If you are thinking of leaving Canada without travel insurance during the pandemic, be prepared to foot a hefty bill if you catch coronavirus abroad — even if you don't visit a hospital.
Not only will you be denied boarding your flight home if you have symptoms of the virus, but you will also be required to foot the hotel bill for your stay until you recover. In other words, you will have to pay for a new flight, accommodation, meals, and other expenses until it is safe for you to return home.
Travel insurance is something many people skip. If they've never been in a situation where it was needed, they may have a false sense of security. A vacation security blanket, if you will.
But don't let your rose-coloured vacation sunglasses shade you from reality.
Even in non-pandemic times, travel insurance is a necessity for preventing holidays from turning into economic nightmares for travellers in unforeseeable circumstances.
"Travel is still not for the faint of heart"
Will McAleer, the Executive Director of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada (THIA), tells Vancouver Is Awesome in a phone interview that "travel is still not for the faint of heart" but Canadians can expect better coverage from travel insurance providers at this stage of the pandemic.
"We've seen the travel insurance policies evolve fairly significantly over the pandemic," he said. "We've never seen the kind of escalation in government advisories that were coming out.
During the pandemic, Canadians were advised to avoid all travel outside of the country, which is an unprecedented decision by the federal government. Until 2020, non-essential advisories were reserved for specific countries or regions due to conflicts or natural disasters, McAleer explains.
Now that Canada has dropped the travel advisory from Level 3 to Level 2, travellers have protection if they get sick with COVID-19.
But not all travel insurance policies are created equal.
Personal responsibility and risk factors
McAleer stresses the importance of personal responsibility and understanding the risks involved in a specific itinerary. For example, individuals with preexisting conditions will want to ensure they are covered for them. Many policies will not cover individuals for medical issues that are expected, which would include any known health problems.
Additionally, travellers should ensure the policy they are looking into covers medical emergencies and isn't scant on the amount. While it may seem incomprehensible that a medical issue could cost millions of dollars to address, some situations, particularly emergency ones, can easily add up. In some instances, helicopters are required to fly people out of precarious situations or to bring them to more equipped hospitals.
"It's really important for Canadians to ask questions," he underscores. "You might need to be hospitalized or perhaps put into [intensive care]. And those can be very expensive."
Travellers should also ask the insurance provider what would happen if the government changes the travel advisory back to Level 3. "Will my coverage continue? Can I continue my trip?
"That's probably the number one question to ask."
Know your trip
When does a hike turn into mountain climbing?
The type of trip you are going on may determine what kind of policy you need to purchase, McAleer explains. Some plans do not cover extreme sports or other high-risk activities. If you plan on just lounging poolside, these plans may work for your purposes; it really comes down to thinking out your trip and understanding the risks.
"Those are questions that can quickly be answered by whomever you're purchasing that policy from. Some [companies] cover high-risk activities, some will have an up-charge for that, and some won't cover it."
When it comes to COVID-19 insurance policies, many of them are brand new. While the virus has been around for over two years, they have continued to evolve.
Some policies have a quarantine allowance but "you need to shop around a little bit," McAleer advises, adding that some plans offer $200 to $300 per day up to a maximum amount.
There are also policies that provide coverage for people who contract the virus in advance of their trip and are unable to travel. Similarly, travellers can find coverage for trip interruption when they get sick abroad.
Know your rights
Travellers may get back with a series of bills and some of them may not get paid — and they have the right to appeal those decisions, McAleer notes.
But you also have a responsibility to keep track of important information. Keep track of receipts and other important paperwork your insurance provider may require for a claim.
When you get back
If you've tested positive for COVID-19, you should keep a record of a negative PCR test with you while you travel. Canada is dropping the pre-arrival testing requirement on April 1 but you are still subject to random testing on arrival at the airport. You could test positive and need to quarantine as a result.
Unfortunately, no insurance provider currently covers quarantine requirements when people return home. What's more, the Canadian government requires you to isolate for 14 days if you test positive upon arrival, while B.C. only requires five days (the federal requirement overrules the provincial one).