What you need to know to ensure peace of mind on your trip 

By: Bill Zolis

If there was one thing I could tell everyone about travel insurance, it would be to take the time to figure out exactly what sort of coverage they needed, and then to make sure every ‘t’ was crossed and every ‘i’ was dotted. 

You get travel insurance in case something goes wrong or the unexpected happens. For most people, it’s a matter of routine every time they travel, and what they’re buying is peace of mind.  

But we do occasionally hear about cases where people think they have the coverage they need but are surprised and disappointed when a claim is disallowed. There are basically three reasons why this may happen. 

– They didn’t buy insurance to cover the loss that they ended up incurring. 

– They didn’t provide full and accurate information when they applied for coverage. 

– Their travel plans, or health, or other material factors changed between the time they purchased insurance and when the loss occurred, and they didn’t inform the insurer or update their coverage. 

Clearly, we do not want any of these things to happen.  

I know that, for a lot of travelers, and especially older people and people with existing health issues, coverage for medical conditions is by far the most important consideration. The risk of medical emergencies while in another country is often the main factor in deciding whether to travel, where to travel and how long to stay. 

We do occasionally have to ask ourselves, Is it reasonable to travel out of the country at all, given a particular health issue? Is it necessary to travel now? 

Buying travel insurance is actually a pretty straightforward process that works out just fine for the millions of Canadians who travel every year. But there is a little more to it than checking a few boxes on an on-line form and hoping for the best. To avoid any misunderstandings or possible disappointment, it’s important to understand exactly what you’re buying and to make informed choices as to the coverage you want and need. 

Of course, if you are fortunate enough to have group benefits coverage, it can be a little easier. Check with your HR department or benefits administrator to make sure the coverage works for your particular travel plans. 

Here are 10 things that you should particularly take into account. 

  1. The first thing to consider is the scope of the proposed coverage. Does it provide the medical coverage you need for emergencies, trip cancellations due to unforeseen events, reimbursement for lost or stolen luggage, and support for travel delays?
  2. Look carefully at coverage for emergency evacuation and repatriation to Canada in the event that an extended hospital stay, therapy or surgery are required.
  3. Make sure you fully understand the concept of “pre-existing conditions” and the reporting requirements in your policy. Most people understand that they need to fully and accurately report any pre-existing health conditions when applying for coverage, but what many don’t understand is that just talking to a family physician about, for example, an episode of chest pain is all it takes to raise a red flag for the insurer. Even if no diagnosis or any further action results, this can still count as evidence of a pre-existing condition – and it will be in your doctor’s notes and in your medical file.
  4. Check your policy for what’s called a “set stability period.” This basically establishes a minimum time period during which you have to be free of all signs and symptoms of any given condition for it not to be considered a potentially excluded pre-existing condition. Also, any routine changes – such as if your doctor makes an adjustment to your prescription for a pre-existing condition – need to be reported to the insurer before you travel. The government of Canada has actually issued advice to travelers on this issue.
  5. Understand the maximum claim amounts in your policy – and make sure that amount can reasonably cover you in a worst-case scenario. Also look at deductibles that you need to pay out-of-pocket before the insurance kicks in.
  6. Carefully consider the time frames of your planned trip and the duration of the coverage you are buying. What if you want to change your plans and stay longer? Many insurers will not allow you to extend your coverage while you are out of the country. And what if you are delayed by weather or flight cancelations? The key here is to make sure you have at least a few days of leeway.
  7. Watch out for “excess coverage.” This is basically insurance coverage that kicks in only when any other possible insurance coverage is exhausted. This can apply in many different situations and occurs most often in the event of motor vehicle accidents when, for example, your rental vehicle is involved in a collision, and you have some coverage through your own auto insurance, or you purchased insurance from the car rental agency. This could result in delays or even disputes between the different insurers.
  8. Make careful note of any exclusions for things such as “high risk activities,” and make sure any activities you do plan to participate in – such as, for example, scuba diving or off-roading in ATVs – is covered. 
  9. Watch out for travel advisories, which can affect your insurance coverage. The Canadian government maintains a website listing all travel advisories, for such things as disease outbreaks, civil unrest, or other emergencies. It has a lot of useful information to check out in any case.
  10. Familiarize yourself with the claims process and organize contact information for enquiries or claims that may arise while you are out of country. You want to have a copy of your policy and the policy number, as well as emergency telephone numbers and e-mail addresses. Yes, your smart phone or other devices are handy places to store this information, but make sure you have paper copies in case you lose your phone or can’t use it for whatever reason. And be sure that everyone in your party, and perhaps even a contact back home has access to the information.

Securing the right travel insurance for your needs does not have to be a difficult or daunting procedure. Just take the time to understand the policy and make sure you’re getting the coverage you need. That’s basically all it takes to give you what you really want – peace of mind.  


If you have questions or concerns about travel insurance, I do have access to specialists who can help. Just contact me by e-mail. 


Distracted Driving Prevention for Commercial Fleets – provided by Penmore 


Creating a Menopause Inclusive Workplace – from SunLife 


I really appreciate comments, ideas, suggestions or just observations about the blog or any other topics in benefits management. I always look forward to hearing from readers. If there’s anything you want to share, please email me at bill@penmorebenefits.com. 

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