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A Guide to COVID-19 Travel Insurance for Canadians Ricky September 22, 2020

A Guide to COVID-19 Travel Insurance for Canadians

As some Canadians begin to contemplate international travel in a safe and responsible manner, travel insurance for medical treatment costs related to COVID-19 will be one of your key considerations before embarking on your trip.

When the WHO first declared a pandemic back in March, virtually every insurance provider excluded medical expenses relating to COVID-19 from their plans, so insurance plans that protected against COVID-19 were almost nowhere to be found.

However, ever since the summer, when COVID-19 became more of a known quantity and the global appetite for travel began its journey towards recovery, we’ve seen a few insurance companies reintroduce medical coverage for COVID-19, both through their own sales channels and through partnering with travel providers to offer COVID-19 insurance as a significant incentive for booking with the provider.

This post aims to summarize all of the COVID-19 travel insurance options available at your disposal should you be planning an upcoming international trip. I’ll do my best to keep this post updated as time goes on, so that we can track all of the relevant travel insurance products on the market as the industry slowly recovers.

(Keep in mind that as of the time of writing, COVID-19 insurance is limited to coverage for medical costs, and in some cases quarantine costs, as a result of a positive test for the virus. No provider offers trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance due to COVID-19 at the moment, and I’d expect this situation to continue for the foreseeable future as flight schedules and travel plans remain uncertain by nature.)

In This Post

Insurance Providers Offering COVID-19 Travel Insurance

The following insurance companies have begun offering COVID-19 medical coverage to Canadians embarking on international trips, which can be purchased directly as an annual or single-trip product.



1. Ontario / Quebec Blue Cross

The Canadian Association of Blue Cross was among the first insurance providers to add coverage for medical costs relating to COVID-19 in late July. Its website states the following, when you proceed to request a quote:

Emergency medical care abroad related to COVID-19 is covered, as long as you do not have symptoms when you leave. However, due to the unpredictable evolution of the situation, we cannot guarantee access to medical care or assistance services.

Blue Cross offers annual multi-trip policies, single-trip policies, as well as all-inclusive policies with additional coverages (like accident coverage or baggage delay reimbursement). Its emergency medical benefit covers up to $5,000,000 in hospital, medical, surgical, nursing expenses as well as ambulance and repatriation costs, but does not include coverage for quarantine costs.

I tried pricing out a quote for a two-week multi-country trip in late October, and the annual multi-trip policy came to about $85, which I find an inexpensive proposition that I’m very likely to consider should I decide to embark on this trip.



2. Manulife

While its product is not available for purchase just yet, Manulife has announced that it will launch a COVID-19 Pandemic Travel Plan in October 2020.

Notably, the product will be unique among standalone travel insurance products in Canada in providing coverage for quarantine expenses as well:

The product includes coverage for medical expenses not related to COVID-19 up to a maximum of $5,000,000, as well as coverage for medical expenses related to COVID-19 up to a maximum of $200,000. Moreover, it also covers quarantine expenses after a COVID-19 positive test result, denied entry, or contact tracing while at destination up to a maximum of $150/day up to $2,100 per person, or $300/day up to $4,200 per family.

As you can see, the insurance coverage aligns with what’s provided by Air Canada in partnership with Manulife on international round-trip bookings (which we’ll cover below as well).

I myself will be looking out for the details of Manulife’s product and comparing it against Blue Cross’s offering above, in choosing an insurance product for my planned international travels in October.

I’ll most certainly update this space when further details of Manulife’s COVID-19 Pandemic Travel Plan are announced.



3. Medipac

Medipac, the official insurance partner of the Canadian Snowbird Association, also announced in late July that it would begin offering COVID-19 insurance:

We at Medipac understand that for many Canadians, travel is indeed essential; as is proper coverage for medical emergencies, including those related to COVID-19.

When you purchase Medipac Travel Insurance, you’re covered – it’s in our policy.

Pre-existing condition clauses and other policy terms and conditions will continue to apply.

Primarily geared towards snowbirds travelling to the US, Medipac’s insurance options include single-trip plans, annual 23-day plans, and annual 33-day plans.

Each plan is further divided into the regular Medipac travel insurance package, which covers up to US$2,000,000 in medical expenses (including COVID-19), as well as an optional MedipacPlus add-on for $59, which increases the limit for medical costs to US$5,000,000 and also provides a host of other additional coverages as well.



4. HeyMondo

HeyMondo is a relatively new insurance provider, which states on its website that all its travel insurance plans cover medical expenses due to COVID-19:

All travel insurance plans that you see in our website cover medical assistance and expenses even in the event of infection by Coronavirus.

HeyMondo provides a few different travel insurance plans, including single-trip and annual multi-trip options. However, its maximums for medical expenses depend on your country of origin, and the maximum claim amount for Canadians seems to be limited to US$100,000. It also covers up to US$500,000 in repatriation costs, but does not cover quarantine costs.

