4 things to consider when choosing travel insurance for a U.S. trip

By: Robb Engen on September 22, 2016

Canadians enjoy a world-class health care system that provides for many of our health-related needs. One exception is when we travel across the border or abroad.

Out of country medical services can be extremely costly. Emergency evacuation, dental services, and prolonged hospital visits could end up costing thousands of dollars. Accidents can happen anywhere, and provincial or territorial health plans may cover nothing or only a small portion of the costs of medical care.

That’s why purchasing travel insurance is a must — even for short trips into the United States. 

Here are four things to consider when choosing travel insurance:

1. Multi-trip vs. one-time travel insurance:

Make sure that your coverage reflects your travel plans. Snowbirds can get one-time travel insurance that covers the specific period of their trip.

On the other hand, someone who takes multiple trips to the U.S. each year should consider an annual plan. These plans cover all of the trips you make in a 12-month period.

2. How much coverage do you need?

The cost of your coverage is important, but it’s not the only aspect to consider. What happens if your medical emergencies are only covered up to $25,000 and you end up needing more coverage?

How much do you need? The Government of Canada’s Travel & Tourism website says your travel insurance should include health, life and disability coverage that will help you avoid large expenses, such as the cost of hospitalization and medical treatment outside Canada. Ensure your coverage includes:

  • Pre-existing medical conditions: understand the definitions of, and limitations and restrictions due to pre-existing conditions and tests and treatments you may have undergone. Ensure that any deductible costs are clearly explained in the policy and plan your finances accordingly.

  • Medical evacuation: ensure the policy covers medical evacuation to Canada or to the nearest location with appropriate medical care. The policy should also cover the costs of a medical escort to accompany you to your final destination.

  • Repatriation in case of death: ensure that the plan covers the preparation and return of your remains to Canada.

Carefully consider your needs and then choose the appropriate coverage. You might have to pay a little more, but the peace of mind is often worth it.

3. Choose your adventure:

Are you heading to the U.S. for a thrill-seeking adventure? Understand that some adventure activities, such as mountain climbing or white-water rafting, might not be covered.

Know the exclusions before you leave. Also, understand what constitutes a pre-existing condition, since that might not be covered.

4. How are claims paid?

Some travel insurance policies pay the health care service provider directly. Others require you to make all payments up front, and then reimburse you. Read the terms and conditions in the policy.

If you are worried about paying out of pocket, look for a policy that pays the health care providers directly. Remember to consider any deductibles you’re required to pay when making a claim.

Final thoughts

Seemingly benign activities (and more adventurous ones) can lead to accidents that require medical attention. Don’t be stuck paying out of your own pocket for treatment in a foreign country.

Check your credit card to see if it offers travel medical coverage. Many premium credit cards include this as a feature for short duration trips. Also, if you are travelling for business your employer most likely covers you under their insurance plan. This should be verified of course.

Remember to purchase travel insurance when travelling outside of the country. Read the fine print for any policy to know what’s covered, what isn’t and what to do in the event of an emergency.