If you’re ready to travel again, it’s important to understand the scope of your travel medical insurance coverage should you contract COVID-19⁠—even when traveling with the US. Even if you’re vaccinated, you could still test positive for the virus or experience a breakthrough infection.

If you’re traveling domestically in the US, and you are covered by a US health insurance provider, or Medicare, your health plan will cover urgent care visits, medical expenses, imaging, medicine and hospital stays.  Beyond general illness or injury, if you test positive for COVID-19, or require medical treatment or hospitalization due to the virus, the scope of your coverage could vary. It’s best to check for the specific provisions of your personal health plan.

If you are fully vaccinated and planning on vacationing abroad, then purchasing a travel insurance policy that includes travel medical expense and medical evacuation coverage should be part of your travel check-list. Your US based medical insurance will not be accepted abroad.

It’s best to be prepared by purchasing a comprehensive travel insurance policy that will cover medical expenses you incur if you get sick, or injured while outside the US.  Many travel insurance carriers offer plans that cover COVID-19-related medical expenses. You should research and find a policy that best matches your needs. 

Beyond medical care, your travel plan may even cover the self-isolation costs tied to quarantining like lodging and meals due to a positive COVID-19 test.

Here’s what you need to know so you’re protected whether you travel to Miami or Madrid.

Here’s how to prepare if traveling within the US 

Before planning any type of travel, it’s best to check with your healthcare insurance company about the scope of your coverage. You can find your carrier’s contact information on the back of your member card.

“First and foremost, always check with your health insurance provider to see what your plan covers and what it does not and become familiar with the limits of your policy” says Kathy Kimmel, spokesperson with InsureMyTrip, a travel insurance comparison site.  

If you’ve traveled domestically in the past, you know you can utilize your personal insurance for issues like a fever, food poisoning, severe sunburn, stitches, or a sprained ankle.

The pandemic has caused a whole set of ‘what if’s’ for travelers⁠—even if you’re not leaving the country. As always, coverage is dependent on your particular plan. “It is best for travelers to check with their provider to know how COVID is covered and what steps should be taken to prepare should they contract the virus on a trip,” says Jeremy Murchland, president of Seven Corners Travel Insurance.

Health insurance may cover COVID-19, Murchland says, but it typically will not cover emergency evacuations back home or quarantine expenses that may come from destination mandates. 

What about road-tripping in the US?

Bailey Foster, spokesperson with Trawick International, a travel insurance carrier, says if you have health insurance and you are traveling in the United States, your health insurance will cover the expense related to COVID-19.

Long straight road through barren desert in the American Southwest with extreme heat haze on a sunny day.
Check if your health insurance covers you on a road trip © canadastock / Shutterstock

“This would work like any other illness you may catch and your healthcare insurance would cover the costs associated with the travelers’ treatment,” she says. “The traveler would have to be responsible for their copays related to their medical treatment.”

Read more: Expert tips for a safe road trip during the pandemic

Will US-based health insurance cover COVID-19 infection abroad?

The simple answer is no. “Your US-based healthcare insurance will not cover COVID-19 related illness expenses while you are abroad,” says Foster with Trawick International. “It’s imperative that travelers purchase a travel insurance plan that clearly states it provides coverage related to COVID-19 losses.”

Read more: How do you choose travel insurance that covers COVID-19?

If your policy includes COVID-19 coverage, it will cover medical care, hospitalization, medicine, and any other treatment needed due to COVID-19. 

It’s best to call the insurance carrier to make sure COVID-19 is covered by the policy.

Will US-based health insurance cover pre-travel testing? 

In general, pre-travel testing will be a personal expense. “Travel insurance does not cover pre-travel COVID testing or any other testing required before your trip, nor will it offer coverage for vaccines,” says Kimmel with InsureMyTrip. 

What else will my travel insurance policy provide if I contract COVID-19?

Some travel insurance carriers will transport you for more specialized medical treatment. 

“At Seven Corners, we assist in evacuations and repatriations on a normal basis for typical illnesses and injuries abroad,” explains Murchland. “Even with the added challenge of assisting someone who has contracted COVID away from home, we are ready to help make the return safe and ensure that proper care is given to the sick or injured traveler.”

In addition, your travel insurance carrier has a 24/7 travel support hotline that can assist with medical referrals, coordinating medical care and arranging lodging accommodations should you need to quarantine due to COVID-19.  Some companies even provide language translation services if you are experiencing barriers regarding your medical care. 

How do I best protect myself when traveling abroad? 

As you plan expensive international trips, the worry about COVID and the Delta variant and its impact on your travels is likely on your mind. Kimmel from InsureMyTrip states the best way to protect yourself while traveling abroad is to buy a comprehensive travel insurance policy with the added Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) Benefit, which is an optional upgrade to your policy that allows you to cancel for reasons beyond your standard trip cancellation policy. This add-on will increase your travel insurance policy rate about 50 percent but offers you the most flexibility to cancel. If you meet the requirements, you can be reimbursed up to 75 % of your trip’s cost.

However, this is a time-sensitive benefit and not all trips are eligible for this add-on.  There are some requirements that need to be met like canceling your trip no later than 48 hours before your scheduled departure. 

Most traditional travel insurance policies do not allow travelers to cancel because of COVID-19 fears, like if there’s an increase in COVID cases at your destination.   “The Cancel for Any Reason add-on is really the only way for a traveler to recoup some of their pre-paid, non-refundable trip costs if they decide not to travel because of a spike in cases,” says Kimmel.

Not all policies and carriers offer CFAR coverage upgrades. InsureMyTrip has a tool that is making it easier to find out if your policy and trip are eligible for CFAR.  

For more information on COVID-19 and travel, check out Lonely Planet's Health Hub.

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What do I do if my flight gets cancelled—and can I get a refund?
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