If you think that becoming a snowbird means you’re getting old, put it behind you, dig out your passport and join the millions of Canadians who are travelling in record numbers, to destinations you would have thought inconceivable just a few years ago.
According to data from Statistics Canada and the Conference Board of Canada (CBoC), Canadians aged 55 and over who spend at least 30 days out of the country each winter, make about one million out-of- country trips each year, and those numbers will likely double by the year 2050.
Speaking to a conference of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada recently, David Redekop, principal research associate with the CBoC predicted that by 2016, outbound leisure trips for Canadians of all ages would top 30 million—up from 23.6 million in 2009. And it is going to be those in the 55- to 64-year age group that would experience the greatest increase in foreign travel.
Part of the reason for this increase is the growing pool of older Canadians with the time and resources to travel the world. Redekop noted that by 2017 there will be more Canadians 65 and older than those younger than 14—for the first time in history.
CBoC also projects that between 2012 and 2031 the number of Canadians in the 65- to 74-year age group will increase by 76 per cent and those 75 and older will climb by 97 per cent.
“Who would have thought,” said Redekop, “that countries like Cambodia (and) those in Eastern Europe or Turkey would become major tourist destinations.”
Redekop projects that though Canadians 65 and older will continue to expand their travel to non-U.S. destinations, their travel to the U.S. will grow even more aggressively and will likely double by 2050—largely because of the higher costs of travel to non-U.S. destinations.
It also appears that Canadians are looking to the Asia/Pacific region for new travel experiences as air carriers, particularly Air Canada, expand their services to the area. CBoC projects that leisure visits to Asia from Canada are expected to grow by 20% between 2013 and 2017 to reach over one million. And Australia is going to be the biggest beneficiary of this westward trend.
In a survey done earlier this year, Australia remained the top destination among Canadians who were asked where they would most like to visit in the Asia/Pacific region within the next three years. Australia won with 16 per cent, Thailand was next with just under 12 per cent followed by Japan with 11, New Zealand at about 9, and China at 8.
Select Your Travel Insurance Carefully
With Canadians’ travel patterns expanding so rapidly and aggressively, private travel insurance will become even more essential, and applicants for insurance will have to become more diligent in selecting plans that suit their individual needs. Nobody wants to be stuck in a hospital in China or India or Bulgaria with no way home because of a poor choice of insurance.
All plans sold by travel insurance companies provide coverage for repatriation to a hospital at home (if medically necessary), pay doctors and hospitals directly, and have global case management capability. But to make sure you have the right policy, one that is built around your age and health status, you need to read not only the benefits, but the limitations and exclusions that are written into every plan: better yet, discuss the benefits and exclusions with the agents selling you the policy—be it in person, online, by telephone, or through social media.
Travel health insurance should not be considered a marginal item. It is as valuable to you as your passport, and you should use due diligence when shopping for it. There is no such thing as a plan that covers everything or is suitable for everyone.
If you are counting on your credit card or employee or retirement group plan, you need to research the limits on pre-existing conditions coverage, as these plans are normally not as comprehensive as stand- alone, individual or annual multi-trip plans that cover up to five million dollars. Many retirement group or credit card plans also limit their coverage to a relatively short time period such as 15 or 20 days, and not all will pay foreign hospitals and doctors directly. They may require you to pay the provider and seek reimbursement when you come home—not very practical if you are stricken with a heart attack in India and are faced with a demand for $100,000 paid before you leave the hospital or the country.
Also, it is only the higher priced premium credit cards that will provide million dollar coverage, and most will not cover pre-existing conditions. Individual plans bought from companies that specialize in travel insurance will cover some pre-existing conditions if they are stable as the insurer defines stability. And though they may require you to complete a medical application, you can be confident that coverage will be in place when and if you need it—if you have completed the questionnaire accurately and fully.
Peace of mind comes with a price, so don’t rush through an application thinking it’s just a formality, don’t buy Plan Z simply because it is cheaper than plan X, discuss your plan with an agent knowledgeable about travel health insurance, and ask questions about how your insurer will protect you if you fall off an ancient wall in China, or break your leg while exploring Machu Picchu in Peru.
All travel insurers advertising on this site meet TravelInsuranceFile’s acceptability criteria for out-of-country health benefits for Canadian residents and they represent most of the major insurers and underwriters in Canada. Some specialize in student plans. Speak with them, explore their products online, ask questions, and once you get the right answers, buy right online.