Tag Archives: Travel Insurance

Detained in Dubai
for Getting High
Legally in Las Vegas

A U.S. citizen is reported to have been detained in Dubai for having smoked marijuana.

In Las Vegas.

Where it’s legal.

Peter Clark, 51, had been in Dubai for one day when he fell ill with pancreatitis and was rushed to the hospital, according to the Daily Mail. Nurses took a urine sample that showed traces of the drug. As required by Dubai law, they informed the police of the results.

Clark had last smoked marijuana days before flying from his home in Las Vegas on a business trip in the United Arab Emirates. Since being released from the hospital he has been required to stay in his hotel while awaiting a decision as to whether prosecutors will charge him.

“I was absolutely stunned to learn that I was being charged due to residual marijuana in my system,” he told the Mail. “I smoked it legally back in America long before I even got on the plane. I knew about Dubai’s strict drugs laws but never for one moment did I think something I legally did in my own country would lead to my arrest.”

Not the first time

This isn’t the first time a foreigner has been arrested in Dubai or elsewhere for legal behavior performed before arriving in the country where the same action is illegal. In 2019, U.K. citizen Laleh Shahravresh was arrested for insulting her ex-husband’s new wife in a Facebook comment, according to Detained in Dubai.  Shahravresh reportedly had made the posts three years earlier when she was in London, but she and her teenage daughter were detained when they flew to the Dubai to attend a funeral. 

Under the UAE’s cyber-crime laws, a person can be jailed or fined for making defamatory statements on social media. Her case eventually was settled with a fine.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of understanding the laws and culture of countries you intend to visit. In some countries, those swimsuit selfies you posted several years ago might be deemed pornographic.  In others, anti-depressants, painkillers, and even over-the-counter cough syrups are banned or have specific rules around them that could cause you problems.

In Singapore, chewing gum is illegal, except for medical use.

Even harder to anticipate, that portable safe you carry your valuables in – cleverly disguised as an iced tea can – might be lined with plaster that could be mistaken by airport security for cocaine when some of it breaks and leaks out into your luggage.

That’s what happened to North Carolina businesswoman Amanda LaRoque on the island of Roatan, Honduras in 2017. LaRoque spent 10 days in a jail cell known as “the cage” – provided only with water and whatever food or other luxuries gracious locals might bring her – before being released.

No insurance coverage, but…

There is no insurance product that will pay your legal bills if you run afoul of the law in a foreign jurisdiction. However, some travel insurers engage “assistance companies” that will refer insurers’ clients to emergency legal service providers.

Richard Atkins, a principal and legal counsel for Philadelphia-based International Recoveries LLC, is one such provider. For more than 30 years, he has operated an international 24/7 legal hotline.

“We do it for the travel insurance industry, to make sure foreign travel is safer from a legal perspective,” Atkins said in an interview. “We also do it for insurers that cover expats and business travelers, as well as for study-abroad programs.”

Atkins typically works through retainers with assistance companies and sometimes directly with insurers or their in-house assistance providers. The service involves an initial consultation with a lawyer with international experience. Sometimes, Atkins said, the matter can be handled and solved just through that call. Other times that consultation also involves a conference or individual call with or selected network lawyer in the foreign county, and many times that solves the legal problem.

“Where the consultations don’t solve the problem, we make a referral to a colleague in the foreign country,” Atkins said. “That initial call is covered, so for all of this, there is no charge to the caller.  In other cases, where the individual or family have no funds to expend for a lawyer, we help obtain the services of free counsel – either court appointed or the public defender.” 

Navigating legal proceedings in foreign countries is as much a matter of understanding the culture as the law. A simple matter could easily be exacerbated by missteps in etiquette or failure to demonstrate sufficient remorse or deference. Atkins described a case in which a traveler was facing incarceration for having torn up a wad of the local currency – a serious offense in Thailand.

