Millions of Emerging Snowbirds Need to Understand Travel Insurance

In 2010, 4.9 million Canadians (15 per cent of the population) were 50 to 60 years old and entering potential snowbird territory. That may be good news for the travel insurance market. But if you’re going to keep pace with new and better products, you’d better learn a lot more about travel insurance than you know now. Too many of you don’t get a passing grade.

Over the past six months, we have been trying to help you understand travel insurance and find the best products for your specific needs. As we have said over and over, there is no such thing as one travel insurance plan that is suitable for all. This is not an “off-the-shelf” product.

In response to this focus, you have sent in a lot of questions and I have found it astonishing that the most frequent of them had to do with the most basic of snowbird travel and insurance issues:

  • How long can I stay out of the country?
  • I have a pre-existing condition, can I get health insurance?
  • Can I use my credit card for travel insurance?
  • Why won’t my insurer let me stay in a US hospital?
  • Can I get my trip costs refunded if I cancel?

All fair questions. But with many of them coming from seasoned snowbirds, I wonder how good a job travel insurers are doing in educating buyers about the products they sell. Frankly, I think they’re doing a far poorer job than they should be, considering that any Canadian who sets foot outside the country for even day is a potential customer.

But I’m not going to put all the blame on travel insurers either, because even though travel insurance is an “emergency only” product, I know of far too many travellers who don’t take the time or make the effort to learn about its limitations and exclusions. This is no substitute for your provincial health care and if you are going to spend good money buying it—and count on it to protect your assets if you get sick abroad—you owe it to yourself to do your homework and know what you’re buying.

With the expanding snowbird market for short-term as well as longer-term travel, TIF will be focusing on answering your most basic questions about travel insurance and providing a Travel Insurance 101 platform to cover all your needs throughout 2011. Don’t be afraid of sending in a question you think is too “simple.” You’ll probably be in a lot of company.

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