A flood occurs when water overflows its banks onto usually dry land. Floods are the most common weather-related disaster in the world. Each year in the U.S., more people are killed by floods than by hurricanes, tornadoes, or lightning. Floods can cause extensive property damage, as well, whether the water is only a few inches deep or submerges an entire building. If you're worried about a potential flood spoiling your vacation plans, consider purchasing travel insurance, travel outside the U.S. medical insurance, or visitors health insurance for U.S. to protect yourself against any unexpected accidents, illnesses, or injuries that could occur.

Floods have many causes, from heavy rain to strong ocean waves crashing against the coast to melting snow to dams or levees breaking. Flooding can occur quickly (within minutes) or creep up slowly but inevitably over a longer period of time. Most dangerous of all are flash floods, which occur when heavy rain falls faster than the ground's ability to absorb it or causes streams and rivers to overflow their banks. Flash flooding, as its name suggests, occurs quickly and with great force; it can sometimes begin within minutes of the rainfall itself, leaving the surrounding population with too little time to prepare accordingly.

Where Floods Occur

Both in the U.S. and worldwide, floods can occur anywhere that experiences rainfall. Historically, certain regions experience more frequent floods, either cyclically or simply due to their location. The Nile River, for example, floods routinely each spring, and before the Aswan High Dam was constructed, the locals relied on these floods to moisten and enrich the soil for farming. In China, both the Yangtze River and the Huang He (Yellow River) regularly expand beyond their banks and wreak havoc. Excessive rainfall has flooded cities like Paris, Warsaw, Rome, Frankfurt, and more. The spring thaw and resulting ice jams have sent the waters of rivers like the Danube and the Neva surging through nearby settlements. Finally, earthquakes and tsunamis can create massive ocean waves that overtake coastal areas like Hawaii and Japan.

When Floods Occur

As many floods are caused by heavy rainfall and precipitation, there is no specific flood season. However, flooding is more likely to occur during seasonal rainstorms. In early spring, flood risks exist in areas with heavy snowfall that is beginning to melt. Seasonal thunderstorms during spring and summer are also likely to raise water levels, especially without sufficient time between storms for the water to evaporate or be absorbed. During summer and fall, seasonal tropical storms are likely to hit costal and nearby inland areas, increasing the risk of flooding.

High-Risk Areas

Even though floods can occur anywhere in the world, there are certain high-risk areas and conditions that are particularly susceptible. Densely populated areas have a large area of paved surfaces like roads, driveways, and parking lots that don't absorb rain and increase the possibility of runoff. In these areas, low spots like underpasses, storm drain exits, and basements can flood quickly and without warning. Similarly, areas near rivers are vulnerable to overflow. Dam or levee failures often contribute to the flooding of urban areas. Be aware that such dense urban areas are the kinds of destinations likely to attract visitors.

In rural areas, mountains and steep hills lead to runoff and quickly rising streams. Try to avoid camping or settling along a stream or river if thunderstorms are nearby. Similarly, canyons and gullies provide easy avenues for large quantities of water that can trap hikers, climbers, and campers in their path. Many parks, including U.S. national parks, usually close for safety reasons when rivers are flooding. However, if you have any activities planned on or near the water, you should also check the weather and water levels to be sure it’s okay to continue as planned. If conditions are unsafe, it would be a prime opportunity (if you’re a U.S. resident) to take advantage of a cancel for any reason travel insurance policy. See below for further details.

Floods and Travel Insurance

Insurance companies consider floods to be natural disasters. You may have questions like: Does travel insurance cover cancellation due to natural disasters? Does travel insurance cover acts of God?

To answer, benefits are available according to the specific plan's policy for natural disaster coverage. Before leaving for vacation, we recommend purchasing an insurance plan that would offer such coverage in the event of a flood or other unexpected natural disaster or unforeseen circumstance. Different levels of coverage are available among different types of plans. These plans include travel insurance, travel to outside the U.S. medical insurance, and visitors medical insurance.

Travel insurance, available to both U.S. and non-U.S. residents, is intended to cover trip-related, pre-paid, non-refundable expenses like plane tickets, hotels, rental cars, and so on. Travel insurance benefits that would provide coverage during a flood situation include trip cancellation and trip interruption.

Trip cancellation refunds these kinds of expenses if you need to cancel your trip for a covered reason. In this case, you would be covered if a flood prevented you from following through on your travel plans. If a flood swept through three days before your trip and destroyed or shut down your intended destination, or if it caused flight cancellations for at least 24 hours, it would qualify as a covered reason. In order to receive the benefits, you must also be unable to make alternate travel arrangements.

Trip cancellation coverage does not, however, provide room for you to exercise your own judgment. If you fear that the destination might be unsafe, or if flooding shut down an attraction that you wanted to visit but didn't pay for in advance, those do not qualify as covered reasons for cancellation. Cancel for any reason travel insurance is what would allow you the leeway to make your own decision as your date of departure approaches. This type of coverage, though, is available only to U.S. residents.

Meanwhile, if a flood were to hit during your vacation, the benefits provided in trip interruption coverage would better fit your needs. Trip interruption coverage is intended to protect any of your remaining non-refundable trip costs, and it might (depending on your individual plan's certificate wording) pay for alternate hotel or lodging arrangements and transportation back home.

Conversely, consider the scenario of a flood damaging or destroying your home while you're out of town. The trip interruption provision of some insurance plans would fund the cost of a one-way, economy class return ticket so that you can get back home to assess the damage. Again, make sure to check the certificate wording of your purchased plan for limits to this benefit.

Travel medical insurance is for trips and vacations outside the U.S., and both U.S. and non-U.S. residents are eligible to purchase it as long as their travel plans don't include the U.S. Visitors medical insurance, on the other hand, is intended for travelers whose destination is the U.S. This includes non-U.S. residents and a small number of U.S. residents who live abroad and are visiting home for a brief stay. Related to floods and other natural disasters, travel medical insurance and visitors medical insurance usually offer benefits like trip interruption (sometimes called interruption of trip), natural disaster evacuation, and natural disaster replacement accommodations.

Following a flood, many travel medical and visitors medical insurance plans will cover the cost of evacuation; different plans offer different levels of coverage. To receive the benefits, you must submit to the insurance company the receipt for proof of payment for any activities or accommodations from which you were displaced. You may also claim any expenses related directly or indirectly to anything in the plan's General Exclusions language.

Finally, some visitors medical insurance plans include natural disaster replacement accommodations. With this coverage, if a flood were to destroy or damage your hotel beyond use, you would receive a daily stipend to stay for a limited number of days at replacement accommodations.


Sometimes, there’s no way to tell whether a thunderstorm will bring some pleasant showers or trigger a flash flood. Don’t let as little as 2-3 inches of water in your hotel room derail your entire vacation. Travel insurance, travel medical insurance, and visitors medical insurance offer the protection you need in the event of a natural disaster. If you have any question about floods and travel insurance, please don’t hesitate to contact our licensed, experienced representatives.

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