This travel insurance will fly you home if you test positive for COVID-19 — here’s how it works

Dec 10, 2021

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If you have traveled internationally during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve likely asked yourself this question: What happens if I test positive abroad and have to quarantine?

It’s a common concern for travelers right now, many of whom may be wondering what they’d do in a hypothetical situation that could quickly become reality if you receive positive test results. Your thoughts start spiraling: How am I going to pay for an extended hotel stay? Can I get groceries delivered? And, how long will I actually be stuck in a foreign country?

Well, we’ve discovered there is a way to buy ‘peace of mind,’ but fair warning, it comes with a big price tag.

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Several international destinations have begun requiring travel insurance as a price of entry that specifically covers COVID-19 and related disruptions, such as mandatory quarantine or expensive PCR testing. These plans, however, are often limited, with the host country promising to cover any costs deemed medically necessary.

You also could purchase independent travel medical insurance on your own to cover injuries or illnesses that arise while abroad, such as a heart attack or a broken leg. The majority of these plans, however, will not cover unforeseen afflictions due to COVID-19 and won’t help with emergency evacuations.

If you do happen to find an independent plan with COVID-19-specific emergency evacuation coverage, you may read the fine print only to discover that its terms and agreement only include an evacuation if medical treatment is unavailable at the initial hospital to which you are taken — a decision at the discretion of the attending physician and company.

Although adequate care at your destination may be available if you test positive for COVID-19 with mild symptoms, you might prefer to recover from your illness in the comfort of your home country.

Covac Global is a global COVID-19 evacuation and repatriation company founded in 2020 specifically to provide medical evacuations during the pandemic without a hospitalization requirement. A person only needs a positive PCR test and at least one self-reported symptom.

From there, the Covac Global team will step in to coordinate all entry and exits with relevant authorities to facilitate your return home. You will travel via a private aeromedical transport with you and two medical flight crew members on board. Their qualifications will be based on the user’s needs but could include a critical care nurse, paramedic or physician.

Ross Thomspon, the company’s CEO and founder, said that 98% of Covac’s evacuations to date “have been from hotel room to home,” and that Covac “covers 100% of the cost with zero out-of-pocket expenses.”

I interviewed Thompson this week about Covac Global, the COVID-19 travel insurance membership program designed to get you home without having to quarantine abroad. Here’s everything you need to know.

Ross Thompson, the CEO of Covac Global. (Photo courtesy of Covac Global)

This interview has been edited for the sake of clarity and brevity.

Caroline Tanner: What sets Covac Global apart from other travel insurance companies?

Thomspon: We are the only fully indemnified membership that will pay for and arrange for our members to be repatriated should they test positive [for] COVID-19. We are the only repatriation solution that does not require any hospitalization for COVID-19 transport. All other solutions in this space require hospitalization on both ends and a few do not even cover ground transport to the waiting air ambulance.

Tanner: Let’s say a Covac Global member tests positive while out of the country. What happens next?

Thompson: We utilize certified and registered air ambulances and coordinate all entry and exit with local authorities and home authorities, such as the CDC, Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection and any local authorities. We are required to take the member all the way to their registered home address. We handle all permits and coordination with authorities; to date, we have never been denied or restricted from safety evacuating and repatriating a member.”

Tanner: How long does a COVID-19 evacuation take?

Thompson: If you’re in the Caribbean, and you call us at breakfast time, we’ll have you home by dinnertime. [Transport from] the U.S. to Europe takes about 12 hours. We like to measure in hours, not days.

Tanner: What are the different membership options and how much do they cost?

Thompson: [The] global COVID-19 evacuation and repatriation plan covering COVID-19-related medical needs starts at $675 per person for a 15-day single trip.

A medical evacuation and repatriation plan covering medical expenses related to injury on illness starts at $175 per person for a 15-day single trip

Members can pay $810 for a bundled COVID-19 and medical plan for a 15-day single trip.

Related: After decades of travel, why I bought travel insurance for the first time

(Image provided by Covac Global)

Tanner: How many members are there and is Covac available to anyone?

Thomspon: We currently have close to 15,000 members. While a large portion of our members are residents of the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia, we are open to citizens of all countries.

Tanner: Is there a minimum age requirement to purchase a Covac Global plan?

