What are travel insurance top-ups and extensions and how do they work?
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.
Disclaimer: The material provided in the Snowbird Advisor Insurance Learning Centre is for informational purposes only and does NOT constitute insurance, legal, financial or other advice, and should not be relied on as such. If you require such advice, you should speak with a qualified professional to assist you.