Let’s cruise…find out what’s covered at sea - and what’s not.

Fact Checked
Updated 15/12/2023
Let’s cruise…find out what’s covered at sea - and what’s not.

Once your ship leaves port you're not covered for hospital or medical expenses by Medicare or your private health insurance provider - even in Australian coastal waters.

Time to read : 4 Minutes

For many significant purchases, insurance is essential - and holidays are no different. I recently booked a cruise for myself and my daughter. Nothing too impressive, but a much-needed getaway.

But despite being pretty financially savvy, I learned that not only is travel insurance mandatory before I board the ship, but that the cruise line requires that my cover includes cruise insurance - which is fair enough. 

The cruise includes two countries where Reciprocal Health Care Agreements (RHCA) exist, but that doesn’t help me out once I’m on board. So here’s what I’ve found out while getting cruise-ready.

What isn’t covered by travel insurance:

No insurer I looked into (and I covered off about a dozen) covered us for trip cancellation on the provider's behalf. 

So, if my cruise line goes bust or the ship cannot travel any further (which can happen if the weather makes this unsafe), I won’t get my money back. 

However, if the cruise is halted and I’m required to find local accommodation or make my own way home via alternative transport, I am covered for this. 

I’m also covered if we (not the cruise line) have to cancel our trip; if an elderly parent falls ill back home, for example. Depending on my level of cover, any prepaid shore trips or activities can be reimbursed if I have to cut our trip short. I’m even covered for some of the costs of returning home in a hurry.

Here are a couple of other facts I learned from looking into around a dozen insurers offering travel insurance with an additional 'cruise cover' component:

  • The cruise line usually insists that your insurance includes cover for medical and repatriation, and for emergency evacuations. 

  • Any pre-existing medical conditions must be listed on your policy, or they likely won't be claimable.

  • Once your ship leaves port you're not covered for hospital or medical expenses by Medicare or your private health insurance provider. This holds true even if you're cruising Australian waters. 

  • Any medical expenses incurred on-board your ship, or while you're travelling, must be paid in full by you - which is why you need your cruise insurance.

How much does cruise cover cost?

It isn’t possible to purchase standalone cruise cover outside of your travel cover. Your cruise cover is usually a component of a more generalised travel insurance policy. 

Without the specific cruise component, I could have taken out travel cover for under $100, even at the most comprehensive level. Once I added cruise cover to my policy, my premium rose by 30-70% until I adjusted my excess.

What does cruise insurance typically cover?

Most travel insurers I researched offered at least two tiers of cover. 

  1. Lower tier: This consists mainly of COVID-19 cover in case either myself or my child were too ill to travel, or we became ill on board the vessel. There’s an additional excess to pay if I need to claim for any covid-related cancellations or costs, and a restricted payout in case our luggage goes amiss.

  2. Higher tier: The upper tier/s of cover are more comprehensive and include medivac and medical care at the nearest appropriate facility if required.

Frequent Traveller? Multi-trip cover can save you $$$:

If you’re a regular traveller, you might want to consider multi-trip cover rather than an annual policy. 

Annual trip travel insurance, also known as single-trip insurance, provides cover for a specific journey or vacation within a one-year period. 

It typically offers comprehensive protection for the duration of that single trip and includes features like trip cancellation, medical emergencies, and baggage loss. This option can suit people who embark on occasional or infrequent travels throughout the year.

Multi-trip travel insurance, also referred to as yearly travel cover, insures your trips for an entire year, allowing you to make multiple trips within 12 months. You only pay once, when you take out your policy.

This cover suits frequent travellers, offering the convenience of a single policy covering multiple trips, insulating you from premium price increases across the year.

As I don't travel often, I opted for the annual cover but if I took more than three trips a year, I’d seriously consider a multi-trip policy. 

Choosing the right level of cover when you're adding a cruise to your holiday itinerary:

Read over your travel insurance policy thoroughly to make sure you have the cover you need. Make sure there’s cover for:

  • Your cruise holiday.

  • Cancellation fees, should you need to return urgently to shore.

  • Lost or stolen baggage aboard ship as well as on shore.

  • The full length of your trip, including the cruise component.

  • All the destinations you’re visiting by air, sea and land (hint: if in doubt, choose worldwide cover, though be warned this costs a lot more).

  • Any pre-existing medical conditions; you may need to include the condition on your policy to cover these while aboard ship or in a foreign port. In my case, I added my kid’s asthma - just in case.

One of the main reasons for cruise cover is the unpredictability of sea travel. While cruise ships are designed to be safe and secure, unexpected incidents such as medical emergencies, trip cancellations, dangerous seas and lost belongings can occur. 

In the end, I found a policy that met my budget. Increasing the excess allowed me to up my level of cover so we’re covered pretty comprehensively for everything that may go awry as we travel the open seas - and I’m all set.

The bottom line:

Medicare doesn’t cover medical emergencies aboard ship, even while it’s moored in Australian waters. RHCAs are only valid once your feet are firmly on land. This is why cruise cover is important.

The most basic levels of cruise cover include Covid-19 cancellation cover, though you might need to pay an additional excess if you claim. 

A more comprehensive travel insurance policy may cover your medical care aboard ship and at nearby onshore medical facilities, among other inclusions.

Cruise cover acts as your financial safeguard at sea, covering urgent medical expenses, emergency evacuations, and trip cancellations made by you due to unforeseen circumstances.

Financial disclaimer
The information contained on this web page is of general nature only and has been prepared without taking into consideration your objectives, needs and financial situation. You should check with a financial professional before making any decisions. Any opinions expressed within an article are those of the author and do not specifically reflect the views of Compare Club Australia Pty Ltd.