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Written By Joel Kranc

Contributing writer


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Travel insurance 101

Whether you're an occasional traveller going on a well-deserved vacation, frequent flyer, or a snowbird going away for the winter, all it takes is a few minutes to get travel insurance quotes from many of Canada's leading travel insurance companies and purchase your policy.

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Travel insurance is the easiest thing to pack and also the most important. It's there to protect you while on vacation. Imagine not having travel insurance and falling ill or breaking a bone while on your dream vacation. Throw in the costly medical bills and you have yourself a traveller's worst nightmare. The best way to prevent this nightmare from occurring, is to pack travel insurance.

Who Needs Travel Insurance?

Short answer: All travellers need travel insurance

Whether you're travelling by plane, train or automobile, whether it's a day trip, weekend getaway or week-long vacation, travel insurance is a must. The length of your trip does not decrease the chance of something going wrong and neither does the destination. If you're going somewhere tropical, on a European excursion, or cross-border shopping for the day, travel insurance should be going with you. Even if you're travelling out of province but within Canada it's worth it because your provincial health insurance plan coverage may be limited. Things like ambulance services and prescription drugs may not be covered and you could end up paying out of pocket for some of the services you need.

Why do I need travel insurance?

When going on a trip abroad, one of the most important things to take with you is travel insurance. Why? Because many countries do not offer free healthcare services to tourists or visitors. Some countries, such as the US, do not offer free healthcare, full stop.

Getting travel insurance will reassure you that if something were to happen while you are outside the country, you would have the necessary health coverage.

Also, the sticker shock of paying for out-of-pocket health expenses could send you right back into the hospital. Having the right coverage for your needs will help you save on, what could otherwise be, very expensive treatments.

Don’t forget that travel insurance doesn’t only protect you in case you get sick or hurt. It can also protect you from canceled trips, lost baggage, travel company bankruptcies and missed flights.

In times of crisis like a natural disaster or civil unrest, the Canadian government will notify travellers who have registered themselves as being outside of the country. So, be sure to register yourself as a Canadian abroad, just in case.

Also, prior to even booking your trip, you’ll want to make sure there are no possibilities for danger or health-related issues at your destination. To learn more, consult Canada’s travel advisories by destination.

Types of travel insurance plans

What's great about travel insurance is that it's not a one-size-fits-all type of coverage. Every type of travel insurance policy comes with different coverage options and benefits. This means you're able to purchase only the coverage you need.

Travel insurance type What it covers

Single Trip Emergency Medical Travel Insurance / Single Trip Travel Insurance

  • Most common type of travel insurance
  • Covers any of your emergency medical expenses that may arise during your vacation
  • Coverage for a single trip can be up to 365 days
  • You may need to complete a health questionnaire to qualify for the policy depending on how old you are
  • If you are planning one trip, it’s best to get coverage for the exact number of days you will be away
  • Provides up to $10 million in emergency medical benefits

Annual Emergency Medical Travel Insurance / Multi-Trip Travel Insurance

  • Emergency medical travel insurance that covers all trips taken over the course of a year
  • Best for people who take multiple trips in a year, and those who travel frequently for business

Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption Insurance

  • Covers the full cost of your trip in the event it is cancelled, delayed or interrupted for reasons beyond your control
  • Trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance are similar insurance types, but the difference is that trip cancellation typically comes into play before your trip, while trip interruption applies once you have left for the trip
  • Best for travellers who have medical coverage through their employer's health benefits or credit card
  • Great for travellers who want additional peace of mind

Top-up Travel Insurance

  • An optional insurance coverage for travellers who already have coverage through an employer or a credit card, for example, but who are not covered for the entire length of the trip, or do not have enough coverage
  • Top-up travel insurance ensures that you get extended coverage for the full length of your trip

All-Inclusive Travel Insurance 

  • This bundles all of the most popular travel coverages including emergency medical, loss (or delay) of baggage, and trip cancellation/interruption insurance into one handy policy
  • Most expensive option, but also the most protection offered
  • Best for longer trips and/or travellers that prefer peace of mind.
  • A great option for you if you want to feel protected from any travel hassles while you're on the go

How much does travel insurance cost?

We’ve calculated a travel insurance quote on RATESDOTCA for a non-smoking, 35-year-old male traveler on a 10-day trip with no pre-existing health conditions, $2 million in coverage and a $0 deductible. The best average rate per trip for a single traveler was found to be $25.35.

