How COVID-19 Travel Insurance Works
From weekend getaways to extended vacations, specialized COVID-19 travel insurance can provide security if the virus affects your travel plans.
Updated September 18, 2023 at 5:00 PM PDT
Reading time: 4 minutes
Travel lets you see new places, meet new people, and experience different cultures. But the lurking shadow of COVID-19 can make traveling uncertain. Almost half of canceled trips in 2020 were due to the virus, according to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association (UStiA).
Travel insurance can help if something goes wrong before or during your trip, but not all policies cover COVID-19 issues. Let’s explore how COVID-19 travel insurance works and how it might — or might not — shield you on your next journey.
Most travel insurance policies include protections for trip cancellations, delays, or other trip interruption coverage. However, many policies don’t cover disruptions due to pandemics. That’s where COVID travel insurance comes into play.
COVID travel insurance is a specialized policy that can refund your money if the virus throws a wrench into your plans. It typically has three coverage levels: coverage for a trip delay, canceling for any reason, and medical care if you get sick.
Illness, injury, jury duty, and other circumstances beyond your control can delay your travel plans. Travel delay insurance covers flight issues, bad weather, sudden breakdowns, and unexpected illnesses or injuries that happen before reaching your destination. It can pay you back for non-refundable expenses and cover extra costs, too — like food, hotel rooms, or cab rides.
Travel insurance policies typically have strict rules, but a cancel-for-any-reason (CFAR) option offers more leeway, allowing you to cancel for reasons not covered in the original policy.
But with CFAR benefits, you might only get a partial refund amount. Reimbursements usually range from 50% to 75% of the total price.
If your health insurance is only valid in a specific area and doesn’t cover international travel, travel insurance with medical expenses coverage can fill the gap.
If medical insurance is included in your trip policy, it can help pay for medical attention and treatment costs if you, a family member, or another traveling companion becomes ill from COVID-19 before or during your trip.
Some travel protection plans cover quarantine or self-isolation due to COVID-19 concerns. It can reimburse you for lost prepaid expenses and cover additional lodging and meal costs. However, it depends on your policy and the conditions leading to the cancellation, delay, or disruption.
Protection often hinges on two factors:
Not all travel insurance plans include a pandemic as a covered reason. If COVID-19 was a significant public concern when you purchased the policy, insurers may not provide coverage because it’s a “foreseeable” threat. But some plans let you add COVID-19 coverage as an endorsement.
Even if you set out to buy COVID-19 travel insurance, it may not be available for your plan or location. Review your benefits and endorsement options to look for “pandemic” or “epidemic-related” language to see if COVID-19 is a covered event.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared the COVID-19 public health emergency over in May 2023, but there’s still a risk of infection, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 
Your credit card’s travel protections are worth considering, but you may not want to rely on that alone. Credit cards often limit travel coverage, and most companies don’t include trip cancellation coverage.
Travel delay benefits can fill the gap — especially benefits with COVID-19 coverage. Compare the policy cost against the potential loss if you have to cancel or delay your trip to determine if it’s worth it. The up-front payment for travel insurance is typically a fraction of what you might spend out of pocket if plans go south.
The CDC reports that medical bills in the first six months of a COVID-19 diagnosis average nearly $8,400. Factor in non-refundable trip costs, accommodation charges, and other miscellaneous expenses, and the expenses can skyrocket.
If you’re concerned about the pandemic and the potential effects on your travels, here are some tips to help you secure a policy with the best travel insurance plan:
Compare multiple companies and policies and read reviews to see others’ experiences.
Not all policies cover travel disruptions from COVID-19. Review your coverage to make sure it specifically addresses pandemic reasons.
Travel policies don’t automatically include medical emergencies. Consider adding medical travel insurance, and ask about emergency assistance coverage and medical evacuation in case of a natural disaster.
CFAR policies can be beneficial, especially with unpredictable pandemic-related concerns and travel restrictions.
Read the fine print and policy information to verify how the insurer handles refunds. Some policies might offer partial refunds.
The COVID-19 virus has made travel plans tricky. Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway or a month-long vacation, here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 travel insurance.
It depends. Standard travel insurance policies don’t cover COVID-19 or other pandemic-related reasons, but some travel insurance companies offer specialty COVID-19 coverage against the virus’ potential interference. If you cancel your trip due to the virus, a COVID travel insurance policy may provide refunds or reimbursements for your expenses.
Travel insurance offers varying refund policies depending on the travel insurance company, but it doesn’t refund your premium. Instead, coverage can reimburse you for prepaid trip costs, meals, hotel rooms, or cab rides because of the interruption.
It’s possible. Travel insurance policies may cover quarantine or self-isolation expenses outside the United States due to COVID-19 concerns. However, coverage depends on your specific policy and the circumstances leading to the quarantine. It’s crucial to review the specific details and look for “pandemic” or “epidemic-related” language to ensure coverage.
Regular travel insurance often covers typical trip cancellations, interruptions, or delays. However, many don’t address pandemic-related disruptions. COVID travel insurance provides specialized coverage for travel hiccups related to the virus, ensuring you’re shielded financially if COVID-19 affects your journey.
Amy is a personal finance and technology writer. With a background in the legal field and a bachelor's degree from Ferris State University, she has a talent for transforming complex topics into content that’s easy to understand. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn.