Your next trip is just around the corner and you’re itching to hit the beach, the golf course, or finally explore the ancient beauty of Greece. You’re going through your list of to-dos before you leave. You bought a couple of great new bathing suits, got your vaccines, and asked your neighbour to pick up your mail while you’re gone. But what about travel insurance?
Mary Chong, editor-in-chief and founder of online travel magazine Calculated Traveller has been to more than 40 countries. Some of her favourite destinations include Singapore and Jordan, but no matter where she visits one piece of advice remains the same. “Travel insurance is essential,” she says. “I highly recommend all travellers purchase travel insurance.”
Living in Canada, we can get a false sense of security about healthcare. Many Canadians think it’s free, and that it will always be available when needed. No wonder then that only 40% of us buy travel insurance when we leave the country, and just over 20% of us purchase it for trips inside Canada.
The cost of medical care
Although emergency medical care is just one reason to get travel insurance, it’s a pretty compelling one. The truth is that healthcare is not free, and your provincial health card will not help you when travelling outside Canada. It’s important to have travel insurance in case you fall ill or have an accident.
Depending on where your trip takes you and the nature of your medical emergency, health care can cost anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. Just to give you a rough idea, here’s how much it costs for one night in hospital in other countries.
|Avg price of night in hospital (Cdn $)
|United Arab Emirates
(Data from Finder.com)
The above prices don’t include the cost of an ambulance, surgery, MRIs or medicine. So you can imagine that if you were travelling in the UK and fell while getting off a double-decker bus, costs could quickly escalate if you needed an ambulance, x-rays, stitches, surgery for a ruptured spleen, and had to spend eight nights in hospital.
What else is covered by travel insurance?
Canadians experienced more than a little trauma related to travel in 2022, with major delays and cancellations at a number of airports leading to a huge backlog of complaints with the Canadian Transport Agency. In a BCAA survey, 84% of respondents said they are worried about lost bags, flight delays, and other travel hassles. “Especially now with airlines losing luggage, cancelled flights, and world health concerns, travel insurance is a necessity,” says Chong. “Many travel credit cards offer some insurance for lost luggage and flight cancellations, but some credit card policies don’t provide enough coverage in a post-pandemic world.”
Emergency healthcare coverage aside, other aspects of travel insurance can help ease some of the anxiety that Canadians are feeling. Let’s start with trip cancellation and trip interruption, which are usually packaged together.
|This coverage reimburses your costs if you have to cancel your trip and are left on the hook for flights, hotel, rental car, buses or taxis and excursions. Most of the likely reasons for cancellation qualify, including if you or your travel companion fall ill or are injured prior to leaving, if one of you gets in legal trouble, loses or changes jobs, if there is a natural disaster, or if the government issues a travel advisory. There is also ‘cancel for any reason’ coverage that is a bit more expensive but doesn’t require justification. You can cancel just because you no longer feel like going.
|This often goes hand-in-hand with your emergency medical coverage, and can pay for costs related to cancelled or changed flights, extra accommodations, meals and more if you have to extend your trip due to an injury or illness to you or your travel companion, or a natural disaster. It also works if you have to cut your trip short because of an injury or illness, death in the family, legal matter or job loss. If you need to upgrade a flight because of a medical condition, that may also be covered. If you should pass away while travelling, there is also coverage to get your body home.
|Accidental death and dismemberment
|Coverage that pays a cash benefit of up to $100,000 if you pass away or suffer a catastrophic injury while travelling.
|Covers up to $1,500 per traveler for lost, stolen or damaged baggage, and up to $200 for items you may need if your luggage is delayed for more than 12 hours while travelling.
|Covers up to $75,000 of physical damage to a rental car, plus towing charges and a replacement rental. This is more economical than purchasing a collision damage waiver from the rental car company.
|Extended medical coverage for sports and activities
|Your standard coverage for emergency medical care typically excludes injuries related to sports like rock climbing, boxing, mixed martial arts, base jumping and skydiving. For an additional premium, you can add these activities.
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Different ways to buy travel insurance
The above coverages are usually purchased as part of a package. Emergency medical is available on its own and is the basis of travel insurance. You can add trip cancellation and interruption, which are packaged together. Baggage coverage and death and dismemberment can be added individually.
