By Dominique Bowen
It’s been almost two years since international travel was grounded, and as borders gradually begin to reopen, South Africa has been removed from some key red lists at long last. Along with this freedom to reunite with loved ones, make those holiday daydreams a reality and resume regular business travel comes the checklist of pandemic-related considerations before you’ve even stepped foot on a plane.
“Financially, travellers now need to be prepared for extra costs and potential unanticipated expenses during their time abroad,” says Lloyd Ellis, an independent financial planner at Solutions 2 Wealth.
Think about the following before you’ve bought your air ticket so that you can spend less time worrying about the what-ifs and more time catching up on taking in new surroundings and making memories:
With Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests costing around R850 a pop, remember to include this in your budget, as most medical schemes won’t cover the cost of the test if you aren’t already presenting symptoms of the virus, or haven’t been referred by a medical practitioner to get tested.
“Claims for healthcare investigations or assessments that are a requirement for travelling clearance purposes are not covered by the Discovery Health Medical Scheme,” says Deon Kotze, head of research and development at Discovery Health, the country’s largest open medical scheme. “This includes Covid-19 tests for clearance when traveling either from or back to South Africa. Members will need to pay for these costs, or they can apply to have them paid from their medical savings account.”
With a single destination return trip requiring as many as four PCR tests for one traveller, just getting cleared to pass through boarding and arrival gates comes with its own associated costs, so be prepared for these before you take off.
Conditions of travel
If you are a member of a medical scheme, contact your scheme well in advance to get clarity about what you are and aren’t covered for.
“Members should check that they have international travel benefits with their medical scheme, and request a travel certificate as confirmation of cover, if they have benefits,” says Damian McHugh, executive at Momentum Health Solutions. Medical schemes will usually provide cover for emergencies and hospitalisation for up to 90 consecutive days from the time you leave South Africa, adds Ellis.
However, in cases where you have assessed your existing cover and decide to take out additional international travel insurance, it’s important to do your homework to establish what is included. Kotze says: “It is in members’ best interests to ensure that any third-party travel insurance they purchase for a planned trip covers perils related to Covid-19. Check the details of the cover for Covid-19, as there may be certain conditions attached. For travel insurance in particular, cover for medical expenses related to Covid-19 while abroad may depend on the country’s status as a Covid-19 hotspot.”
Keep your scheme in the loop
“Although travel bans have been lifted, the Covid-19 pandemic is still very much a risk in every country,” says Ellis. “Medical schemes do cover individuals, provided they pre-notify the scheme before leaving South Africa.”
If, say, you notify your scheme of your planned trip and your international travel benefit kicks in, it’s important to keep in mind that any further time you spend in your destination after the benefit period has finished will not be covered by the benefit. Some schemes allow you to extend your cover if needed as a result of circumstances beyond your control, but then you need to be sure to have that conversation with your broker before your existing cover expires.
Prepare for anything
At the time of writing, 17.8% of the South African population had been fully vaccinated, exempting themselves from the quarantine hotel stays that several countries had enforced for non-vaccinated travellers upon arrival. However, it’s important to understand that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, being fully vaccinated doesn’t mean zero risk of infection, and there is still the very real possibility of getting Covid-19, and being infectious, during your travels.
To financially prepare for this, McHugh recommends bearing in mind and budgeting for the following: “If you as a member of a scheme have contracted Covid-19 while travelling, it is unlikely that you will be allowed to travel back home until your test is negative. You will have to be quarantined or isolated in the visiting country. The [travel] cover provided [on a medical scheme membership] normally only covers the medical costs associated with illness and injury. So, the costs of having to extend a stay in a hotel for 10-14 days are something that you will need to consider.”