Travel Insurance Within Canada and COVID-19: What You Should Know

Are you getting the itch to travel during the summer months? International travel to the U.S. or other countries remains off-limits for vacationers and adventure-seekers because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there is still much to explore and enjoy within your home province or in Canada.

In March, the Canadian government issued an “avoid all non-essential travel” advisory outside of Canada, which remains in effect currently because of the coronavirus. It also advises Canadians to steer clear of taking a cruise ship until further notice. Travel to Canada from abroad is also restricted until further notice. If you decide to travel internationally despite the government advisory, you may not be allowed to return to Canada. Furthermore, the Canada-U.S. border remains closed to all non-essential travel until August 21, and it is possible the closure could be extended.

If you travel within Canada, purchasing a travel insurance policy before departing is still a smart move. Why? Provincial health insurance covers some – but not all – of the unexpected medical expenses incurred outside your province. Other expenses, including non-medical costs, will need to be covered by supplemental coverage. For instance, if you cancel or experience an interruption to your travel plans unrelated to COVID-19, or if your luggage is lost or stolen, a policy with travel cancellation or interruption coverage and baggage protection may help recoup some of your costs.

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Canadian provinces and territories have a reciprocal agreement that allows them to bill each other for services offered to Canadian travellers outside of their home provinces. For example, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) will provide coverage for a visit to a walk-in clinic or emergency treatment in a hospital in other provinces when you show a valid Ontario health card, but there are limitations. Expenses including ambulance services, prescription drugs issued outside of a hospital, home-care services, diagnostic and laboratory services outside of a public hospital, fees charged by private hospitals or clinics, cosmetic surgery and assistive devices are not covered.

The Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP), meanwhile, provides coverage for insured physician and hospital services in other provinces. In most cases, if you present a valid Alberta health card to a medical or hospital service provider and receive insured services, there is no cost to Albertans. But there are limitations to what medical expenses are covered.

The one outlier is the province of Quebec. Quebec does not have the reciprocal agreement with other provinces and territories. That means if you visit Quebec and require emergency medical services or need to visit a physician, you may be required to pay upfront if you don’t have a travel insurance policy. The same applies to Quebeckers who visit other provinces or territories. Some services are reimbursable, while others are not.

Without travel insurance, you may need to pay the cost of some medical treatments you receive in another part of Canada on your own.

Can I Travel from One Province to Another?

Although many provinces in Canada still have states of emergency declarations and travel restrictions in place, it is possible to travel from one province to another depending on the region you wish to visit.

Some airlines are beginning to offer flights within Canada or abroad. But if you’re hesitant to board an airplane during the pandemic, taking a road trip may be more appealing. On that note, travelling within Canada by train offers the opportunity to see the countryside wherever you go. Regardless, travelling close to home for the foreseeable future is perhaps the safest way to go.

Here’s a breakdown of each province’s travel restrictions as of July 21, 2020:

