Milan Korcok

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Milan Korcok is a national award-wining journalist, author and medical writer who has been covering international health care activities and trends in Canada, The U.S., and abroad for many years. He was the first features editor of the Medical Post in Canada He has long served as contributing editor to the Canadian Medical Association Journal and the Journal of the American Medical Association and currently serves as contributor to the International Travel and Health Insurance Journal in the UK.

Are Snowbirds Ready to Plan for Life After Covid?

By Milan Korcok Any other year, Canadian snowbirds would be anticipating the release of early-bird travel insurance deals for the coming winter season in the US sunbelt or other warm subtropical location. June, July, August—that’s when insurers normally begin rolling out their products for the coming season. But this is not just any other year. The attack of Covid-19 coronavirus has seen to that. As we know, many of you got back north of the border by the skin of your teeth in late March and April before the border shut down. A few others didn’t quite make it and had to pay the price of quarantine. And now the quandary: what to do about winter 20/21? A lot of questions to deal with. When will the US/Canada border restrictions end? Will you feel safe travelling to your winter home? Will you have to wear a face mask all winter?…

Time to Think About Travel Strategies—After Covid-19

By Milan Korcok. That Air Canada expects the pandemic hangover to last at least three years, exposing the airline industry to endure its “darkest period ever,” portends deep instability for all aspiring travellers for the foreseeable future. Canadians and Americans have a lot of places to go and activities to enjoy within a day’s drive—anticipating that the border shutdown between our countries doesn’t last indefinitely. But without the sustenance of air travellers, the tourism infrastructure—hotels, entertainment venues, theme parks, all-inclusive resorts, and mom and pop roadside operations, can’t operate at full capacity and with complete menus for long. A winnowing of destination choices and services becomes inevitable. As Air Canada Chief Executive Calin Rovinescu said in a statement dated May 4, “We expect that both the overall industry and our airlines will be considerably smaller for some time, which will unfortunately result in significant reductions in both fleet and employee…

Cruise Bargains Sound Tempting. Can You Afford to Bite?

By Milan Korcok Despite the lingering images of cruise ships stranded at sea with passengers begging to be freed, the world’s cruise lines continue to drum up business for 2021 and even 2022. And bookings are said to be brisk–thanks to deep price-cuts and on-board cash value incentives. When US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lifts its “No Sail” order depends on when it considers the COVID-19 plague under control. And though cruising is a worldwide industry extending far beyond US ports, the world’s three biggest lines*are headquartered in Florida, and their vessels at some time or other sail in US-controlled waters patrolled by the US Coast Guard. Thus, CDC jurisdiction is quite clear. (*Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Holdings account for 60 percent of all cruise traffic). However, none of these lines, and very few others, are flagged in the US, thus they have not…

Is Coming Back to Normal, Good Enough?

By Milan Korcok It may be too early to think about getting back to “normal” once the threat, and the carnage, of COVID recedes. It could be that what was once normal just isn’t realistic anymore. In Europe, border-free travel between neighbouring states is no longer a given. We have seen how quickly self-preservation can overrule an ideological imperative. In North America, the unthinkable action of shutting down the “world’s longest undefended border” has actually happened—even though commerce continued and most “trapped” travellers eventually found their way home. But just the fact that it could be shut down came as a stunning shock of millions on either side of the so called 49th parallel who had come think that “crossing over” for a few days or half a year was a basic human “right.” It isn’t. It never has been. It’s a privilege. And it can be withdrawn if push comes to shove…quickly. Reality can be stark. How are these new “realities” going…

Time for Canadians to Take up Trip Cancellation Coverage

By Milan Korcok It may be some time before tourism gets back to normal, but one thing the COVID pandemic should have taught Canadians is that they should be paying just as much attention to trip cancellation/interruption insurance as they do to out-of-country medical emergency coverage. The recent example of cruise ships being forced to cancel or divert trips for which their passengers have already prepaid several thousand dollars emphasizes that travelers could be at significant financial risk very quickly through no fault of their own. And though cruise companies have responded with pledges of refunds for interrupted or aborted voyages, those refunds usually take the form of credits for future cruises—not cash. Such credits don’t always confirm vacationers’ schedules or their changing attitudes about the cruise experience. A 2019 survey by travel insurance vendor Kanetix revealed that 65 percent of prospective Canadian travelers do not buy travel insurance or even know if they have cancellation or interruption benefits in their policies—which in Canada are heavily skewed to…

Stay in Place. Follow Official Guidance. This will End.

