Visitors to Canada Need Travel Insurance This Christmas

Friends, relatives, or family visiting you for Christmas this year?  If they are from outside the country—near or far—they need travel insurance in case of accident or medical emergency. Canada’s provincial health care will not cover them.

As a responsible host, you must make sure your visitors are properly protected. If they wind up in a Canadian hospital for even part of a day, they could run into huge bills. Canada’s hospitals are not cheap—in fact, the cost of health care in Canada is among the highest in the world. And unless your guests have specific health insurance supplements for foreign travel that will cover them in Canada, they will be charged the full retail per diem rates that Canadian hospitals are allowed to charge—and that could run into the thousands of dollars. Canadian hospital administrators are not shy about demanding payment from foreign visitors.

Even Canadian citizens living abroad, returning home to their families for a short visit, will be exempt from provincial health insurance coverage—even though they may have paid into it for most or all of their working lives while living in Canada. Unless they are full-time residents of Canada and can prove it, they are not covered by Canadian health care.

It’s true that most countries have some form of universal, government-sponsored health insurance. But it won’t cover health care outside the country or out of its specified economic or political alliance (e.g., the European Union). The UK and the EU have reciprocal arrangements that allow limited medical coverage for their own residents crossing borders, but that coverage does not extend to North America. So if you have someone from Great Britain or Europe coming to visit you they should have supplemental health insurance to cover them in Canada.

Similarly, Americans coming to visit you need to have specifically defined “out of area” coverage in their health insurance plans to have Canadian hospital or medical coverage. But even that does not mean the Canadian hospital will be paid directly by that private American insurer or will be paid in full. The patient will likely have to pay up front, out of pocket, and then seek reimbursement from their insurer.

And if your American visitor is a US Medicare beneficiary (65 years and older), unless they have supplemental private health insurance that specifically covers out-of-area emergency care, their services in Canada will not be covered. US Medicare does not cover medical or hospital services rendered outside of the US.

Under situations such as these, I have seen many Canadians hosts sign up and guarantee payment of bills for family members—not a comfortable situation.

The safest way to protect your visitors (and possibly yourself) against such contingencies is to buy special Visitors to Canada coverage for them or make sure they buy their own before they leave their home country. Virtually all Canadian travel insurance companies have Visitors to Canada policies. But buy them before your visitors leave home so they are covered from the moment they enter Canada. If you wait until they are in Canada, the coverage will not kick in until at least 48 hours after you purchase—and if something happens in the interim, they, and possibly you, are out of luck.

Also, be aware that pre-existing conditions exclusions and limitations apply to Visitors to Canada policies as they do to your own when you travel abroad. For example, if your visiting uncle from Italy has a bleeding ulcer before he leaves home and it re-occurs a week after he gets to your house, it will not be covered.

What this means to you is that shopping for a Visitors to Canada policy should be done early enough that you can get all of the health information needed, and it is best done with an agent or directly with an insurance company professional who knows what the policy covers and excludes.

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