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Should You Travel to South Korea?


As tensions escalate between North Korea and the rest of the world — most notably, its neighbor, peaceable South Korea — many travelers and American citizens abroad are beginning to wonder whether or not they’re really safe from the potential threat posed by Pyongyang.  As of today, the US State Department issued a statement which assures Americans that they are in no immediate danger, and that despite North Korea’s threats of “thermonuclear war” to be visited upon the South, no one needs to leave South Korea for safety reasons at this time.  Of course, that doesn’t fully allay the concerns of those who are already in South Korea, or who may be scheduled to travel there within the near future.

We’ve received many phone calls and inquiries about the position travel insurance holds on situations of delicate global security such as this one.  In short, the current situation can be broken down into two component parts: What’s happening today, and what may happen in the near future, if North Korea is to be believed.

As of today:

While the prospect of being an American in South Korea may be an uneasy one, according to the opinion of the State Department, there is no real imminent concern.  At this writing, the State Department has not issued either a travel alert or a travel warning regarding South Korea.  It’s worth pointing out, in any case, that the coverage offered by travel insurance policies even if there had been an alert or warning from the government would be somewhat limited and specific.

If you’re already there, while you should certainly exercise due caution, making the decision to curtail your trip and come home would be entirely up to you — and entirely on your dime.  If you’re planning to go there in the near future, your best bet is a travel insurance policy that offers Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) coverage; with CFAR, you can make whatever decision is most comfortable for you regarding whether or not to fulfill your travel plans, as long as you meet the criteria for purchase eligibility as well as stay within the required window of time for cancelling your trip.

In the future:

Certainly, we wouldn’t want to speculate on what may happen, but many cautious travelers are already wondering how the situation might continue to unfold.  In the event that the State Department does, in fact, issue a travel warning, only a thorough reading of the terms of your specific travel insurance policy can answer any question about whether or not you’d be covered for cancelling your planned trip.  In most cases, travel insurance specifies that the warning would have to have been issued as the direct result of a terrorist attack on an itinerary city — a stipulation under which a threat by North Korea towards South Korea would not apply.

It’s also important to make note of the fact that if North Korean aggression escalates, and the worst — an outbreak of war between the neighboring countries — were to happen, war is typically a fully excluded reason for cancellation under the terms of most travel insurance policies.  While that’s bad luck for the traveler, again, CFAR coverage could possibly offer you the opportunity to cancel your trip regardless.

We should also note that there is some coverage available that may help if you’re already in South Korea at a time when war or particularly worrisome political violence has broken out.  Some travel insurance providers offer Non-Medical Evacuation coverage.  In plain terms, this type of coverage offers emergency evacuation to travelers who are facing immediate risk of harm due to circumstances such as civil, military or political unrest; natural disaster; or your declaration as a Persona non Grata by local authorities.  The coverage and stipulations vary by policy and provider, but in general, if the risk becomes great enough that either the host country itself or the US State Department declares that American citizens ought to cease traveling in that region, the Non-Medical Evacuation Rider can be employed to assist you in getting to a safer location.

At this point in time, there is no reason to believe that any of the scenarios we’ve speculated upon are going to happen; we certainly hope fervently that all tensions subside quickly, and that South Korea remains a hospitable place for all travelers.  However, it’s important to be prepared for all eventualities. We offer everyone our best wishes for continued safety and security, and urge you to contact us with any questions or concerns you may have about the impact of this developing political situation on your travel plans.

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