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Coronavirus: How COVID-19 Is Affecting Travel Insurance

March 20, 2020
6 mins
Woman works on her tablet in her living room

Canadian travellers may be puzzled over how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may influence their travel insurance policies and for a good reason. International travel has been upended by the worldwide spread of the novel coronavirus.

We are inundated with new information about the outbreak on a near hourly basis leaving Canadians to wonder what their options are as it relates to international travel.

As of March 20, the Canadian government is restricting all non-essential travel to and from the U.S. Canadians who are presently in the U.S. or other countries are urged to return home. The federal government’s global non-essential travel advisory recommends avoiding travel outside of Canada for the foreseeable future.

Whether you are trying to find a way home, are in quarantine in another country, or have travel plans in the coming weeks or months, here are some of the most frequently asked questions and answers about travel insurance and the COVID-19 pandemic:

What is a coronavirus? Is it the same thing as COVID-19?

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are a family of viruses that may cause people or animals to become ill. These viruses can trigger infections in people ranging from the common cold to more serious diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). COVID-19 is the most recently discovered variation of coronavirus.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19 and how does it spread?

Fever, fatigue, and a dry cough are the most common symptoms, but they may also include aches and pains, nasal congestion, a sore throat and diarrhea. If someone has COVID-19 and the infection becomes severe, they may develop difficulty breathing.

The infection can spread from person to person if someone who is infected coughs or sneezes near you, or if you touch a surface or object after an infected person has, and you then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. That is why the federal government is encouraging Canadians to practice social distancing. In essence, keep away from people who are sick and avoid crowds or large gatherings of people.

How can I protect myself from getting COVID-19?

There are several precautions you can take to protect yourself, including:

  • Practising proper cold etiquette: cough or sneeze into your elbow and not your hand
  • If you’re sick, isolating yourself from others to prevent the infection from spreading
  • Staying away from large crowds, crowded areas, and people who are sick
  • Following the advice of local health officials
  • Washing your hands frequently with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds
  • Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Avoiding shaking hands with others
  • Limiting contact with older adults and people in poor health

What should I do if I have an upcoming trip planned? Will my travel insurance policy cover me?

Provided the airline or cruise line you have booked will carry you to your destination when the time comes, contact your insurance provider and ask how COVID-19 may impact your travel insurance policy such as:

  • Will my existing policy’s emergency medical coverage cover me if I become ill or are quarantined?
  • What happens if I get sick before travelling? Can I cancel my trip and activate my policy’s trip cancellation coverage?
  • Does the federal government’s global non-essential travel advisory allow me to activate my policy’s trip cancellation coverage?
  • If the government lifts its non-essential travel advisory for my destination, will my policy still cover me if I become ill while travelling?

What should Canadians who are outside of Canada do?

Return home to Canada as soon as possible. But if you have COVID-19 symptoms, the federal government urges you to stay where you are for 14 days in quarantine.

You may also wish to contact the Canadian embassy or consulate in the country where you are located. If you are a Canadian citizen in a country where there is no Canadian embassy or consulate, you can contact an Australian or Swedish embassy for assistance (Canada has a special agreement with Australia and Sweden to provide consular services to Canadians).

Also, be sure to contact your travel insurance provider immediately to find out what your options are as per your travel policy.

I am outside of Canada. If I suffer an injury or get sick, but it’s not COVID-19, will my travel insurance cover me?

If you have a travel insurance policy that includes emergency medical coverage and suffer an injury or illness that is unrelated to COVID-19, you may be covered as per the terms and conditions of your policy. Contact your insurance provider to find out what you do have coverage for and what you do not.

I am outside of Canada and have COVID-19 symptoms. My travel insurance provider will not cover my expenses. What should I do?

In this scenario, you may be able to take advantage of the Canadian government’s financial assistance program for Canadians with COVID-19 who are abroad. Through the COVID-19 Emergency Loan Program for Canadians Abroad, you may qualify for a repayable loan of up to $5,000. To apply for the program, email the federal government at

Where can I get information about Canadian travel advisories?

Point your browser to the federal government’s website for all travel advisories. Also, check on your airline’s or tour operator’s website for any updates they may provide.

I am an Ontario resident who is returning home after being outside Canada. Will OHIP cover me when I return?

In ordinary times, Ontarians who spend more than seven months out of the province are subject to a three-month waiting period before they can re-apply for Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) coverage. However, these are not ordinary times. On that note, the Ontario government says it will waive the waiting period for Ontarians returning home, so they have OHIP coverage immediately.

Are people from other countries who have visitors to Canada travel insurance still covered?

Provided these travellers meet the Canadian government’s criteria to enter Canada, in general, if a visitors to Canada insurance policy was purchased before March 16, coverage for COVID-19 or other conditions might still be available. Check with the insurance provider.

If a visitors to Canada insurance policy was purchased on or after March 16 (but before arriving in Canada), the coverage might still apply provided the Canadian government’s criteria to enter the country is met. For travellers already in Canada, coverage as per the terms and conditions of the policy may still be in effect, unless a different company insured you in the previous 30 days.

Is it possible to get an extension for my visitors to Canada insurance policy?

Many insurers will permit you to extend your existing coverage for protection from COVID-19 and other conditions. But be advised: if you leave Canada and enter the U.S., you will not be covered by your policy if you contract COVID-19 while stateside.

Liam Lahey

Liam Lahey is a versatile marketer with experience as a staff and freelance writer for many business and technology publications and newspapers. He previously worked as the editor and media spokesperson for RATESDOTCA, handling home, auto, and travel insurance topics.

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