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One of the things Canadians are proudest of is our “universal healthcare” coverage. Yet “universal” is a bit of a misnomer, since it’s generally not valid outside the country, and there are even variations from province to province. How much travel insurance is enough? Here’s what you need to know about your coverage before heading out of town.

Are You Already Covered?

When my oldest daughter was about 10 months old, we drove down to New York City to visit friends who were living there. On our last day in town, we woke up to discover a baby with one eye swollen shut. We rushed to our friends’ pediatrician who diagnosed that she’d scratched her eyeball in her sleep, a relatively common occurrence we were told. The doctor prescribed antibiotic drops, and told us not to worry. Oh, and don’t forget to leave your $200 cash on the way out the door.

We were lucky; my wife’s employee health plan included travel insurance that covered most of the cost of the doctor’s visit, plus 80 per cent of the cost of the prescription (as it would at home).

But even if you don’t have an employee health plan with travel insurance, you may already have some out-of-province healthcare coverage. The Scotiabank Gold American Express, for example, provides holders with up to $1,000,000 in emergency travel insurance coverage for things such as ambulance charges, hospital stays, and doctor’s bills, for a period of 25 days (10 if you're over 65).

Don’t Mistake Insurance Types

On the other hand, you don’t want to head off to an exotic destination under the mistaken impression you’re covered for medical expenses when you’re not. Paying for “trip cancellation” insurance, for example, may only cover airfare and accommodation costs if there’s a delay in your travels.

And the above-mentioned program is specifically for emergencies. Run out of your prescription pills or decide to visit a doctor for a nagging backache and you’ll have to pay for it yourself. Credit card-based insurance may also require that you book your airfare and other travel expenses using the card in order to be eligible for coverage.

Better Safe Than Sorry

If you’re not sure if you’re covered when travelling out of country, it’s usually a good idea to get supplemental travel insurance. Finding travel medical insurance is easy: in addition to the plans offered by insurance providers, banks, automobile clubs such as the CAA, and travel agents all offer a variety of plans at varying rates.

When weighing the pros and cons of various plans, some key questions to consider include:

  • What specifically does a particular policy cover?
  • What are the exemptions to coverage? (Some may prohibit “adventure” activities such as whitewater rafting, or not provide coverage in certain parts of the world.)
  • How long is the duration of coverage? (This is particularly important if you’re planning a weeks’ or months’-long trip.)
  • What are the maximums for various expenses (such as doctors’ fees, hospital stays, and medication)?  
Allan Britnell

Toronto-based freelancer Allan Britnell is an award-winning writer with nearly 20 years’ experience. He covers a diverse range of topics, including DIY and professional home renovation projects, nature and the environment, small business, personal finance, and family and health issues. He is also the managing editor of Renovation Contractor, the publication written for small- and medium-sized contracting and custom home building companies. He lives in Toronto with his wife, two daughters, and their dog, Oscar.

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