A Guide to Travel Insurance | OLHI - Free, impartial help with your life & health insurance complaints

A Guide to Travel Insurance


Types of travel insurance

At a high-level, there are four key types of travel insurance to choose from:

Per Trip

This type of travel insurance applies to a single trip—like a family vacation to Florida or a romantic trip with your loved one to Paris.

Annual

This type of insurance is better suited for travellers who spend extended amounts of time outside of Canada—for example, snowbirds travelling to Florida for several months.

Bank card

Credit cards can also offer travel insurance coverage for medical emergencies or trip cancellations and material losses like lost baggage or auto accidents.

Group benefits

Your extended health care benefits (AKA group benefits) may grant you access to reduced travel insurance premiums.

A family getting ready to go on a road trip.

How to choose which travel insurance to buy

When selecting the correct type of travel insurance, get qualified advice from a professional on what kind of coverage to buy. Our Find Insurance tool can help you find which of our member companies offer travel insurance.

Don’t be shy—ask your insurance provider as many questions as you need to feel comfortable and confident about your policy. Download our Travel Insurance Checklist Download our Travel Insurance Checklist to make sure you ask all the important questions when selecting an insurance policy that meets your needs.


TIP: Don’t wait until the last minute to figure out your travel insurance plan.

It’s natural to be excited about your trip and focused on planning all the fun details. Still, it’s crucial to spend time and part of your budget to plan which travel insurance to buy. Last-minute decision-making about travel insurance often leads to selecting a cheaper plan, which can cause problems in the long run.


How to ensure you have adequate coverage

Making sure you have enough coverage for emergency medical care expenses is essential for selecting travel insurance.

Your base coverage should include emergency medical care expenses for you and your family (if they are travelling with you.) The amount of coverage you need will depend on your situation. You can expect a coverage range from $3M to $5M CAD. Clarify the deductible—if it’s 100%, it may cost more now, but it could save you a lot of money in an emergency.

Also, find out the limit or aggregate maximum payable for everyone covered by your insurance policy. The maximum payable amount is vital if an emergency (like a natural disaster, a pandemic, or a military conflict) occurs during your trip. If your policy has a maximum payable amount, it could reduce the total amount of medical coverage you are entitled to.


TIP: Get your insurer’s emergency contact number.

Ask your insurance provider if they provide a worldwide 24/7 emergency contact number in English and translation services for health care providers in your destination country.


There are four key things your travel insurance should always cover:

Medical evacuation

Your policy needs to cover the cost of your medical evacuation to Canada (or the closest location you can get adequate medical care.) These costs should include a medical escort accompanying you during your evacuation.

Pre-existing medical conditions

Many policies will have a pre-existing condition clause. This means that if you suffer from a pre-existing condition, any claim related to it will be excluded from the coverage of your policy.

Ask for the insurer’s specific definition of “pre-existing medical condition” and any limitations this definition may impose on you based on your medical history. Don’t forget to ask about coverage for mental health conditions or pregnancy if either of these conditions apply to you.

Ask for a written agreement from your insurance company that says it will cover your pre-existing medical condition(s). Ensure the written agreement includes these clauses:

  • A stability clause will state the duration of coverage for pre-existing medical conditions before your trip—also known as a stability period. Your medical condition cannot change during this period (including medications and symptoms.) In other words, this clause confirms coverage for a pre-existing condition because it has remained stable over a defined duration.
  • A compassion clause, which states that an inaccurate statement from you may not invalidate your entire policy. 
  • A change of health clause covers you if your medical condition changes before your trip.

Repatriation in the event of death

Ask your insurance company if the travel insurance policy in question covers repatriation. It’s certainly not something anyone wants to consider before a vacation, but if you pass away while abroad, repatriating your remains back to Canada can be difficult and expensive.

Having a plan in place, just in case, will mean lifting a substantial financial burden off the shoulders of your family.

Your travel timeframe

Be very clear about when you’ll be travelling and if outside of Canada. Ask if there is a maximum timeframe for coverage. Find out if you can renew or extend your insurance coverage and, if so, how much notice your insurer needs to extend it.

If you decide to extend your trip but are injured and need medical care, you will not be covered if your policy has expired.

A family upset about a cancelled trip.

Trip cancellations

Cancellation rules depend on your insurer and your policy. You’ll need to ask questions about the conditions that allow trip cancellation, clarify if your insurer will reimburse you, and how much.

Ask the insurance company about when the policy’s effective date occurs (in other words, the date when your policy begins), which can vary depending on the type of insurance purchased. Insurers may allow you to cancel your travel insurance with a full refund before the effective date of your policy, but never assume this will be the case for you. Always ask direct questions and confirm when the effective date will occur.

You should also ask about extenuating circumstances beyond your control that could cancel a trip, like a natural disaster or military conflict. Find out which external risks are covered under your policy and what would happen in the event of such a disaster—namely, would you be refunded.

It is especially important to verify whether the insurance company will deny a claim if the travel agency, airline or other provider of travel services (including hotels) offers you a credit or voucher. Sometimes, a credit or voucher will be of no use, such as for a student whose trip to Europe in their last year of high school got cancelled.

Case Study:
Misadventures in Paradise

Find out how OLHI helped a consumer when he was denied reimbursement for a cancelled trip to the Caribbean:

Travel insurance exclusions to ask about

In Canada, we’re fortunate to have access to universal health care. For example, suppose Susan becomes sick with pneumonia within her hometown of Halifax and needs emergency hospital care. In that case, our Canadian universal insurance plan will cover her treatment costs.

