Having insurance while on risky assignments may be a prudent investment and less expensive than you fear. Get the publisher to pay for it if possible.
What to insure for?
- Classic travel problems: missed flights, lost documents, etc.
- Medical issues: sickness, injury, etc. (COVID-19 coverage is excluded.)
- Evacuation, if necessary.
- Disability insurance.
- Repatriation of remains in the event of death.
- Loss of or damage to equipment.
The Rory Peck Trust, a UK-based group devoted to the safety of freelance journalists, has posted material on types of coverage and things to consider when contacting insurance providers. They highlight many questions to ask and potential pitfalls.
Getting risk insurance written into your employment contract is one way to go. Three options are outlined in a model contract developed by the ACOS Alliance, a media group that specializes in media safety issues.
- Having the company enroll the freelancer in its travel assistance program.
- Having the company reimburse the freelancer for the costs of obtaining coverage “reasonably attributable” to the project.
- Having the freelancer cover the cost, with the estimated cost having been figured into the overall contract amount.
Options from Three Groups
There are many companies around the world that sell travel insurance, but several international media organizations pair with private insurers who provide policies tailored to freelance journalists.
The ACOS Alliance facilitates access to both travel insurance and insurance that organizations can buy to protect freelancers abroad, both offered through the UK insurance company InsuranceforJournalists.com with a 7.5% discount to organizations that subscribe to ACOS’s Freelance Journalist Safety Principles. (See a list of resources here.) Established in 2015, ACOS is a coalition of news organizations, freelance journalist associations, and press freedom groups.
The travel policy is open to all journalists traveling to any country in the world, including conflict zones. The coverage is available by the week and includes: accidental death and disablement, sickness and accident medical expenses subject to a $250 or €250 deductible per claim, and emergency medical. See this page for details.
Another discounted plan insures local fixers, local producers, translators and other media workers on the ground. This policy covers individuals from any nationality anywhere in the world, including when they are working in their country of residence. The insurance coverage is by the day and includes: accidental death, accidental medical expenses subject to a $250 deductible, and emergency accident medical evacuation from point of an incident to an appropriate care facility. See Insurance for Local Media.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) provides health insurance and repatriation for journalists and reporters traveling on assignment to any country, war zones included, with some exceptions. RSF membership is mandatory.
In partnership with Escapade Travel Insurance, RSF provides what is called the “Essential Plan.” See the plan description here. Under the Essential Plan, journalists can be covered worldwide except in their home country or high-risk regions like Afghanistan, Crimea, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, West Bank/Gaza, and Yemen. Coverage for work in these countries, however, is available through an “Extended Plan.” Unfortunately, “US based reporters, Brazilians residing in Brazil, and Canadians in Canada are not eligible for these insurance plans.”
The International Federation of Journalists has a partnership with the UK insurance company Battleface to offer its members travel insurance coverage including emergency medical expenses and evacuation. There also is an option to insure equipment. See this Battleface page for details.
Since cost is a major impediment, let’s look more at cost — very, very roughly.
We examined three different offerings, ignoring the specifics of the policies, which obviously would not be recommended for serious shopping.
For a week in a high-risk country, the costs ranged from $80 to $105. Costs are much lower for safer places. For a week in a low-risk country, figure $18 to $32.
Costs from insuranceforjournalists.com are laid out on a chart last updated in 2016 in which countries are ranked in five categories, from “extreme” to “low” risk. For a country in the top category, such as Libya, a one-week policy cost $80. The cost in a low-risk country is $24.
The Reporters Without Borders basic plan costs $18.48 a week, but no estimate is provided for the plan that applies to high-risk countries. An official with their insurance company said the comparable cost for Syria would be “about $55.82 per day for a week,” which is about $390 a week.
A Battleface policy for Syria would cost $105 a week. The cost would be $32 for a low-risk country.
Remember the big caveat: pure cost comparisons may be misleading. Check out the specifics of the coverage.
As noted above, many companies offer travel insurance; a few have packages designed with journalists in mind. A short list of providers “known to be sympathetic to the needs of freelancers,” is posted by the Rory Peck Trust.