“We were able to show that the defendant had received psychological treatment as a child for behavior that included tearing up his parents’ money,” Atkins said. “When the judge understood the man’s psychological history, he dismissed the case.”

Penny wise, pound foolish

As I’ve written previously, too few international travelers buy travel insurance – and those who do tend to purchase trip cancellation/interruption coverage only, foregoing medical/medical evacuation coverage. A report by the U.S. Travel Insurance Association (USTIA) found that cancellation/interruption coverage accounted for nearly 90 percent of benefits purchased, while medical and medical evacuation benefits accounted for just over 6 percent. 

Remember Peter Clark? The headlines about him focus on the cannabis angle, but his troubles began with an unexpected hospitalization. You’re just as likely to become ill or injured abroad as you are at home – maybe more so, due to lack of familiarity with terrain and customs and sensitivity to food and climate. Why would you venture forth without providing yourself with coverage analogous to what you have in your home country?

And while you’re less likely to be arrested than to get sick or injured, the consequences of legal trouble in a foreign country can be extreme. If you’re planning to travel abroad, buy the medical coverage and ask about emergency legal assistance.

Travel Risk: It’s Not
All About COVID-19

Anticipation that a COVID-19 vaccine – combined with social distancing, mask wearing, and other protective measures – may soon lead to increased travel revives our need to think about travel insurance.

Even before COVID-19, travel insurance purchases were on the rise, but primarily for trip cancellation coverage – the very product that wound up disappointing many who had their holiday plans disrupted by the virus. Most policies exclude pandemics or fear of travel, which made them practically useless after the outbreak.

Pandemic risk wasn’t on many travelers’ radar screens before the coronavirus struck – any more than the many common illness, injuries, or causes of death that ought to have prompted them to add medical and medical evacuation to their travel coverage. A report by the U.S. Travel Insurance Association (USTIA) last year found Americans spent nearly 41 percent more on travel insurance in 2018 than in 2016.  However, trip cancellation/interruption coverage accounted for nearly 90 percent of the benefits purchased. Medical and medical evacuation accounted for just over 6 percent.

People don’t want to think about illness, injury, or death when planning a pleasure trip – still less pay to mitigate an improbable (at the time) threat like a global pandemic.

Travelers who wanted to cover all their bases could have purchased cancel for any reason (CFAR) coverage, which provides some reimbursement (usually 50 to 75 percent) if you cancel, no matter what reason. Before the pandemic, CFAR would have cost 40 to 60 percent more than a standard travel insurance policy. It may be even more expensive now.

Airlines offering COVID-19 coverage

Some airlines have begun offering COVID-19 coverage. This week, Cathay Pacific announced that  it is providing free coverage to all passengers.

“Customers who fly with Cathay Pacific from Dec. 7 to Feb. 28, 2021 will be covered for medical expenses related to a COVID-19 diagnosis incurred while overseas,” Insurance Journal reports. “The free cover will be automatically applied when customers book their flights.”

Air Canada recently announced that members of its Aeroplan affinity program making eligible new bookings originating in Canada will receive COVID-19 emergency medical and quarantine insurance.  Emirates introduced a similar program in July that it says is free of charge and covers all passengers flying to any destination in any aircraft. The airline recently announced that it has expanded the coverage, adding new features from December 1. 

It’s not surprising to see airlines incorporating a COVID-19 “value add” to help boost bookings by an anxious public, and it will be interesting to watch this new business scheme play out. But, lest eager travelers forget, more routine risks that you probably weren’t insuring against before pandemic remain.

Falls, crashes, and drownings

“Globally, an estimated 37 million unintentional falls requiring medical treatment occur each year” write researchers in the journal Injury Epidemiology, citing 2018 World Health Organization (WHO) data. And falls aren’t the most common cause of injury and death on vacation. Research indicates the top two causes of death are automobile accidents and drownings.

Out of the one billion tourists traveling globally each year, it is estimated that 30 to 50 percent are either injured or become ill while traveling abroad.

