COVID-19 travel warning: What you need to know about your travel insurance as the rules change

COVID-19 travel warning: What you need to know about your travel insurance as the rules change

When the federal government announced a travel advisory against non-essential travel outside of Canada, travellers with existing plans had several questions about how they need to respond.

If there is one thing that travellers should have learned over the course of the pandemic is “you can take nothing for granted anymore,” as Martin Firestone, President of Travel Secure Inc. told Yahoo Canada.

“You just do not know what's in store for the next day and you have to check the country you're going to, understand what the requirements are, you have to know what Canada's requirements are coming back,” Firestone said.

“This is all going to be a new way of travel and we really thought in November we had this behind us to some degree, and really we've taken a few steps back, more than a few in my opinion, in the last couple days.”

While the advisory is a setback for travellers and travel operators, Firestone is still very clear that “this year is far different than last year” and is “a lot better,” despite the most recent changes, but the travel advisory also stresses the importance of travellers looking at insurance and cancellation policies in advance of any trip.

Could there be changes to my travel insurance if I’ve already left for my trip?

Firestone believes that any Canadian that has left in advance of the federal travel advisory coming into effect should not see any changes to what is covered with their insurance plan.

“I don't believe any insurer is going to take their contract off the table if you bought it already and have left,” he said, adding that travellers should still keep an eye out for any communication from their insurer.

Could there be changes to my travel insurance if I have purchased but haven’t left for my trip yet?

When the initial announcement was made by the Canadian government on Wednesday, Firestone did not see many insurers changing their policy, but in the changing time of COVID-19, things have shifted with respect to insurance plans as well.

“I started getting calls and emails from tons of people who said we just got notification from our insurer that…we are not covered in the event that we have COVID and our choices are to go elsewhere,” Firestone revealed.

“[Individuals] who are going away have got to confirm with that carrier that COVID is going to be treated as any other unexpected medical emergency and if it isn't, tell me what the rider is that will include COVID, and what amount it covers up to,” Firestone said.

For example, Manulife has the COVID-19 Pandemic Travel Plan, which is needed to have coverage for COVID-realted emergencies, not covered under other Manulife Travel Insurance plans.

International travelers wearing face masks wait to enter a COVID-19 testing site after arriving at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, Nov. 28, 2021. Two people in the Canadian capital city of Ottawa have tested positive for the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19, according to the Ontario provincial government on Sunday. (Photo by Zou Zheng/Xinhua via Getty Images)

What do travellers need to look for in a travel insurance plan?

Firestone identified that travellers need to make sure that coverage for out of country travel includes COVID-19, which may be embedded in the basic contract or added as a rider.

“They have to know that it's there because to go there and get the variant…you better hope you're covered for it,” he said.

“They’ve got to know that they have a policy, fully encompassed, and that the travel advisory did not void it or offset it.”

Is this the time to take a look at my cancellation policies for travel plans?

While heeding the federal government’s advice would cause many to reconsider their travel plans, Firestone points out that the cancellation policies available, including vacation rental, tours and other tourist services, are not effective.

“I don't believe there is a good cancellation policy out there even when they bought it or could be purchased now, and the reason is from March 13, 2020 COVID-19 was a known cause with everybody, including insurance companies, and basically if your reason for cancellation was COVID related then, in fact, it would not pay the claim,” Firestone explained.

“[If] you're planning a new trip, I believe the onus is on the end user, the Airbnb, the tour guide, the…tour company that you should say to them, I need a clause in my contract that reads that if I can't get there,...I need a refund and not a credit.”