Travel medical insurance: A smart buy

Tempted to pop across the border for some shopping? Or take full advantage of the strong loonie and spend a few weeks soaking up the sun in, say, Florida or Arizona? If so, you’re among thousands of Canadians planning to vacation or shop in the United States in the coming months.

But whether you’re staying for a month, a day or even a few hours, it’s important to protect yourself with travel medical insurance, experts say. In the event that you have an accident or become ill, provincial health insurance plans will not come close to covering medical bills for many health services outside of Canada.

Consider this. If you fall and break your leg, it could cost you as much as $29,000 US, according to a Globe and Mail report.

And if you have a heart attack and need a major procedure, the cost could be up to $40,000 US. For a quadruple bypass surgery, the price tag goes up to a staggering $300,000, says Lorraine Bullock, Insurance Product Manager for British Columbia Automobile Association (BCAA).

According to a recent BCAA survey, the most common medical claims submitted by travellers related to respiratory problems, including pneumonia, asthma and bronchitis at an average cost of $2,730 CAD. This was followed by accidental injuries (average cost of $2,110) and digestion, food poisoning and stomach problems (average cost of $2,754).

“Many people think they’re adequately protected through their credit card or an employer plan, but these often have limits,” says Kathy Starko, President of Travel Underwriters. “For example, they may not protect your spouse or children or apply to trips 30 days or longer. Some may also cap coverage at $100,000 of medical expenses.

“You can easily purchase additional travel insurance for coverage between $1-5 million that will close any gaps in coverage and be customized to your specific health requirements and travel needs.”

The good news
Travel medical insurance is widely available and doesn’t have to be expensive. For those who are members of a group health plan at work, check to see if you are covered and if so, if there are any restrictions.

If you are looking to purchase insurance, you can get multiple quotes on websites such as Anticipating my own family’s trip to the US, I logged onto Kanetix. I found quotes for a 7-day trip to the US for a group of 5 (including one child under 16, who was covered for free) ranging from $78 to $86 for $2million coverage. The less expensive quote included a $250 deductible, whereas the one that was just $8 more was a zero-deductible policy – well worth the extra expenditure.

Quotes are also available for short trips or for the serial-shopper, multi-trip coverage.

The Travel Insurance File, by medical journalist Milan Korcok, an ex-Montrealer now based in Florida, offers practical advice for those navigating the maze of travel-insurance options. The website addresses questions such as: Are pre-existing conditions covered? Do you need insurance for cruises? Who actually pays the doctors and hospitals? When should you choose multi-trip travel insurance? (Note: Korcok also posts articles on topics of interests for snowbirds, including US real estate prices and health warnings.)

Another online resource,, also offers multiple quotes from a variety of insurance providers.

Safe & Sound: Why you need travel insurance
Toolkit for healthy travel