An earthquake is any sudden, quick shaking of the ground caused by the movement of rocks or plates deep beneath the earth’s surface. Earthquakes occur along fault lines, narrow gaps between rock masses where they have room to move in relation to each other. Around the world, about 50,000 earthquakes occur each year that are powerful enough to detect without equipment. Most are minor; only about 100 per year are strong enough to cause damage or injuries if they happen to occur in or near a populated area. On average, each year, about one major earthquake with the potential for massive destruction occurs somewhere in the world.

If an earthquake were to occur while you’re on vacation, it would certainly affect your travel plans. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of insurance policies available to help you recoup any financial losses that you might incur. As you’re planning your trip, we highly recommend that you research travel insurance, travel outside the U.S. medical insurance, and visitors to the U.S. medical insurance as a protective measure against any accidents or injuries that would occur in the event of an earthquake.

Where Earthquakes Occur

There are two regions in which the vast majority of the world’s earthquakes occur. One is the Circum-Pacific Belt, which vaguely follows the perimeter of the Pacific Ocean and affects the coastal populations of western South America, western North America, Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, Japan, New Guinea, and New Zealand. Scientists estimate that about 80% of the energy currently released through earthquakes comes from those whose epicenters lie in this region. The Circum-Pacific Belt is also a common site of volcanic activity and has thus been referred to as the "Pacific Ring of Fire."

The other region of frequent earthquake activity is the Alpide Belt, which runs roughly across the northern coastline of Africa and the southern coastline of the Eurasian land mass. It cuts through the Indochinese Peninsula, the Himalayas, Iran, Anatolia, the Mediterranean region, and out into the Atlantic Ocean. The Alpide Belt meets the Circum-Pacific Belt in the East Indies. Energy released in earthquakes along the Alpide Belt accounts for about 15% of the world's total.

Earthquake activity in these regions is still sporadic and definitely not uniform. The fault lines also branch off at various points along the way.

When Earthquakes Occur

There is no association between seismic activity beneath the earth and climate. Thus, there isn’t really any such thing as “earthquake season” or “earthquake weather.” They are equally likely to happen at any time of year and any time of day, under any given type of weather conditions.

How to Stay Safe During an Earthquake

Earthquakes are difficult to predict; they usually begin suddenly, without any real warning or buildup. To be able to foresee an earthquake, there must have been a repeated history of smaller quake activity or seismographic readings in the area. Scientists are approaching the point where they can make long-term predictions (of years or decades) within well-studied zones of earthquake activity. Therefore, if you’re traveling to a zone with any reasonable history of earthquakes, it’s best to be prepared in advance in case one should strike.

The safest place to be during an earthquake is out in an empty, open field, beyond the reach of falling objects or even collapsing buildings. However, if you don’t have time to get to such an ideal location, many sources recommend the “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” technique. Drop to your hands and knees. Cover your head and neck with your arms, or crawl underneath a sturdy desk or table. If you’re inside, try to stay near an interior wall. If you’re underneath the cover of a table or desk, hold onto it and be prepared to move with it. After the quake, be prepared for aftershocks (smaller, follow-up earthquakes) and any remaining falling objects or debris.

Earthquakes and Travel Insurance

Most insurance companies categorize earthquakes as natural disasters, and benefits are distributed according to the individual plan’s natural disaster coverage policy. These benefits depend on both the level of coverage that you selected at the time of purchase, as well as the general type of insurance coverage, whether it is travel insurance, travel to outside the U.S. medical insurance, or visitors medical insurance.

Travel insurance is available to both U.S. and non-U.S. residents, and its main purpose is to protect prepaid, non-refundable travel expenses like airfare, lodging, rental car coverage, and so forth. Earthquake-related benefits would largely fall under the categories of trip cancellation and trip interruption.

Policy holders would be eligible for trip cancellation coverage if an earthquake were to prevent them from following through on their travel plans. If the quake destroys the traveler's destination, like an airport or hotel, or causes flight cancellations for at least 24 hours, then it would qualify as a covered reason. The traveler must also be unable to make alternate travel arrangements. Trip cancellation does not include more subjective, judgment-call decisions like fear of travel or worrying that you wouldn't be able to enjoy the trip as thoroughly as you had hoped. The freedom to make this decision yourself would require purchasing cancel for any reason travel insurance, which is available for U.S. residents only.

Trip interruption coverage would come in handy if an earthquake were to strike in the middle of your vacation. This type of coverage would protect any remaining non-refundable trip costs as well as the possibility of alternate lodging arrangements or transportation home. Certain travel insurance plans may include a trip interruption provision that if a natural disaster causes damage to someone’s home while he is traveling abroad, insurance will shoulder the cost of a one-way, economy class ticket back home as soon as possible so that he can review the damage. Please check your specific plan’s certificate wording for potential limits on this coverage.

Travel medical insurance is intended for trips and vacations outside the U.S. It is available to both U.S. and non-U.S. residents as long as travel plans don’t include the U.S. Meanwhile, Visitors medical insurance, is for people traveling to the U.S.: mainly foreign nationals, but also for U.S. citizens who live outside the U.S. and are returning to the U.S. for a short visit. These types of plans commonly include benefits like natural disaster evacuation, trip interruption (or interruption of trip), and natural disaster replacement accommodations.

Some visitors medical insurance and travel medical insurance plans will cover the cost of evacuation in the event of a natural disaster. Different plans provide different levels of coverage. The traveler would be required to submit a receipt of proof of payment for the accommodations or activities from which they were displaced, as well as for any expenses directly or indirectly related to anything in that individual plan's General Exclusions section.

Visitors medical insurance plans have also been known to include a natural disaster replacement accommodations benefit. If an earthquake were to render the insured's planned and paid accommodations uninhabitable, the coverage would provide a daily stipend for a limited number of days to fund the cost of replacement accommodations.


Given a natural disaster as unpredictable and potentially catastrophic as an earthquake, it can’t hurt to have some kind of safety net in place in case the worst should happen. Whether an earthquake should strike before or in the middle of your vacation, don’t let an instance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time put you into debt. If you need more detailed information about earthquake and natural disaster coverage in travel insurance, travel medical insurance, and visitors medical insurance, our licensed, experienced representatives are just a phone call or an email away.

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