*As published in the Summer 2013 issue of FinanceWorks.ca

Picture it: bright sun, rolling waves and soft sand squishing between your toes. You are on holiday and life is good. You decide to try out surfing for the first time and during one of your falls, you hit the board awkwardly and crack your collarbone. Suddenly all you can feel is pain and you need to get to a hospital. One question first: do you have travel insurance?

Hopefully your answer is yes and this broken collarbone will not lead to a broken bank account as well, but the type of travel insurance you are using will determine how much of your treatment will be covered. If you’re relying on a policy that is part of your work benefits package or offered through your credit card, then you might still be footing the bill ­— at least until you get home and submit the necessary forms. 

If an accident happens while you are out of the country ends up costing $10,000 or more, do you have access to the cash necessary to pay the bill?  Whether you already have a work policy or not, you might benefit from buying additional coverage from a travel insurance provider that will step in and start paying your medical bills while you’re in the foreign hospital rather than making you wait until you get home. 

If you have any pre-existing medical conditions your work or credit card policy may not cover you at all. For example, if you have a history of angina and suffer an attack while away, you may come home to find that your work policy won’t cover the associated costs you incurred abroad. It’s better to apply for a single trip policy and disclose any conditions you have up front to get a ruling before you leave on whether you’ll be protected for that condition outside of Canada.

Another reason to purchase a travel insurance policy is to top up existing benefits. If your work policy only covers you for two weeks away, for example, you should buy another week top up so that you are fully covered for your three-week trip. Or maybe you’d like to have cancellation insurance and baggage protection and your work policy is limited to emergency medical insurance only. Before you get away, you should review any policies you have access to and decide whether or not it makes sense to purchase more coverage. 

Your travel agent can bundle a travel policy with your trip. It may be a good policy but often policies purchased through an insurance broker will cost you significantly less for the same coverage. It is worth shopping around.

If you have no coverage at work, it might be prudent to buy a multi-trip travel policy. With a multi-trip policy, you chose the length of coverage, usually two weeks or 30 days, and you are covered for every trip you make of that length or less for unlimited trips in the year. This type of coverage is great for frequent travelers and for anyone who cross-border shops.

You work hard and when you’re at play in a foreign country you shouldn’t have to worry about what will happen to you if you were to get sick or become injured. Look into the coverage provided with your work benefits and credit cards and then you can decide how best to protect your fun.