But, if Susan becomes sick while visiting family in the United States and needs emergency treatment, she could face hefty hospital bills without adequate insurance because of certain exclusions. This is one more reason you must be careful when you purchase your insurance.

Indeed, say Susan obtained travel insurance before her trip to the US. Yet, she forgot to include details about a pre-existing condition in her insurance application. This omission could jeopardize her insurance claims for hospital care in the US and devastate her financially because her policy could be null and void. The Government of Canada will not cover these bills.

Case Study: When’s a medical condition pre-existing?

Learn how OLHI helped a consumer when he was denied reimbursement due to a pre-existing condition:

Here are four key exclusions to ask about and factor into your travel insurance purchase:

Medical

It is crucial that you disclose your full medical history in your application to your insurance provider. Don’t leave anything out.

The primary reason insurers deny travel insurance claims is the insurer’s discovery of a pre-existing condition when there is indeed a pre-existing exclusion in the policy. Also, if an insurer discovers missing medical detail from your application which can be considered as misrepresentation or concealment. The insurer can determine that this information was “material to the risk.”

In other words, if the insurer had known about this piece of information, they either wouldn’t have issued the policy or would have charged a higher premium. Also, the missing details don’t need to be related to the claim for the insurer to cancel the policy.

Are you wondering how your insurer can tell if you left out medical history details from your application? They will require and review your clinical notes to process your claim.

Also, if your medical condition changes before your trip—due to something as minor as a nosebleed or a cough—call your insurance provider and let them know about it.


TIP: Ask your physician to complete the health questions in your application.

Ask your physician to complete the health questions in your application. They may charge a fee, but it could be one of the best investments you’ll ever make—a claim in a US hospital could be for $200,000 CAD or more.


Who you are travelling with

Ask specific questions about who in your travel party falls under your coverage plan. Suppose you’re travelling with your significant other, but you don’t live together. In that case, they are likely not covered under your travel insurance plan.

Clarify and confirm your family is protected under your travel insurance plan and their amount of coverage.

High-risk activities

What are you doing during your holiday? Will you engage in any high-risk activities, like parasailing or deep-sea diving? If you intend to participate in anything where injury or fatality could occur, ask your insurance company if they include accidents resulting from these activities under your insurance coverage.

Your destination

Suppose you’re travelling to a destination where the Canadian government has issued an advisory against travelling there. In that case, your insurer may not be able to provide you with travel insurance coverage. Tell your insurer where you plan on travelling—especially if you’re making multiple stops in different countries.

Ask if coverage conditions will change in a situation where the advisory status worsens after purchasing your travel insurance.

Check the Canadian Government’s Travel Advice and Advisories website before planning your trip and again shortly before you leave. Be prepared for a travel insurance denial if you plan on travelling to any countries indicated as “Avoid all travel” on this website.

If travelling to a contentious location, ask your insurer about the limit or aggregate maximum payable for all those in your travel party covered by your insurance policy.

A person receiving a text message that their flight was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Just before you travel…

Here are a few final travel insurance preparations to make before you board that plane, train, or automobile:

  • Read your policy thoroughly before you leave. If you have any questions, clarify with your insurance provider until your understanding is crystal clear. Never assume anything about the conditions of your policy.
  • Document the emergency contact number for your travel insurance company on paper and make two copies. Put one copy in your luggage and always carry the other with you while you travel. Give the third copy to a friend or relative at home. Save this information on your mobile device.
  • Contact your insurer as soon as possible after receiving health care while abroad to inform them of what’s happened. Ask for detailed reports and invoices from the doctor or hospital that helped you (this can be challenging when you’ve returned home.) Make copies of your medical receipts but send the originals to your insurance provider.

TIP: Request a travel card.

Request a travel card from your travel insurance provider. It will include information on who to contact if you need to submit a claim.


A man upset over a refused travel insurance claim.

Top 5 reasons for denied travel insurance claims

It’s essential to be clear about your medical history and trip details; otherwise, you could face a denied claim.

These are the 5 top reasons for denied travel insurance claims:

  • Undisclosed pre-existing medical information. The insurer discovers missing medical information from your application, which the insurer determines is “material to the risk.” In other words, if the insurer had this information, they either wouldn’t have issued the policy or would have charged a higher premium. Also, the missing data doesn’t need to be related to the claim that the insurer is denying. The consequence is that the policy can be cancelled.
  • Pending medical tests. If your doctor has requested testing to investigate a possible medical condition and you haven’t concluded the testing and received your results by the start of your insurance coverage. Recall that the missing information doesn’t need to be related to the claim that the insurer is denying. 
  • Changes to your health before your trip. If your health condition changes before your insurance coverage start and you don’t inform your insurer of these changes, no matter how slight the difference may be.
  • Failure to notify your insurer about a claim. If you don’t inform your insurance provider of an incurred claim as soon as possible. In other words, if you go to the hospital or receive medical care in another country and don’t promptly inform your insurance provider about the incurred claim.
  • Submitting a claim too late. You try to submit a claim for a cost incurred after the coverage period because you extended your vacation and did not inform your insurance company. 

If your insurer has denied your travel insurance claim and you’ve unsuccessfully appealed the claim through their internal complaints process, you can submit a complaint to OLHI for an additional review:

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