What you need to know about travel insurance

July 11, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


I’ve read so many horror stories about people losing their life savings because they became seriously ill when travelling in the U.S. that I’ve become a bit paranoid about having enough travel insurance.

That’s probably why for many years we have purchased an annual travel policy in addition to coverage available from both of our employers and our credit card company. I figure that if something happens, one or more of the companies will make us whole.

But like many other people, I really never thought about needing travel insurance for trips to other Canadian provinces. A 2012 survey by TD Insurance revealed that 29 per cent of Canadians believe they only need travel insurance if they travel internationally and 35 per cent admit they have travelled out of their home province without it.

However, when I talked to TD Insurance VP Dave Minor, he reminded me that existing provincial plans do not necessarily cover all expenses that may be incurred if a medical emergency occurs in another part of the country.

For example, if you have an accident water skiing in B.C. and you must be transported by air ambulance back to Saskatchewan, your Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Plan will not foot the bill. Similarly, if you have a serious heart attack in Halifax when you are travelling alone, flying a family member out to be with you would normally be an out-of-pocket expense.

Because an accident or illness can happen anytime, Minor says travel insurance is also important even if you only cross-border shop in the U.S. a couple of times a year. “For people who travel across the border on a regular basis, we recommend an annual plan. When you look at the per trip cost vs an annual policy, it will pay for itself after three or four trips.”

You can compare prices and features of available travel insurance coverage from a number of carriers here. However, the cheapest policy will not always deliver the best value.

For many years we have purchased the annual TD Meloche Monnex Wide Horizons policy which is available to members of professional and alumni associations. For $187.77/year (at age 63) we are covered for unlimited trips of up to 30 days outside our home province plus hospital and medical expenses up to $5 million. The cost of the policy increases with age and customers over 85 pay $2473.54/year for the same coverage.

If you have any medical conditions or you are on medication when you apply for travel insurance it is very important to fully disclose this information and discuss it with your carrier so you understand whether any potential medical expenses for pre-existing conditions are excluded.

Also, if your vacation plans include engaging in risky activities like para-sailing, bungee jumping, mountain climbing or other extreme sports, be sure to clarify whether or not the policy will pay if you have an accident in these circumstances.

Here are some questions you should ask when you are purchasing travel insurance.

  1. What is the maximum each policy will pay above provincial medical insurance limits?
  2. Is there an age limit or medical criteria for who can apply?
  3. Does age affect the kind of coverage I can expect?
  4. How does the policy define a pre-existing condition?
  5. Will a pre-existing condition of mine affect my coverage?
  6. Are there any medical exclusions that apply to me?
  7. Will I have to pay a deductible? If so, how much?
  8. Does the policy contain a co-payment clause? What percentage of medical expenses will I have to pay?
  9. Will the insurance company pay the hospital or physician directly? Or will I have to pay the full amount myself, and then be reimbursed later by the company?

I also particularly like this Tip Sheet from CBC Marketplace called “What you need to know about (the tricky world of) travel health insurance”

Do you have tips for people shopping for travel insurance? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

18-Jul Buying a home Mortgage insurance vs life insurance
25-Jul Telecommuting Jobs where you can work from home
1-Aug Vacation Staycation ideas that can save you money
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