Travel Insurance FAQs
Get accurate, detailed answers to common questions about Canadian travel insurance for snowbirds, boomers, seniors and other travellers, regardless of who your travel insurance provider is.
Which phone number should I call for assistance from my travel insurance provider if I have a medical emergency while travelling?
Dealing with an injury or medical issue while travelling is stressful enough on its own, and running into trouble when trying to contact your travel insurance provider for assistance only serves to compound that stress.
Fortunately, a little knowledge and advance planning can go a long way in avoiding the added stress of not being able to reach your travel insurance provider when you need them most.
Here are our top tips to make the process easier when trying to reach your travel insurance provider for emergency assistance while travelling.
Your provider will have multiple phone numbers – make sure you’re calling the right one
Travel insurance providers have multiple phone numbers where you can reach them – each one with a different purpose - and knowing which one to call ahead of time for emergency medical assistance can avoid unnecessary stress.
A common issue faced by some travellers is calling their travel insurance provider’s Sales and Service Centre number when they are experiencing a medical emergency. The Sales and Service Centre is there exclusively to assist you with things like purchasing or making changes to your policy and answering general, non-urgent questions about your coverage/policy, so they won’t be able to assist you with your medical emergency. In addition, the Sales and Service Centre will only be open during regular business hours, so if you call during off hours, they won’t even be able to give you the emergency assistance number.
Instead, you’ll want to make sure you are calling the Emergency Assistance Centre, which will have a different phone number and will be able to assist you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The Emergency Assistance Centre will generally have two phone numbers:
- A toll-free number for calls made from within Canada and the U.S., and
- A collect number for calling from outside Canada and the U.S.
(Some Emergency Assistance Centres also provide a number to call if travelling within Mexico)
You should carry both of these numbers with you, as even if you are travelling in the U.S., there may be rare occasions when the toll-free number doesn’t work in the U.S. and you may need to call collect.
Keep the emergency contact number(s) in an accessible place
Locating your insurance provider’s emergency assistance numbers while you are in the middle of a medical emergency can add unnecessary stress to an already stressful situation.
To avoid being in this situation, it is highly advisable that you take some or all of the following steps to ensure you have your provider’s emergency contact numbers accessible in as many places as possible before you travel, so you can quickly and easily find them if you ever need them. These numbers can be found in your insurance policy:
- Add your provider’s Emergency Assistance Centre as a Contact on your cell phone.
- If your provider has an App with their emergency assistance contact information, download it to your cell phone.
- Your insurance provider should email you a digital Emergency Contact Card. Print this card, cut it out and keep it in your wallet.
If you are travelling with a spouse or partner, both of you should take the steps above in case one of you is incapacitated during a medical emergency.
Learn how to make collect calls back to Canada from the country where you are travelling
If you are travelling outside Canada and the U.S., an often overlooked but important measure you should take is learning how to make a collect call from your destination back to Canada before you travel so you don’t have to figure it out in the heat of the moment when you are dealing with a medical emergency.
Outside Canada and the U.S., you’ll usually need to dial the two or three-digit Exit Code for the country you are in (which allows you to dial out of that country back to Canada) followed by the Country Code for Canada (1) followed by the area code and phone number for your travel insurance provider’s collect phone number in Canada.
If you are calling from a cell phone, you may be able to use the + symbol instead of the Exit Code.
I have been offered deductibles on my travel insurance over the years, but have never opted for one. Can you please clarify how travel insurance deductibles work and what the upsides and downsides are?
A travel insurance deductible is the amount you will have to pay out-of-pocket if you make a claim under your insurance policy before your insurance provider will cover the balance of the claim.
Most travel insurance providers allow you to choose your deductible amount from a pre-set number of options, starting at a $0 deductible with limits increasing into the thousands of dollars. Common deductibles levels start at $500 and increase to $1,000, $5,000, or even $10,000.
If your travel insurance policy has a $0 deductible (sometimes referred to as no deductible), you won’t have to cover any portion of the eligible expenses if you make a claim, as your travel insurance provider will cover 100% of these expenses.
Alternatively, if you choose a deductible that is more than $0, you will have to cover that amount before your travel insurance will cover the rest.
If you made a claim for $5,000 of eligible expenses under your travel insurance policy and you had a $0 deductible, your travel insurance provider would cover the full $5,000. However, if your deductible was $500, you would need to cover the first $500 in expenses out of your own pocket, and your travel insurance provider would cover the $4,500 balance.