Travel insurance is a small expense that can pay off if you need it. Your travel insurance quotes will vary depending on the type of coverage you purchase, as well as a few other variables. When insurance companies are calculating your quote, some of the factors they take into account include:

  • The number of travelers
  • The age of the travelers
  • The total length of the trip
  • The type of coverage

Comparing a wide variety of travel insurance options can help you smartly save money on travel insurance.

What to know before you buy travel insurance: a checklist

Here is a handy checklist you can reference when purchasing travel insurance. It is important to read the fine print and understand the policy and ask (a lot of) questions if you have any doubts. With travel insurance, it’s better to assume nothing, and ask those hard questions. Creating a travel insurance checklist should be your top priority.

Your travel insurance checklist

  • Does the insurance plan have a deductible? How much is it?
  • Is there continuous coverage for the length of my stay, and after my return?
  • What are the exclusions in the policy? Are there any exclusions or limits in coverage for a certain country or region that I am travelling to? Are there exclusions for any sports or adventure activities?
  • Is the coverage renewable from abroad where I am staying? Can I extend my insurance if I suddenly decide to stay longer than anticipated?
  • Does the plan provide coverage for pandemics and epidemics? With the coronavirus outbreak, would I be covered for these health risks?
  • Is there a travel advisory for my desired destination? If yes, am I covered? Sometimes insurers exclude destinations that the Canadian Government advises against. Check the Canadian Government's current travel advisories here.
  • Does my plan offer emergency medical evacuation coverage, and repatriation expenses?
  • If there was a medical emergency due to a pre-existing health condition, would the plan deny any benefits?
  • Would the plan cover my hospital costs that could occur in the event of an illness or injury while I am abroad?
  • Does the plan pay bills/out-of-pocket expenses upfront, so that I don’t have to pay them?
  • Does the company offer worldwide emergency assistance 24-hours/7-days? How can I reach the company of there is a medical emergency? Who do I call? Are there translation services for providers in the country you are travelling to?
  • Am I travelling to a destination that is, or could be, at war (e.g. Gaza or Ukraine)? The Government of Canada strongly advises against travelling to active war zones. However, if you do end up in one, your travel insurance can help you return home early and recuperate some of the costs.

Frequently asked questions about travel insurance

Wondering about getting travel insurance? Here’s what you need to know.

Do I need travel insurance if I’m travelling within Canada?

If you are travelling between provinces within Canada it is still be worth investing in travel insurance as not all incurred medical expenses are totally covered by your provincial health insurance when you’re out of the province.

Each province has a different system and the costs vary by province. Some of the expenses that are not covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), for example, include:

  • Ambulance service costs (transport and paramedic)
  • Prescription drugs
  • Dental emergencies
  • Cosmetic surgeries
  • Private hospital fees
  • Laboratory/Diagnostic services (outside of a public hospital)
  • Assistive devices
  • Long-term care, home care, etc.

Relying on just provincial health insurance coverage could cost you hundreds of dollars out of pocket for these services, leaving you with potentially huge financial repercussions.

What is Snowbird medical insurance, and why do I need it?

If you’re one of the many Canadians who travel south for the winter, you will need travel medical insurance. Also known as snowbird medical insurance, these policies are available to Canadians who choose to live in warmer climates during the colder months of the year and may need a wider medical coverage while they're away.

Your Canadian provincial health insurance coverage is not valid outside the country. Any emergency medical services you may need will not be covered. Healthcare in the U.S. is really expensive too, so make sure to compare travel insurance and find the best seniors travel medical insurance for snowbirds today.

As a snowbird, you can look for travel insurance policies and choose what suits you best: single trip travel insurance, multi-trip emergency medical insurance, or all-inclusive travel insurance policy (which provides the most comprehensive coverage). Some insurance companies may require you to complete a medical questionnaire to better determine your rates and premiums.

Can I buy travel insurance after departure?

It is better to purchase travel insurance before your departure, as doing so will ensure you have coverage from the beginning to the end of your trip.

However, if you do end up needing to buy, or add, coverage after you’ve already departed, you can still do so. Just note that not all companies allow it. Some only allow extensions of coverage that you already have. Others allow you to purchase medical coverage if you are abroad but may require you to wait up to 48 hours before the policy becomes active.

Always do your best to purchase travel insurance before leaving the country – otherwise, you may not get the coverage you need.

Is travel insurance worth the cost?

