What travel advisories can mean for your insurance claims

Tunisia may not be high on a Kiwi traveller's list, but it's essential to know how to travel safely in high risk countries.
ZOUBEIR SOUISSI

Tunisia may not be high on a Kiwi traveller's list, but it's essential to know how to travel safely in high risk countries.

The UK Government recently downgraded the risk level for Brit travellers to Tunisia: it no longer advises against travelling to the North African state, two years after the terrorist attack on a beach near Sousse that killed 38 tourists. This diplomatic exercise means UK package holidays can go on sale to the country and again qualify for travel insurance coverage. Don't all rush at once.

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) says this of the country that's along the coast from tourist favourite Morocco and next door to failed state Libya: "There is a significant threat of terrorism in Tunisia," and lumps most of the country under its "High Risk" category – which advises against all tourist and other non-essential travel because of the twin threats of terrorism and kidnapping. Parts of the country remain under the "Extreme Risk" category.

But why does all of this bureaucratic categorising matter to fearless and intrepid travellers like you? Who needs Wellington pen-pushers tut-tutting your destination when you have street smarts and a bum bag?

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Well, travelling there could endanger your life – and hit you in the pocket if your travel insurer refuses to pay out for a claim based on it occurring in an "Extreme Risk" country – of which there are quite a few.

Obviously the failed states of Syria and Iraq are on it. Surprisingly, these following countries have at least part of their territory fall under the highest risk category which could nullify your insurance claim: Thailand, Turkey, Morocco, Colombia, India, Japan, Russia and the Philippines.

Yet tens of thousands of Kiwi travellers venture to these places each year and (sadly) a slice of those will have to make travel insurance claims – which are successful. So what gives? Is MFAT over-reacting?

Nope, although the risk status is broad-brush by country, the Ministry in most cases singles out but a few regions within a nation which are the true risk centres.

Basically, your government slapping an "Extreme Risk" label on a destination just adds to the unlikelihood that you'll be covered by an insurer, should anything go wrong.

That's on top of a list of circumstances they won't pay out for, regardless of any diplomatic risk assessment.

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Natalie Ball, director at comparetravelinsurance.co.nz said: "Most travel insurance policies don't cover for events such as strikes, riots, civil protest and political instability, any act of war, terrorism, any event to do with nuclear or chemical weapons, contagious diseases and/or epidemics or pandemics".

Out of New Zealanders' two million trips a year, approximately 48,000 of us sought consular advice in 2016 – everything from escaping the terror attacks in Europe to Zika prevention in Brazil, and the earthquakes in Nepal. Both insurers and diplomats add these events into a data bank which assesses the total risk of an area. They then make the call on whether they can continue to tacitly support travel there by continuing to offer help for citizens or policyholders when and if things go bad.

Ball warns that travellers who choose to ignore any governmental issued advisories do so at their own risk: "The travel warnings issued by MFAT are not mere suggestions... heading to a region of civil unrest may seem thrilling but not so much once you're stuck in a dire situation with no way out."

As MFAT's Safe Travel website says, getting into a bind in "Extreme Risk" countries means "the New Zealand Government may not be able to assist you if you are detained, injured, or otherwise prevented from leaving these areas. If you are in one of these areas you should consider departing as soon as it is safe to do so." People are warned against "all but essential travel" to countries deemed "High Risk".

Ball, however, did say that just because a country is on an extreme or high-risk list, successful claims could still occur under certain circumstances "For example, a heightened warning level due to a threat like terrorism would not restrict your ability to claim on a lost or stolen camera or a bout of food poisoning in that region.

"However, claims related to the issued travel warning – in this case, terrorism – would not be covered." So if you pick up some radiation poisoning from the former Fukushima plant – the reason cited for our government slapping Japan  on the "extreme" risk list – then you won't be covered, but if your bag is stolen in Tokyo, you should make a claim.

Many of the most high-profile terror attacks have occurred in cities such as London and Paris, yet France and the UK are not deemed "Extreme Risk" (nor should they be).

Meanwhile, there remains a seasonal risk of cyclones in perennial Kiwi favourites such as Queensland and the Pacific. You can never travel risk-free, but it pays to register with SafeTravel.govt.nz, particularly if you're going somewhere intrepid and research the travel warnings in place for your destination.

De-risk your intrepid adventure

- This isn't some fly-and-flop holiday – shop around for comprehensive travel insurance.

- Register your itinerary at safetravel.govt.nz so you're contactable in the event of unrest or disaster.

- If your country is considered High or Extreme Risk, investigate thoroughly the specific regions deemed dangerous and consider alternatives.

- Make your itinerary known to your insurer from the outset.

- It pays to purchase coverage earlier, so if travel warning circumstances change you have more options for claiming.

Josh Martin is a London-based Kiwi journalist, who writes about travel, tourism, business, and consumer issues in between trips to places you'd rather be. Email josh.martin@fairfaxmedia.co.nz if you have a travel issue you'd like him to write about.

 - Stuff

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