Why, you may ask, would anyone choose a deductible other than $0 if you need to cover that amount out-of-pocket? It’s because as your deductible increases, the lower your premium will be, and while many travellers prefer the comfort of knowing they won’t have to cover any expenses out-of-pocket, some travellers are willing to take the risk by opting for higher deductibles and lower premiums.
A few more tips about travel insurance deductibles
- Make sure you know what the deductible is when you receive a quote for your travel insurance so you can accurately compare premiums from different providers.
Most travel insurance providers will provide you with an initial quote that has a $0 deductible, but some providers may give you an initial quote that has a deductible of more than $0, which can be misleading, as it can make their premium prices appear to be lower than other providers, when in reality you’re not really comparing identical coverage.
- If you choose to have a deductible for your travel insurance policy, it’s important to find out if the deductible amount is in Canadian Dollars or U.S. Dollars.
This will impact how much you will need to cover out-of-pocket and can make a big difference if your deductible is in U.S. dollars and the Canadian dollar is weak vs. the U.S. dollar at the time you make your claim. For example, a $500 USD deductible will cost you a lot more out of pocket than a $500 CAD deductible when you factor in the currency exchange.
I see a number of travel insurance providers offering various discounts, but it can be difficult to figure out how they work and which ones actually offer the best savings. Can you please provide some guidance?
Many travel insurance providers offer pricing discounts – usually expressed as a percentage (i.e. Save 5% or 10%). Some of the more common discounts being offered include:
- Member Discounts - For individuals who are members of a certain group
- Loyalty Discounts - For repeat clients
- Claim Free Discounts - For repeat clients who have not made a claim over a certain number of years
- Spousal Discounts – For spouses who purchase their policies together
- Early Bird Savings - For purchasing your policy before a certain date when rate increases are anticipated to come into effect.
These types of discounts can sometimes result in better pricing from one provider vs. another provider when comparing prices - in fact, we at Snowbird Advisor Insurance offer a variety of discounts ourselves.
However, while these discounts may appear enticing at first glance, in many cases they don’t actually result in lower prices. Remember, when comparing travel insurance providers, don’t assume that just because one provider is offering a bigger discount their pricing will be better.
If “Provider X” is offering discounts that add up to 20% in savings, while “Provider Y” is only offering discounts that add up to 5% in savings (or no discount at all), you might assume at first glance that you would get a lower premium from Provider X.
However, what you may not know is that Provider X’s regular premiums may be significantly higher than Provider Y’s regular premiums.
For example, for your trip, Provider X’s regular premium might be $100 while Provider Y’s regular premium might only be $80.
When you factor in discounts, you would pay the following rates to each provider:
- $80 for a policy from Provider X ($100 regular premium – 20% discount), and
- $76 for a policy from Provider Y ($80 regular premium – 5% discount)
In this case, even though Provider X is offering what appears to be a much bigger discount, you would actually get a better price from Provider Y.
The bottom line:
All of this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t look for discounts, as discounts can save you money on your travel insurance premiums. However, discounts can sometimes be misleading and the only way you’ll know for sure if you’re getting a better price is to actually shop around and get quotes from multiple providers so you can compare premiums.
What do I need to know if I want to top-up or extend my travel medical insurance coverage?
Simply put, travel insurance top-ups and extensions are options for extending the coverage period of your original travel medical insurance policy.
However, there are important details travellers should be aware of when it comes to top-ups and extensions.
What’s the difference between a “top-up” and an “extension”?
When it comes to travel insurance, the terms “Top-up” and “Extension” are often used interchangeably, but they have slightly different meanings and applications.
“Top-up” coverage generally applies to Annual Travel Insurance Plans when an individual wants to travel for a longer period than the maximum per-trip length allowed under their Annual Plan.
For example, if a traveller has an Annual Plan with a maximum per-trip limit of 30 travel days before they must return to Canada to restart the clock on their coverage, but they want to travel for 40 days, the traveller would purchase “Top-up” coverage for the 10 extra days.
In most cases, Top-ups are a separate contract from your original Annual Plan policy, so individuals who purchase a Top-up will have two policies - one for their original Annual Plan and one for the Top-up.
Annual Plans can be purchased as stand-alone policies, but they may also be included under an Employee Benefits program or as a Credit Card benefit.
“Extension” coverage, on the other hand, generally applies to Single-Trip Travel Insurance Plans when your original coverage is for a specific trip duration, but you decide to stay longer than your originally scheduled return date.
For example, if a traveller has a Single-Trip Plan for 30 days and wants to extend their trip to 40 days, they would purchase an “extension” of their original policy, increasing their coverage period from 30 to 40 days.
