Lisa Bachelor | guardian.co.uk

Travelers to Cuba have been warned they need travel insurance in place before they arrive

Tourists arriving in Cuba as of May 1 will be required to have travel insurance in place before they can enter the country – but confusion reigns over exactly which policies are valid.

The rule, announced by the Cuban government in February, applies to all visitors from overseas and Cubans living abroad, and is designed to make sure holidaymakers have adequate medical cover before arriving on the island.

Anyone entering Cuba from this weekend will be expected to present a copy of their insurance documents on arrival, showing that they have a policy in place which covers the full duration of the trip and includes medical evacuation by air.

Confusion exists because the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs had originally said it would require travelers to have policies from a select list of providers, but since then British insurance and travel companies have struggled to get a definitive list from the ministry.

Steve Diederich, managing director of tour provider Captivating Cuba, said: “Clarification on who these approved insurers are, the cost of policies and the method of payment is proving notoriously difficult to come across.

“This is somewhat typical of Cuba. Much of what appeals about the country – it’s old-fashioned air, its exotic chaos – can also frustrate at times.”

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said it believed the list had been abandoned and that the Cuban government simply required people entering the country to have a policy that included health cover for people visiting the country. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) also said it was not aware of a list of insurers.

But travelers will still need to make sure their policy is valid. Some policies do not provide cover for any trip to or through four nations that the underwriters deem dangerous. These include Cuba as well as Afghanistan, Liberia and Sudan. Policies excluding Cuba include those underwritten by Chartis UK, which are sold by companies such as Direct Travel Insurance, Yorkshire bank and Barclaycard.

Travelers who arrive on the island without insurance, or with invalid insurance, will be able to buy a policy from a Cuban insurance company, but the cover is likely to be less comprehensive than many UK-bought policies and could work out more expensive. The Cuban ministry is quoting typical premiums of around £2 a person a day.

The FCO is urging travelers to make sure they have adequate cover from a UK company in place. “The medical facilities in Havana are better than those available elsewhere in Cuba, but it is sometimes necessary to medically evacuate those who require urgent specialist care,” it said in a statement on its website.

“This can be very expensive so you should ensure that your medical insurance covers you for this. If you require medical treatment you will be expected to pay in hard currency; a basic hospital stay can cost as much as £200 per day plus medical expenses.”

Travelers should also make sure their policy covers them for any pre-existing medical conditions. Cuban insurance cover is not likely to provide for this.

Holidaymakers heading to Thailand are also being warned that they risk invalidating their travel insurance after the FCO issued advice against traveling to the country.

It is advising against all but essential travel to the whole of Thailand “due to the increasingly volatile and tense political situation” there.

A number of travel insurance policies exclude cover for travelers where such a warning has been given, and the ABI is urging holidaymakers to check with their provider.

Some policies offer cancellation cover when the FCO publishes advice to not travel. This should cover travelers for “non-recoverable expenses” such as flights and hotels that have already been booked.