Travel Insurance — Do I really need it and what should I look for?

A lot of people don’t even think about getting travel insurance. A recent study on summer travel found that only half of Canadians who travel actually purchase medical insurance. But travelling without insurance is a gamble — you run the risk of losing all your luggage and receiving no compensation, or having to cancel your trip last minute and losing your pre-paid travel expenses, or worst of all having to pay upwards of $100,000 US for a medical evacuation from a remote area.

Travel insurance is a must. If something were to happen,whether it’s a medical emergency or even a lost passport, you can potentially save yourself a lot of time, money, and stress by getting insurance.

Insurance should be considered by all travellers, but especially those who will be abroad for a long period of time, those who plan on engaging in high-risk or dangerous activities, and those with chronic medical conditions.

There are three types of insurance you can get for your trip:

  • Travel insurance protects you financially and includes things like lost baggage and trip cancellation. This type of insurance may or may not cover medical expenses while travelling.
  • Travel health insurance covers medical expenses if they are not covered under your regular travel insurance policy.
  • Medical evacuation insurance covers medical evacuation and transportation to the nearest adequate medical facility.

There are short-term travel health insurance policies available that are relatively inexpensive. Or, if you are a frequent or long-term traveller, you can purchase annual policies or even policies that will provide coverage for repatriation to one’s home country.

Medical evacuation coverage may be included in either short-term or long-term policies, or can be purchased separately. Travellers should ask medical evacuation companies about their resources at their destination, particularly in they are planning to visit remote areas.

Purchasing a Policy

All travellers should review policies carefully before purchasing. Read the fine print! A little research now could save you a bundle later.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), here are some things you want to see in your policy:

  • Arrangements with hospitals to guarantee payments directly
  • Assistance via a 24-hour physician-backed support centre (especially important for medical evacuation insurance)
  • Emergency medical transport to facilities that are equivalent to those in the home country or to the home country itself
  • Any specific medical services that may apply to their circumstances, such as coverage of high-risk activities

You should be aware that if you do require medical care abroad, you will usually have to pay with cash or credit card at the clinic or hospital whether you have travel insurance or not. Also, even with travel insurance, you may still face unexpected delays in care, especially if you are visiting remote destinations.

Domestic Health Insurance

If you have domestic health insurance in your home country, you should carefully examine your coverage to check whether you will have any protection if something happens during your trip. Here are some things to look for in your policy, also from the CDC:

  • Whether you will be covered for the length of your entire trip
  • Exclusions for treating exacerbations of preexisting medical conditions
  • The company’s policy for “out-of-network” services
  • Coverage for complications of pregnancy (or for a neonate, especially if the newborn requires intensive care)
  • Coverage for medical evacuation
  • Exclusions for high-risk activities such as skydiving, scuba diving, and mountain climbing
  • Exclusions regarding psychiatric emergencies or injuries related to terrorist attacks or acts of war
  • Whether preauthorization is needed for treatment, hospital admission, or other services
  • Whether a second opinion is required before obtaining emergency treatment
  • Whether there is a 24-hour physician-backed support centre

Better safe than sorry!

Finally, even with full coverage, you should always travel safe!

  • Use common sense, be aware of your surroundings and don’t take unnecessary risks.
  • Avoid unsafe food and drink, animal and insect bites, and unprotected sex.
  • Carry your insurance policy information, including copies of your insurance policy identity cards, any supplemental insurance purchased for the trip, and insurance claim forms.
  • Make a list of medical facilities in areas that you plan visit and carry that with you too.
  • Retain copies of all bills and receipts for any medical care that you do receive abroad.