If you’re planning a trip to Peru, you might be tempted to participate in an Ayahuasca retreat. But before you take a sip of tea made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, know this: Your travel insurance won’t cover you for what happens next.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, an Ayahuasca retreat allows you to drink hallucinogenic tea under an indigenous shaman’s direction. It’s said to be a transcendent experience. Possible side effects include vomiting, diarrhea and hot flashes.
“Most travel insurances do not cover accidents or injuries that are the result of intoxication or while under the influence of drugs,” says Kevin Groh, who runs Cachi, a tour company for Peruvian trips, and who hosts the Peru Travel Podcast. “It is vitally important to understand that this will not be covered if you will be participating in an Ayahuasca retreat while on your trip to Peru.”
That’s good to know.
There’s actually a long list of things travel insurance won’t cover, some of which you might guess (like Ayahuasca retreats) and some you might never guess (like fear of travel). At a time like this, you need to know the major exclusions.
Activities That Involve Drinking or Drug Use
It merits repeating: Just say “no” to drugs.
“There’s no way any insurance company is going to cover someone if they knowingly took a substance that inhibits their cognition,” says Ralph Cope, an Italy-based adventure tour guide for Epic Backpacker Tours. “Your insurance company will laugh at you and say that anything you did while under the influence was your fault.”
Pre-Existing Medical Conditions
This is a biggie because almost every traveler has some kind of pre-existing medical condition.
If your bad elbow starts to act up on your trip, and you don’t have a pre-existing condition exclusion waiver—guess what? You won’t be covered.
“There are some pre-existing conditions automatically covered in a standard travel insurance policy, but others require an additional premium,” explains Baruch Silvermann, CEO of The Smart Investor, a money management site. “For example, common issues such as food intolerances, blood pressure and diabetes may be automatically covered. However, conditions such as cancer-related problems and heart conditions are often not covered.”
That’s why it’s important to ask about a waiver when you’re buying travel insurance. Otherwise, your insurance policy might be useless if your condition affects your trip.
Fear of Travel
You can’t file a successful insurance claim just because you’re now afraid to travel.
“The biggest thing now is fear of COVID,” says Josh Greenberg, a travel advisor for Ovation Travel Group. “That is not covered.” There’s a workaround, but it’s a little more expensive. You can buy a “cancel for any reason” travel insurance policy, which, true to its name, will let you cancel your trip for any reason. You’ll get 50% or 75% of your prepaid costs back, depending on the policy.
If an activity gets you excited, it’s probably not covered by travel insurance. That’s only a slight exaggeration.
“The way these activities are defined may surprise you,” says Dennis Sawan, the managing partner of Sawan & Sawan, an Ohio law firm that specializes in insurance. “Activities such as skydiving and bungee jumping might be expected, but many are surprised to find that some policies also exclude activities like jet-skiing, skiing and scuba diving.”
So what to do? Compare insurance policies and read the fine print before you purchase. If you have questions, call your insurance company before your trip to find out if you’re covered. And if you’re not covered? If you get injured during the activity, don’t expect to file a successful insurance claim.
Pregnancy usually isn’t covered by travel insurance. So if you want to cancel your trip because you found out you’re pregnant, it may not be covered. Arch RoamRight, however, will cover pregnancy as a reason for trip cancellation or trip interruption, as long as the first pregnancy symptoms occurred after the coverage effective date.
Some policies cover complications arising from pregnancy, such as pre-eclampsia.
“A few insurance providers offer coverage,” says Suzette Mack, a travel advisor with Suzette Mack Travel. If you’re pregnant—or planning a pregnancy while planning a vacation—you might want to talk to a travel advisor or insurance agent. This is particularly important for vacations booked far in advance, like cruises.
Are you going on vacation for a facelift or a tummy tuck? Don’t look to travel insurance for help with the bills.
“We have a few members each year who try to buy a plan and start charging hospital bills for things like on-going cancer treatment or degenerative nerve issues,” says PK Rao, president of INF Visitor Care. “On-going care for medical tourism will not be covered by any plan.”
If you buy travel insurance for medical tourism, you’ll pay for a premium that doesn’t cover you.
Anything Illegal or Stupid
“The No. 1 thing that is never covered is doing something dumb or unnecessarily dangerous,” says Phil Sylvester, a spokesperson for World Nomads. The reason: You’ve entered a contract with the insurer in which you’ve promised not to expose them to unnecessary risk.
“Recreating the golden god of rock jump from the roof of a house into a swimming pool in Almost Famous? Not covered,” he adds. Also: riding a motorcycle or scooter without a valid license. Flying a plane without a pilot’s license (seriously, there have been claims). Basically, anything illegal isn’t covered.
Anything Not Mentioned in the Policy
Bottom line: Anything not explicitly mentioned as covered in a travel insurance policy probably isn’t. Even if you think it should be.
But is there a way around these limitations? Yes, sometimes.
“No two insurance policies are created equal, so there are some ways to mitigate the harsh application of many of these exclusions in travel insurance policies,” explains Sawan, the Ohio lawyer. But these almost always raise the cost of your coverage.
“For example, some travel insurers will provide cover for pre-existing mental disorders but will typically require the applicant to complete an assessment and pay a higher premium,” he says. “Some insurers also offer a ‘cancel for any reason’ policy, which will allow for the cancellation of a trip for a much wider range of reasons and still trigger coverage.”
But “cancel for any reason” can set you back 10% to 12% of your trip’s cost, which may be out of reach for many travelers.
Travel insurance is riddled with exceptions and exclusions. If you’re not sure about your coverage, ask your travel professional or insurance agent. Otherwise, it’s safe to assume you’re not covered.