Russia’s intrusion into Crimea, and the country’s continuing intimidation of Ukraine, has emphasized just how quickly and lethally large regions of the world can become danger zones for travellers unprepared for the unexpected.
Just look at a map and see how much of Eastern Europe has been affected by Russia’s move to the West: Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova—all border Ukraine, and four of them are part of the European Union. With the West mulling over expansion of sanctions against Russia, we can expect growing tensions that may affect travellers planning to head to this area this summer.
The first item that needs your attention is travel insurance. You will need coverage for medical emergencies, evacuations, and repatriations, as well as assistance for getting out of danger zones to safety. This is not a simple task, and you should not dismiss it as a formality. It takes expertise to navigate out of harm’s way if you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a demonstration or riot, or if you need to get to a hospital or clinic. Travel insurance companies advertising on this site all have professional representatives on the ground who can help you 24/7.
But travel insurance plans vary enormously in respect to their benefits, exclusions, and limitations, and you need to understand what some of that insurance language means to you. Details? Yes. But you can’t avoid it if you intend to be safe rather than sorry.
For example, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) has advised against all travel to Crimea. If that advisory or the slightly lower level “avoid all non-essential travel” had been issued before you bought travel insurance, you’d better get out of that area. Why? Because your insurer may limit or exclude some or all of your benefits. DFATD has also warned travellers to exercise a high degree of caution for travel to Ukraine in general, due to the prevalence of crimes of opportunity. That usually means you should be careful of street scams, muggings, or having your purse stolen or pockets picked while busy taking pictures of a yet another cathedral.
If any of these government advisories are issued after you are in a troubled area, your insurer will cover you for a specified period of time before your coverage terminates. So while you are free to remain in the area as long as you choose, your plan’s days will be numbered.
Get all your travel documents in order: Make sure your passport is not about to expire as many countries require at least six months of passport life. Also make doubly sure you have up-to-date visas for all countries you are visiting or through which you are transiting. Not all countries require visas, but a growing number do. Check it out by going to the Government of Canada’s official travel alerts and warnings page. It’s also a good idea to check out US travel warnings.
More and more countries are requiring evidence of travel insurance effective for your entire stay. Many European countries require coverage benefits of at least 30,000 euros for health care. There is no way your provincial plan will cover that. All Canadian travel insurers advertising on this site offer at least $1 million in coverage for medical emergencies abroad. Check them out and ask lots of questions—this is a serious purchase.
If you are travelling to a distant or higher than normal risk area, register with Registration of Canadians Abroad (ROCA). This can be a lifesaver if you need help or are trapped in an inaccessible area. It can also be a great service to family and friends trying to contact you.
Americans may enroll in the State Department’s STEP program: Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
And do not forget to monitor your official government travel advisory sites for last-minute updates through our travel links.
They can save your life.