In most cases, extensions are simply a modification of your original Single-Trip Plan policy, so individuals who purchase an extension will only have one policy that covers both their original coverage period and their extension by way of a modified coverage period.
For additional information on Annual Plans and Single-Trip Plans, please see the following article comparing Single Trip vs. Annual Plan Coverage.
When do you need to purchase a top-up or extension?
It’s important for travellers to be aware that you must purchase a Top-up or extension before your original coverage expires.
For example, if you have a Single-Trip plan with a coverage period of December 1st to March 31st, you would need to extend your coverage on or before March 31st. After this date, you will not be allowed to purchase extra coverage.
Likewise, if you have an Annual Plan with a maximum per-trip coverage limit of 15-days, you must obtain your top-up coverage on or before the 15th day of your trip. Remember that for most Annual Plans, your departure date counts as the first day of your coverage.
It’s always a good idea to purchase your top-up or extension prior to your departure date. However, you can also purchase a top-up or extension while you are travelling, but you’ll need to call your insurance provider before your original coverage expires to do so.
For this reason, it’s never a good idea to wait until the last minute before your original coverage expires to top-up or extend. Always plan ahead, as there may be a variety of circumstances that prevent you from reaching your provider in time, including hours of operation, holiday closures, wait times and general issues calling from outside Canada.
Can you purchase a top-up or extension if you have already made a claim?
If you are already travelling and need to purchase extra days of coverage while you’re away, you will be asked by your insurance provider whether:
- Any event has occurred - such as an accident, illness or sickness - that has resulted or may result in a claim against your coverage, or
- There has been a change in your health status since you bought your original policy or your departure date.
If there is a cause for a claim or your health status has changed, you will not be eligible to purchase a top-up or extension.
This is just another reason why you should purchase your top-up or extension prior to travelling whenever possible.
How long can you top-up or extend your coverage for?
With both top-ups and extensions, the total length of coverage can’t exceed the maximum number of days allowed by your government health insurance plan – usually between 180 – 212 days, depending on the province or territory.
In addition, it’s important to note that some insurance providers – including Snowbird Advisor Insurance - will permit you to purchase top-ups for the exact number of additional days you need to extend your trip, providing you with maximum flexibility.
However, other providers require you to purchase top-up plans in fixed increments (for example, 5, 7 or 10 days) which limits your flexibility which can result in you paying for extra coverage days you don’t need.
Where should you purchase your top-up or extension?
Generally speaking, it makes the most sense for travellers to purchase their top-up or extension coverage from the same insurance company that provided their original Policy.
However, in some cases this may not be possible or advisable, in which case you may want to top-up with a different provider. For example:
- Group/Employee Benefits Plans and Credit Card Coverage may not offer you the opportunity to top-up their coverage, so you will need to obtain your top-up coverage from a different provider.
- As described above, some insurance companies only offer top-ups in fixed increments ( i.e. 5, 7 or 10 days). If your original provider only offers top-ups in fixed increments that don’t match the number of top-up days you require, you may want to consider topping-up with a different provider to avoid paying for extra top-up days you don’t need.
- Always be sure to check if your original insurance provider allows top-ups from other providers. While most do, some do not.
- Policy terms, conditions, definitions, exclusions and benefit limits vary among insurance providers, so be sure to read and understand the differences between the coverage offered through your original provider and your top-up provider if you’re getting your top-up coverage from a different company.
How could COVID-19 affect my ability to Top-up or Extend?
LAST UPDATED: March 16, 2022
During the COVID-19 pandemic, some providers placed certain restrictions on top-up and extension availability, primarily based on the Travel Advisory level issued by the Government of Canada. For example:
- When the Government of Canada issued a Level 3 or Level 4 Travel Advisory for COVID-19, some insurance providers wouldn’t top-up policies that were originally issued by other providers.
- When the Travel Advisory for COVID-19 increased to Level 3 or Level 4, some providers would no longer issue top-ups or extensions for any policies.
As of February 28, 2022, the Government of Canada Travel Advisory level has been reduced to Level 2 for fully vaccinated travellers, so these restrictions did not apply.
However, it is unpredictable what the future trajectory of the pandemic will look like and if the situation worsens and travel advisory levels once again increase to Level 3 or higher, it will be important to check with your travel insurance provider to see if they have any COVID related restrictions on top-ups and extensions.
Can I get a tax deduction for my travel insurance premiums?
