Is Travel Insurance Worth It?

How buying insurance can save you big bucks abroad.

Is Travel Insurance Worth It?Photo: Thinkstock

When a black-tailed rattlesnake bit Jared Hobbs in southeast Arizona last spring, his mind wasn’t on his forearm, which quickly swelled to nearly the size of a football. What concerned the Victoria biologist was the cost of the helicopter evacuation, 20 vials of antivenin and upcoming two-night hospital stay. “The bite wasn’t causing me any pain,” says Hobbs, adding that he knew it wouldn’t be lethal. “My focus was on, Wow, this is going to be heinously expensive.” Luckily Hobbs had bought a $25 travel insurance policy for his 10-day trip. It covered his entire $200,000 bill.

One in five Canadians report having undergone medical treatment while abroad, according to a Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada survey. But a third of Canadian travellers don’t invest in insurance before they go, leaving them susceptible to nearly all costs for out-of-country medical expenses. (Some provinces will cover minor costs abroad. For example, coverage in Ontario pays $50 a day for emergency-room services outside of Canada and physician fees equivalent to those charged by Ontario doctors.) 

While it might not be the most exciting part of planning a getaway, buying a travel policy protects you against a range of unforeseen costs, including emergency medical treatment, lost luggage and missed flights. What you’re protected against depends on what you pay for. “Find the policy that suits you,” says Chris Krug, travel insurance account manager for Kanetix, a company that offers online price comparisons of insurance providers. “If you’re going scuba diving, make sure there are no specific exclusions for high-risk activities.” Consider how long you’ll be away, since a longer trip increases the cost, and whether your entire travel group will be included in your plan. Policies vary according to trip specifics, but a middle-aged traveller regularly going to the United States can purchase a policy at around $50 a year for health coverage with no deductible. Read the policy carefully before you buy it so you know what’s covered and what isn’t. Often plans will cover emergency services unrelated to pre-existing medical conditions, and claims due to injuries caused by one’s alcohol use aren’t usually accepted. You also likely won’t be covered if you’re going to a destination where a travel warning is in effect. 

Despite the risks, some Canadians still opt out. Ben Scotland, a 27-year-old copywriter in Toronto, has decided not to purchase policies on trips to the States and Europe. “I was trying to save money wherever I could,” he says. “I’ve heard lots of horror stories, but I tell myself this is okay. Nothing’s ever happened to make me question it.” Regardless of your choice, make an informed one. “The last thing you want is to travel thinking you’re covered when you’re not,” Krug says.

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