By Milan Korcok By now, all Canadians who have been abroad should either be at home or in the final process of getting there. The coronavirus COVID-19 has changed our lives, and perhaps, when we come out at the other end of this trial, we’ll all be better off for it. We’ll be better prepared to deal with any such disruption in future, more cognizant of how vulnerable we really are when we travel to environments not our own. For now, travel is not in our immediate future. For Canadians, some of the most inveterate travellers on earth, that may seem like a forbidding challenge. But this too will pass and when it does we may view travel as more of a privilege than a human right and we’ll be more careful about our choices, our preparations, our own untidiness when it comes to making plans, our own consideration for…

Cruise Lines Roll Out Deep Bargains During Virus Threats… Interested?

By Milan Korcok Cruise lines are now offering deals you wouldn’t have believed possible even a couple of weeks ago—obviously not to China or other western Pacific regions, but anywhere else—to the Caribbean (which normally attracts 32 percent of the world’s cruise traffic), to Mediterranean waters (forget Italy), Alaska and the rest of the world. They have suffered severe business losses since the COVID epidemic spread, and they intend to stay afloat during the current tempest. It’s a buyers’ market, for either short or long term bookings. Should You buy? That’s your personal decision and your willingness to take on risk. Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases, and consultant to the White House COVID response team, has advised that anybody with a serious underlying condition, and especially persons over 60 with serious conditions “should not get near a cruise ship.” Canada’s PHAC…

Coronavirus Advisory for Italy and Neighbouring Countries

February 25, 2020: Travellers planning trips anywhere to Europe in the near future need to stay tuned  to government and media alerts now that COVID-19 has seriously impacted Italy and begun its spread to neighbouring countries. As of this date, more than 200 Italians have been confirmed positive for the virus and seven have died—the heaviest toll of any country in Europe. Though most of the cases reported to date have been clustered in northern Italy, a late report has just been received of a positive confirmation of coronavirus in Sicily, southernmost Italy. And according to Germany’s DW (Deutsche Welle) News service, Austria has confirmed its first two cases of the coronavirus—detected in two Italians living in the Tyrol region who were likely infected on a recent trip to Lombardy (encompassing Milan) in northern Italy. Croatia has also reported its first confirmed case in a young man who returned from…

Cruise Lines Issue Advisory on Booking Future Travel in Response to Fears around COVID-19

The impact of COVID-19 has spread far beyond China and has affected cruise ship operations not only in the Pacific but worldwide. A recent poll by Travel Weekly, a US-based trade publication, reports that 43.6 per cent of traveller-respondents expressed concern about booking a cruise anywhere. In response to such fears, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the Florida-based trade group representing the world’s global cruise industry, has issued a statement (which follows in full) outlining what cruise line operators are doing worldwide to prevent COVID-19 from being transmitted to their passengers now and in the immediate future. At this point we also advise that, though standard trip-cancellation/interruption travel insurance policies can protect you in case you are forced to cancel a cruise booking for reasons of illness or other unexpected emergencies (as defined in your policy), cancelling your booking for fear or concern that something untoward might happen is…

How Powerful Is Your Passport? US and Canada Near the Top

If you consider yourself a traveller (or if you would like to be one) and you still don’t have a passport, shame on you—you’re in the distinct minority and your chances of seeing much of the world beyond your borders gets slimmer by the year. As of the end of 2019, over 44 per cent of Americans had passports—low by international standards—but over 66 per cent of Canadians had them. (In 2007, only 27 per cent of Americans had passports, but with the imposition of tougher Homeland Security rules for international travel, and a requirement that by October 2020, Americans will need a real government-approved document to board even domestic flights, the call for passports has quickened sharply.) According to the Henley Passport Index,* the world’s most “powerful” passport as of January 2020 was the Japanese, which allows access to 191 countries without a prior visa, with an electronic visa,…

