African tour was not a go!

Hans, his wife Frieda, and a life-long friend organised a once in a lifetime trip to the Tibetsi mountains in Chad, Africa. The group had purchased the trip through a travel company in the United Kingdom in January 2018. The group also took out comprehensive travel insurance policies with the insurer. They were due to depart on 2 November 2018.

The group also needed to apply for visas to enter Chad. Chad’s visa system restricts foreign visitors from applying until they have purchased their travel arrangements, hotel accommodation and have received an official invitation from a local Chad company. The group was due to pay for their trip in late August 2018.

There was no way to apply for a Chad visa in New Zealand as the group were all German citizens. The group opted to apply at the Chad Embassy in Germany.

The group paid for their trip on 8 September 2018. A further delay meant they did not receive the invitation from Chad until 26 September 2018.

After receiving their invitations, the group sent their German passports and visa applications by international courier to the Chad embassy in Berlin. The courier company could not deliver their documents directly to the Chad embassy. Protocol meant that any documents intended for the embassy were taken to the local customs office in Berlin. The customs office would then send a further letter to the embassy to come pick up the application.

The package containing the passports was marked as delivered on 8 October 2018. On 20 October, the group phoned the embassy to check the progress, and were told the embassy had never received any applications.

Unfortunately, this meant the Chad embassy was unable to process the group’s visas. With their passports lost and no visas, the group had to cancel their trip. The group claimed on their travel insurance for the cancellation costs, but their insurer declined their claim. Hans complained to FSCL.

 

Dispute

The claim was declined by the insurer as Hans and his wife did not hold valid visas for Chad or have possession of their passports. Hans and his wife’s policy contained an exclusion which excluded any claim for not having a visa or possession of a passport.

Hans argued that the exclusion did not apply because the group did hold valid German passports.

 

Review

The policy wording excluded any circumstances where the policy holder did not have the relevant visa or passports. We concluded the insurance company had the right to decline the claim as the wording was wide enough to include situations where a person did not have the passport in their possession.

On further investigation, it was discovered that the carrier had incorrectly marked the documents as sent and lost the passports. It also transpired that the Chad embassy officials never came to pick up the application from the local office.

We believed that the circumstances did not fit what the policy exclusion had been previously intended for. In our experience, the policy exclusion was used to decline travel claims where a person had wilfully or negligently travelled without the correct documents. This was not such a case.

 

Resolution

We suggested to the insurer that it would be fair, in all the circumstances, for the insurer to pay a 50% settlement of Hans and his wife’s claim.

We did not suggest the claim be paid in full because, on a literal interpretation of the exclusion clause, the claim was likely correctly declined. The group did not have a visa or possess their passports to board the flights. The group agreed to the 50% settlement and the complaint was settled.

 

Insights for consumers

Travel insurance policies contain very specific exclusions. Generally, if you do not have your passport or the correct visa to enter a country, and you suffer loss as a result, your travel insurance claim can be declined.

It is important you give yourself enough time for processing of visas or passports before your travel date.

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