Retirement is an exciting time and something many people look forward to. It can also be a confusing and overwhelming time—there’s a lot of information, advice and options out there. To help Albertans transition into a new phase of their life and prepare for retirement, we created a guide to retirement. This guide goes over some of the things to consider when you retire including drug, health, dental and travel benefits.

Like many Albertans, travel may be a huge part of your retirement plan. Whether you’re about to embark on your retirement journey or are settled into your new routine, you may be thinking about incorporating more travel into your lifestyle. The freedom and flexibility of retirement allows you to discover nature, history, food and culture of new places, which can help stimulate your physical, mental and social health.

Whether you’re a snowbird, road tripping across Canada or flying across the globe, travel insurance is an essential component of travelling safely, especially in retirement. Travel insurance helps you travel with peace of mind and protects you from financial hardships associated with medical emergencies and trip disruptions. We recently spoke with our Alberta Blue Cross travel experts to provide answers to some of the most common questions about travel insurance for retirees.

Do I really need travel insurance?

The short answer is yes. You should purchase travel insurance if you don’t want to pay out of pocket for unexpected expenses while out of the province or country. Anything can happen when travelling and it usually happens when you least expect it.

When you’re outside Alberta, your provincial health plan provides limited coverage. Without travel insurance, you’re responsible for covering the costs of any medical expenses, which can be extremely high. For example, having a heart attack in the United States could cost you more than $137,000.

There are various types of travel insurance depending on the length of your trip and the number of trips you plan to take in a year—compare coverage options to see what fits best for your travel plans. If you have a personal health plan or benefits through your employer, travel insurance may be included. If needed, you can always top up your coverage for a longer trip or supplement it with trip cancellation, interruption and baggage insurance.

Some credit cards also provide travel benefits, usually in the form of insurance for rental cars, trip cancellation, trip interruption or baggage and personal belongings insurance. Any coverage available through a credit card is limited and may be restricted to only the cardholder, so be sure to read the fine print.

Learn more about what to consider when looking for a retirement benefits plan with travel insurance in our guide to retirement.

Don’t I already have health care coverage through the provincial government?

Yes, but coverage through the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP) is limited when you’re outside the province.

When travelling within Canada, hospital services are covered by the AHCIP in all provinces and territories. The ACHIP also covers physician services throughout Canada, except for in Quebec. Most out-of-province hospital and physician services will be at no cost to you if you present your Alberta health care card. However, you’ll be responsible for paying any difference between the rate covered in Alberta and the rate charged in a different province. In some cases, you may be required to pay upfront for the full amount and submit your receipt to ACHIP for reimbursement.

When travelling outside of Canada, the AHCIP covers limited physician and hospital costs. If you need medical or hospital care outside the country, you’ll have to pay the costs upfront and then submit a claim to the AHCIP office to request reimbursement. Furthermore, you’ll be responsible for paying the difference between what you were charged and what the AHCIP will reimburse. For example, the AHCIP reimburses $100 CAD per day for in-patient hospital services and $50 CAD per day for out-patient hospital services outside of Canada. Hospital services include diagnostic exams, medical supplies, nursing, prescription drugs and room and food in a hospital. If you’re travelling and have a medical emergency, a trip to the hospital can quickly and significantly surpass these reimbursement rates.

In addition, whether you’re travelling internationally or domestically, the AHCIP does not cover some major expenses like hospital transfers, ground and air ambulance and return of the deceased.

The Government of Alberta recommends getting medical emergency travel insurance when travelling outside the province. Travel insurance goes beyond what’s covered by the provincial government and protects you against the financial burden of an unexpected illness or injury. Learn more about health care coverage outside Alberta.

How long can I be out of Alberta and keep my provincial health plan?

Leaving Alberta for an extended period can impact your provincial health coverage. In general, you can leave Alberta and maintain your provincial health plan if you stay

  • in another province or territory for less than 12 consecutive months,
  • outside Canada for less than six consecutive months, or
  • outside Alberta for up to 212 days in a 12-month period for the purpose of vacation on a recurring basis—good news for snowbirds!

