Travel Insurance for Canadians

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Congratulations on your bold decision to see the world and step into the international age! Yes, you do need health insurance when you travel, and in fact, it’s actually even a legal requirement for travel to certain places.

Here’s a terrific overview of travel insurance and a link to travel advisories by the Government of Canada.

So, how do you go about finding travel insurance?

 

If you have Private Insurance/A Credit Card

A good place to start is always your current health insurance provider – maybe you have benefits covered by your job, maybe you have private health insurance, or maybe, if you’re a full-time student under the age of 21, you may still be covered by your parents’ insurance.

Either way, it’s worth checking with them to see if your benefits include any travel insurance (even if minimal), and if they don’t, it still may be cheaper to buy a temporary add-on of travel insurance onto an already existing plan than to purchase it elsewhere.

If you don’t have access to personal or group health insurance, the second place to check would be with your credit card provider. It’s something we’re generally not aware of, but most credit cards would already cover you for some sort of travel insurance, so it’s worth checking where you stand with them. And as mentioned above, purchasing a travel health insurance add-on for an existing plan may end up cheaper than buying it elsewhere.

If you have both – current health care coverage and a credit card – make sure you piece together a complete picture of your coverage. Your health plan may cover only doctors’ visits and prescription medicine, and your credit card may cover only lost/stolen luggage and flight cancellation. But between them, you’ve got a solid plan and have no need for another one.

 

No Health Insurance (or you want to look elsewhere)

For everyone else, we’ve gathered some resources for you to check out, but before you start comparing plans, there are a couple things you should be aware of:

  1. Some destinations are not covered by certain travel health insurance providers, so make sure to always double-check that your specific destination is on the list. When my family and I were planning a trip to Cuba, World Nomad considered it too risky of a location to cover it.
  2. Most plans will give you two main choices: either daily coverage based on the number of days you’ll be travelling during one trip, or a yearly multi-trip coverage. If you’re planning to leave the country at least one other time during the year, the second option ends up being a much, much better deal. It might cost you some $30 dollars more, but getting another single-trip plan later in the year would cost you at least twice as much.
  3. Most travel insurance plans have an age cut-off, so if you’re travelling with older people, that may help you narrow down your options. For example RBC Travel Insurance has a specific TravelCare package for travellers over 75!
  4. Note that travel health insurance is not just a thing you either have or don’t have – it has various levels of coverage. If you have an amazing existing health insurance plan that happens to cover expenses incurred abroad, you may choose to just purchase non-medical travel insurance (eg. lost/stolen baggage, flight cancellation, etc.). But if you don’t have any medical coverage abroad, make sure you’re purchasing a plan that specifically covers medical treatment.
  5. In addition to the above, make sure to always, always check the ‘exclusions and limitations’ section of the proposed plan or contract – this section is a description of conditions and circumstances that would void your contract and allow the provider to dismiss your future claims. Needless to say, the shorter the list the better. Sometimes they the conditions are not made explicit, and instead you’d be given some vague statement of “like any other plan, ours comes with some exclusions and limitations – please call the following number to discuss your specific concerns”. If you end up calling a representative to find out about the limitations, make sure you get them to send you either a hard copy or an email of the list as proof for later potential claims. You may think that you have nothing to worry about, but some plans (eg. TD Canada Trust) consider pregnancy (planned or unplanned) to be a pre-existing condition that may void your benefits.
  6. Speaking of pre-existing conditions, some travel insurance plans will require you to complete medical questionnaires, and it is in your absolute best interest to be as honest and transparent as you possibly can. Be aware that pre-existing conditions and complications might increase the price of your insurance or make you ineligible for certain plans. But even then, consider that the price of lying would be much higher: no matter where you purchase your insurance, the ideal scenario for the provider is that you pay for it but don’t use it. So they’ll try and get out of any claims that are sent their way, and will look into them to find a loophole. Failure to declare a pre-existing condition will often void your contract completely, or at the very least leave you with the burden of proving that the services and complications you’re submitting a claim for, were not caused by your pre-existing condition.
    But don’t worry, even if you happen to have a preexisting condition, you can still get insured. Here you’ll find some fantastic tips for how to plan your trips and ensure most coverage, and there are even some insurance companies that specialize in providing plans for preexisting conditions, most notable of which are Canadian Direct and Medipac.
  7. Make sure you tailor your travel insurance to your specific needs – which includes not only your medical history, but also your destination, the number of flights, and the kinds of things you tend to do while traveling. For example, if you’re taking only one flight between Canada and Iceland, purchasing lost/stolen baggage insurance may be unnecessary. But if your itinerary includes 4-5 flights, layovers and luggage transfers, you’d better make sure you’re covered for flight cancellation and luggage loss. If you’re hoping to try some watersports while you’re abroad, make sure your insurance covers those as well – for example, World Nomads would be all over that (but also for a very high price). 