Thomspon: You have to be 21 to buy a COVID-19 evacuation plan but there is no age requirement for family plans. We have a large member pool of kids under the age of 12 because [many] haven’t been vaccinated, so their parents buy it for the whole family because they want to make sure their kids can come home if they get sick.

Tanner: Many countries require proof of insurance to cover any COVID-19-related coverage costs that may arise. Are there general coverage points that satisfy the requirement in countries like these or does it depend on the country?

Thomspon: The main reason behind this requirement is that the host country wants to be certain the traveler will not be a burden on their health care or economic infrastructure should they test positive. Even with mild symptoms, they may strain small businesses due to quarantine or in more extreme cases where the local hospital takes away space and resources from sick locals. Our solution guarantees that the member will be safely transported back home at the first sign of infection in accordance with the host country’s policies and procedures. We have not, to date, had any issue with our members not meeting country-specific qualifications.

Related: What’s covered by credit card travel accident and emergency evacuation insurance?

(Screenshot courtesty of Covac Global)

Tanner: Other countries require specific policies to be purchased as part of the online application process for approved entry. Can Covac Global still be helpful in these situations?

Thompson: The “travel visas” in such countries are geared towards protecting their individual national health infrastructure (i.e. guaranteeing their citizens do not get turned away due to hospitals being flooded with COVID-19-positive tourists). As such, they are very limited and will only cover evacuation should it become medically necessary, which means … multiple in-person medical consults and a mandatory quarantine unless a serious medical circumstance requires evacuation or hospitalization. Our members are looking for a better, more efficient solution where, at the first sign of infection, they are able to be privately transported home without quarantine, hospitalization or unnecessary clinical requirements or intervention.

A Covac Global member being transported on private air ambulance from Kampala, Uganda to San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of Covac Global)

Tanner: What exactly does “medical evacuation” mean and how has it changed when it comes to COVID-19?

Thompson: Traditionally, “medical evacuation” consisted of membership programs or insurance companies either transporting a customer to the nearest appropriate medical facility that can handle their condition or relying on purchasing their customer a one-way, business-class ticket (sometimes with a nurse escort) back to their home hospital of choice. With COVID-19, we are required to transport all of our members via private air ambulance. Period.

Furthermore, our non-COVID-19 medical repatriation membership does not require members to be hospitalized at the point of illness or injury. We do not want any of our members having to be subjected to overrun, understaffed, ill-equipped medical facilities if they can simply be quickly and safely transported back to their home doctors.

Tanner: Tell me more about why you founded Covac Global.

Thompson: They shut down international air travel on our last night in Mexico City. We thought it would be two weeks to flatten the curve. I was looking for a solution for when I started traveling…. At that point, nobody really knew how it would affect each person, and we wanted a solution that would simply come and get you home, take you back to your family and own doctors, should your condition worsen. Nothing existed, so we created Covac Global.

Tanner: What’s the next iteration of pandemic-specific travel insurance?

Thomspon: [Pre-COVID-19,] we saw travel memberships and insurances really relegated to people that were 55 and older. [Now,] our average member is 40 and we have a lot of 30-year-olds. You’re seeing young professionals buy our membership because no one can afford to spend 14 days in quarantine somewhere, nor do they want to.

[Even in more serious cases,] 10 times out of 10, a country will err on the side of letting you leave if you can do it safely and follow their protocols, rather than take up a bed in their hospital, or have a foreign tourist die in one of their hospitals.

Related: There’s a large gap in pandemic era travel insurance

Covac Global Flight Crew ready for member evacuation from Nassau, Bahamas to New York City. (Photo courtesy of Covac Global)

Bottom line

For the foreseeable future, testing positive for COVID-19 while traveling abroad is a possible scenario for even the safest of travelers, even those who are fully vaccinated.

“Most of our members who test positive abroad are fully vaccinated with mild symptoms,” said Thompson.

To that end, Covac Global aims to provide assurance, above all.

That assurance, however, isn’t cheap. With a starting price of $175, this isn’t going to be the answer for everyone. For some travelers, though, that cost may be worth it if it takes some of the anxiety out of travel.

Related: The best travel insurance policies and providers

Featured image provided by Covac Global.

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