March 13, 2018

Tips for buying travel insurance

By Joy Blenman

You may be in perfect health, or just going away for a day or 2. But accidents can happen. Here’s what you need to know about buying travel insurance.

Imagine you’re on vacation in the Caribbean. The sun is warm, the water that surrounds you is a vibrant blue and the landscape is lush: You’re in a picture-perfect paradise. But suddenly, you begin to feel ill. When you can’t shake it off, you decide to go to the local doctor, who treats you and assures you that you’ll feel better soon. But then you feel worse, because as you leave the office, you get a hefty medical bill.

Nobody wants to pay for added expenses after splurging on a vacation, but a trip to the hospital overseas could leave you on the hook for a medical bill in the thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. Each year, there are countless headlines about Canadians who’ve run up exorbitant medical bills while on vacation without travel insurance. Even a quick jaunt across the border to shop or catch a ballgame carries the risk of a crippling expense — and while your provincial health insurance may reimburse you for a small portion of the cost, your coverage is capped at the provincial fee limits for the treatment you received, if that treatment is covered at all.

And yet, only 47% of Canadians “always purchase travel insurance” before taking a trip, according to a 2014 Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada survey.

So why are so few of us insuring ourselves when we travel? Insurance terms can seem complicated, but a good insurance provider will clarify what the jargon means and make getting insured a smooth process.

How to pick a good travel insurance provider

Will McAleer, president of the Travel Health Insurance Association, says there are 4 “golden rules” to follow to ensure you’re getting proper coverage from your travel insurance provider:

  1. Know your health. While some policies include coverage for lost luggage and trip cancellation for various reasons, at its heart, travel insurance is health insurance. Make a note of any conditions you have and medications you are on before applying for travel insurance. That way, you can make sure the policy you buy covers your particular situation.
  2. Know your policy. Ask the travel insurance company or the insurance broker all the questions you can think of before purchasing your policy. For example, ask which services or medical devices are covered by the policy, and how claims are paid.
  3. Know your trip. Think about what you’re going to be doing on your trip. If you are planning any high-risk activities such as bungee jumping, ziplining or extreme snowboarding, make sure your travel insurance policy covers them. “Policies differ in terms of the activities they will cover,” says McAleer. “So don’t just assume you’re covered.”
  4. Know your rights. In June 2017, Canada’s Travel Health Insurance Association launched a bill of rights and responsibilities for consumers. This is a great resource that lets you know what you have a right to, such as access to toll-free support, a free minimum 10-day review of your policy and prompt and fair claims handling.

What to look for in a travel insurance carrier

  • Smooth application process, smooth claims payment
  • Easy and simple ability to file complaints or flag problems
  • Simple and clear documents with full disclosure of all limitations

About 95% of travel health insurance claims are paid, according to a 2017 KPMG survey commissioned by the Travel Health Insurance Association. But sometimes errors do occur, even with excellent companies. That said, a good travel insurance provider will address your issues if you have a problem. When considering a provider, look on its website to see if an appeals or complaints contact is listed clearly.

“You need to treat your insurance documents the same way you treat your passport,” says McAleer. Make copies of your insurance documents and store them safely so that you can still access them if the originals are misplaced.

Whether you’re travelling out of province or out of the country, packing your travel insurance policy should be part of your travel to-do list. Planning ahead to protect yourself while you’re away will make it more likely that you’ll have a vacation to remember — in a good way.

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