 

Travel Insurance Options for Canadians

 

Banks and Credit Cards

Below is a list of a few options you may want to check out. There’s also a website called TuGo that offers a cool overview of a Canadian’s travel insurance options, but it appears they only partner with certain companies and providers – so we’re not sure of how objective they are.

As a rule of thumb, for an average, healthy traveler with no particular plans of engaging in extreme activities, purchasing travel insurance from their credit card provider would be cheaper, faster, but also fairly minimal:

RBC Travel Insurance – offers various levels of insurance, is super easy to sign up for over the phone, and has very comprehensive plans that cover anything from baggage delay to senior-specific (75+) care. Here’s a handy dandy comparison chart of their plans.

American Express Travel Insurance – also offers 4 levels of coverage, and lets you pick and choose your various needs and preferences before providing an online quote.

Note that their website does not have an explicit section of restrictions and limitations, and their FAQ is very vague on what pre-existing medical conditions would be covered. So if you’re considering them as a provider, I would call their Enrollment Centre at 1-866-587-1029 to discuss your options with an agent.

TD Canada Trust – their options seem a little narrower, but they do offer a special plan for people over 55 with stable pre-existing conditions (but a medical questionnaire is required to determine eligibility).

The TD page is also the best for being transparent about their limitations, but some of the items are fairly vaguely worded: you can find the list here. Note that pregnancy is listed under limitations, as well as “reasonably foreseeable conditions” – whatever that means. So beware of their vague language and make sure you get a little more clarity on their policies before you sign up.

 

Travel Insurance Companies

If your employer provides health care as part of your benefits, it is likely with one of the following companies. Since they specialize in health care, unlike your credit card provider they might have more specific plans with more extensive medical coverage. However, they may also require more extensive medical questionnaires and have stricter guidelines for pre-existing conditions. These companies may be a better option for travelers with health concerns and medical conditions:

Manulife Travel Insurance – their website is full of useful information, give it a scroll! They also offer TravelEase coverage for people with medical conditions, past or present, regardless of age. Here is a chart of comparison for their available plans, and here is a list of exclusions and limitations.

Sunlife Financial Travel Insurance – their website has a lot less information available, and instead directs you straight to the ‘get a quote’ page. Follow the instructions, and check out what they can offer you.

Blue Cross Travel Insurance – is specific to your province of residence, so make sure you’re on the right website (select your province on the right). For example, here is the page for the Alberta Blue Cross Travel Insurance.

They provide a very narrow choice, and if you click on the “View Brochure” button you’d see that their guidelines are the most precise and strict ones on the market. For example, “benefits will not be paid if the claim is related to any Pre-existing Medical Condition that was NOT stable at any time within 90 (ninety) days prior to the departure date of travel.”

That kind of precision is great in comparison to the other policies’ vague language, but it also leaves very little room (and coverage!) for the unexpected. 

 

3rd Party Providers

There are also several options for 3rd party companies that specialize in a niche demographic. The upside is that they often cover things no other insurance providers would, but the down side is that they’re often ridiculously expensive.

Here are a couple examples, but you can always try and google “travel insurance + [item of interest, eg. skiing]” to find something more specific. 

World Nomads – is a fantastic option for adventure travel, sports, and activities that may be considered extreme by other providers. Check out this list of covered activities.

Pro-trip world and April International both specialize in study abroad and international exchange programs for students, and April International even offers coverage for hosts of exchange students. 


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