For a Canadian headed to Europe for two weeks in October, its cheapest plan prices out at US$67.81, making it a clear second choice behind Blue Cross.



5. SafetyWing

SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance product is designed for “digital nomad” travellers who are frequently on-the-go, so it may be a good solution if you’re planning an extended period of travel among multiple different countries.

Its website states:

As of August 1st, Nomad Insurance covers Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)! Coverage works the same as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date, and does not fall under any other policy exclusion or limitation.

Testing for COVID-19 will only be covered if deemed medically necessary by a physician. The antibody test is not covered, as it is not medically necessary.

Its policies are more affordable than its peers, with a two-week trip to Europe in late October costing only US$22.88, with travel to the United States requiring an add-on payment as well.

However, SafetyWing’s policy maximums are relatively lower at US$250,000, and the claims also come with a US$250 deductible, so I’d only recommend this product for extremely budget-conscious travellers.

Insurance Providers Offering COVID-19 Out-of-Country Health Insurance

A handful of Canadian health insurance providers ordinarily extend their coverage to out-of-country travel as well.

Some of them have now announced that their coverage includes COVID-19 medical treatment abroad, even though the Government of Canada continues to advise against non-essential international travel, so these may be relevant to you if your employer offers one of these health insurance plans.



1. Sunlife

Sunlife provides health insurance benefits to a large number of workplaces in Canada. It states on its out-of-country coverage FAQ page, dated June 23:

COVID-19 is a pandemic. Do plan members still have coverage under the OOC benefit?

Yes they do. Our standard contracts do not exclude or limit coverage in the event of epidemics or pandemics. However, plan members should pay attention to the Government of Canada Travel Advisory website before deciding to leave Canada. With borders closings in various countries, travelling outside Canada becomes more complicated.

The Government of Canada Travel Advisory (Travel Health Notices) recommends avoiding non-essential or all travel to any destination. Are plan members still covered for OOC medical emergencies and emergency travel assistance?

Yes, plan members have coverage in such situations. However, medical resources in these countries in time of pandemics can become extremely limited.

Sunlife’s out-of-country insurance is backed by Allianz. Even though Allianz is not covering COVID-19 medical expenses in its standalone travel insurance products at this moment, Sunlife clarifies that the out-of-country coverage on its own health insurance products follow a different set of policies:

Allianz has posted information on their corporate website about COVID-19 and coverage limitations. Does this information apply to Sun Life plans?

No. Any information on the Allianz website is not about Sun Life products. Plan members should refer to the following sources to verify their coverage under their Sun Life plan.



2. Green Shield Canada

Green Shield Canada distributes individual health benefits plans as standalone products and in conjunction with employers around Canada. It states the following on its COVID-19 FAQ page:

The official Government of Canada travel advisory (issued March 13), says to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice – even with international borders starting to re-open. What does this mean for my travel coverage if I still choose to travel for non-essential/leisure purposes?

While we continue to view the Government advisory as the primary guideline, we understand that plan members will make their own choices around travelling. In these situations, we firmly believe that providing peace of mind is the right thing to do.

For that reason, your travel plan may include coverage for emergency medical expenses related to COVID-19 for the period of August 15, 2020 through June 30, 2021, up to the existing maximums and limitations within each plan.

This additional coverage will apply to all destinations globally – regardless of the COVID-19 travel advisory being in place or reason for travel (i.e. leisure, work, school) – and is subject to all other terms, conditions, and limitations of your benefits plan, including the requirement that you must be symptom free, in good health, and that all pre-existing conditions must be stable for 90 days prior to departure.

Note that this does not apply to Green Shield Canada’s standalone SureAway travel insurance product, which does not cover COVID-19 medical expenses at this time.

Airlines Offering COVID-19 Insurance

Several airlines and vacation providers, both here in Canada and globally, are offering complimentary COVID-19 insurance when you purchase flights or vacation packages through them. Here’s a summary of the major airlines offering this benefit at the moment, with a focus on airlines that provide direct service to Canada.



1. Air Canada

Air Canada announced in September that it would partner with Manulife to provide COVID-19 insurance (including medical and quarantine expenses) on all new international round-trip bookings departing Canada made between September 17 and October 31, 2020, for travel until April 12, 2021, on a trip of up to 21 days in duration.

Anyone who books an Air Canada-issued round-trip ticket with at least one flight operated or marketed by Air Canada (including Aeroplan round-trip, multi-city, and open-jaw bookings) is eligible for the coverage. Similar to Manulife’s COVID-19 Pandemic Travel Plan outlined above, policyholders will be covered for up to $2,000,000 in medical costs and up to $150/day in quarantine costs arising from COVID-19.

