Country of origin conundrum

Yanxi organised a trip to China to visit her family after finishing her degree. She had a student travel insurance policy that covered her while she was studying and ended when she returned to her country of origin.

Yanxi’s journey home included a stopover in Hong Kong. When she arrived in her hometown, she discovered her luggage had been delayed in Hong Kong and would arrive the next day. Yanxi had to stay near the airport for the night. While waiting, she bought clothes and toiletries that she considered essential. These items cost about $1000.

When she returned to New Zealand, Yanxi submitted a claim to her insurer for the cost of items she purchased while waiting for her luggage.

Yanxi’s insurer declined the claim because it said that she had finished her course, so her policy ended as soon as she returned to her country of origin. The insurer said once she arrived in Hong Kong her cover ended, as Hong Kong was part of mainland China. Yanxi did not agree and complained to FSCL.

 

Dispute

Yanxi argued that she should be covered under her policy because;

  • her policy did not end when she arrived in Hong Kong, because she had not finished her studies. She was only visiting China and had booked return flights to New Zealand before the start of the next semester when she would begin her Master’s degree.
  • She also said that she should be covered because her luggage was delayed in Hong Kong, not mainland China. She argued that Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China and she did not exit the international transit area of Hong Kong.

Yanxi also complained that the delays in her insurer deciding her claim were unreasonable.

Yanxi’s insurer was satisfied that it was entitled to decline her claim. It said that the insurance policy ended as soon as Yanxi landed in her country of origin after completing her studies. The insurer said that China was the country of origin, and Hong Kong is a part of China, so cover ended upon arrival into Hong Kong.

 

Review

We explained to Yanxi that she would not have been covered regardless of her intention to return to New Zealand. Although she intended to return to New Zealand to complete another degree, her cover under her current policy ended when she had completed her current degree and returned to China.   

We did not accept the argument that Hong Kong is not a part of mainland China. Hong Kong is recognised as a part of China by the United Nations and other international bodies.

We could appreciate that Hong Kong’s status is unusual, being a special administrative region of China. However, we were satisfied that for the purposes of the policy Hong Kong is considered a part of China, and a part of Yanxi’s country of origin.

 

Resolution

We partially upheld Yanxi’s complaint. We were satisfied that the insurer acted reasonably within the policy wording in declining Yanxi’s claim but felt that the insurer had failed to keep Yanxi informed about the progress on her complaint. We proposed that the insurer pay Yanxi $100 for the stress and inconvenience this caused. 

Both parties accepted our proposal.

 

Insights for consumers

It is important to remember that travel insurance is a contract of insurance. To avoid any nasty surprises, check the policy wording to see when cover ends and to check on policy definitions.  Once cover has ended, the insurer will no longer be obliged to accept your claim.

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