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Published: Jan 2, 2022, 7:00am
With so much to see and do, planning a trip to Japan can involve as much research, organization and attention to detail as preparing a chanoyu orchado, the country’s traditional tea ceremony. You likely will include stays in Tokyo and Kyoto to eat world-class cuisine and visit centuries-old temples and perhaps plan to experience the hot springs in Hakone and go white-water rafting on the Oboke Gorge on Shikoku Island.
Make sure to check the current visitor entry requirements for Japan so that you’re prepared for the necessary Covid testing and quarantine requirements. Also know that buying a travel insurance plan to protect your trip investment is a smart move.
“For virtually any international destination, I would recommend purchasing a travel insurance product that includes coverage for trip cancellation, trip interruption, trip delay, medical expense, medical evacuation and baggage,” says Scott Adamski, spokesperson with AIG, which offers Travel Guard policies.
While you can buy travel insurance up to 24 hours before you leave, waiting until the last minute means you forgo important benefits.To get the most protection from a travel insurance policy, Adamski recommends you buy coverage within 15 days of the initial deposit date for the trip. That way you can get features that depend on an early purchase date. These include pre-existing medical condition waiver exclusion and “cancel for any reason” coverage.
Here’s what you should consider when buying a travel insurance policy for a trip to Japan.
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“With buzzing cities, a rich and multi-faceted cultural heritage, awe-inspiring temples and natural landscapes, Japan is a country that’s unique in so many ways,” says Lisa Cheng, spokeswoman for World Nomads, a travel insurance company. “It’s no wonder that the Land of the Rising Sun is a popular destination.”
But the sun could set on your journey before you even take off. After lining up hotels, tours, excursions, flights and transportation between cities, a family emergency could derail your plans, and that’s where trip cancellation insurance comes in. “Trip cancellation can help you recuperate your non-refundable, prepaid expenses if something covered by your policy causes you to back out of your travel plans at the last minute,” says Cheng.
For example, suppose your daughter was hospitalized after a car crash so you decide to cancel your visit to Japan. You can file a claim to receive 100% of any pre-paid, nonrefundable deposits you would forfeit because you canceled your trip.
“Japan is not known for being a budget destination. With just airfare and hotels alone, you’re going to be paying a good amount of money before you even leave for your trip,” says Cheng. “You’ll want to protect this investment in case an emergency throws you for a loop.”
Covered reasons for reimbursement through a standard insurance policy typically include death, illness or injury, a serious family emergency and severe weather, among other events. Details vary by insurance company, so be sure to check your policy for its list of acceptable cancellation reasons—not all reasons for cancellation are covered.
For example, if you can’t find acceptable care for your dogs in your absence and change your mind about going, you would not be eligible to file a trip cancellation claim under your standard coverage.
If you want to have the most flexibility to cancel your trip, consider opting for a “cancel for any reason” travel insurance add-on benefit. This upgrade allows you to cancel for any reason and receive partial reimbursement for your trip costs, as long as you cancel at least two days before you’re supposed to leave. “Cancel for any reason” coverage will boost your travel insurance policy cost up by an average of 50% but you can recoup 50% or 75% of your trip expenses, depending on your policy.
Trip delay insurance helps make layovers more bearable, as it can pay you back for money you spend for hotel rooms, meals and personal necessities when you’re waiting for your next connection.
For instance, you may have to take connecting flights to arrive in Japan, often through Los Angeles or Honolulu. If your flight from Chicago to Los Angeles is canceled due to a bad storm, you would likely need to re-book your flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo. In this case, you can turn to your trip delay coverage.
Note that the cause of the delay must be listed as a covered reason in your policy. Additionally, travel delay benefits usually kick in after a specified length of time, which varies by insurance plan, commonly three to 12 hours.
Be sure to keep your receipts, as you will need to submit them if you file a claim.
Your trip delay travel insurance benefits can also reimburse you for prepaid, non-refundable costs for accommodations and activities you miss due to a late arrival after a delay. Those tickets for Kabuki Theater or for the Nagasaki Lantern Festival? You can file a claim for compensation for those as well if you missed the event.
Unfortunately, not even the fiercest samurai can protect you against the unexpected while you’re traveling, but trip interruption insurance can at least make it less costly.
If you need to return home to the U.S. due to an illness or family emergency, your travel insurance benefits can reimburse you for related costs. For example, if your parents are watching your young son and he develops a serious staph infection and is hospitalized, you would want to cut your trip short and fly home. Your benefits can cover a last-minute, one-way economy ticket home and transportation to the airport.
There are even more benefits for an unforeseen, early departure if the reason is covered by your policy.
If you forfeit nonrefundable expenses because you have to leave Japan early, you can file a claim to be reimbursed. For example, if you paid in advance for a private tour of The Imperial Palace in Tokyo, bought nonrefundable tickets to a Sumo wrestling match and paid a hefty deposit at a boutique hotel in Kyoto, you can file a claim for the money lost.