Caribbean Bound? Do Your Homework. Don’t Get Burned

If you’re planning a trip to the Caribbean in what remains of this winter, you should have no difficulty finding your choice of location at prices comparable to last year. There’s plenty of room at the inn. But if your travel choice is one of the Big Three destinations below—which account for three-quarters of Canadian vacation trips to the Caribbean overall—you still need to do your due diligence on the state of your chosen resorts to make sure the standards are what you expect, and you need to remain increasingly vigilant about your personal safety and security. For specific warnings, check out Travel Canada’s advisory service links for each country. Mexico According to STR—the hotel data collection company—revenues per available room, average daily room rates, and occupancy rates have all fallen, with the Yucatan Peninsula (which encompasses Cancun and Cozumel) being the most heavily hit area. Yucatan has also been…

Coronavirus Impacts Travel Insurance Coverage: Stay Protected

With commercial airline traffic to and from China virtually shut down, and with little prospect that control of the coronavirus is imminent, travellers need to do a quick study of what travel insurance can or cannot do in protecting them from unexpected costs of emergency medical care, trip cancellations, disruptions, re-routings or possibly even temporary isolation far from home. To help with that study, we have asked Matt Davies, Senior Product Specialist with MSH International to help us navigate through the finer points of travel insurance benefits and limitations as they are provided to Canadian travellers planning visits to countries impacted by the coronavirus epidemic. One important point to emphasize is that these guidelines or limitations are largely dependent on government assessments of health or other risks in foreign countries and are not just arbitrary rulings set out by insurers. The before or after rule Generally, if you purchase insurance for…

Wuhan Coronavirus: Flashback to SARS? Lessons Learned

With the new coronavirus threat breaking out beyond China’s borders, many nations, among them Canada, the US, France, Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, and several others, are in action mode: setting up health-screening measures for incoming Chinese travellers; evacuating their own vulnerable personnel from Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic; and activating their own medical systems to keep potential infections isolated. Travel Canada has advised China-bound travellers to “Exercise a high degree of caution” while anywhere in China, but to “Avoid all travel” to Hubei Province including the cities of Wuhan, Huanggang, and Ezhou—an area encompassing more than 58 million residents. NOTE: Travel into these areas after the government has issued these advisories could invalidate your travel insurance benefits. Make sure you check out your policy. For the most up-to-date warning levels, consult Travel Canada here. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued a Level…

Protect Your International Visitors: Canada’s “Free” Health Care Isn’t Free

If you’re one of the many Canadians who considers your health care “free,” it is so only in that you don’t have to pay for medical or hospital services at the time when you are treated. But pay for it you certainly do, every time you buy a car or a pair of socks, go to a ballgame, or pay for virtually any transaction that is taxable. In fact, about 40 per cent of most provincial budgets are eaten up by health costs, and according to the most recent data available from the Canadian Institute for Healthcare Information, total health costs in Canada are expected to reach $7,068 per person in 2019 once all the data are tallied. That’s one of the highest costs for health care in the world—except for the US. And that is something to consider, seriously, when inviting relatives or friends from other nations to visit…

Canadians Are Accustomed to “Free Trade” in Travel

With the US/Mexico/Canada (USMCA) free trade agreement settled, now might be a good time to reassess the non-political dynamics that keep our countries emotionally as well as economically linked through travel. In 2018, Canadians made more than 33 million trips of a least one overnight stay to the US: more than 2 per cent higher than the previous year. That’s getting very close to averaging one trip for every person living in Canada, and almost 25 million of those trips were for leisure purposes—tourism, visits with family, shopping, sunning, beaching, golf, watching sports events, you name it. That’s as close to being “free trade” in travel as you can get. And according to the Conference Board of Canada, there seems to be only one variable influencing that trend: the relative value of the Canadian dollar. But as Canada’s tough, resilient snowbirds have proven over the years, even a droopy loonie…

