Six Questions to Ask Before Buying Travel Insurance

Photo: Andrew Steinmetz

Photo: Andrew Steinmetz

Last March, my $2000 camera was stolen from my checked luggage.

I made the huge-ass mistake of packing a valuable item and trusting that it would arrive on the other side. Arriving in Dublin, the camera was missing. In talking with the police, it’s quite likely that airport staff at either Toronto Pearson or Dublin International rifled through my suitcase and pinched it. Luckily, theft was covered by my travel insurance on my American Express credit card.

Or so I thought. Over the phone, the insurance representative regretfully informed me that although stolen baggage was covered, my claim wasn’t eligible.

“The whole suitcase has to be taken,” she explained. “We don’t cover individual items lost or stolen from your checked baggage.”

It was a baffling and maddening situation, but one that got me thinking: what other insurance loopholes are lingering out there? From speaking with a few industry experts and seasoned travellers, here are six questions to ask before buying your next travel insurance policy:

1. What Will You Be Doing?

Don’t assume that a basic plan covers everything on your trip. If you’re engaging in adventure activities that could be deemed “high risk,” make sure it’s covered by your plan.

“High risk sports are usually excluded from the policy,” says Patrick Lavoie, Sales & Development Vice-President of Securiglobe, a travel insurance distributor in Canada. “Other sports, such as motor or contact sports are also excluded.”

Scuba diving Bali

Will you be doing this? Better call Saul…or your insurance provider.

According to Lavoie, activities ineligible for coverage from basic plans can include skiing or snowboarding “out of bounds,” sky-diving, scuba-diving, white water rafting, mountaineering, or participation in any rodeo activity.

To avoid hassle later, ask questions and get specifics before purchasing a policy. For instance, Kelly Michelle, a UK travel blogger of Around the World in 80 Pairs of Shoes, can attest first-hand to the importance of “know before you go.”

“A few years ago, my partner suffered from compression sickness caused by diving,” she says. “When he was purchasing the insurance, the company tried to sell him the normal travel insurance, which only went to 30 metres.”

Luckily, Michelle’s partner played it safe and purchased a policy that covered up to 40 metres.

“The dive that made him ill was actually at 31.8 metres,” says Michelle. “So that extra £8 ($16 CAD) saved us £100,000 ($200,000 CAD).”

2. Where Will You Be Going?

The author visiting the Separation Barrier in Palestine

The author visiting the Separation Barrier in Palestine

Just before I departed for Tel Aviv, the ever-tenuous relationship between Israel and Palestine further deteriorated. I got worried: would my travel medical insurance cover me in a conflict zone?

As it turns out, most policies don’t cover travel to unsafe areas, conflict zones, or “excluded areas.” My insurance provider would not cover me if I travelled to a region or nation with a “do not travel” advisory issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada.

Now here’s the rub: since no nation-wide “do not travel” advisory was issued for Israel at the time, I was in the clear. Not only that, my provider confirmed that if circumstances changed and the government issued a “do not travel” advisory during my trip, I would be covered.

So sometimes, the hassle of a little research and making a phone call can give you peace of mind.

3. What’s the Policy’s Maximum Payable?

The bills add up during an emergency. What’s the cap on your travel insurance?

“Look at the maximum payable on the policy,” says Lavoie. “Some policies will cover only up to $200,000, but we recommend travelers to have a minimum of $1 million maximum payable.”

4. What’s in the Fine Print?

Drinking and biking...may not be covered.

Drinking and biking…may not be covered.

Every policy has a list of situations in which coverage is not provided, otherwise known as “exclusions.” For instance, many exclude “losses incurred while the insured is legally drunk or under the influence of drugs.” So if you’ve had a drink and broken your toe, there could be just cause to deny your claim, even if the two are unrelated. And sometimes, certain procedures or treatments aren’t covered under the policy at all.

“On our honeymoon in Mexico, my husband felt really ill,” says Brianna Bell, a freelance writer from Guelph, Ontario. “We called the resort doctor, who offered injections to help my husband recover faster. They were $450, but we had insurance.”

“We returned home to find out that these injections weren’t covered.”

Review the exclusions carefully before buying insurance. If you have questions, call the company.

5. Do You Have a Pre-Existing Condition?

This is where things get tricky.

According to the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers, a pre-existing condition is “something that happened (or started to happen) before you were insured.” And if you don’t declare a condition, the entire policy could be invalidated.

“If you have health conditions or have had them in the past, finding travel insurance that includes coverage for those conditions can be difficult,” says Lavoie. “Many plan designs don’t cover pre-existing medical conditions. Others limit coverage.”

So what can you do? A waiver to the pre-existing condition exclusion can be included with many plans. To get this, you usually need to buy insurance soon after your first trip payment; be healthy when you buy insurance; and insure the full amount of your trip.

The bottom line: if you have any health conditions (past or present), get a policy that covers you with comprehensive emergency medical coverage.

6. Will Your Home Insurance Cover It?

As it turns out, my stolen camera was covered under my home insurance (with a $1000 deductible, of course). I was surprised to learn that many home insurance policies cover personal property that’s stolen while travelling. Your best bet: call your home insurance provider and ask about covering high-value items in full before you leave (meaning, pay no deductible). It may only cost a little more per month, but it could majorly pay off if shit happens.

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