Travel Insurance for Dangerous Times

For those of us who travel, 2014 leaves a residue of unease, uncertain about our security and our ability to control events around us. Will 2015 be any better, or more stable? What can we expect? What should we do?

Expect travel insurance premiums to rise steadily if the Canadian dollar remains in the doldrums. Collecting premiums in 85 cent loonies and paying American hospital claims in stronger U.S. greenbacks puts pressure on insurers to hike their rates proportionately. The loonie is now at its lowest point in five years, one Canadian dollar buying 86.70 U.S. cents. According to the Financial Post and most bank forecasts, this swoon will continue as long as the price of oil stays flaccid. So keep a sharp eye out for early bird specials next snowbird season, and look for ways to keep premiums affordable: consider bigger deductibles, and look to annual multi-trip plans early to hedge against increases later on.

Stay vigilant when making spring or summer travel plans. Huge swaths of the Middle East, West Africa, eastern Europe, former satellites of Russia (i.e. Ukraine),  southeast Asia, central and South America, have all experienced disease and social unrest. Mexico and the Caribbean (e.g. St. Lucia, St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and more) have also made news with recent travel warnings. We don’t suggest you forego all travel to these areas—but before you finalize any such plans—check out the advisories from the government of Canada, the US Department of State, and the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

 If traveling to the tropics, contact the tropical medicine clinics in your area well in advance of your trip. Bring your preventive inoculations up to date. Learn how to protect yourself from mosquitos carrying dengue fever or malaria, and specifically chikungunya if you’re headed to the Caribbean where the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica have been hard hit.

Stay current with your documents. Some countries are requiring visitors to prove they have travel health insurance. And don’t count on your provincial plan for that proof. It’s far too skimpy. In many European countries, the coverage requirement is at least euros 30,000 or about $42,600 CAD. And if you’re traveling with children not your own—grandkids, nephews, nieces etc. you will need to have documented permission from their parents. Nearly all countries now require it. Click here and print out copies we have prepared for you. It’s free.

 Riots, demonstrations and civil disobedience are becoming commonplace throughout the world—Ferguson, Missouri; Hong Kong; Mexico; Ukraine. Stay away if you see crowds gathering. Get back to your hotel or cruise ship, and forget the pictures. Riots can spread from participants to spectators in seconds. Whether you are injured deliberately or accidentally, it doesn’t matter – everyone is at risk. Clear the areas soon as you can and contact your insurance assistance service, your embassy or consulate, and get instructions about what to do. Most western governments now advise that when traveling to a foreign country, you should register where you are going, when and with whom. This can be invaluable for family or relatives back home trying to contact you.

Also be aware that if you travel to a country or to a specific region for which your government has announced an Avoid all Travel, or Avoid Non-Essential Travel, your coverage may be severely limited or voided altogether. If your government raises the alert after you arrive in the troubled area, your coverage may remain intact until you can get out. But get out, you must.

It’s unfortunate that our world can be a dangerous place, but it’s important to be realistic. When buying your travel insurance, no matter where you are headed, you need to pay attention to the clauses in your policy that relate to terrorism, war and civil disobedience. Pretty well all policies now cover this issue. But don’t just scan the “boilerplate.” Read it. Discuss it with your agent. Understand it.  Your life might depend on it.

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