Though most Canadians are aware of the need for travel insurance when visiting the United States, travellers to Europe need supplemental health care just as much and should be just as careful in getting the right coverage as when heading south of the border. There is no free health care in Europe.
Moreover, many European countries are now requiring foreign visitors to carry proof that they have adequate insurance to cover any emergency medical services while they are in the host country.
In addition to Cuba, which in 2010 announced it would require visitors to show proof of medical insurance when entering the country, more nations, particularly in Europe, are also requiring such proof.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine specifically require Canadian citizens to be prepared—in some cases required—to show proof of medical coverage while visiting. It notes further that in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Estonia, the minimum medical coverage required is 30,000 euros (approximately $40,000 Canadian), while Lithuania stipulates that health insurance is mandatory for all non-European Union citizens, and visitors unable to demonstrate sufficient proof of medical coverage must purchase short term insurance at the border. Similarly, DFAIT notes that the government of the Ukraine requires all visitors to obtain mandatory health insurance from a state-supported company at their point of entry.
Though most countries in Europe have some form of government-run or national health service, none provide free healthcare to Canadians or Americans although there are reciprocal coverage arrangements for citizens of certain European nations.
Canadian provincial health insurance covers only a very small share of out-of-country healthcare costs, and European hospitals—like modern hospitals anywhere in the world– are extraordinarily expensive.
Consequently DFAIT warns Canadians not to travel out of the country without supplemental health insurance coverage.
And when travelling abroad, make sure you carry tangible proof of your private travel insurance— provincial coverage is not enough. Better yet, carry a copy of the policy with you, and get it early enough that you can familiarize yourself with all of exclusions and limitations as well as the rules about what you are supposed to do in case you have a medical emergency. Don’t leave that to the last minute. This is too important a purchase to neglect or to hurry.