As of Jan. 1, changes to OHIP’s out-of-country health insurance are now in effect

We’ve been warning you since mid-summer that Ontario would be cutting its share of health costs for out-of-country travel to zero. At first, the cutoff date was set for October 1, 2019, then it was moved to January 1, 2020. And that’s where it stands. As of New Year’s Day, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan will no longer cover any part of your out-of-country emergency medical costs. This is the first province in Canada to arbitrarily carve that particular benefit out of the Canada Heath Act, purportedly saving $2.9 million to administer some $9 million in emergency health fees paid to foreign hospitals and doctors. Will other provinces follow Ontario’s lead? Who knows? We’ll tell you if it happens. Though OHIP traditionally paid only about 5 per cent of actual charges billed by foreign hospitals and doctors (the rest being paid by Canada’s private travel insurers, or by the patients…

In a High-Risk World, Do Travel Insurers and Agents Have a Duty to Advise?

Increasingly, media have been reporting on travel trouble spots around the globe, emphasizing that bad things can happen in even the nicest places. What, then, can vacationers or business travellers expect their agents or insurers to tell them about the destinations they’ve chosen? What if they just discovered that there have been unexplained deaths at a resort where they booked a stay (as occurred this past summer in the Dominican Republic), and when they tried to cancel, the resort refused to return their deposits? Or what if they suddenly found themselves in the middle of an anti-government demonstration in Chile and were injured and needed hospital care, but their insurer denied their claims because they had been warned against involvement in demonstrations by their government? Who do they go to? Why didn’t their travel agent, or travel insurance brokers, tell them these were potential trouble spots? After all, didn’t they…

Travelling to South America? Heed the Warnings

Though much of the world’s media is focused on riots in Hong Kong and the Middle East, business, leisure, and adventure travellers need to stay on high alert in the face of rampaging civil disturbances, government upheavals, and outbreaks of crime throughout South America. Just in recent months, riot police throughout Ecuador were struggling to hold back protestors furious about fuel price increases many just couldn’t afford, and the protests grew so violent that government officials deserted the capital city, Quito. In Chile, violence and looting repeatedly broke out in protest against severe public transportation price hikes, forcing the government to declare states of emergency in and around the capital city of Santiago. In Peru, the president was forced to dissolve Congress amid repeated charges of flagrant corruption as angry crowds took to the streets. The past four presidents have all been charged with corruption and all have denied the…

Travel Remains Robust, But Stay on Your Guard

OK. So you don’t need a calendar to tell you it’s time to head south. Well, if that’s what you’re planning—be assured that you’re going have plenty of company if 2019 travel patterns to date are any guide. Though some of Canada’s TV networks were questioning the dearth of snowbird migrations just a few months ago, the truth is that southbound leisure travel—by all age groups, including snowbirds—is healthy and growing. According to the Conference Board of Canada (CBoC), which tracks inbound and outbound migrations using data from Statistics Canada and its own predictive models, during the first eight months of 2019 Canadians made 14.2 million overnight trips to the US (that means at least one overnight stay—but doesn’t count day trips), 2 per cent more than the comparable period of 2018. And though auto trips during that period declined by an estimated 1 per cent, travel by other modes…

The World Gets More Dangerous. But You Don’t Have to Stop Travelling

Just in the month of October, we have witnessed public demonstrations in Spain, Ecuador, Chile, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Mexico, even Britain—some of which have turned ugly. And that’s not even counting the areas in which innocent people have been killed in regional wars. Whether you’re a tourist, a student, or are travelling on business—it has never been more important to have quick and reliable information about new or impending dangers, how to avoid them, and what to do in case they erupt in the city or country you’re visiting or through which you’re planning transit. Let’s face it: life-threatening disruptions can occur in even the most benign travel itinerary. Who would have thought that the UK and France, so highly favoured by Canadian and American travellers, would have been designated by the Canadian Government Travel advisory site as places in which to “Exercise a High Degree of Caution,” the same…

