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Health Insurance for Travellers


Many Canadians hold medical insurance through their company benefits packages. But few have ever actually read the fine print on those policies. When you travel out of the province or out of the country, you ought to know how your package will cover you and your family.

Read the policy

Start by digging out that little booklet about benefits you got when you joined the company. Similarly, if you have out-of-country medical insurance through your "gold" credit card, union contract, professional organization, or other sources, you should study the terms of the plan. You want to know who is covered, for how long, and what restrictions apply.

Some plans have a toll-free number for information, or you may be able to find out more through your company's benefits department. Some group plans have comprehensive out-of-country coverage. Others may not cover everything you need, so you might consider buying a supplementary travel medical plan. If you are self-employed, or not covered at all by a plan, you definitely should buy protection before you travel.

Why you need coverage

Remember your provincial health plan will only pay a fraction of the cost of a stay in a U.S. or other foreign hospital. Two nights in a U. S. hospital can cost over $10,000. If a patient needs surgery, air evacuation, and other assistance, the health care bill could quickly climb to over $100,000.

Even if you are travelling to another province within Canada, your provincial insurance plan won't pay all your medical expenses. A travel plan will cover the cost of an ambulance or air ambulance to return you home, or the cost of emergency prescriptions.

How are pre-existing conditions treated?

It's important to study the details of coverage for pre-existing conditions. Many plans will not cover you for any illness treated or diagnosed before you left the country. Having a heart condition or being pregnant doesn't mean you are uninsurable, but you may have to pay extra for a more comprehensive policy. Arranging a proper policy will take time and expert advice but, as a person with a pre-existing condition, you need insurance more than many other travellers.

You may also have to pay more if you are travelling to a "high risk" destination, or are planning to participate in sports such as mountain climbing or scuba diving.

If you think you need coverage over and above what you currently have, consult an insurance advisor who is a member of The Financial Advisors Association of Canada.

If you travel frequently, an annual plan can be cheaper than covering individual trips. Many plans come bundled with extras like flight cancellation or baggage insurance. But be careful – each new option adds to your cost.

Take note of toll-free number

Most plans offer an emergency toll-free telephone number that will guide you through a medical maze. A good travel assistance service can find you a doctor, provide an interpreter, and negotiate medical fees. Make sure you (and any travelling companions) have that number handy. If you do need medical treatment, make sure you call the service first. You could forfeit some of your coverage if you go ahead without calling the toll-free number.

Before you go, find out how to make a claim. Is there a time limit? What kind of receipts do you need? Do you have to approach your provincial insurance plan for reimbursement first?


Now you are ready to pack for your trip. Carry your provincial health insurance card and your out-of-country medical policy in a safe place. Then relax and hope you never have to use them.




Ask these questions

  • How long are you covered for?
  • Is everyone in your family covered?
  • What is the limit on health costs per person?
  • Is there a deductible that you must pay?
  • Will the plan transport you home for treatment?
  • Will you be covered if you take part in dangerous sports?
  • Does the plan cover treatment for pre-existing conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes?
  • What is the procedure if you do become ill?