To earn your black belt in travel insurance, you’ll need to know about the role travel medical expense coverage plays when visiting other countries. Travel medical insurance is critical to have, especially if your U.S.-based health insurance plan provides no global coverage, or only limited coverage, says Adamski with AIG. It’s best to check with your health insurance carrier to see if there are any global benefits.
“It’s for this reason that travel insurance plans with medical expense coverage are so valuable,” says Adamski.
If you are touring Hamarikyu Gardens and you get stung by an insect and suffer an allergic reaction, your travel medical policy can cover the cost of medical care, medicine and even a hospital stay if your condition worsens.
Without medical coverage, you would be responsible for all costs.
The most generous plans provide $500,000 in travel medical benefits, per person, but you can find policies that have less.
Emergency medical evacuation coverage can help pay, up to your policy limits, for airlift transportation to the nearest treatment center when you are seriously injured or become ill during your trip.
For instance, if you are on a city tour in Osaka, and get struck by a car on the sidewalk, you may need to be taken by medivac to a trauma center. Your travel insurance company can arrange your emergency transportation and also keep your family updated regarding your condition.
The cost of emergency evacuation can be tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on your condition and location, so it’s wise to include coverage for it in your plan. Otherwise, you will have to pay the bill out of your own pocket.
Whether you’re traveling to Toledo or Tokyo, there’s always a chance your luggage won’t arrive at your destination. If this happens to you, baggage loss insurance can compensate you for clothes and other items that are gone. It covers baggage that is lost, stolen or damaged during your travels. Be sure to get a report from the airline and write down an inventory of your luggage to support your claim.
You can find ample plans that provide $2,500 and higher for lost baggage.
Beyond detoured bags, your policy also extends to personal belongings.
There are many city centers in Japan that are packed with tourists and bustling with people. Where there are crowds, there are pick-pockets.
If your cell phone is stolen, or your leather jacket swiped from a chair, or if your backpack goes missing on the bullet train, you can file a claim for reimbursement. Be sure to file a report with your tour leader, the police, your hotel manager or a transportation office. You will be required to present this documentation if you file a claim.
It’s important to know that baggage loss coverage is usually secondary, which means you may have to file a claim with the airline or your homeowners insurance before your travel plan pays out. It’s also important to note that your reimbursement may not match the amount to replace an item with a new version. Compensation may be for the actual cash value, which takes into account the item’s age and use.
While Japan is famous for culture, it also offers lots of opportunities for adventure, from scuba diving in Okinawa to skiing in Hokkaido, says Cheng of World Nomads. If you plan on doing these types of activities, review your travel insurance plan to be sure adventure sports and activities are covered. It’s common for deep-sea scuba diving, mountain climbing and even skiing to be excluded from coverage on standard plans.
“You may need an upgrade or purchase a policy that includes adventure sports coverage,” says Cheng. “You should also take note of any conditions that are attached to your activities. You may be covered for skiing but not outside resort boundaries, or you may be covered for scuba diving but only up to certain depths.”
Some of the most popular times to visit Japan (during summer and fall) also coincide with the Pacific typhoon season, which lasts from June to October, says Adamski. “While southern regions of Japan tend to sustain the greatest impact, typhoons can affect travel throughout the entire country,” he says. That means you will want to include coverage for trip cancellation and trip interruption due to a natural disaster at the destination country.
“If a storm hits a traveler’s destination during their scheduled trip, and an AIG Travel insurance plan is purchased before it becomes a named storm, the insured traveler may be covered for unused, prepaid, non-refundable trip expenses, subject to the terms of the insurance policy,” he says.
However, if you wish to cancel (or cut short) a trip due to fear of a current storm (that may be in the vicinity but not projected to hit their destination) or future cyclonic storm, that cancellation likely would not be covered under a travel insurance plan, he says. In that scenario, “cancel for any reason” coverage can come into play to help you recoup some of the money you lose by canceling.
Another consideration for travelers visiting Japan is the crowds. “Ranking among some of the busiest in the world, Japan’s airports and train stations see very high volumes of traffic throughout the year,” he says. You should plan travel times at these hubs accordingly.
Finally, be aware that language translation services may be provided by your plan’s 24/7 travel assistance team. “This could be of critical importance in case of a medical emergency, when needing to find the closest hospital or doctor, and then needing to communicate medical history to local health providers,” Adamski says. Ask your travel insurance company about 24/7 assistance benefits when you’re planning your Japan trip.
Erica Lamberg is a personal finance and travel writer based in suburban Philadelphia. She is a regular contributor to USA Today and her writing credits include NBC News, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, Oprah Magazine and Creditcards.com. Erica is a graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park.
Michelle is an insurance analyst at Forbes Advisor. She has been a journalist for over 30 years, writing about insurance for consumers for the last decade. Prior to covering insurance, Michelle was a lifestyle reporter at the New York Daily News, a magazine editor covering consumer technology, a foreign correspondent for Time and various newswires and local newspaper reporter.