  • Alberta. Albertans are free to travel within the province and are asked to continue to abide by physical distancing guidelines, as well as use the province’s ABTraceTogether contact tracing mobile app when travelling. Visitors from outside Alberta are permitted entry from another province, but it is not recommended. Visitors from outside of Canada are required to self-isolate for 14 days, and you must complete an isolation questionnaire.
  • British Columbia. B.C. continues to discourage non-essential travel to or from other provinces and territories, but visitors are allowed to enter and are asked to abide by physical distancing health protocols. Travellers from outside of Canada who arrive by airplane are required to wear a non-medical mask, self-isolate for 14 days, and complete and submit a Self-Isolation Plan form to the provincial government.
  • Manitoba. Visitors from Western Canada, the northern territories, and northeastern Ontario are permitted to enter Manitoba without self-isolating. Travellers from elsewhere may be required to self-isolate for up to 14 days.
  • New Brunswick. The Atlantic provinces (New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) eased inter-provincial travel in early July within the region to create what is referred to as the “Atlantic bubble”. Residents of those provinces can travel within Atlantic Canada without self-isolating. However, visitors from outside of the region are required to self-isolate for up to 14 days upon arriving in New Brunswick or any other of the Atlantic provinces.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador. Residents of Newfoundland and Labrador are permitted to travel within the province and to other Atlantic provinces without self-isolating. Visitors outside of the region are not allowed to visit at this time unless they receive permission after completing a Travel Restrictions Exemption Request application. If permitted entry, visitors are required to self-isolate for up to 14 days upon arrival.
  • Nova Scotia. As one of the “Atlantic bubble” provinces, Nova Scotians can travel throughout their province and the region without self-isolating. Visitors from elsewhere, though, are required to self-isolate for up to 14 days upon arrival unless they have already done so in one of the other three Atlantic provinces. Plus, visitors from outside of Atlantic Canada are required to complete and submit a Self-Declaration Form: Tracking Travellers to Nova Scotia. There are no restrictions on movement within Nova Scotia presently, but travellers are expected to abide by the government’s guidance concerning physical distancing and public gatherings.
  • Ontario. Although Ontario has not outlined any travel restrictions to the province to date, Canada’s most populous province continues to discourage all non-essential travel to it from elsewhere. However, if you arrive in Ontario from outside of Canada, you are required to self-isolate for up to 14 days.
  • Prince Edward Island. Canada’s smallest province is also part of the “Atlantic bubble”. All non-essential travel to the island province by visitors outside of Atlantic Canada is prohibited presently except for seasonal residents who must apply for approval to visit. Visitors to P.E.I. must fill out a pre-travel approval form before arriving and provide a copy of it to the authorities when they arrive. You will also be subjected to public health and proof-of-residency screenings.
  • Quebec. La belle province is not currently mandating any self-isolation periods for visitors from other provinces. Still, it does advise against all non-essential travel to and within Quebec for the time being. If you arrive in Quebec from outside Canada, you are required to self-isolate for up to 14 days upon arrival.
  • Saskatchewan. People entering Saskatchewan from another province are asked to self-monitor for up to 14 days and isolate themselves if they have any symptoms. Non-essential travel to any part of northwest Saskatchewan is strongly discouraged. If you arrive in Saskatchewan from outside of Canada, you are required to self-isolate for up to 14 days.

What Kind of Travel Insurance Coverage Is Available?

A standard travel insurance policy provides different levels of coverage. With the situation changing daily, it's best to have a conversation with your broker or the insurer to understand what your policy provides coverage for and what it does not.

Most policies offer the following types of coverage:

  • Emergency Medical. Emergency medical travel insurance generally covers you for unexpected medical emergencies, including ambulance trips, medical treatment and prescription drugs, hospitalization, medical diagnosis and evacuation.
  • Trip Cancellation and Interruption. This coverage protects you if you must cancel a trip because of an emergency or unforeseen medical problem. It may also provide you with funds if your trip is delayed due to bad weather, or if you are forced to stay in a hotel unexpectedly because of a delay in your travel plans.
  • Baggage Protection. If an airline loses your luggage while in transit, this coverage will provide funds for you to replace your lost items such as clothing.
  • All-Inclusive. Think of all-inclusive travel insurance as a ‘best of’ package. It includes emergency medical, trip cancellation and interruption coverages, and it may also include baggage protection, as well as accidental death and dismemberment.
  • Cancel for Any Reason. It may cost a little more, but adding what’s known as cancel-for-any-reason coverage to your overall policy offers more flexibility if you’re faced with an unexpected event. This coverage allows travellers to cancel their travel plans and be reimbursed for non-refundable payments, but specific criteria must be met to be reimbursed. Also, know this kind of coverage will typically protect you for a percentage of your travel costs. The level of coverage will vary between insurers.

Regardless of what type of policy you buy and the coverages it provides, it’s essential to be sure you understand the terms, conditions, and limits of your policy.

How to Stay Safe While Travelling

If you do travel outside of your home province, think about buying a travel insurance policy before you head out. Whether you travel outside of your province or within it, avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19 by taking precautions to lessen your risk against respiratory illnesses, including:

  • Maintaining physical distancing at all times and avoiding large crowds and crowded areas
  • Staying away from people who are sick
  • If you feel under the weather or suspect you are falling ill, seek medical assistance immediately
  • Wearing a non-medical mask or face covering that completely covers your nose and mouth
  • Being aware of and following all local public health advice
  • Frequently washing your hands with soap and warm water for at least 30 seconds, and using an alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water are not available
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with your arm to reduce the spread of germs. If you use a tissue, dispose of it immediately after and wash your hands