To maintain your provincial coverage, you must have a permanent residence in Alberta and return to the province after your travels. There are some special cases of extended absences in which you might be eligible for provincial health coverage. To learn more, and in situations where you’re not in Alberta for at least 183 days in a 12-month period, contact the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan office.

Since provincial coverage is limited outside of Alberta, it’s always recommended to purchase travel insurance. Some private plans offer up to 90 days of travel coverage, while others are capped at 30 days of coverage. Length of travel coverage is particularly important for snowbirds and those looking to be abroad for long periods of time.

What kind of coverage does travel insurance provide?

There are various types of travel insurance.

Emergency medical insurance

Emergency medical insurance provides coverage for unforeseen medical expenses that may occur while travelling, such as

  • prescriptions;
  • health care professional expenses;
  • diagnostic services;
  • medical appliances;
  • hospital services;
  • emergency dental services;
  • meals, accommodations and return flights due to medical delays;
  • the return of dependents, pets, vehicles and personal items; and
  • medical evacuation air ambulance service when necessary.

Since the risk of health complications increases with age, travel medical insurance is particularly important for retirees and seniors. You want to ensure you have enough coverage for the entirety of your trip. Since each insurance plan varies, be sure to understand the maximum coverage amount, what’s covered and not covered and any other conditions before you travel. While some insurance providers will offer up to $5 million in coverage for a lifetime, other travel plans—like the Alberta Blue Cross retiree plan—include up to $5 million in coverage per trip per person for an unlimited number of trips, with no deductible.

Trip cancellation, interruption and baggage insurance

A cancelled flight, an unexpected family emergency back home or a set of lost bags can ruin your trip and leave you to cover thousands of dollars out of pocket. While emergency medical travel insurance doesn’t cover these types of things, many insurance companies offer additional coverage options to help protect your travel investment and give you freedom to adventure without worries.

Trip cancellation insurance provides reimbursement for trip costs if you’re unable to travel for an applicable reason. Every plan has different criteria for cancellation, so be sure to read the fine print. Trip cancellation is most frequently used in situations of personal or family illness or environmental barriers at home or your destination, such as weather conditions, natural disasters or civil unrest.

Trip interruption insurance is like trip cancellation insurance but applies to the duration of your trip as opposed to the period before it. This type of insurance offers reimbursement if you must change your plans during your travels. For example, if you or a family member falls sick during your trip and you have to return home, trip interruption insurance will reimburse you for the portion of your trip you had to cancel.

Baggage and personal items insurance provides reimbursement for expenses incurred if your baggage, the contents of your baggage or other personal items are lost, delayed, damaged or stolen during your trip. The Canadian Air Passenger Bill of Rights requires airlines to reimburse you for lost or damaged baggage up to a maximum of approximately $2,300, but baggage and personal insurance ensures you’re protected if your belongings are lost or stolen for the duration of your trip, not just while you’re in transit. 

While most insurance plans are offered as a combined package, some types of insurance can be purchased as a stand-alone product, such as trip cancellation coverage offered by an airline for an extra fee when booking a flight. Some plans also include extra perks, like 24/7 travel assistance, to help your trip run smoothly. Trip cancellation, trip interruption and baggage insurance are commonly offered as a package. For example, our trip cancellation, interruption and baggage insurance includes cancellation coverage for up to $15,000 for a single trip or $2,500 for a multi-trip plan, unlimited trip interruption coverage and up to $1,500 for lost, stolen or damaged items.

What if I go on multiple trips in a year?

You can purchase two types of emergency medical travel insurance: single-trip or multi-trip annual plans. A single-trip plan covers you for one trip from the time you depart until the time you return. A multi-trip annual plan covers you for multiple, separate trips for the entire year. For annual plans, there may be time limits, such as 30 days maximum per trip, and you might need to get extended coverage for a single trip.

