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 elevated advisory level as is applied to Turkey, Lebanon or Bangladesh? Yet there it is.
Canada, which shares its travel advisory information with the UK, US, Australia, and New Zealand, lists four levels of advisories.
- The first, “Exercise Normal Security Precautions,”means just that—go about your business but keep your eyes open.
- The second level is “Exercise a High Degree of Caution,” which is often supplemented by “See Regional Advisories” (which may include warnings to “Avoid All Travel” or “Avoid Non-essential Travel” to specified areas).
- The third level is “Avoid Non-essential Travel” which is self-explanatory and may include “Avoid All Travel” advisories for certain regions.
- The fourth and highest is “Avoid All Travel.” This is “no-go” territory.
In Mexico, for example, Canada’s second-most-popular tourism site after the US, warnings to “Avoid Non-essential Travel” are posted for 12 of that nation’s 31 states (and one additional federal district). “Avoid All Travel”—the highest warning level—has been applied to entire states within Mexico.
One of these “Avoid All Travel” warnings has long existed for the state of Tamaulipas, just across a river footbridge to Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, winter home to thousands of Canadian and American snowbirds who—despite the warning—still go over to Mexico for casual lunches and shopping as if they were safely at home in Regina, Moosejaw, or Minneapolis.
These warnings have consequences, as they limit the amount of help—if any—your own government can provide if you even innocently cross over into a danger zone or cross-fire that can endanger your life or otherwise cause you harm.
In addition, most Canadian travel insurance policies specifically exclude or limit benefits for losses, accidents, or medical emergencies that occur in countries or regions for which the government of Canada has issued a warning to avoid all travel or non-essential travel. In some cases, if the warning was only imposed after your trip began, the insurer may give you a specified time to get out of the risk area. Do so, and the sooner the better.
But well before you may have to consider these actions, you, as a customer, must be a proactive purchaser. Travel insurance policies remain long, tedious, filled with contorted legal language—despite a couple of decades of attempts to make them user-friendly. You need to take the initiative when travelling anywhere outside of Canada, to understand your obligations if you find yourself in an area of risk, how to remain protected by your policy, and how to stay safe.
You need to know your policy, which may not be easy.
Your insurer, broker, agent or advisor can help, but you might have to carry the ball. Insist on knowing the terms of travel as they apply to your travel itinerary: not only your endpoint destination, but the areas through which you’ll be transiting. Take nothing for granted. A country at peace today may tomorrow be in turmoil. And given the ease of keeping in touch with official government travel advisory sites, you have an obligation to yourself and your travel partners to do so.
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