Matt Hands, VP, Insurance and MoneySense
Medical travel insurance covers emergency health care costs, anywhere in the world, while travelling or vacationing abroad. A medical travel insurance policy provides you with coverage for everything from a terrible case of food poisoning or traveller’s diarrhea to rabies or typhoid.
In Canada, we have a public medical system, so we often don’t consider the costs of going to the hospital for emergency medical treatments, but in other countries this can be a significant expense. Medical travel insurance covers your ambulance ride to the hospital, and your time in the emergency room. If you need to stay overnight or even days, it covers your bill for room and board, and other related costs from medications to specific treatments.
Repatriation after death
If you have a good travel credit card, you may not need the extra insurance.
If you fall and chip a tooth while travelling, your credit card company may deem it non-essential, or something that can wait until your return to Canada. Routine or elective treatments aren’t typically covered by travel health insurance plans.
If you have health insurance at work, or with your significant other’s employer, double-check the limits and stipulations. They may not pay your medical fees while you’re outside of Canada. Your provincial health plan might pay some, but never upfront, so you’ll be on the hook until you return. The government of Canada won’t pay your medical bills.
Depending on where you’re travelling, some foreign hospitals can be expensive, or require cash upfront. In fact, some hospitals or clinics won’t even treat you if you don’t have enough insurance or money to pay your bills. It’s a different experience abroad, so plan accordingly.
If you’re entering a country with a travel advisory ban due to terrorism or a pandemic, or if you plan on doing extreme sports like bungee jumping, or scuba diving, be sure to ask about exclusions.
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- Will my policy cover me for my entire trip outside of Canada? If I extend my trip, can I add days to my insurance plan? How does that work?
- Are there any restrictions or limitations to my travel medical insurance plan? If I’m confused or don’t understand, who should I speak with?
- Is there a 24/7 emergency toll-free phone number? Can I reach it from any country?
- Does my insurance policy exclude any activities like sky diving, drug abuse, war, or suicide?
- What are my travel health insurance limits? Do I have to pay deductibles (the portion you pay before the insurer pays the rest)? Is this a co-pay agreement whereby the insurance provider pays 80% and I'm responsible for 20%?
- Does my policy cover emergency evacuation or any travel back home for health reasons?
- Does my policy cover the other people I’m travelling with or does everyone need their own policy? What if I’m travelling with my family?
- Are any countries or regions excluded from my medical insurance policy?
- I have coverage with my group plan at work, who pays for what? Which are my primary and secondary insurance resources?
- Is there a “Cancel for Any Reason” option? (It may cost more, but covers up to 75% of a cancelled trip)
- How do I submit a claim? What are the steps and procedures?
File promptly and accurately.
Gather as much evidence, bills, and other medical paperwork, ideally in english or french and call the emergency phone number. You may have to call within 24-48 hours, sometimes before you even receive treatment. Follow the rules and advice of the travel insurance representative on the phone. Pay close attention in case you need surgery or transfer to another hospital to receive treatment; they may need to first approve it.
Be prepared to pay up front and to seek reimbursement when you’re back in Canada.
Sometimes an out-of-country hospital will bill your provincial health insurance plan or your insurance provider directly.
Get copies of everything.
Take photos and keep original receipts of everything.
Let your insurer handle what they will.
Sometimes your insurance company will file a portion of the claim on your behalf with your provincial insurer, take advantage. So, if you have coverage with more than one provider, let your insurance provider know and ask them if they will co-ordinate who pays what.
Don't stop trying.
Most claims are successful, however, If you’re unsatisfied with your payout, or have more information, you can appeal. If that doesn’t work, consider contacting the OmbudService for Life and Health Insurance.
As a Canadian citizen travelling within Canada, know there is an inter-provincial agreement which provides coverage in most instances, but not always. For instance, Quebec residents are only covered for hospital fees. Check with your home province to see what limitations exist between your home province and the one you’re travelling to. Below, you'll find provincial health coverage phone numbers.
Can I claim travel insurance as a medical expense?
No, you cannot claim health care, medical services, or health plans as a medical expense, unless you were not reimbursed for those expenses. If so, you can claim them on your taxes as a medical expense.
Does my medical insurance cover international travel?
Provincial insurance varies, so while you may have some coverage, call your provincial health authority to check coverage. All health ministries, however, strongly recommend you consider sources beyond the basic provincial coverage because it’s inadequate internationally. You can buy extended coverage through your company’s health plan, credit card company, or online.
Does travel insurance cover medical emergencies?
If you buy medical travel insurance, yes, you are covered for medical emergencies. This includes ambulance rides, emergency room services, and hospital stays.