Safe & Sound: Why you need travel insurance


Almost two-thirds of Canadians don’t pack travel insurance for trips within Canada, according to a RBC Insurance/Ipsos Reid study. And over half (51 per cent) of all Canadians believe their provincial and/or employee health insurance plans cover 100 per cent of medical expenses while traveling within Canada.

In fact, government health insurance plans typically cover only a limited portion of medical costs once you leave your home province or territory, making it important for travellers to understand what extra travel insurance you might need to fill any gaps, such as costs for air ambulance services, X-rays, crutches or emergency prescriptions.

In some cases, these out of pocket expenses could add up to thousands of dollars.

Further, you may be asked to pay up front for certain medical costs or doctor’s services and later seek reimbursement from your home province. According to the Canada Health Act, while reciprocal billing among provinces is a convenient arrangement, it is not mandatory. Additionally, “the provision of prescription drug benefits outside hospitals falls within the range of ‘addional benefits’ that provinces and territories may include under their respective health insurance plans, on their own terms and conditions and are generally not portable outside one’s home province/territory.”

“It’s easy to overlook insurance when traveling to another province because there is a sense of familiarity,” said David Redekop, principal research associate with the Conference Board of Canada. “However, many of the same risks apply wherever you are – even when you travel within the country – and travelers need to be aware of that.”

When purchasing travel insurance, whether for travel within Canada or for trips abroad, travellers need to be aware of the following potential limits or hidden restrictions:

Deductibles. Does the plan have a deductible which you must pay for each claim?

Preferred hospitals. If you need medical help, does the insurance company demand that you visit their preferred hospitals?

Pre-existing conditions. Does the plan deny benefits if your medical emergency arises because of a pre-existing condition or health problem you already had when your trip started?

Health standards. Does the plan require you to determine whether you meet the insurance company’s health standards before being approved? Some travel insurance policies charge a higher premium depending upon age and health problems.

And since travel plans are often non-refundable, cancellation and interruption insurance is advisable to protect your travel investment in case you have to cancel your trip, come home early, or stay later at your destination. This type of insurance should be purchased within 48 hours of booking your trip.

Other tips for a safer and healthier holiday:

1. Keep credit cards and traveller’s cheques, passports and other identification in several different locations. Carry only identification that you will need during your trip. Make several photocopies of the main information page of your passport — carry one with you, separate from your passport and another one with someone staying at home.

2. Take advantage of hotel safety deposit boxes and use pockets or handbags only for items you will need frequently.

3. Arrive early at the airport to allow enough time for security and to avoid the stressful last minute dash to the gate.

4. For international travel, ensure that you are up to date with all immunizations. Visit your doctor in advance of your trip to determine if you need any specific medications. Remember that not all medications that are legal in Canada may be legal in the country you are visiting. Check in advance to be sure, and if you are carrying prescription drugs, carry a copy of the prescription. It is also advisable to bring an extra supply of your medication in the event of loss or travel delays.

5. Gastrointestinal illness is one of the most common illnesses affecting tourists. To minimize the risk, consume only foods that have been well-cooked. Fruits and vegetables should be peeled or cooked. Drink bottled beverages and avoid ice that isn’t made with purified water.

6. If you do have travel insurance, be sure to carry your policy with you, as well as phone numbers to call in the event of an emergency.

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