Does Travel Insurance Cover Earthquakes?

A comprehensive guide to what is and is not covered

••• Tom Allen / EyeEm / Getty Images

Of all the dangers a traveler faces as they see the world, earthquakes may be among the most violent and critical. Without warning or reason, earthquakes can suddenly strike, creating massive amounts of damage and threatening lives in their wake. Analysis shows earthquakes account for the second largest natural disaster threat in the world, threatening up to 283 million people around the world. Moreover, several popular tourist destinations live under the constant threat of earthquakes, including California, Japan, and Indonesia.

While these locations are more likely to suffer damage from an earthquake, history has shown the damaging effects can take place anywhere. In 2015, a massive earthquake struck Nepal, killing hundreds and displacing many more. In 2016, a major earthquake in Ecuador left as many as 600 dead and over 2,500 injured.

When an earthquake strikes, travelers who purchased travel insurance can access more than critical care when visiting a country. When purchasing the right policy, travelers can lean on their insurance policy to help them get in contact with loved ones, or evacuate the country and return home. However, travel insurance also comes with a number of limitations as well. Without understanding the coverage level, travelers can be left on their own despite the level of coverage they believe they may have.

Before you travel to a destination threatened by earthquakes, be sure to understand what your travel insurance policy will cover.

Here are the most commonly asked questions about earthquakes and travel insurance.

Will my travel insurance policy cover earthquakes?

In many cases, travel insurance policies will cover earthquakes under benefits for natural disasters. According to travel insurance broker Squaremouth, most travel insurance policies purchased from major insurance providers consider an earthquake as an unforeseen natural disaster.

Therefore, if an earthquake were to strike while away from home and visiting a foreign country, travel insurance would be able to assist travelers in the moments after an earthquake.

However, most travel insurance policies will only provide coverage for an earthquake if a policy is purchased ahead of a trip and before the earthquake takes place. Once an earthquake takes place, most insurers consider the situation a "known event." As a result, virtually all travel insurance providers will not allow benefits for policies purchased after the event takes place. Travelers concerned about their well-being while traveling should always purchase a travel insurance policy early in the planning process.

Will my travel insurance policy cover aftershocks?

Much like earthquakes, aftershocks often follow in the days and weeks after an earthquake, and often come with little to no warning. While most travel insurance policies look at the two events through a similar lens, how they are covered depends on when a travel insurance policy is purchased.

When purchasing the travel insurance policy before the event, both the initial earthquake and subsequent aftershocks are covered through the policy. As a result, travelers can receive their full suite of coverage in the event of a debilitating aftershock through their current travel insurance policy.

When a travel insurance is purchased after the initial earthquake, travelers will not receive coverage for aftershocks. Because the earthquake has become a "known event," travel insurance providers often waive coverage for a period of time immediately following the event. Because an aftershock is considered part of the initial earthquake, a travel insurance policy purchased after the event would not cover aftershocks.  

What benefits can help me after an earthquake?

According to Squaremouth, there are five core benefits travelers can take advantage of in the aftermath of an earthquake. These include medical, evacuation, trip interruption, and trip delay benefits.

In the moments after an earthquake, a travel insurance policy can help travelers get assistance at the nearest emergency room available.

While a travel insurance policy may not cover the cost of treatment up front, the policy can provide guarantee of payment and reimbursement for expenses, allowing the traveler to receive coverage. If an air ambulance or medical evacuation is required, medical evacuation benefits can help travelers get to the nearest medical facility to treat their injuries.

Many policies also include a natural disaster evacuation benefit, which allows travelers to evacuate to the nearest safe place and ultimately to their home country. In nations that are more prone to natural disasters, this benefit can be useful, as the U.S. embassy will not help travelers evacuate in the aftermath of a disaster.

Finally, trip interruption and trip delay benefits can help travelers cover their costs in the event a disaster delays their trip. Trip interruption benefits can help travelers arrange to return home after an earthquake under certain conditions, including a government-ordered evacuation or the condemning of their hotel. Trip delay can help travelers cover costs if their travels are backed up due to the disaster, with some benefits kicking in after six hours of delay.

Would credit card travel insurance offer more benefits?

Although many travelers already have travel insurance coverage through their credit cards, these policies act very similar to those purchased from a third-party provider. While the coverage level may be the same, how they are applied are two different situations.

Many of the basic levels of coverage, including emergency medical benefits, trip interruption benefits, and trip delay benefits, would be covered on a credit card travel insurance plan. However, benefits for damage or loss to personal effects may not be covered by a credit card travel insurance plan. Because the items were not lost in transit, the credit card plan may not be obligated to cover those items. Furthermore, additional coverage (like cell phone damage) may also be invalid as a result of an earthquake. Although Citi offers a high level of travel insurance for cardholders who pay with their card, their cell phone replacement benefit won't apply if a phone is lost in a flood, earthquake, or other natural disaster.

Before making plans with a credit card policy, travelers are best served by understanding what events are covered, and which events are excluded. With this understanding, travelers can pick out which policy makes the most sense for them.

Can I cancel my trip because of an earthquake?

While trip cancellation benefits may be available after an emergency, the event of an earthquake is not enough to allow travelers to cancel their plans. Instead, the traveler must be directly affected by the event in order to cancel their trip entirely.

Under most travel insurance policies, Squaremouth advises travelers can cancel their trip if the earthquake causes one of three situations. First, traveling to the affected location is delayed by a significant amount of time. This "significance" can be as little as 12 hours, or as long as two days. Second, travelers may qualify for trip cancellation if their living accommodations are damaged and inhospitable. Finally, travelers may qualify to cancel their trip if a government evacuation of the area has been ordered.

For those who are concerned about traveling to a destination in the wake of a natural disaster, most travel insurance policies offer a Cancel for Any Reason benefit as an additional purchase. While the benefit is only available with early purchase and a nominal fee, this benefit allows travelers to recover the majority of their travel-related costs should they decide to cancel.

Although an earthquake can strike at any time, travelers do not have to be stranded or unaware of how travel insurance can help. Through planning and preparation, travelers can make sure they make the most of their travel insurance policies – no matter where the next earthquake takes place.