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The limitations of travel insurance

If you are traveling abroad, you will not be covered by your provincial or territorial government healthcare insurance. Even if there is some coverage it will be extremely limited but the government will not pay your medical bills while you are in another country.

Essentially what travel insurance does is to pay for unexpected expenses that could arise while you are traveling. That includes, among other things, emergency hospital/medical expenses.

In other words, if you want to be covered for medical emergencies or illnesses while you are abroad, you will have to buy travel insurance.

However, you need to know that though travel insurances are similar in coverage, things also differ from policy to policy and depending on the company, but they all have one thing in common: exclusions.

Never assume that you are fully covered without having read and understood the fine print of the policy. Insurers always put exclusions into their policies.

What are some of the exclusions that travel insurers can put into their policies?

The main exclusionary ground often found in travel insurances is exclusions for pre-existing conditions.

What is a pre-existing condition?

CoverMe Travel Insurance describes a pre-existing condition as: “a medical condition that exists before your effective date of insurance.” This can include an injury, disease, illness, complications due to pregnancy, a mental or emotional disorder.

Not every travel insurer may define a pre-existing condition in the same way and you need to verify with the specific policy you are choosing what they define as a pre-existing condition.

Some policies will not cover for conditions that existed before you left Canada. Some will but in a limited capacity. For example, if you have a chronic heart condition and suffer a heart attack abroad, some policies would not cover that.

The point is that if you have a pre-existing condition, you need to look at the fine print in your policy to determine whether that is covered or excluded.

However, pre-existing conditions are not the only thing for which travel insurance may not cover you.

Other exclusions could include but are not limited to:

  • High-risk activities, such as scuba-diving, sky diving, bungee jumping and more;
  • If you are injured during war;
  • Certain destinations may be excluded under your policy, especially if they are under a travel advisory. In fact, a travel advisory could even trigger your trip cancellation insurance;
  • Maximums – policies can vary in regards to how much they are going to pay if you get sick or injured. It can be from a certain percentage to full coverage. You need to check in your policy for how much of the expenses you are covered;
  • Duration – some policies have a time limit and if you are planning to stay for a longer period of time, you will have to extend your travel insurance or buy;
  • Substance abuse – if you are drug or alcohol dependent and your expenses abroad include treatment for those conditions that will often not be covered by travel insurance;
  • Suicide – costs related to self-inflicted injuries or suicides are usually excluded.

Regardless of whether you have to buy travel insurance or you are provided travel insurance through your group health provider through work, a union or professional association or a credit card, you need to know the limitations of your coverage.

If you are traveling abroad and are shopping around for travel insurances, it’s worthwhile to consult a lawyer when reviewing the fine print of the policies. Even if you have already bought the policy, it doesn’t hurt to still have it reviewed by a lawyer to ensure you know and understand your coverage.

Read more: 

Travel Insurance Guide - Government of Canada

A guide to travel health insurance