A Health Insurance Primer for International Students Applying to Canadian Schools

In 2018, more than 572,000 students from 168 countries were enrolled in Canadian schools ranging from secondary to postgraduate levels—16 per cent more than the previous year and 154 per cent more than in 2010. And there are more to come. The reason for such phenomenal increases: Canada’s highly regarded, quality educational system; its reputation as a tolerant and non-discriminatory society; and the lure of Canada as a permanent home after graduation. In fact, 60 per cent of international students surveyed by the Canadian Bureau of International Education (CBIE) plan to pursue permanent residency in Canada upon graduation. And there is every reason to welcome them, as in 2018 Canada’s GDP benefited by an estimated $21.6 billion from international student tuitions and fees, living costs, family visits, entertainment, and so on. (Aside from survey data collected by CBIE, all other figures cited are from official Canadian government sources). But if…

Canadians More Savvy about Travel Insurance than Their American Peers

Recently, the US Travel Insurance Association (USTIA), representing American travel insurance companies, announced that in 2018, Americans spent nearly US$3.8 billion on all types of travel insurance products—up 41 per cent since 2016. Pretty impressive figures—until you look at comparable data from Canada, which shows that Canadians (who represent but one-tenth the population of the US) are now approaching CA$1 billion in premiums spent for travel protection products in 2018 (CA$990 million, to be more precise), according to the Conference Board of Canada. Moreover, the USTIA survey has shown that the $3.8 billion covered only 66 million travellers (one-fifth of the US population), while Canadian data show that among 18- to 34-year-olds, 64 per cent were covered by travel insurance on their last trip out of the country, and 89 per cent of Canadians 55 and older buy insurance when travelling beyond Canada’s borders.  What we can glean from this…

More Brits Stranded, Victims of Airline Cancellations

The stunning collapse of UK’s giant tour operator Thomas Cook, which left more than 600,000 holidayers stranded in some 18 countries (150,000 from Britain alone) shows just how vulnerable travellers have become to circumstances beyond their control. That’s almost twice the number of travellers stranded when Monarch airlines went under in 2017, and an additional million more that lost their future bookings. The liquidation of the 178-year old tour company whose logo has become a familiar sight worldwide propelled the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to mobilize its “biggest peacetime repatriation” since the second world war to get its holidayers home—within the next two weeks and free of charge. The repatriation is being funded largely by the government-run Air Travel Organizer’s Licence (ATOL) system which requires travel companies who sell air holiday packages to meet certain licensing requirements and contribute to a trust fund protecting travellers in case one of…

Canadians to Require European Travel Authorizations in 2021

Due to heightening concerns about illegal immigration and terrorist attacks, Canadians, Americans, and citizens of 60 other countries will need electronic travel authorizations linked to their passports to enter any of the 26 European countries in the Schengen* zone starting January 2021. Under the European Travel Immigration and Authorization System (ETIAS) established by the European Travel Commission, citizens of countries who are normally allowed to travel to Schengen zone nations visa-free for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days will have to pass background checks ensuring that they are not security risks to the host countries. In effect, the ETIAS have a purpose similar to Canada’s eTA (electronic Travel Authorization) or the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) in the US. When announcing the introduction of the system in 2016, Jean Claude Juncker, European Commission president, said, “We need to know who is crossing our borders. This way…

Hurricane Season is Here. Stay Alert

It’s the peak of hurricane season in Atlantic and Caribbean waters and the first major storm of the season, Dorian, has switched on the alert for residents on the southeast coast of the US, the Maritimes, and Newfoundland, as well as the highly susceptible island countries in the Caribbean and the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. If you have travels planned to any of these areas, you need to carefully read your travel documents, airline travel rules, hotel/resort contracts, and especially your travel insurance trip cancellation and interruption benefits and limitations, and you must monitor the official government travel advisories. Travel Canada has already issued advisories for many of the islands in the Caribbean, warning of the need to either practice extreme caution if you’re already in the path of the storm, or avoid travelling altogether. These warnings will change from day to day, but you need to be…

