Travelling abroad: Experts say you need insurance before you go
TORONTO -- As tourism resumes across much of the world, experts say purchasing travel insurance is necessary if Canadians want to stay safe and enjoy a trip abroad.
Wendy Paradis, president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies, told CTVNews.ca that having adequate coverage while travelling outside of Canada is "always important," but even more so during the pandemic because health conditions and travel restrictions can change suddenly.
"It is important to work with a professional travel agent to make your travel arrangements and to ensure that you have the coverage that is right for you, as what is and isn’t covered differs with each insurance provider, especially in the time of COVID," Paradis said in an email Thursday.
Martin Firestone, president of Travel Secure Inc., a Toronto-based company that specializes in travel insurance, told CTVNews.ca that Canadians shouldn't leave the country without insurance.
"You need it [for] anything short of a slip and fall, to God forbid a car accident, to a heart attack, stroke or something as simple as the stomach flu," he said in a telephone interview Thursday. "You can't go without it."
Unlike at the start of the pandemic, insurance companies are now providing COVID-19-specific travel insurance for medical expenses, including quarantining after a positive test, but Firestone says this coverage is dependent on the vaccination status of the traveller.
"If you are fully vaccinated, most insurers are now going to cover you for COVID without having to buy a rider or an additional expense," he said. He added that companies have not capped the amount they will cover and policy prices have not increased to account for this.
"[COVID-19] is being treated as just any other unexpected medical emergency. That alone tells you that the insurance companies are basically saying the risk is not what it was," Firestone said.
For those who aren't fully vaccinated, Firestone said some companies are offering COVID-19 add-ons, or riders, for medical expenses related to the virus. He said this is an added expense to one's travel insurance policy and is capped at a certain price limit, unlike for those who are fully vaccinated.
However, Firestone said, most countries require travellers to be fully vaccinated to visit.
"It defeats the purpose," he said. "I can get you insurance but if you're not fully vaccinated, I don't think you're going anywhere."
While most insurance policies are now covering medical expenses related to COVID-19, Firestone said that not all polices are covering travel disruptions or cancellations related to the pandemic.
Manulife has various travel insurance options, while WestJet is offering complimentary COVID-19 travel insurance to travellers using their services. However, some insurance companies, such as TD Insurance, have coverage exemptions in place where Canadians have been advised to avoid travel.
"Trip cancellation interruption is still an issue from a travel insurance perspective if the reason you're going to cancel is COVID-related," Firestone said.
He said that many insurers still have COVID-19 listed as a "known cause," meaning the traveller is responsible for any cancellations or border closures because governments have made it clear that countries may shut down with little to no notice.
"Therefore your trip cancellation policy that you bought to cover your money that's been exposed will not pay you if your reason is I can't go, our borders has been closed, Italy's not accepting visitors, and so on," Firestone said.
However, Firestone said some policies may cover the costs if the airline, hotel, Airbnb, or tour company has a policy in place to refund or credit travel disruptions due to a change in government travel advisories. He noted that this varies between companies.
Firestone said Canadians should “be wary” when choosing a policy as coverage for interruption has “not caught up with medical yet.” He noted that insurers are still looking at COVID-19 as a “problematic scenario” to get claims paid when it comes to cancellations and disruptions.
CANADIANS LOOKING TO TRAVEL
With several countries opening their borders, travel has been top of mind for many Canadians.
Starting Nov. 8, the United States will be opening its land and sea border to non-essential fully vaccinated Canadian travellers for the first time since March 2020. Air travel to the U.S. has been allowed with certain conditions.
The land border reopening means that Canadians can drive into the U.S. to visit family, or take a day trip, something Canada has allowed fully-vaccinated Americans to do since Aug. 9.
While other international destinations have also opened their borders to Canadian tourists, the Public Health Agency of Canada had been advising Canadians to avoid non-essential travel, but lifted the advice on Thursday.
The government is now urging Canadians to be fully vaccinated before a trip, to pay attention to COVID-19 activity at their destination, to follow local public health measures, wear a face mask and avoid cruise ships outside of Canada.
Will McAleer, the executive director at the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada, told CTVNews.ca that Canadians should follow three "golden rules" when choosing a travel insurance policy.
McAleer said in a telephone interview Thursday that Canadians should first evaluate and understand their health status before booking travel insurance.
If Canadians have any pre-existing health conditions, McAleer said it is important that the insurance policy address them to ensure they're covered should they need to visit a hospital abroad.
After having selected a policy, he said, Canadians should familiarize themselves with what is written in the policy and contact the insurance company if they have any concerns.
"Understand what you're covered for or not covered for related to COVID. You also want to make sure that you're covered for that [health] condition that you might have, and if you've got any questions, ask," McAleer said.
Lastly, McAleer said Canadians should take into account what they plan on doing during their trip, such as any high-risk sporting activities including bungee jumping or hang gliding that could cause injury or harm, and select a policy that meets those needs. He added that this type of coverage can vary from policy to policy.
"A lot of us we haven't been able to travel for a while so… that means [they] might take some extra risks," he said. "So you want to make sure that that policy is going to cover you in all instances."