Yes, Canadian snowbirds and other travellers may be eligible to recoup some of the cost of their travel medical insurance premium by claiming it as a Medical Expense Tax Credit on their T1 General Income Tax and Benefit Return.
Medical Expense Tax Credits allow you to reduce your income tax liability by claiming travel medical insurance premiums and other eligible medical expenses on your tax return provided certain eligibility requirements have been met.
For example, only travel medical insurance premiums are eligible to be claimed. Other types of travel insurance such as trip cancellation/interruption insurance and baggage insurance are not eligible for the Medical Expense Tax Credits.
For additional information, please refer to our article Are my Travel Insurance Premiums Tax Deductible?
Always make sure you speak to your tax professional to get advice on claiming your Medical Tax Credit.
Does Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption Insurance cover cancelling or interrupting your trip for a COVID-related reason?
First, it’s important to understand exactly what Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption Insurance is and what it covers:
- Trip Cancellation Insurance reimburses you for non-refundable eligible expenses if you need to cancel a trip due to an eligible “cause” prior to a scheduled departure.
- Trip Interruption Insurance reimburses you for the unused portion of non-refundable eligible expenses and the cost to return you to your original point of departure if you need to interrupt your trip due to an eligible “cause” after you have already departed on your trip.
Some examples of eligible expenses include airline tickets, cruises, tours, hotels, vacation packages and vacation rentals.
Some common examples of eligible “causes” include injuries, sickness, death, a disaster at your residence in Canada, job loss and depending on the circumstances, a delayed or missed flight connection.
When it comes to COVID, Trip Cancellation and Interruption Insurance generally does NOT cover you if you need to cancel or interrupt your trip for a COVID-related reason (but it will still cover if you need to cancel or interrupt your trip for a different eligible cause).
However, some but not all insurance companies are currently providing coverage for COVID under their Trip Cancellation coverage in the following limited circumstances:
- If you contract COVID-19 while still in your home province within a specified period prior to your departure and need to cancel your trip prior to your departure.
Snowbird Advisor Insurance’s position
At Snowbird Advisor Insurance, we are pleased to advise our clients that our Manulife Trip Cancellation and Interruption insurance policies will cover eligible expenses if you contract COVID-19 while still in your home province within 72 hours prior to your scheduled departure and need to cancel your trip prior to your departure.
However, our Blue Cross Trip Cancellation and Interruption policies do NOT provide coverage if you contract COVID-19 while still in your home province and need to cancel your trip prior to your departure.
If you are obtaining your Trip Cancellation and Interruption insurance coverage from another provider, we strongly suggest you inquire about their coverage policies with respect to cancelling or interrupting your trip due to COVID-related reasons.
If I get a COVID booster shot in the U.S., will it affect my Travel Medical Insurance coverage?
Many snowbirds (and some other travellers) are planning to get their COVID booster shots while in the U.S.
However, a number of snowbirds are wondering if receiving a COVID booster shot while travelling will negatively impact their travel medical insurance coverage.
Here are the facts when it comes to getting a COVID booster shot in the U.S. and how it might affect your travel insurance coverage:
- Most travel insurance companies have taken the position and that if you receive a COVID booster while travelling, any adverse reaction or side-effects you experience as a result of your booster shot will be covered and receiving a booster shot will not invalidate your coverage.
- However, some travel insurance companies have taken the position that if you receive a COVID booster while travelling, any adverse reaction or side-effects you experience related to your booster shot will not be covered, and in some cases, your entire policy may be invalidated.
Snowbird Advisor Insurance’s position
At Snowbird Advisor Insurance, we are pleased to advise our clients that all of our insurance partners have taken the position that receiving a booster shot while in the U.S. will not negatively affect your travel medical insurance coverage.
Accordingly, adverse reactions and side-effects related to COVID booster shots will be covered and receiving a COVID booster while travelling will not invalidate your coverage.
If you are obtaining your travel insurance from another provider, we strongly suggest you inquire about their coverage policies related to receiving COVID boosters while travelling.
What is a “stability period” clause and how does it affect travel insurance coverage?
Most travel medical insurance policies available in Canada contain what is commonly referred to as a “Stability” clause.
Policies that contain a Stability clause require your “pre-existing medical conditions” to be “stable” for a defined period of time prior to the date you leave on your trip. The stability period varies from policy to policy, but is often 90, 180 or even 365 days leading up to your departure date (or trip “booking date” in the case of Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance).
You can learn more about Pre-Existing Medical Conditions here.