Stay Alert: Flesh-Eating Disease Expands through Warming Beach Waters

With the summer vacation season in full swing, news reports of bacterial disease in the warming waters of Florida’s Gulf of Mexico up to the east coast of Chesapeake Bay are becoming too frequent to ignore. We’ll note right off the top: this has nothing to do with the infamous red or green tides that have blemished Florida’s western shores the past couple of years. The disease—necrotizing fasciitis, also known as “flesh-eating disease”—has been claiming increasing  numbers in these areas, and Florida’s Department of Health and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued advisories warning of risks primarily to the elderly with compromised immune conditions, chronic kidney disease, or cancer; people of any age with cuts, scrapes, burns, insect bites, skin punctures or surgical wounds; and—most sadly—perfectly healthy kids with scraped or bruised toes or knees just playing in the ocean. Vicious and virulent In Florida,…

New Season for Travel Insurance Products Coming Up—Stay Alert

With travel insurance premiums expected to rise significantly this fall—partly due to the Ontario government’s decision to eliminate all payments for out-of-country medical fees—it’s understandable that travellers, particularly longer-term snowbirds, will be looking for ways to economize. Comparing prices between several insurance providers has always been the first option for making sure you get the best price available—but that only works if you’re comparing similar products. And that’s hard, given the differences in benefits, exclusion requirements, medical underwriting, age limitations, and a score of other factors offered in the travel insurance marketplace. One stratagem that seems to have caught on is using a free credit card or employer/retiree group plan to cover the first 15, 30, or 60 days of a trip, then “topping up” with an individual single-trip plan for the bulk of it. Sometimes that can work to save you a lot of money. But there are also…

Recent News in the Dominican Republic Calls For Extra Precaution When Travelling At All Times

It was the shooting of baseball legend David “Big Papi” Ortiz outside a bar in Santo Domingo that brought the issue of mysterious deaths in the Dominican Republic to worldwide attention, but it remains the recent spate of mostly-unsolved and unexplained deaths of American tourists at popular resort hotels that has tourism officials worried about what comes next. (Big Papi is recovering well in a Boston hospital) Though the issue has not captured much attention of Canadian media—which is mystifying as Canadians provide the second largest pool of tourism to the DR next to Americans—print and broadcast media in the US have been asking tough questions about what local tourism officials have characterized as a series of unfortunate coincidences. In one published report, however, the DR’s attorney general Jean Alain Rodriguez told local journalists that the nation is “secure but definitely has many challenges.” Indeed it has. So far this…

Taking the Family Abroad this Summer? Here’s Your Checklist

Now that summer is in full flight, family travel is priority number one, and so it should be. But if your plans involve trips to foreign countries, and especially if you’re taking along young children (your own or those of friends or relatives), you need to be sure your documentation covers them just as it covers you. Passports All Canadian children, from newborns on up, need their own passports to travel to a foreign country. So plan well ahead. At this time of year passport offices are overloaded and travelling on parents’ documents is no longer acceptable. Passports remain the most valuable and acceptable form of identification in nations the world over. And it’s your assurance that no matter where you go, you will be allowed back into Canada. In the globalized world, no one, including a child, should be without one. Travel medical insurance You may have your travel…

Travellers’ Alerts Raised for Measles Outbreaks in Europe and the USA

If you’re heading for Europe this summer, and especially if you’re travelling with children who have not been vaccinated for measles, see your doctor or a travel health clinic immediately and have yourselves and your children properly immunized against this dangerous and potentially deadly disease. Most of us thought measles had been eliminated many years ago. But the epidemic raging across Europe shows just how resilient this highly contagious disease can really be. According to Canada’s Travel Health website, as of the end of May 2019, large measles outbreaks (exceeding 1,000 cases) are currently ongoing in Albania, France, Georgia, Italy, Romania, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine; and since the beginning of 2019, serious outbreaks have also been reported in virtually all other European nations, including such highly developed countries as Germany, the UK, Spain, and Switzerland. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDPC), 35,000 cases of measles…

Is Relief in Sight for Medical Student Debt?