You also have the choice to buy insurance for an individual trip or you can pay for it annually if you are a frequent traveler, to save some money.
There are a number of credit cards that also include travel coverage, but only if you book the whole trip on the card. And it’s important to know before you fly what exactly is included and what isn’t so that you can supplement that coverage by purchasing additional insurance if needed.
“The biggest misconception is that the travel insurance on your credit card is enough – it rarely covers everything,” says Chong. “You’ll need to be fully aware of what is included in any insurance plan to ensure that it provides everything you might need for your specific travel adventure. Buying travel insurance for a trip to Florida is not the same as travel insurance for an African safari and it’s worth paying extra for additional coverage.”
Is COVID-19 covered by travel insurance?
Yes. At the time of writing, COVID-19 is generally covered under both emergency medical and trip cancellation/interruption coverages. Early on in the pandemic, most travel insurance companies were excluding COVID-19. That means that if you had to cancel your trip or were hospitalized or quarantined while travelling because of COVID-19, your healthcare and other extra expenses would not be covered. As the pandemic evolved, insurers started including COVID-19 so long as you were fully vaccinated. Currently, most insurers no longer require vaccination to cover COVID-19.
What can happen?
We often hear stories from our customers about how insurance has made their day, or in some cases, saved their bacon. We had two such stories in 2022.
One client purchased emergency medical and trip cancellation/interruption coverage for a Jamaican vacation he was taking with his partner in April of 2022. While there, he came down with COVID-19 and was forced to quarantine for 10 days. He and his partner missed their flight back home, and although the quarantine room was provided free of charge, the partner had to pay out of pocket for an extra week in a separate room. The total cost of this trip interruption claim was about $2,900, and was fully covered by their travel insurance.
Another client also got emergency medical and trip cancellation/interruption for a Florida vacation with her husband. While there, she was in a moped accident. She broke her leg, two ribs and a vertebrae. She also needed plastic surgery for a 16-centimetre gash in her leg. The cost for the ambulance and the surgery, along with a number of tests, medications, and four days in hospital, was over $340,000. That’s not a typo. These costs were paid directly by their travel insurance. They also needed to change their rental vehicle to an SUV and upgrade their flight home to first class with a sleeping pod, in both cases so that she could keep her injured leg extended en route. These costs were claimed after the fact, and totaled an additional $4,500, covered under their trip interruption coverage.
Needless to say, both customers were very happy that they had travel insurance. Chong has a similar experience to share.
“We were on a Mediterranean cruise, and my husband hurt his back,” she says. “We had to transport him from the ship to our pre-booked hotel in Barcelona in a wheelchair. He couldn’t sit upright, so there was no possibility of him flying home to Toronto on our scheduled flight in two days. I contacted our insurance company and they fully covered our flight changes, local doctor visits to our hotel, medication, additional hotel nights, food and more.”
Chong’s total claim was just over $1,500 for five extra days of hotel and food, plus the cost of switching flights.
Travel insurance for trips inside Canada
If you’re travelling inside Canada for business or pleasure, we have insurance plans that are very affordable, because the main cost of travel insurance is usually for the emergency medical coverage. All other coverages are fully applicable regardless of where you’re travelling.
Emergency medical coverage is a little different for in-country travel, but there are expenses that you can incur if you require medical care somewhere other than your home province, including:
- Emergency dental care
- Prescription drugs
- Medical devices like crutches and splints
- Getting you back home
There can also be certain costs not fully covered by OHIP if a treatment, test, device or service happens to be more expensive in that province than it is in Ontario. Your emergency medical coverage will fill those gaps.
Travel tips from the Calculated Traveller
We couldn’t let Chong go without asking for her top travel tip.
“Pack carry-on only,” she says. “It’s so much easier moving around on buses, trains, airports, and taxis when you have a smaller suitcase. You don’t have to worry about lost luggage or theft, and you’ll save your back from all the heavy lifting. Sure, you’ll have to do hand-washing in the sink occasionally, but I’d rather not have to fuss and worry about lugging a giant bag around.”
And always remember travel insurance, right? It’s very affordable and there are lots of different options to suit your needs. Often there is no deductible. Before you start packing for your next trip, give us a call and talk to one of our travel insurance specialists about an option that’s right for you!