For many Canadian travellers, top-up plans and extensions that allow you to extend the coverage period of your original travel insurance policy are useful and often essential features.
This is particularly true for snowbirds, seniors and boomers who travel frequently, have flexible travel plans or spend long periods of time outside their home province.
But what exactly are top-up plans and extensions and how do they work?
To help you navigate these sometimes confusing coverage options, we’ve created the following guide to travel insurance top-up plans and extensions, including helpful tips and things to look out for.
What are top-up plans and extensions?
Travel insurance top-up plans and extensions allow you to add extra coverage days to an existing travel insurance policy.
While very similar in what they accomplish, there is a key difference between top-up plans and extensions:
- Extensions simply add additional coverage days to your original policy, so they don’t require a separate application and have the same policy number as your original policy.
Extensions are used to add extra coverage days to single-trip policies.
- Top-Up Plans, on the other hand, are separate and distinct from the original policy you are adding coverage days to, so they must be applied for separately and will have their own policy number.
Top-up plans are most commonly used to add extra coverage days to annual multi-trip policies, but may sometimes be used in conjunction with single-trip policies due to changes in health. If you are adding coverage days to a single-trip policy, it’s best to speak with an agent to determine which option is more appropriate for you.
When would I need a top-up plan or extension?
There are a variety of reasons why you might require a top-up plan or extension, including:
- Extending your trip – Let’s say you’re on a trip and decide you want to stay longer than your original return date – for example, your original trip was for 30 days and you decide you want to stay for 45 days. In this situation, coverage under your original travel insurance policy would expire on the 30th day, leaving you exposed for the next 15 days if you required medical attention.
However, you can obtain coverage for the additional 15 days by purchasing an extension for your original plan (or a separate top-up plan, if applicable).
- Adding days to your Multi-Trip Annual Plan coverage – Multi-trip annual plans can be a great travel insurance option, as they provide coverage for an unlimited number of trips over a full year.
The drawback, however, is that annual plans limit the number of days you can travel per trip before you need to return to your home province to restart the clock to maintain your coverage (the limit will depend on the type of policy you purchase).
If one of your trips is going to be longer than the maximum per-trip limit allowed by your annual plan, you’ll need to purchase a top-up plan for the extra days.
For example, let’s say you have an annual plan that allows you to travel for 30 days per trip, but you want to be away for 45 days on a particular trip. In this situation, you would purchase a 15 day top-up plan for that particular trip to cover you for the period beyond your policy’s per-trip limit.
- Adding days to third-party Credit Card, Employer or Pension coverage – If you have travel insurance coverage through a credit card or pension/employee benefits plan, your coverage will usually be limited to a certain number of days per trip.
If you plan on being away for longer than the limit provides for, you’ll need to purchase a top-up plan to cover you for the extra days you’ll be away.
You can purchase your top-up from the original provider or a different provider - if you find a lower price somewhere else. However, if you want to use a different provider for your top-up plan, be sure to take the following considerations into account first:
- Check with the provider of your original plan first, as they may require you to purchase your top-up plan from them.
- If you purchase top-up from a different provider, you’ll have to contend with two different plan maximums, benefits, limits and exclusions.
- If you need to make a claim, you may have to deal with two different claim centres to have your claim paid
When do I need to purchase a top-up plan?
Unlike your original travel medical insurance policy (which needs to be purchased before you leave on your trip), you can purchase a top-up plan or extensions either before you leave on your trip or while you are travelling, but you must purchase extensions and top-ups before the original policy you are extending or topping-up expires.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- While many insurers will allow you to extend your coverage right up until the end of the day on which your original policy expires (i.e. if your original policy expires on March 30th, you could technically extend your coverage right up until 11:59 pm on March 30th) from a practical standpoint it is strongly advised that you don’t wait until the last minute, as your insurer may not be available at that time due to their hours of operation, weekends, holidays, high call volumes, etc…
- Some insurers require you to purchase coverage extensions a minimum period of time prior to when your original coverage expires (ie. 24 or 48 hours), so make sue you are aware of your providers’ requirements with respect extending your coverage when you purchase your original policy.
- While you may have purchased your original Per Trip or Annual Plan on the internet, the top-up or extension transaction is typically done by telephone by speaking with an agent.
How many days does a top-up plan last?
Some insurance providers allow you to purchase top-ups and extensions for the exact number of days you need to extend your trip, providing you with maximum flexibility.
However, it’s important to be aware that some insurance providers require you to purchase top-up plans and extensions in fixed increments (i.e. 3, 5 or 7 days) which limits your flexibility and can result in you paying for extra coverage days you don’t need.
It’s a good idea to ask your insurance provider how flexible their top-up plans are when you’re purchasing your original policy so you don’t get any surprises later.
How long can I extend my trip for?
Depending on your province of residence, you can extend your coverage (which includes your original policy + top-up/extension) up the maximum number of days your province allows you to be absent before you lose your provincial health insurance coverage. You can learn more about provincial health insurance limits for travellers here.
How do changes to your health affect extensions and top-up coverage?
Keep in mind that under any travel insurance policy, you are obligated to inform your provider of any changes to your health or medical condition that occur during your coverage period. This applies to both single-trip and annual multi-trip policies.
Any changes to your health or medical condition during your original coverage period may affect the cost or even your eligibility to subsequently purchase an extension or top-up plan.
If you have had a change in health between the time you purchased your original policy and the time you want to purchase a top-up or extension, you must inform your provider of this change.
Based on the changes to your medical condition, you’ll have one of three outcomes:
- No Change: If the change in your medical condition is deemed to be minor and doesn’t pose an additional risk, your provider will allow you to purchase an extension / top-up with a premium based on your medical condition at the time you purchased your original policy.
- Premium Increase: If the change in your medical condition is deemed to be significant but you are still eligible for coverage, your provider will allow you to purchase an extension / top-up with a premium based on your updated medical condition, which may be more expensive than the premium for your original policy.
- Ineligibility: If the change in your medical condition makes you ineligible for coverage, your provider will not allow you to purchase an extension / top-up.
Keep in mind that a change in your medical condition often means that you would not meet the stability period requirements under a top up-plan or extension. If you find yourself in this situation, you have two options:
- Accept that because the condition is no longer stable, you will no longer have coverage for that condition or any related conditions, or
- Purchase additional coverage with no stability period requirement for pre-existing medical conditions that would cover the change in your medical condition.
Will I be asked any medical questions?
Depending on your age and total trip duration, you may be asked a series of medical questions or to update the answers to the questions you were asked when you purchased your original policy.
Does making a claim affect extensions and top-up coverage?
If you have made or will be making a claim for medical treatment received during your original coverage period, it may increase the cost - and in some cases make you ineligible to purchase an extension or top-up. Generally speaking, if your provider’s assistance team has not advised you to return home, there will be no change to the cost of your coverage. However, if your provider’s assistance team has advised you to return home and choose not to, your coverage will effectively end.
In addition, if you have made or will be making a claim and you are still eligible to purchase an extension or top-up, the extension/top-up may not cover you for a recurrence of the medical issue you received treatment for under your original coverage.
The rules surrounding this issue vary from provider to provider, so you’ll want to check with your provider to understand their policies.
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.