If you have pre-existing medical conditions, you should consider opting for a personalized policy with no stability requirement for pre-existing medical conditions.
The definition of “Stable” can vary from policy to policy, so be sure to check your policy’s wording, but “Stable” generally means that the condition has not changed or worsened in any way.
If there are any changes to one of your pre-existing medical conditions during the stability period, that condition will be excluded from coverage, meaning your policy will not cover any expenses you incur that are related to that condition while travelling.
Keep in mind that depending on your policy wording, any changes really can mean any changes, including some you may not think of, such as:
- starting or stopping a medication,
- increasing or decreasing the dose of a medication,
- seeing a doctor or receiving diagnostic testing about a potentially new medical condition, even if that condition has not yet been diagnosed.
Related medical conditions may also not be covered…
It’s also important to be aware that under a stability clause, any medical treatment for a condition related to an excluded condition would also be excluded from coverage.
To better illustrate this point, take the following example:
Let’s say Mary has diabetes and her condition doesn’t meet his policy’s stability terms. In this case, it’s quite clear that Mary would not be covered for any treatment related to her diabetes while travelling.
What you may be surprised to learn is that Mary would also not be covered for any condition related to her diabetes. For example, if Mary was to have a heart attack while travelling, and the heart attack could be linked to having been caused by Mary’s diabetes, it is quite possible that treatment for her heart attack would also not be covered by her insurance, even though most people would consider diabetes and a heart attack to be two different and unrelated medical conditions.
What are my options if I don’t meet the stability clause terms?
Travellers with pre-existing medical conditions who don’t meet stability clause requirements are essentially left with three options:
- Wait until your medical conditions are “stable” before purchasing your policy. This is often not a practical solution, as it would likely prevent you from travelling during your preferred travel dates. There is also a good chance your medical conditions may never meet the stability requirements.
- Purchase the policy knowing your non-stable medical conditions and any related conditions won’t be covered. This is a very risky strategy and not advisable, as you’d be exposing yourself and your family to serious financial risk if you require treatment while travelling and need to file a claim. Note that other medical emergencies unrelated to your existing conditions (such as a fall or food poisoning) could be covered.
- Find a policy that covers pre-existing medical conditions with NO stability period requirement. While these policies are not as well known or widely available as “standard” travel insurance policies, they can be a real lifesaver and are often the best option for many Canadian snowbirds, seniors, boomers and other travellers with pre-existing medical conditions, regardless of whether those conditions are stable or not.
For example, Snowbird Advisor Insurance offers a personalized policy that covers pre-existing medical conditions with NO stability period requirement.
What is a “pre-existing medical condition” and how does it affect travel insurance coverage?
Most travel insurance policies make reference to “pre-existing conditions” and include a definition of what this means, which can vary depending on the insurance company providing the policy.
Typically, a pre-existing condition is a medical illness or injury that was diagnosed or treated prior to leaving your Province or Territory of residence. And while many pre-existing conditions tend to be chronic and long-term in nature (i.e. diabetes, COPD and cancer) they can also include other acute, short-term issues (i.e. bronchitis, pneumonia and broken bones). Different insurance companies may define pre-existing conditions differently, so check the wording of your policy.
If your travel insurance application includes a medical questionnaire, it's important to make sure you disclose ALL of your pre-existing conditions. If you have any questions or are uncertain about your conditions, make sure you ask the broker or agent assisting you with your application and contact your doctor.
It’s important for travellers to understand what a pre-existing condition is and how it is defined in your policy, as it can impact your coverage in a variety of ways, including:
- Higher Premiums: The more pre-existing conditions you have and the more serious they are, the higher your premiums will be.
- Invalidation of Your Policy: If you fail to disclose a pre-existing medical condition during the application process and you need to make a claim, it is possible that your policy will be invalidated for failure to disclose, even if the treatment you require is unrelated to the pre-existing condition you didn’t disclose.
- Eligibility: Some more serious pre-existing conditions may make you ineligible for coverage under many regular policies. However, you may still be eligible for coverage under “personalized” policies offered by some providers, including Snowbird Advisor Insurance.
- Exclusion from Coverage: Most travel insurance policies include a “Stability” clause, which requires your pre-existing medical conditions to be “stable” for a pre-defined period (usually 90, 180 or even 365 days) before you travel, otherwise your pre-existing conditions and any related issues or treatment would be excluded from coverage.
However, some providers, including Snowbird Advisor Insurance, offer personalized policies with no-stability period requirement for pre-existing conditions.
You can learn more about Stability Clauses here.