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Nervous About Coronavirus? Don’t Forget to Buy Travel Insurance

March 3, 2020
6 mins
Mom and daughter getting ready to leave the house while daughter ties her shoes

You’ve been planning for months to flee the cold for a sandy beach down south, but in light of the outbreak of the coronavirus (aka COVID-19), did you purchase a travel insurance policy?

Whether you are leaving home to do cross-border shopping for a few hours, taking a week to celebrate Spring Break stateside, or flying to a warm destination elsewhere to escape winter’s icy chill, it is extremely risky to do so without travel insurance. After all, emergency medical expenses can run into the tens of thousands of dollars depending on what ails you whether you are in the U.S., Mexico, or outside of North America altogether.

A recent survey by RATESDOTCA gauged the factors Canadians consider before purchasing travel insurance. Among the survey’s findings:

  • Four in 10 (40%) Canadians who travelled outside of Canada in the past three years have purchased travel insurance for their trips, with residents in B.C. (56%) the most likely to buy travel insurance versus residents of all other provinces
  • The No. 1 reason for buying travel insurance is the destination country’s health care system (63%), followed by the activities travellers will participate in while away (56%), and the political climate of the destination (50%)
  • Two-thirds (64%) consider the duration of travel, and slightly fewer (58%) consider the cost of the travel insurance policy as deciding factors
  • Canadians under the age of 55 are more likely to consider buying travel insurance if they are travelling alone (31%) or with valuable items (17%)
  • Canadians over the age of 55 are more likely to consider buying travel insurance due to their age (67%) and the condition of their health (58%)

According to RATESDOTCA data on Canadian travellers who compared travel insurance quotes, the most popular destination for them is overwhelmingly the U.S. However, if you want to look beyond our next-door neighbour for a vacation, travellers say are their five most popular destinations are:

  • Cuba. Not surprisingly, Cuba is a long-time favourite destination for Canadian travellers to enjoy its music and culture and soak up the sun while lounging on sandy beaches. It is generally a safe and hospitable country to visit but be aware of potential threats to your health like contaminated tap water and mosquito-borne diseases. The Government of Canada presently has two travel health notice warnings for Cuba due to the Zika virus and measles.
  • Mexico. Another go-to hotspot for Canucks looking to escape winter, Mexico has much to offer vacationers. The cuisine is outstanding, the foreign exchange rate favours the loonie, and it has both beaches and jungles worth exploring. On the downside, and as of late January 2020, Canadians are advised to avoid non-essential travel to some areas of Mexico because of high violence and crime.
  • The United Kingdom. Many of our country’s traditions hail from the U.K. We share a sovereign (Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II) and have a long and illustrious history with the island nation (Canada is a former British colony, after all). There is much to do on the British Isles, and it is one of the world’s safest countries to visit. However, if you need to visit a hospital emergency room, expect to pay upfront for treatment if you don’t have emergency medical travel insurance.
  • The Dominican Republic. A gorgeous Caribbean island to visit with historic architecture, beautiful beaches, and vibrant city nightlife, the Dominican Republic has warm weather year-round. However, be aware hurricane season runs from mid-May to late November, and tourists are common targets for theft at resorts, beaches, on public transportation and the airport.
  • Italy. History, art, food and wine, music and hospitable people; what’s not to like about Italy? Like the U.K., expect to pay for any medical services you may require without an emergency travel insurance policy.

What You Don’t Know May Cost You

Concerningly, and according to the Travel Health Insurance Association, 26% of Canadians are unsure of what medical expense protections they have while outside of the country.

Many Canadians may believe their provincial health care insurance plan will protect them should they suffer an injury or illness while out-of-country. That belief or assumption is flat-out wrong. The reality is provincial health insurance is minimal at best. Ontario residents no longer can rely on their provincial health plan for out-of-country medical coverage.

Even if you visit another province or territory in Canada, your home province’s health care insurance plan may not provide full coverage for emergency medical services.

Know What Your Travel Insurance Options Are

A word to the wise: find out what types of coverage are available to you depending on your age, health, planned activities and vacation destination.

Everyone – adults and children – need adequate travel insurance when journeying outside of Canada, be it for a few hours, days, or several months. There are a few essential travel insurance options to consider:

  • Emergency medical insurance. Also known as travel health insurance, this type of insurance is quite possibly the most important. Emergency medical travel insurance provides coverage if you suffer an injury or fall ill. It will pay for any medical need such as an ambulance, hospitalization, medication and other fees like covering the cost to fly you home for additional care.
  • Trip cancellation and baggage insurance. Thanks to Canada’s new Air Passenger Protection Regulations, Canadians may receive compensation because of a flight delay or cancellation, or loss of luggage or damage. But there are no guarantees of payment. That is why trip cancellation and baggage protection insurance is worthwhile to consider as part of your overall policy. You don’t want to foot the bill for a hotel room you did not get to sleep in or have no change of clothes if your luggage goes missing en route to your destination. If it happens, these coverages will pay for those costs.
  • All-inclusive travel insurance. As the name suggests, all-inclusive travel insurance bundles the most common travel policies together to give you comprehensive coverage.

For seniors or snowbirds, some insurance providers offer different policies for travellers over the age of 60. You may need to complete a medical questionnaire but know you can get the same comprehensive travel insurance coverage as younger adults so you can take off with confidence.

How a Travel Advisory Affects Your Insurance

While insurers do consider your travel destination, in general, they will focus on whether you’re travelling domestically or internationally. In the case of international travel, if you are outside the country and the Canadian government issues one of the two most serious travel advisories – “avoid all travel” or “avoid all non-essential travel” – trip interruption insurance will pay for your flight home ahead of schedule.

If the government issues a travel advisory before you leave Canada, trip cancellation insurance will cover any non-refundable expenses such as the cost of your flight.

However, if you decide to travel to a region or country despite a government “avoid all travel” or “avoid all non-essential travel” advisory, it may nullify your emergency medical coverage. It is best to read the terms and conditions of your policy and consult your insurer before leaving Canada if this scenario arises. On that note, check the Government of Canada’s travel advisory site before leaving Canada.

About the Survey

An online survey of 1,514 Canadians was conducted by Leger Marketing from February 7 to February 10, 2020, using Leger’s online panel. The sample's ages ranged from 18 to 55+ years old. Only those who have purchased travel insurance in the last three years are reported. The margin of error for this study is +/-2.5%, 19 times out of 20.

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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