When should I buy travel insurance?

It’s recommended you purchase travel insurance as soon as you book your trip. That way, you’re protected for the duration of your trip, as well as beforehand in case something unexpected happens. For example, if you need to cancel your trip due to weather conditions like a hurricane at your destination, you can typically only do so if you purchased trip cancellation insurance before confirmation of the hurricane. Likewise, if an unforeseen medical issue prevents you from travelling, you’d only have coverage to cancel if you purchased trip cancellation insurance prior to falling ill. Just remember to buy travel insurance at least one day before you leave for your trip—you can’t purchase travel insurance once you’ve left the province.

Be prepared to answer some medical questions to confirm your eligibility when you purchase travel insurance. Make sure you’re covered for the full length of your trip, including the day you leave and the day you get back. If your dates aren’t accurate, your coverage might be void. You can usually extend travel insurance if you decide to stay longer than planned but contact your insurance carrier before the return date of your original travel agreement or before your trip limit ends in the case of a multi-trip plan.

What is a medical stability clause?

A stability clause requires you to be stable, meaning there have been no changes to your health before departing for your trip. This includes situations where you

  • increase or decrease the dosage of a medication;
  • are prescribed a new medication or stop taking one;
  • are receiving testing;
  • have a medical procedure or intervention;
  • are hospitalized;
  • experience new symptoms; or
  • are diagnosed with a medical condition, which refers to any signs or symptoms of an illness, such as COVID-19. 

Many health and travel insurance plans require you meet a medical stability requirement that can range from 30 days to one year before you travel. Let’s say, for example, that you take medication for high blood pressure and your doctor changes your dosage within the 90 days before departure for your trip—according to our stability clause, you wouldn’t have coverage for any claims related to high blood pressure while out of the province. You can also check out our video for a further explanation of our 90-day stability clause for travel benefits on all our plans.

Can I get travel insurance if I have a pre-existing condition?

If you have a pre-existing condition, you may still be eligible for travel coverage. A pre-existing condition is any medical condition you were aware of before you left on your trip. To receive full coverage for a pre-existing condition, you typically need to meet a stability clause—a period that can range from 30 days to one year before you travel in which your condition does not change.

It’s important to be honest about any pre-existing medical conditions when applying for travel insurance. If you aren’t, your policy may be voided if you end up having to make a claim and you won’t be reimbursed for those medical expenses.

If you have an unstable medical condition prior to travelling, you can shop around to see what insurers can offer you. Some don’t have stability period requirements and will cover any pre-existing conditions you have at the time you purchase a policy. Others may provide some coverage but exclude any medical claims you may have while travelling that relate to your pre-existing condition.

If your health changes at any time between when you purchase your policy and your departure, make sure to call your insurer and inform them of the change. At that time, they can determine if you still qualify for coverage and if your premium will change.

Will I be denied insurance due to my age?

It depends on the insurer—some have strict age limits while others require a medical questionnaire to determine eligibility. Typically, travel insurance premiums increase with age, and can further increase if you have serious pre-existing conditions.

Many health benefit plans only provide travel coverage up to 65 years of age. If you plan to travel a lot in your retirement years, a plan that includes emergency medical travel coverage for a longer period may be more beneficial to you. For example, our retiree plan includes emergency medical travel insurance until 85 years of age, but you must transition from an employer health plan within 60 days of the plan terminating to be eligible. Alternatively, there is no age limit for our standalone travel plans—you can purchase a plan online but are required to speak with one of our travel insurance specialists and complete a medical questionnaire if you’re 80 years of age or older.

Does my travel insurance include coverage for COVID-19?

This depends on your travel insurance carrier—each has its own unique policy when it comes to COVID-19. Many insurers are now providing emergency medical insurance related to COVID-19 as part of their travel insurance plans. Many of these plans require customers be fully vaccinated to be eligible to receive coverage for COVID-19 related claims.

