Here’s What You Need to Know.

By Marie Michélle Duchesneau

Social media and newspapers are filled with horror stories about Canadians that traveled around the globe and came back with hefty medical bills to pay, simply because they didn’t have proper travel health insurance. Did you know that a day in an American hospital could easily cost more than $20,000? Travel health insurance is a necessity as soon as you leave your home province. Your government plan covers you while you are in your province of residence. As soon as you leave that province, even if you stay within Canadian borders, you should have valid travel insurance. Hospital bills and expenses can jeopardize your financial stability. Savings of a lifetime can disappear in the snap of the fingers, no pun intended.

Stability and pre-existing medical conditions

The stability of your pre-existing conditions is one of the most important clauses in travel insurance policies. All insurers have a stability clause, which will usually vary between three months and 365 days before your departure date. But what does “stability” mean exactly?

While your doctor will tell you that ‘you are stable and okay to travel,’ insurers may not feel the same way for one simple reason: they don’t define stability in the same way. Doctors will consider you ‘stable’ once they’ve diagnosed you with a condition, even if the right dosage of your new medication for that condition has yet to be identified. Insurers, on the other hand, will start counting on the day following the latest event related to a condition. In this case, it would be once the official dosage of your new medication has been determined.

For most insurers, any change in your health will be considered an instability that could result in aftereffects while on your trip. Even a positive change, such as a decrease in the dosage of a medication you have been taking for a while, can cause aftereffects. The intent of travel insurance is to cover expenses related to emergencies, not instabilities. Pre-existing conditions, whether declared or undeclared, must meet the insurer’s stability clause to be covered. If one of your pre-existing conditions does not meet the regular stability clause, ask about reduced stability options, which will often allow you to cover unstable conditions in exchange for an extra premium.

What about travel insurance from group plans or credit cards?

Many group plans will provide travel health insurance and some will also provide coverage in case of trip cancellation or interruption, protection for your baggage, etc. Many travelers will rely on their protection from their group plan, but won’t know what is covered exactly. Be responsible: read your policy wording or call the insurer before leaving on a trip to find out what you are covered for.   Are there exclusions, such as for some sports or activities? For how many days are you covered? What’s the maximum amount that will be reimbursed and what does it include?

Coverage from credit cards is also available. But, read the fine print! While some cards promise up to 60 days of coverage, reading the policy wording will inform you that this is for clients of a certain age only. Are you required to prepay travel arrangements with that specific card for the insurance to be in force? If your trip is longer, can you get a top-up from another insurer without invalidating your coverage? If top-ups elsewhere are accepted, will there be continuation of the benefits once the second insurer’s policy has become effective and the first has expired?

Man goes on the beach and the risk of stepping on a splinter of broken bottle glass, which is lying on the sand littered in places with poor environmental conditions

Travel protections from group plans or credit cards are like “one size fits most” pieces of clothing. But we’ve all tried a ‘one size’ shirt in the past, only to find out that it doesn’t fit everybody the same way. Individual travel health insurance policies are designed to fit the individuals that buy them. Premiums are based on your age, your trip and your pre-existing conditions (or the absence thereof). Insurers will offer early bird or loyalty discounts, reduced stability options, a variety of deductibles to lower your premium, and a bunch of benefits that are most likely adapted to the type of trip you will be going on. Get a quote from a private travel health insurer before leaving on your next trip. It could be cheaper than you think, and the few dollars you will spend will be worth every penny!

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