As the 2016 Olympic Games – to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – draws nearer, the concern over the Zika virus continue to rise. The city has been hit hard by the disease, which has been linked to serious birth defects in children born from infected parents. As a result, some athletes and travelers are electing to skip the games out of fear of contracting the virus while visiting the South American country, while others scramble to purchase travel insurance to cover their investment.
But, it turns out that you need to read the fine-print on your insurance policy very closely, because it is highly likely that Zika isn't covered at all.
I'm a big advocate of travel insurance for adventure travelers in particular, as it usually provides some important coverage for those of us who tend to visit remote places where the risks are a bit higher and the cost of an evacuation can get quite pricey. One of the key components of almost any travel insurance policy is what is known as "trip cancellation" coverage. Essentially, this part of the policy ensures that you'll get your money back should your trip be cancelled for some reason. For instance, if a natural disaster hits the destination you'll be visiting, and the tour operator decides its not safe to be there, they may pull the plug on the trip altogether. In this case, your travel insurance company would reimburse you for the cost of the trip, preventing you from potentially losing thousands of dollars.
Sounds good right? Well, the problem is that most of those policies won't cover your costs if you cancel the trip yourself. This is something that a number of travelers have discovered recently when they learned about Zika, and decided it wasn't safe for them to visit places that were infected. Some of those travelers included expectant mothers, as well as couples who are looking to get pregnant.
The risks to their unborn children were sometimes deemed too high, so the decision was made to not proceed with their travel plans, often following the advice of their doctor.
Some of these men and women had purchased travel insurance to cover their trips, but they have usually been denied trip cancellation claims because the policy holders decided to not risk visiting the destination completely on their own. In other words, if you personally decide to cancel your plans, don't expect the insurance company to cover your costs. For most of these companies, avoiding a potential Zika infection is not reason enough to cancel a trip and stay home, so as a result they're not paying out on the policies that were purchased.
There is an exception to this rule however. Some travel insurance companies – such as Travel Guard – offer what is known as "cancel for any reason" coverage. This allows you to get reimbursed for a portion of the expenses of your trip should it be cancelled. This type of coverage even allows you to back out of your travel plans with no questions asked, providing more flexibility to the customer.
As you an imagine, there are a few catches to "cancel for any reason" coverage.
For instance, it tends to cost about 20% more than standard travel insurance, and it typically doesn't reimburse you for the entire trip. Instead, you get a portion of the money back, with most travelers seeing about 75% of the total cost of a trip covered. While that isn't a full reimbursement of your expenses, it is better than getting no money back at all, which has been the case for most travelers looking to avoid Zika at the moment.
Should you become ill with the Zika virus while traveling, most insurance policies would cover any medical expenses that might arise. The problem is, the vast majority of people who contract Zika don't exhibit any symptoms at all, and as a result they don't need any medical attention either. So, the chances are even if you do get infected, you probably won't know it or the symptoms won't be strong enough to require any kind of action anyway.
Still, it is good to know that medical coverage is there should it be required.
As always, be sure to read the fine print on your insurance polices and ask specific questions about what it does and doesn't' cover. It is important to know ahead of time whether or not you have a policy that meets your needs, as it could prove vitally important to your health and end up saving you thousands of dollars as well.