, do a little Internet and telephone research.

Travel to “warning” countries

But what if you want/need to go to one of those “warning” countries? Can you get travel insurance?

The answer is ‘Yes.’ One travel insurance company, ihi BUPA, will write you a policy so that you will be protected “anywhere, anytime, doing anything (except motorized racing).” The upper age limit is 79. Premiums will be stiff, but you will be protected.

I always have two basic recommendations for overseas travelers:

1) Always have coverage for medical expenses and emergency medical evacuation. (Also take cash and two credit cards with good available balances.)

2) Buy your travel insurance from a travel insurance broker such as Dan Drennen of World Travel Center (Omaha, NE; phone 402/343-3621 or e-mail dan@travelinsurancecenter.com).

Your travel agent is in the business of travel and might be selling only one company’s policies. A travel insurance broker is in the business of travel insurance. He not only has access to many insurance companies’ offerings but can advise you about any insurance problems with your destination and get you appropriate coverage.

Reading material

I have found several books with advice and descriptions of travel hazards.

“Don’t Go There” by Peter Greenberg (2008, Rodale Books, New York, NY. ISBN 9781605299945 — 320 pp., $17.95 paperback) — the travel detective’s essential guide to the must-miss places of the world.

One place that Greenberg lists which I’m quite familiar with is Cleveland, Ohio. He suggests avoiding one of the most dangerous neighborhoods, St. Clair-Superior, which stretches from East 70th Street to East 123rd Street.

I lived in this very lower-middle-class neighborhood back in the ’30s when it was quiet and peaceful. I could go out to play for hours and my parents would know that I’d show up promptly at dinnertime. Recently, my father refused to even drive me into the area to visit old stamping grounds. It’s now, as Greenberg describes, “a danger zone.”

“Unsafe on the High Seas: Your Guide to a Safer Cruise” by Charles R. Lipcon (2008, I. Adels, Inc., Miami, FL. ISBN 9780979780707 — 116 pp., $14.95 paperback) — probably not a favorite publication of the cruise industry. Lots of tips here, but I’ve not been a “cruiser” so don’t know how practical and valuable those tips are.

“I Really Should Have Stayed Home: The Worst Journeys from Harare to Eternity,” edited by Roger Rapoport and Bob Drews (2001, RDR Books, Oakland, CA. ISBN 978-1571430816 — 294 pp., $17.95 paperback) — short travelogues, mostly humorous but not necessarily so to the travelers at the time. Frequently, each debacle was caused by a traveler doing some dumb thing.

For armchair adventurers/mercenaries, punch up Comebackalive.com, Robert Young Pelton’s website. From his book “World’s Most dangerous Places” (2003, Collins Reference, London, UK. ISBN 978-0060011604 — 1,088 pp., $22.95 paperback), I keep one of his safety tips in mind: “If you are going to drive along a road that you suspect might be mined, go early in the morning and follow a large truck at a safe distance.” Better safe than sorry!

Bottom line

Don’t let all of the above information deter you from international travel; just let it remind you to “be good — and if you can’t be good, be careful.”

Happy trails!