As Drinking Laws Relax, You Need to Stay Alert when Travelling

To many foreign visitors, Ontario’s drinking laws have long been a source of bemusement, and some frustration.

I have often heard from friends and colleagues that, as much as they enjoyed what Canada has to offer, they were somewhat confused—or even embarrassed—when a waiter or hotel worker told them it was too early in the day for a Bloody Mary with their brunch. Or that if they wanted a beer or wine, they could only be served in some dark and enclosed location, not here on a sunlit patio.

But with the impending relaxation of alcohol consumption laws, just announced, visitors to Ontario should find it somewhat friendlier and less intimidating to order their favourite beverage in a pleasant outdoor location, open to the sky.

Times have certainly changed, and there will still be many people who decry the easing availability of alcohol in daily life. But for travellers leaving the confines of their own neighbourhoods and the customs they grew up with, the role of alcohol—or any other mind-altering drugs such as cannabis—needs to be considered with some seriousness.

We have all seen air travellers en route to a holiday destination, starting out “a little early” with their drinking, as if they have waited long enough for this vacation, so “let’s get on with it.” The results have not always been too happy for their fellow passengers.

Or, as I occasionally see at a Florida ABC store (a beverage supermarket): Canadians staring in amazement at a display of top-grade Canadian whisky, which normally sells at home for over $60 CAD, now available to them for less than $20 USD. That may be an inducement to go a little overboard. Yes, there is a difference in the value of a loonie and a greenback, but not that much.

Be aware of drinking-and-driving laws

Foreign drinking-and-driving laws can be very unforgiving, with many countries having much stricter blood-alcohol content limits than you may be used to. Jail is not an uncommon penalty for impaired driving—and in the US those limits and penalties vary from state to state. In other foreign countries, those laws can even be frightening (as is their intention), and in some cases convictions can impede a traveller’s future readmission to that country.

Of equal, but not as obvious, concern to international travellers are limitations on travel insurance emergency medical benefits for accidents or illnesses generated or contributed to by alcohol use or other mind-impairing drugs.

There are plenty of reported instances of people being seriously injured by falling off balconies, or tripping over “uneven” sidewalks, or drowning in hotel pools after midnight, or bleeding to death by pre-existing conditions that are exacerbated by alcohol abuse.

There have also been many parents shocked to hear that the alcohol-fuelled antics of their spring-breaking student-children have led to medical emergencies that will not be covered by the insurer because of the involvement of alcohol or other intoxicating drugs.

In virtually all travel insurance policies, benefits are generally not payable for costs incurred due to loss, death, or injury if there is evidence that the medical condition causing the loss was attributable to alcohol abuse, use of prohibited drugs or other intoxicants.

And be wary of “all-inclusives”

We also note that most cruise lines now offer prepaid “all-inclusive drink packages,” which offer unlimited alcoholic beverages of any variety for between $50 to $70 a day per person—more if you’re into the wine and champagne category. Now, who’s going to pre-pay $60 a day for all the booze they can drink and not make sure they get every ounce out of it?

Whether travelling in the air, on the sea, or on dry land, you need to understand not only the benefits of your insurance coverage, but the limitations. Usually these limitations are most generous if you practice a healthy lifestyle. You are being covered for the “unexpected.” But raising your risk profile, which is relatively easy to do while on vacation, with other routine restraints relaxed, should be factored into your travel plans. Just as should precise knowledge of what protection you have when you buy your travel insurance and what your own personal responsibilities are.

Canada is the second largest country in the world. Explore this diverse and cultural country with no worries. Whether hiking the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, or experience the world’s highest hands-free external walk on the CN Tower in Toronto, we have you covered.  For more information, visit, call us at 1-800-360-3234 or email us at

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