Don’t let yourself be blindsided by hazards that can be easily avoided or mitigated. Understand the risks your travel plans may entail and insure against them appropriately.  

SHOULD YOU BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE?

INFECTIOUS DISEASE: GOOD REASON TO BUY MEDICAL TRAVEL INSURANCE – BUT CHECK THE TERMS

TRIP COVERAGE: IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT CANCELLATIONS

TRAVEL COMPANY COLLAPSE OFFERS LESSONS IN RISK

CORONAVIRUS WRAP-UP: PROPERTY AND CASUALTY (4/22/2020)

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Trip Coverage: It’s Not Just About Cancellations

As I’ve written previously, many who travel for pleasure think little, if at all, about the risks associated with their destinations and plans. Travel insurance, such folks believe, is to cover the cost and inconvenience of trip cancellations and lost luggage.

Who wants to think about illness, accidents, and – you know, the other thing – when going on holiday?

You don’t buy travel insurance for the best-case scenario. It’s when the worst happens you will likely regret not having it.

Industry numbers seem to bear this out. A recent report by the U.S. Travel Insurance Association (USTIA) found Americans spent nearly $3.8 billion on travel insurance in 2018, up nearly 41 percent from 2016.  However, trip cancellation/interruption coverage accounted for nearly 90 percent of the benefits purchased. Medical and medical evacuation benefits accounted for just over 6 percent.

Most common claim, but…

Indeed, trip cancellation is the most common claim paid on travel policies (or so I’m told – insurers hold their claims data close to the vest). Assuming this is the case, one might be tempted to roll the dice when it comes to occurrences that seem less likely – say, an automobile accident, a bad fall, or a heart attack or stroke.

Last week’s story about a 22-year-old Briton fighting for his life after falling from a hotel balcony in Ibiza got me thinking about value of the “post-departure benefits” of travel insurance. According to the article, the young man had insurance, though it wasn’t clear what kind of coverage he’d bought. The article did say his parents are soliciting funds on line to help with expenses.

“Globally, an estimated 37 million unintentional falls requiring medical treatment occur each year” write researchers in the journal Injury Epidemiology, citing 2018 World Health Organization (WHO) data. Unsurprisingly, alcohol consumption was found to be a major risk factor in these falls.

During one three-month period in 2018, the BBC reported, citing the Association of British Travel Agents, “11 British holidaymakers have been reported as falling from a balcony – with eight of them in their teens or 20s.” In March 2019, a Missouri man fell from the balcony of a Florida hotel where he was vacationing. In the same month, a Michigan teen on vacation in Cancun fell to his death.

Think you’re too smart, careful, or abstemious to fall from a balcony? Well, the most common cause of injury and death on vacation isn’t falls. It is – you guessed it – automobile accidents. According to a WHO and World Bank report, “deaths from road traffic injuries account for around 25% of all deaths from injury”.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 1.3 million people are killed and 20-50 million injured in crashes worldwide annually. The CDC says 25,000 of those deaths involve tourists.

There are things you can’t predict

Or maybe you avoid a fall or a crash and wind up in a situation like New Yorker Steve Lapidus, who credits his $79 travel insurance policy with saving his life when he became seriously ill while on vacation in Italy. Steve was in a coma for several days with sepsis and pneumonia and given 50/50 odds of surviving. But, after six-and-a-half weeks of medical care, doctors cleared him to fly home.

Man who fell ill during overseas trip says Richmond travel insurance company saved his life

The problem was, he couldn’t walk and needed special care and a specially modified plane. Lufthansa built a special pod within one of its commercial flights.

That $79 policy covered the entire $70,000 bill.

Plan for the best – insure for the worst

No one wants to buy insurance. Who on Earth would choose to buy a product that, under the best possible circumstances, they never use?

But you don’t buy insurance for the best-case scenario. It’s when the worst happens that you will likely regret not having it.

