The State Department recently issued a travel alert for American citizens traveling to Sochi for the Winter Olympics. While travel alerts are somewhat common, especially for major events like the Olympic Games, where security needs may be heightened, what particularly caught our attention about this alert was the following advice:
The Olympics are the first large-scale event to be held in Sochi and medical capacity and infrastructure in the region are untested for handling the volume of visitors expected for the Olympics. Medical care in many Russian localities differs substantially from Western standards due to differing practices and approaches to primary care. Travelers should consider purchasing private medical evacuation and/or repatriation insurance.
With the government advocating for the purchase of private medical evacuation insurance, we thought it was an opportune moment to go through the alert more carefully and talk about what kinds of benefits travel insurance products may or may not be able to provide for travelers headed to Sochi next month. Between the threat of terrorist activity, the potential need for medical evacuation services, the State Department’s allusion to a high risk of criminal activity, and the particular challenges the current social and political climate in Sochi may pose for LGBT travelers, there’s a lot packed into this single travel alert. Here, we’ll break down the insurance side for you point by point.
The threat: Terrorist Activity
The travel alert mentions the possibility of terrorist acts targeting the Olympic Games.
Travel Insurance Product to look for: A Comprehensive Plan with specific coverage for Terrorist Acts.
Key Takeaway: The threat of a terrorist act in Sochi generally won’t mean that you can cancel your trip to the Olympics and file a claim with your travel insurance company. Coverage for terrorist acts usually requires that an actual act of terrorism has to have taken place in your destination city within a certain number of days before your scheduled trip. However, if a terrorist act did take place while you were in Sochi, the coverage may allow you to cut your trip short and file a claim under your trip interruption benefits.
Read more about Travel Insurance for Terrorist Acts.
The threat: Lack of access to appropriate medical care in an emergency
Travel Insurance Product to look for: An Emergency Medical Evacuation Product. Emergency Medical Evacuation can be found as a benefit in some Travel Medical Insurance plans, but can also be purchased as a separate membership-based service from an evacuation provider.
Key Takeaway: If you were to become seriously ill or injured while in Sochi, this type of coverage would allow you to place a phone call to your evacuation provider and request that they arrange to have you transported to an appropriate medical facility for treatment. If it’s important to you to have some control over where you’d be taken, you might want to look into getting a policy with a “hospital of choice” benefit; otherwise, most medical evacuation services will simply take you to the nearest hospital that’s able to care for your needs. You may also need to purchase an additional travel medical insurance plan, since some medical evacuation memberships cover only the cost of transport itself — not the cost of the treatment you’ll receive once you’ve gotten there.
Read more about Emergency Medical Evacuation Insurance.
The threat: Heightened criminal activity
Travel Insurance Product to look for: A Comprehensive Plan with coverage for loss of personal property; possible Identity Theft coverage.
Key Takeaway: In a crowded venue like the Olympic Games, pickpocketing and other acts of theft are almost certain to rise in frequency. Most comprehensive travel insurance plans offer benefits to help you replace stolen items, as well as personal documents and identification, but you’ll want to look at the limits set out in your policy; highly expensive personal items like jewelry and high-end electronics might fall outside the value that can be insured by your travel insurance provider. If you want to go a step further in protecting yourself, consider getting a specialized Identity Theft protection plan.
Read more about Travel Insurance for Identity Theft.
The threat: Detainment or imprisonment for political reasons
The State Department alert makes special mention of concern for LGBT travelers.
Travel Insurance Product to look for: A Travel Medical or Emergency Evacuation product that covers Political and/or Security Evacuation.
Key Takeaway: No travel insurance policy would be able to help you out if you were to fall afoul of the Russian government for “spreading propaganda” of any kind. However, if the general political climate in Sochi began to dramatically deteriorate — for example, if there was suddenly widespread anti-gay rioting in the streets, or if the US government declared that the situation might have become so unstable that LGBT citizens ought to avoid travel to Russia — an LGBT traveler might very legitimately fear for his or her safety and may be able to call upon political or security evacuation coverage to get home quickly. This type of benefit is highly specific, however, and may be handled differently depending on the travel insurance plan you’ve purchased. We strongly recommend discussing your specific individual concerns with a licensed travel insurance representative prior to purchasing a policy, to be sure that your needs will be met.
View policies with political and/or security evacuation and learn more about the coverage options.
The Sochi Olympics are a prime example of the intersection between an interesting and historic travel opportunity, and a calculated risk to personal safety. This type of dilemma isn’t unique to the Olympics, to Sochi, or to travelers who are going to the games. The State Department’s travel alert serves as a good reminder that there are ways to take personal responsibility for your safety and security while abroad, whether during the Sochi games or on any other trip you might take. Travel insurance can’t completely abolish the risks, but knowing which coverage options to explore can help you to feel more empowered to take the necessary steps to keep yourself as safe as possible on what’s sure to be an exciting journey.