Editorial note: Since the publication of this article readers have been in touch to say Campbell Irvine recently stopped offering insurance to destinations the FCO advises against visiting. Battleface, however, still does.
Contrary to popular belief, you can visit a country to which the Foreign Office (FCO) advises against travel without invalidating your insurance – you just need to contact one of the few providers willing to offer cover. What’s more, it shouldn’t cost much more than an ordinary policy.
The FCO has lifted its blanket travel ban, giving the green light for holidays to most of Europe and a few long-haul countries. But that still leaves the majority of the planet (including, as of July 25, mainland Spain) off-limits.
Travelling against official government advice is not illegal, but most tour operators will not offer trips to destinations which the FCO deems unsafe – in normal circumstances, that means places like Iraq and Afghanistan; in these strange times, it means just about everywhere – and most travel insurers won’t provide cover.
But a handful of hardy travel firms have been sending intrepid Britons to FCO no-go zones for years. Wild Frontiers, for example, in business since 2002, has the likes of Algeria, Pakistan, Sudan and the DRC on its route map, and the company’s trips often feature regions the FCO would rather you avoided. So how does it find insurance for its clients?
Jonny Bealby, the firm’s founder, explains: “We’ve been running trips that contravene FCO advice ever since we started – though not as much as we used to, as lots of countries have become more FCO-friendly is recent years.
“As a general rule of thumb, a standard insurance policy will become entirely invalid the moment you put a fingernail into an FCO red zone – even if you take it out straight away. How they prove it is another matter, but that’s the rules.
“However, we have a specialist, Travel and General, that offers bespoke insurance so we can visit the riskier places. Our policies have three levels: Standard – for when there’s no incursion into FCO dodgy bits, Improved – for when a trip spends a little time in a no-go zone, and Elite – that’s for holidays to Afghanistan and suchlike.
“In terms of price: if the clients are under 65, it’s still pretty reasonable. It then roughly doubles (as most policies do) for over 65s, and doubles again for over 75s.”
A spokesperson for Travel and General confirmed that it would be able offer policies to individual clients for trips to destinations that contravene FCO advice, and that costs would depend on a variety of circumstances, such as the nature of the trip and the profile of the traveller.
Another firm to offer such cover is Campbell Irvine. Director Mike Berry told me: “We have a separate facility through Lloyds of London and they will provide cover to places the FCO says you shouldn’t go. For routine holiday destinations like Spain or the Maldives there is no hike in premium; it shouldn’t cost much more than £20 for a one-week trip.
“We’ve sold policies during lockdown and only need 24 hours’ notice to approach the underwriters and get a quote. The only snag is that there’s no cover if you catch Covid-19 – but that’s the case with all travel insurance policies at the moment. Most of our clients, having been told of the exclusions, went ahead anyway because often they will be driving all the way to their destination.”
Finally, there’s Battleface. This fearsome sounding insurance provider “covers all destinations, including countries under FCO and government non-essential travel advisories.” For a one-week holiday in Spain, I was quoted £21.14.
So don’t despair if your favourite country is not on the approved list of air bridges. You can get travel insurance. You will, however, still have to self-isolate for two weeks when you return to Britain...