Absolutely! Travel insurance protects you from travel related expenses that may occur due to unexpected trip cancellations or delays, theft, medical emergencies and accidents, all of which, can leave you with a hefty bill. Travel insurance is a small price to pay compared to the potentially huge medical costs typical of other countries.

What if I have a pre-existing medical condition?

If you have a pre-existing health condition, you can still find travel insurance coverage, it just might cost you a little more. The cost and coverage depends on the type of pre-existing medical condition you have, how long it has been stable for, and how long it has been since your diagnosis, among other factors. If you have a medical condition that makes you high risk, you could see higher premiums.

Insurance companies have a period of stability which varies from policy to policy (from 7 days to as long as 180), which requires your condition to have been stable for this period of time. Some medical conditions like a terminal illness may not be covered even if your conditions have been stable.

When you compare travel insurance plans on RATESDOTCA, you will be able to check out the pre-existing stability periods that different policies offer. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, make sure you mention it when you apply for travel insurance to ensure you’re covered. If the insurer finds out after the fact, they may deny your coverage. Check out our tips on how to get the right travel insurance, even with a pre-existing condition.

Is there a difference between travel medical Insurance and trip insurance?

Yes, there is a difference between travel medical and trip insurance. Travel medical insurance covers medical emergencies and emergency evacuations, while trip interruption insurance provides coverage for inconveniences such as trip interruption, delays, accommodation problems and baggage issues.

Does my provincial healthcare plan cover me when I leave Canada?

Provincial and territorial health plans can offer some healthcare coverage while you are away but usually it will only be a small portion of your needs. Also, bills are never paid upfront. That comes out of your pocket first, and only then can you submit receipts for reimbursement.

Another potential problem to consider is some foreign hospitals will not treat you if you don’t have the right amount of insurance to pay your bills upfront. That’s why it’s so important to understand the reasons you’ll need travel insurance in the first place.

RATESDOTCA makes it easy to find the cheapest rates on travel insurance in just minutes.

Are my personal belongings covered with my travel insurance?

This is a common question, and travellers are often confused about whether your personal property is covered with your travel insurance policy or not. Here’s the thing: your personal valuables like computer, laptop, camera, phones, etc. are actually covered under your home insurance policy, and not your travel insurance! Your home insurance covers your personal belongings no matter where you are, including when you’re travelling.

However, you may not want to go through your home insurance for personal belongings lost in transit. For loss related to baggage while in transit, you will need to have purchased lost luggage coverage in order to make this claim, which is usually offered as part of a trip interruption policy.

What travel insurance do I really need?

It’s very important to weigh the pros and cons of not getting travel insurance. The right insurance can be the deciding factor in your health and financial security.

The Government of Canada recommends that your travel medical insurance policy cover four important elements:

  • Coverage for flight cancellation, trip interruption, lost luggage and document replacement for flight travels.
  • Limitations, or restrictions on any pre-existing medical conditions.
  • Medical evacuation coverage (either back to Canada, or to the nearest medical facility), with the policy covering the costs of a driver to travel with you in case of an accident.
  • Repatriation in the event of death, where the return of your remains to Canada is covered.

As with other insurance products, you should compare quotes and ask questions. It is important to read the fine print to verify what the conditions, benefits, and exclusions mean in your insurance policy. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask your insurance provider.

Your passport to stress-free travel

Nobody wants to use insurance, but everyone needs it. The risks of not buying protection for things like healthcare or cancellation far outweigh any savings you might get from not buying it all.

The good news is that you don’t have to settle for an expensive plan that covers more than you need. You can comparison shop on sites like RATESDOTCA to find the cheapest quotes for your travel needs. You can even make your purchases online, if you so choose.

Travel insurance is the one item you should never forget to pack.

Joel Kranc ,

Joel Kranc is a freelance writer and content provider who has worked with RATESDOTCA since 2019. He holds an MA in political science from the University of Toronto and a film certificate from New York University.

He has been published in and worked for such companies as CNN, Rogers Media, Institutional Investor Magazine, The Globe and Mail, Infrastructure Investor, BenefitsPRO Magazine, Global Finance Magazine, With Intelligence, the CPP Investment Board, Hospitals of Ontario Pension Plan, and many more financial services and industry publications.

He is the author of "Retirement Planning in 8 Easy Steps," which, when released in 2015, was No. 11 on the Publisher's Weekly US Bestseller List for Business and Finance, beating out Mark Cuban's "How to Win at the Sport of Business."

  • Master's of Political Science, University of Toronto
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