 

 

 

Travel company collapse offers lessons in risk

Most people don’t like to think about risk — especially when planning a holiday abroad. If they think about travel risk at all, it tends to be in terms of nuisances like flight cancellations or misrouted luggage.

The collapse of British travel company Thomas Cook, which left many thousands of travelers stranded, highlights the types of risks travelers rarely think about.

This week’s seemingly overnight collapse of British travel company Thomas Cook – leaving approximately 600,000 travelers stranded worldwide and leading U.K. authorities to launch what has been called be the “largest peacetime repatriation ever” – underscores several of the myriad risks that most travelers rarely think about.

For better or worse, when I hear “repatriation” the word is typically followed in my mind by “of remains.” While mass repatriations like the one occurring this week are rare, people often die while traveling for pleasure or business. Whether it’s headline-grabbing strings of mysterious deaths like those in the Dominican Republic earlier this year or more common, less publicized deaths by auto, drowning, or natural causes, the cost and complexity of returning the bodies of loved ones can compound the stresses typically experienced by grieving families. A travel policy with adequate coverage for repatriation of remains is a relatively inexpensive way to help address this burden.

Now, you’re even more likely to become ill or injured while traveling than you are to die. Have you checked your current health insurance to see what it does and doesn’t cover when you’re traveling outside your country? Depending on what you learn, you may want to consider buying medical travel insurance. If your health policy does provide international coverage, the U.S. State Department advises that you remember to carry your insurance policy identity card and a claim form.

In the case of a serious illness or injury, the State Department says, medical evacuation can cost more than $50,000, depending on your location and condition. A policy that covers medical evacuation and emergency extraction (say, in the event of natural disaster or political unrest) also is worth considering for international trips.

Perhaps the most important lesson to draw from the “surprise” collapse of 178-year-old Thomas Cook is that it wasn’t exactly a surprise for those who were paying attention. As the U.K.-based Guardian news site reports, “The tour operator’s woes go back much further” than its inability to secure a £200 million lifeline from its bankers. The Guardian calls Thomas Cook “a victim of a disastrous merger in 2007, ballooning debts and the internet revolution in holiday booking. Add in Brexit uncertainty, and it was perhaps only a matter of time before the giant of the industry collapsed.”

Travelers often are so focused on capturing bargains that they don’t take the time to research the organizations bringing them great deals or the safety considerations in the lovely destinations being marketed to them. In travel, as in other adventures, it’s often the case that “you get what you pay for.”

Maybe a bit of research might have kept some of the hundreds of thousands of inconvenienced Thomas Cook clients from putting all their holiday eggs in a single overstuffed basket.

Blizzard 2010: A First Encounter

The East Coast blizzard has left thousands of passengers looking for a way to get home from the holidays. I was one of them.

My family’s return flight early Tuesday to Newark from New Orleans was cancelled. The earliest the airline could rebook us was nearly a week later.

Not wanting to wait out the delay, especially with an infant, in either the airport or a local hotel, we chose – at our own  expense – to rent a car and drive home.

Here’s a tally of the costs involved:

One-way rental car: $400

One night hotel: $100

Gas: $200

Meals: $75

Two extra days parking (for our own vehicle) at Newark airport: $40

Two extra nights boarding for our dog: $120

Refund from airline for half fare: -$200

Grand total: $735

As many displaced travelers are being reminded, airlines are not required to compensate you for hotel/transport/food costs in the event your flight is delayed due to bad weather.

Looking at the blizzard-related costs to our family has us reevaluating the need for travel insurance, especially when taking a trip during the winter months. But are such policies worth the extra cost?

A Wall Street Journal article earlier this year discussed this very dilemma, quoting I.I.I. president Dr. Robert Hartwig who was stuck in London for a week due to the eruption of the Iceland volcano.

The bottom line is that travel insurance can provide some useful protection. Check out this I.I.I. video to find out whether it’s right for you.