Travel insurance can’t protect you everywhere in this dangerous world. You need to check out your destination—and don’t take anything for granted– to verify if travel warnings have been issued against it by your government. If they have, your insurance may be invalid or severely restricted.
As of the end of March 2009, the US Department of State had 29 countries on its travel warnings list, which is “issued to describe long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable.” A travel warning is also issued when the US government’s ability to assist its citizens is constrained due to closure of an embassy or consulate. These warnings are not placed casually: there are many political ramifications for governments that warn their citizens not to travel to another sovereign country.
Currently, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development has officially listed travel warnings for 57 countries, emphasizing that travellers should either avoid non-essential travel or avoid all travel to the designated country or to specific region(s) of it.
And should you think these are all remote narco-havens or tribal kingdoms in deepest Africa, have a look at some on the US list: Israel, the Philippines, Algeria, Madagascar, Colombia, Lebanon, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Syria, and more.
The Canadian government list is even more extensive, listing most of the above plus countries such as Albania, Armenia, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Panama, Russia, and Venezuela. This includes advisories to avoid all non-essential travel, all travel, or travel to certain specified parts of those countries.
Check these listings out yourself by visiting DFATD’s Country Travel Advice and Advisories (for Canada) and the US State Department’s Travel Alerts and Warnings (for the US). And check out both countries because they often follow each other’s steps.
What does a travel warning mean for your travel insurance? Though you will find some variation in benefit restrictions among individual travel insurers in the US and Canada, they often cancel or restrict benefits to countries that were on the official warning lists before you bought your insurance. In effect, travel to a country on the list and you’re on your own for medical emergencies, evacuations, costs of prepaid reservations, baggage loss, and many of those other benefits for which you bought insurance.
What this means to you is that, no matter where you travel, it is essential you first check the status of that country on the official government warnings list, and then specifically research your policy for its limitations on travel to listed countries. And don’t be satisfied with old information or the urgings of friends or relatives who visited such and such a place a year ago and found it perfectly safe and friendly. That kind of anecdote doesn’t hold water when arguing benefit limitations with an insurer armed with an official government warning. Circumstances change overnight. A bomb explodes, a riot erupts, “students” take to the streets, civil authorities lose control, an epidemic erupts in “paradise,” and all the rules change.
This kind of pre-travel check is now essential. Only a novice traveller would neglect it.