There are countless travel insurance options out there. Companies often use their own terminology, and coverage differences can be fairly small. So how do you choose the right one? The important thing is to understand some of the key features to focus on.

What kind of coverage do you need?

Emergency medical coverage protects you in the event of an unexpected medical emergency abroad. Standard benefits include hospital charges, physician charges, prescription drugs, and early return home when medically necessary due to an emergency. While most travel insurance plans cover these basics, additional benefits (bringing family to your bedside, etc.) vary depending on the carrier.

Trip cancellation insurance protects the non-refundable, pre-paid costs of your trip if you end up being unable to travel for emergency reasons. Covered expenses usually include airline tickets, tours, cruises, and any other non-refundable expense. The coverage kicks in if you can’t travel for various reasons such as a medical emergency, a family emergency, or a natural disaster. Different carriers insure different risks – some trip cancellation plans will also include coverage for lost or stolen baggage, or for accidental death.

All-Inclusive plans include both emergency medical and trip cancellation benefits. These plans are usually more affordable than buying the two benefits separately – but not always. Generally, these policies will also include coverage for baggage, accidental death, and air flight accident.

Do you have special requirements?

If you have a pre-existing medical condition, be sure you understand how your travel insurance policy will treat this condition. Some policies will exclude pre-existing conditions entirely, while others will require that the condition be stable for a certain period of time before you travel; others will simply require that you not know of any reason to expect to need treatment on your trip.

If you are travelling to a dangerous destination, such as an area with civil unrest or that is at risk of war, or engaging in a dangerous activity, such as a high-risk sport, you need to make sure your policy covers you for where you are and what you are doing. Read your policy wording carefully or ask your insurance agent if you need more clarification.

Don’t just go for the lowest price

Like with any other consumer product, you get what you pay for. Sometimes, a product is priced competitively because the insurer understands your type of situation and knows that the risk is low; but a low price can also mean that benefits are restricted or that you may run into problems at claim time. Always look into the details and understand what it is you’re buying.

For more information, see the Financial Services Commission of Ontario’s guide to shopping for travel medical insurance.

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