Planning an overseas holiday is exciting. Especially now after we’ve all been stuck at home during the pandemic. When you have serious allergies – whether to food, or insects or even medication – you are probably used to all the extra preparation that comes with planning a trip. But have you thought about what if would happen if you have an serious allergic reaction while you are away? Would your travel insurance policy cover your medical and other expenses? Find out why we always take out travel insurance for allergies before we go away for peace of mind. And how to check what is covered and what is not.
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What is travel insurance?
Travel insurance is a type of insurance cover that protects you against some unforeseeable (and potentially very expensive) things that may happen while you are travelling. This could be anything from lost baggage or theft, a cancelled flight, having to cancel your whole trip or ending up in hospital overseas.
(For Australians, international travel insurance policies normally offer comprehensive coverage in one policy. This means both trip protection (travel cancellation costs, loss or damage to luggage etc) and medical expenses. For travelling within Australia, normally Medicare and/or your private health insurance will still cover your medical expenses. This might be different in other countries. For example, if you live in the US, the type of medical travel insurance offered may differ depending on whether you have US health insurance cover or not.)
Why you may need travel insurance for allergies
If you have mild allergies like seasonal hay fever (allergic rhinitis), or even a mild food allergy or intolerance, it’s less likely that these are going to impact on your holiday plans in a significant way.
However, if you or someone in your family has serious allergy – especially one that puts you at risk of a severe reaction or anaphylaxis – this is something you need to plan for. Whether this is an allergy to foods (like tree nuts, peanuts or shellfish), insect stings (like bees or ants), latex or even medication, there is a chance that your allergy could derail your holiday plans.
If you have a serious allergic reaction while you are travelling it could result in you having to pay for:
- doctors fees;
- emergency ambulance transport;
- emergency department attendance or hospital admission;
- other medical expenses;
- flight, accommodation or tour cancellation fees and/or rebooking alternatives;
- medical evacuation; or
- repatriation to your home country.
One reaction could end up being very expensive, as well as traumatic. This is where travel insurance policies that cover allergies are important.
You really should take out travel insurance as soon as you book your trip just in case the unexpected happens.
Not all travel insurance policies are the same
It sounds simple. Just take out travel insurance before you go away, right? Not quite. Different travel insurance policies have different types of cover with different exclusions. To find out what exactly you are covered for, you’ll need to read the policy documents carefully. And ask the insurer or your agent lots of questions.
In Australia, travel insurance policy terms and conditions must be set out in a “Product Disclosure Statement“, or “PDS“. Companies must also have a Target Market Determination (“TMD“) which sets out a description of the types of customers the product is designed for. Some insurance companies will have these available to read on their website. Others won’t provide a copy until you have filled in a request for quote. If you are booking your holiday through a travel agent, they should be able to provide you with a written copy of the PDS and TMD for travel insurance they recommend.
TIP: Keep in mind that travel agents will often get a commission if you buy insurance through them. So be prepared to look around at other options if the insurance they offer isn’t right for you).
What is a pre-existing medical condition?
One very important thing that not all travel insurance offers is coverage for “pre-existing conditions“. Each insurer will have their own definition of “pre-existing condition” in their terms, but broadly speaking it is a medical condition that you know about already.
This includes any health condition noted in your medical records. It could be something you have seen a doctor about or had tests for (whether or not you have received the results). Or your doctor may have prescribed a medication or a change in medication. For example, in the case of allergies, you might have had a reaction to something and seen your usual doctor about it for a referral, but still be waiting to see an allergist for allergy testing. That would be enough to fit within the definition of a “pre-existing condition”.
Some pre-existing conditions won’t be covered at all. And others will only be covered on special terms.
Why do I have to tell the insurer about my pre-existing condition?
Insurance policies are a special kind of legal contract. Both of the parties to an insurance contract – the insurer offering the cover and you as the insured person – have a legal duty of disclosure. This means you need to tell the insurer everything that might be relevant to the insurer deciding whether to provide travel insurance to you or not. And insurers decide how much to charge you for your policy based on the risks. When you have serious allergies, the insurer needs to know in advance that there is a risk you might have a severe reaction while you are travelling. This could potentially mean that it has to pay out a large claim. Risk assessment is why insurers may ask a lot of questions about your conditions as part of a medical screening or assessment.
Do travel insurance policies cover allergies?
Not all travel insurance will cover allergies. Fortunately there are many that will, if you meet certain criteria.
When researching travel insurance policies, you’ll notice that some include lists of pre-existing medical conditions that are automatically covered. For some insurers, this list will include “allergies”. However, in the fine print, you’ll see that in most cases this only applies to mild allergies and intolerances, hay fever and similar. If you are at risk of serious or life threatening reaction (anaphylaxis), you’ll need to investigate more.
Where there is cover for pre-existing conditions but it isn’t automatic (or at least not for your allergies), you’ll need to complete a pre-existing medical conditions screening or assessment. Often you can do this online when you apply for insurance. Some companies require you to log on to a specific medical assessment portal. Others will even phone you to do an assessment in over the phone.