For many of Canada’s best and brightest, the prospect of a career in medicine is dampened by the reality of mounting student debt, into the six figures in many cases. And it’s not just obtaining the MD that’s challenging: it’s the years beyond, working toward the specialty accreditation that generates the fees needed to pay off that debt—a need that often diverts graduates away from lesser-paying fields like family medicine. It’s a vicious cycle. But a recent announcement from New York University School of Medicine that it will begin offering free tuition to all current and future students—regardless of need—sparks some hope that new ways of funding medical education may be taking root. NYU, one of America’s top 10 medical schools (where the average annual cost is $55,018 USD), is taking the step thanks to an endowment from private sources that is currently valued at $450 million and is aiming…

Ontario Travel Health Cutback Confirmed. Now What?

Now that the Ontario government has confirmed its decision to terminate all emergency medical costs for its residents travelling out of the country—effective October 1, 2019—we must ask what’s next for the millions of Ontarians who are accustomed to cross-border day trips for shopping, sporting events, regular family reunions, or in some cases even work. (Ontario’s action does not affect health coverage while visiting other provinces.) Recent surveys confirm that over 76 per cent of Canadians surveyed in 2018 said they had some form of travel insurance on their last trip out of the country—with older groups (boomers and snowbirds) having the highest rates of coverage. They know, they have the experience. They have heard the horror stories about what can happen without it. Younger groups, not so much: there’s still a reasonable amount of “invincibility” thinking out there. Multi-trip policies come into their own But there’s also some good…

As Governments Withdraw, Private Travel Insurers Tune Up

Ontario’s proposal to stop paying travellers’ out-of-country medical emergency costs is expected to raise private travel insurance premiums by between 7 and 13 per cent, according to industry sources, even though the provincial share of fees paid to foreign health care providers are minimal at best—perhaps 5 per cent. And though such increases will be felt most acutely by snowbirds who spend several months out of Canada each year—primarily in the US—the effects should also awaken cross-border shoppers and weekenders to the reality that accidents and medical emergencies can happen anywhere, at any time, making them just as vulnerable as snowbirds. According to figures just released by the Conference Board of Canada (CBoC), 71.9 per cent of Ontarians surveyed claim they had some form of travel insurance on their last outbound trip. For Canadians as a whole, that was 76 per cent. And of those who were uninsured, 49.6…

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 Changing Tourism Strategies in Cuba and Mexico

Recently, Mexico has undergone a major shift in its official tourism strategy to upgrade (and up-price) mass tourism to that country—Canada’s most favoured vacation destination after the United States. Now we learn that the US administration has reinstated many of the trade and travel restrictions against Cuba that were relaxed during the Obama years and will also allow Americans (including former Cubans) to sue foreign firms (among them Canadian and European) operating on properties seized by the Castro government on or after the 1959 revolution. Cuba attracts some one million Canadian visits annually—Mexico just over two million. Between them, they account for almost half of the robust Caribbean, Mexican, and Central American vacation travel market. In both the Cuban and Mexican markets, residents of Britain rank just behind Canada as the most frequent visitors. The action taken by the Trump administration—intended to punish Cuba for its ongoing support of the…

Ontario Terminate All Out-of-Country Medical Payments

The Ontario government’s announced intention to terminate all coverage of unexpected medical emergencies for residents travelling out of the country as of October 1, 2019 appears to be a clear violation of the Canada Health Act. But that has not prevented the Ontario government, and all other provinces and territories, from short changing their own travellers for years by paying foreign hospitals absurdly low reimbursements for taking care of them when they travel out of the country. Ontario has been paying up to $200 CAD per day per patient in a standard room, $400 in intensive care, and $50 CAD for an outpatient visit—leaving it to private travel insurers to pay the great bulk of remaining costs (usually well north of 90 percent). And though the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care (MHLTC) contends that the termination of the OOC program will have no impact on 99.5 percent of…