Furthermore, Air Canada Vacations has partnered with Allianz to offer COVID-19 insurance on all newly booked vacation packages for travel until April 30, 2021. Unlike the main Air Canada and Manulife policy, this one excludes travel to the USA, and only insures you for up to $100,000 in medical expenses.

For a full discussion of Air Canada and Air Canada Vacations’s COVID-19 insurance policies, refer to this post.



2. WestJet

WestJet announced in September that it would partner with TuGo to provide COVID-19 insurance (including medical and quarantine expenses) on all new international bookings departing Canada, for travel booked starting from September 18, 2020 that takes place until August 31, 2021, on a trip of up to 21 days (for round-trip flights) or seven days (for one-way flights).

The insurance applies on any ticket issued by WestJet that includes at least one flight operated by WestJet. WestJet’s maximum claim amount for emergency medical treatment and hospitalization costs is limited to $100,000, while its quarantine cost coverage is also limited to $150/day for a maximum of 140 days.

Meanwhile, WestJet Vacations follows the same policy, with the exception that trips to the United States are excluded.



3. Sunwing

Like Air Canada, Sunwing has also partnered with Manulife to provide the same COVID-19 insurance to customers who book travel with Sunwing, whether it’s a flight booking or an all-inclusive vacation package. Customers must book between September 17 and October 31, 2020, and must travel between October 16, 2020 and May 31, 2021, and coverage is valid for up to 21 days.

The policy maximums are the same as Air Canada’s, aligning with Manulife’s upcoming COVID-19 Pandemic Travel Plan as well:



4. Emirates

Emirates was the first global airline to offer free COVID-19 insurance coverage on all new bookings across its route network, including its direct flight from Dubai to Toronto.

As long as you book a flight (one-way, round-trip, or multi-city) via Emirates.com or through an Emirates contact centre, retail channel, or travel agency, you’ll receive 31-day coverage for medical expenses of up to €150,000 or quarantine expenses of up to €100 per day, for up to 14 days, in the event of a COVID-19 positive test.

The assurance is valid for 31 days from the moment you take your first flight, and it covers you even if you travel onwards to another city. Currently, the insurance benefit is valid for travel until October 31, 2020, but I’d be very surprised if that wasn’t extended further into the future.

Do note that this benefit is only available on bookings made directly with Emirates, so it’s my understanding that redeeming miles for your Emirates ticket through partner frequent flyer programs (such as Alaska Mileage Plan) would not be eligible.



5. Etihad Airways

Etihad Airways has also introduced a COVID-19 Global Wellness Insurance Cover program across its route network, including its direct flight from Abu Dhabi to Toronto.

The policy’s eligibility rules and coverage limits are virtually identical to Emirates’s: you are covered automatically as long as you book a flight directly with Etihad Airways, and you’ll receive 31-day coverage for medical expenses of up to €150,000 or quarantine expenses of up to €100 per day, for up to 14 days, in the event of a COVID-19 positive test.

Etihad’s policy is currently active for travel until December 31, 2020, but again, I’d fully expect that deadline to be extended into next year as well. Likewise, due to the policy’s requirement to book directly, it’s my understanding that redeeming miles for your Etihad Airways ticket through partner frequent flyer programs (such as Aeroplan) would not be eligible.

Destinations Offering COVID-19 Insurance

Finally, it’s worth noting that a handful of destinations around the world are effectively offering COVID-19 insurance as a means to boost local tourism, as they have committed to covering the medical treatment and quarantine costs for any travellers who test positive for COVID-19 when they are visiting the country.

Countries that have announced these measures include Greece, Cyprus, and the Dominican Republic. You’ll want to brush up on each individual country’s policies if you are considering planning a trip there.

However, due to the relatively limited number of countries offering these measures, as well as the uncertainty and limited number of data points around the implementation of these assurances, I’d still recommend embarking on any trip with a separate health insurance policy that covers COVID-19 medical expenses.

If the unthinkable were to happen, I’d rather be relying on a reputable organization like Manulife or Blue Cross than a local government that may or may not be the most reliable when it comes to arranging urgent medical treatment and handling the associated costs.

Conclusion

COVID-19 travel insurance will be a key consideration before embarking on any international trips for the foreseeable future. Thankfully, Canadian travellers can now choose from a number of options for this purpose, whether it takes the form of a standalone product like Blue Cross’s travel insurance package, or by booking with one of Canada’s airlines to receive coverage automatically without any need to register.

I expect Manulife’s COVID-19 Pandemic Travel Plan to rival Blue Cross’s offering in the market when it’s launched in October, and I’ll likely choose between one of these two products when I embark on my first international trip of the new era.

I also anticipate that it won’t be long until we see the insurance providers of some of Canada’s best travel credit cards rolling out coverage for COVID-19 medical expenses as well, and for trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance relating to COVID-19 to become more accessible as the global travel industry continues further along its path of recovery.

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