Coverage for COVID-19 tests and costs associated with having to quarantine at your destination—and therefore, extend your trip—vary between insurance carriers. The same applies to reasons related to COVID-19 for trip cancellation and interruption insurance. For an additional cost, there are options now available that provide higher levels of coverage related to COVID-19.

All Alberta Blue Cross travel insurance benefits include emergency medical coverage for COVID-19 related incidents. This includes extended hospital stays, ventilator costs and transportation home. Coverage does not include vaccines, COVID-19 tests or costs associated with having to quarantine or resulting from a post COVID-19 test result. Coverage for COVID-19 is not available to those who

  • are diagnosed with COVID-19 or have COVID-19 symptoms in the 90 days before their departure date and don’t meet the stability clause;
  • are awaiting test results;
  • have been in contact with anyone who tested positive in the 14 days before their departure date; and
  • are going on cruises.

When it comes to my health and safety, what should I do to prepare for my trip?

When preparing for a trip, we recommend you take the following steps:

  1. Check the Government of Canada’s website for travel advice and advisories before you book your trip and again right before you leave. Travel advisories provide important information to help protect you from security threats around the world, such as climate or weather concerns, natural disasters, political instability, protests, rebellion, war, violence, terrorism and health emergencies. When there is an elevated security concern, advisories will caution you against all (level 4) or non-essential travel (level 3) to that specific city, region or country. It’s your responsibility to know if advisories are in place when travelling. Many insurers deny emergency medical coverage for any issues related to active level 3 and level 4 advisories at the time of booking. Be sure to ask your insurer about the level of coverage they will provide if you’re travelling to a destination with an active travel advisory.
  1. Make sure your passport is valid. Some destinations, for example, require your passport be valid for up to six months after your return date. If you’re a frequent traveller, you’ll also want to ensure you have enough blank pages left in your passport for entry stamps and visas where necessary.
  1. Check if you need a visa to travel to your desired destination. This information can also be found on the Government of Canada’s travel website within the entry and exit requirements tab for each country. A visa is required for most countries for stays longer than 90 days and, you often need to secure or apply for a visa before you leave.
  1. Complete the Registration of Canadians Abroad—this free service allows the Canadian government to notify you in case of an emergency abroad or at home, a natural disaster or civil unrest when travelling outside of the country. It will also notify you of important changes or updates to travel advice and advisors.
  1. Get travel insurance. Check out our guide to retirement to learn more about what to consider when looking for a retirement benefits plan with travel insurance. And always keep a physical or digital copy of your insurance policy and key phone numbers for emergency travel assistance with you during your trip.

  2. Make sure your vaccinations are up to date. Regardless of your destination, it’s recommended that your routine vaccines are up to date. Depending on your age, health condition and where you’re travelling, other vaccines may be required. Some countries ask for proof of vaccinations as part of their visa requirements.
  1. Prepare any medication and medical supplies needed for your trip. If you take medication, ensure you have enough for your trip, and maybe a bit extra just in case. You may want to consider bringing a list of prescriptions with you. Learn more about travelling with medication.
  1. Travelling with a pet? Don’t forget about pet insurance. While many pet owners consider their fur babies family, most travel insurance plans don’t extend to your pets. You might want to consider pet insurance if you plan to travel with your pet, especially for a long period.
  1. Planning to rent a vehicle? Don’t forget about car insurance. Travel insurance will help cover emergency medical expenses should you get in a car accident while travelling, but it probably won’t help you pay for any damage to the rental vehicle. Check your personal auto insurance and credit card policy to see if it includes coverage for rental vehicles. Otherwise, there are various options for rental car insurance, depending on where you travel.
  1. Know your rights when you fly. There are regulations in place to protect you as a passenger when flying to, from and within Canada. Before you fly, understand your rights for things like flight delays and cancellations and lost, damaged or delayed baggage.

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