Shop for Travel Insurance Early: But Avoid Pitfalls

This is the time of year that many snowbirds begin to make plans for wintering in the South, and a key element of those plans is travel insurance—that’s why many insurers offer “early bird specials.” Seek them out; they can be great bargains. 

Insurers traditionally raise their premiums in the fall in anticipation of increased medical costs in the US and abroad. Sometimes these increases can be significant, other times more modest. But by shopping early, you can lock in a price and protect yourself against any potential increases. 

However, when shopping well in advance of your travels, you need to be aware of some potential pitfalls—the major one being a change in your health.

Virtually all travel health insurance plans sold in Canada require that you report any change in your health that occurs after you have purchased your plan and before the effective date of your policy.

For example, if you buy a plan in August or September, and you begin to have occasional chest or abdominal pains, or your medication type or dosage is altered, you are obligated to tell your insurer about these changes before you travel in November or December.

Keep in mind that the insurer sells you a policy based on your health status when you apply. If that status changes, so must the terms of your coverage, and so must the premium. The consequences for not doing so may be severe.

If you have a heart attack or gall bladder removal while on vacation, your failure to tell the insurer of your chest or abdominal pain before leaving on your trip, may well nullify your coverage, leaving you to pay the bill for hospital and doctors’ services. And even a brief stay in hospital can cost you many thousands of dollars.

Another good thing about buying early is that you have more time to familiarize yourself with your policy: to read not only the benefits provided, but what your policy does NOT cover.

Every policy has limitations and exclusions; read them. And if you’re not clear on what they mean, call your insurer. Also, if you have reported certain health conditions to your insurer when applying, make sure your confirmation of coverage specifies what you are covered for and what is excluded.

Too often, applicants call an insurer a day or two before they are scheduled to travel, and don’t leave themselves time to read the policy, question the insurer about items they don’t understand, or call their doctor to clarify something in their medical history.

Give yourself time. Shopping early allows you to learn those rules, compare plans, and save money in the process. What could be better than that?


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