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Travel insurance: Why you need it, how to get it, and what to add to it

March 17, 2023
5 mins
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With travel restrictions easing, the surge in people wanting to travel has led to trip disruptions and cancellations. Being stranded at the airport or stuck at home is not what you’re expecting when planning a fun getaway. And if you make it to your destination, there’s always the risk of medical emergencies while on vacation.

That’s why you should always have travel insurance coverage when travelling. It’s equally important to understand what travel insurance covers and doesn’t cover.

Why you need travel insurance when travelling within Canada and abroad

If you think you don’t require travel insurance even when travelling to another province, think again. Your provinces’ health insurance has limitations.

The Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) covers a walk-in visit to a clinic or emergency treatment in a hospital in other provinces when you show a valid Ontario health card. However, it won’t cover everything you may need while visiting a province like Alberta, including ambulance travel, prescriptions, or the transportation services to move you back home.

Moreover, provincial billing agreements mean that the rates paid for medical care differ, so you may have to pay a larger portion of your expenses out of pocket.

Provincial health insurance also won’t cover misplaced luggage or travel for loved ones if you want to bring family to visit during an extended recovery stay.

International travel further emphasizes the need for travel insurance. The Government of Canada will not pay your medical bills, and your provincial or territorial health plan may cover only a small part of the costs of your medical care abroad or none at all. Foreign hospitals are usually expensive and expect immediate cash payment; you may not even be able to be treated if you can't pay your hospital bill in advance.

Beyond emergency medical care, if you don’t have adequate travel insurance, you will have to pay for costs related to trip interruptions. Miss your flight? Can’t pick up your rental car on time? You’ll be on the hook for those, and other setbacks.

Cover all your travel insurance gaps

Travel insurance varies depending on where you purchase it. You have many options: your travel agent, group insurance, credit card, and insurance broker. Your home insurance provider may also offer travel insurance, with some offering coverage for a single trip only.

Online travel booking services usually offer optional trip cancellation insurance, while travel agents can also add travel insurance coverage at the time of your booking.

Group insurance

Whether offered through your employer, workers union, or professional association group, health insurance plans often include travel insurance. But there are limitations. Some policies have a stability clause stipulating coverage that isn’t available to those with a change in their health condition leading up to the trip – it could be something as simple as a new prescription medication. Group insurance coverage also varies depending on how long your trip will be and your employment status. If you’re not working full-time hours, you may not be covered.

Credit card insurance

Credit card travel insurance can vary from card to card. But like employer group insurance plans, there are limitations. Exclusions might include factors such as age, trip duration, pre-existing medical conditions, and the cost of treatment. Aside from emergency medical insurance, coverage can include a whole host of scenarios, including trip cancellation and interruption, flight delays, travel accidents, and hotel burglary.

Travel insurance through your broker

An insurance broker has access to many plans available in the market and can help you pick the right one to meet your need and fill in the gaps in your travel insurance coverage.

What should you consider adding to your travel insurance?

There are a few critical expenses that you’ll likely need to add on when buying travel insurance. Most notably, the federal government strongly advises that your policy covers medical evacuation to Canada or to the nearest place with appropriate medical care, as well as the costs of a medical escort to travel with you to your destination.

Although it’s unpleasant to contemplate, you should also make sure that your plan includes everything to help your loved ones if the unimaginable happens and you die abroad.

As with all insurance products, you should understand what you’re buying, carefully research your travel insurance needs, and verify all the terms, conditions, and exclusions of your policy before you travel abroad. Also be sure to check for government travel advisories, as it can affect both your trip and travel insurance – you could be denied a claim if you disregard travel advisories.

No matter where you opt to purchase travel insurance, know your needs before you buy. Compare multiple providers to help you find a travel insurance provider for your next trip, and perhaps, every trip you take from now on.

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Gary Hilson

Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has produced thousands of words for print and pixel about business and technology for a variety of publications and corporate clients. When he’s not tapping on the keyboard, Gary collects comic books, attends live theater, constructs Lego, and buys books he always intends to read.

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