It is common for travel insurance providers to ask questions about any allergies you disclose including:
- whether you are at risk of a life threatening reaction (anaphylaxis);
- whether you have needed recent hospital treatment for your condition (for example, in the last 1 or 2 years); and
- whether you also have asthma. If you do have asthma, there are often follow up questions about the age you were diagnosed, how many medications you take to control your asthma, recent hospital admissions, whether you have ever been prescribed oxygen outside of hospital and if you have ever smoked.
These types of screening questions are used to determine if your allergies are “stable” and well controlled.
Will you have to pay more for travel insurance?
Whether you’ll be charged more for your travel insurance depends on how you answer the screening questions. If the insurer considers you to be a higher risk, it may charge an additional premium. Your risk profile will be higher if you have had recent medical treatment for allergies compared to someone who’s allergies are “stable”.
In our experience, we usually do have to pay an additional premium because our family member with multiple foods allergies also has asthma (even though it is well controlled). Asthma is a known risk factor for severe allergic reactions and is something insurers take into account.
TIP: If you have a credit card that offers “automatic” travel insurance for holidays paid for with your card, don’t assume that this will offer insurance cover for your allergies. You still need to go through the process of disclosing any pre-existing conditions with the relevant insurer. This may involve completing a medical assessment and paying an additional premium. Contact your credit card provider to find out more.
What happens if you don’t tell the insurer about allergies?
If you don’t tell your insurer that you have an allergy, you won’t be covered for anything directly or indirectly related to it. This means that if you have an allergic reaction while you are travelling that disrupts your travel in any way and costs you money, you will have to pay for any expenses yourself. (Don’t think you might be able to fool an insurance company. If you later make an allergy-related travel claim, your insurer will find out about your medical history!)
This may not sound too bad, but the costs could actually be very significant. What if you or your child have an anaphylactic reaction to something on holiday and end up in hospital? Depending on where you are holidaying, this could end up costing a very large amount of money for medical care. What if you have to be evacuated to medical care elsewhere?
I have been to the emergency department of a hospital overseas for a non-allergy related condition before and received absolutely enormous medical bills. Fortunately these were covered by our travel insurance. Without cover, I am not sure how I could have paid.
Apart from the medical costs, what if the rest of your trip is delayed or cancelled? The costs of missed flights and accommodation can be significant. And alternative accommodation if you have to stay longer in one place. It’s a big risk to take.
Travel insurance companies that will cover allergies
We always take out travel insurance when we travel overseas, and we always ensure that it covers our various allergies too. Between us we have multiple severe food allergies including peanut and tree nut allergies, medication allergies and asthma (as well as other milder allergies). This means that we have to disclose our “pre-existing” conditions and complete a medical questionnaire for each person.
So far we have had no trouble getting cover for our overseas trips, but usually have to pay a modest extra premium to cover our allergic conditions. We have used Cover-More Travel Insurance for several overseas holidays now and the cost has been very reasonable. Cover-More Travel Insurance is also available in New Zealand.
If you live outside of Australia or New Zealand, there are many companies that offer travel insurance for pre-existing conditions. Many insurance comparison websites allow you to search for companies that offer coverage for pre-existing medical conditions. If you are based in the US, InsureMyTrip offers free quotes for travel insurance. Or try an insurance company that specialises in travel insurance cover for medical conditions.
Before you buy any travel insurance, make sure that you go through the policy wording carefully and check:
- if pre-existing conditions are covered, and in what circumstances or they aren’t;
- if you need to complete a medical assessment;
- that you meet any medical assessment requirements; and
- whether you need to pay an extra premium.
If you have any questions at all about whether your allergies are covered, you should contact the insurer and ask before you buy a policy.
What if I can’t get travel insurance for allergies?
Sometime an insurer will simply refuse to cover your allergies. Normally this is because they consider you too high risk. For example, if you have severe allergies and have been in hospital recently, or multiple times. Or if you have a very severe food allergy combined with unstable asthma.
If this happens, it’s often worth trying a different insurer. In Australia, the Insurance Council of Australia has a database of insurers on its website, which you can search by “pre-existing medical condition”.
If you just can’t get travel insurance, you can chose not to travel. Or you can still travel without insurance, but know you won’t be covered for any expenses that are incurred as a result of your allergy whilst you are away. This may influence where you go for your holiday or the type of activities you do while you are there.
More about safe travel with allergies
Once you have your travel insurance organised, don’t forget to keep a copy of your policy certificate and the PDS handy and take a copy with you on your trip. Put the claims and information contact numbers for your insurer in your phone in case you need them. And have a safe trip!
For more tips and trips for travelling safely with allergies and all the things we do before we go away, see our post – Safe Travel With Allergies: It’s All in the Planning. Or if you are heading to Europe, check out our posts on managing food allergies in London and Paris.
*Disclaimer: Content on the Allergy Spot website is general information only and does not constitute advice. Information displayed on the website does not take into account the personal circumstances or objectives of any individual and must not be relied upon. Please consider your financial situation, needs and objectives and read the the relevant Product Disclosure Statement (PDS), Financial Services Guide (FSG) and Target Market Determination (TMD) before applying for any travel insurance policy and obtain your own advice. Allergy Spot is an affiliate of Cover-More Insurance Service Pty Ltd and InsureMyTrip.