As pre-entry COVID-19 tests disappear, travel is getting easier. Travel insurance is not

Passengers check in at Toronto’s Pearson Airport on Oct. 29, 2021.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Ottawa’s decision to lift its pre-entry COVID-19 testing requirement on April 1 removes yet another obstacle to Canadians’ trips abroad, but navigating the nuances of pandemic-era travel insurance will continue to be anything but easy. Even as flight sales soar, overbookings, the risk of future pandemic waves and the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine could still scramble the best-laid travel plans.

“People still need travel insurance. As we’ve seen over the past few years, things can change pretty fast,” Tanisha Kishan, a chartered insurance professional at rates comparison site Ratesdotca.

The events in Ukraine add another layer of uncertainty for trips that may be affected by the conflict in Eastern Europe.

One of the top issues travellers should get clarity on when buying insurance is how their coverage would be affected if Canada or their destination country were to once again reimpose a Level 3 advisory against non-essential international travel in response to another wave of COVID-19, Ms. Kishan said.

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Ottawa stopped recommending that Canadians avoid international travel for non-essential purposes on Feb. 28. The change means Canadians can now often get coverage for COVID-19 related risks with basic travel insurance and without having to purchase a special policy specifically designed for pandemic times, said Martin Firestone, president of insurance brokerage Travel Secure Inc.

Several base insurance products reviewed by The Globe and Mail currently offer coverage for medical expenses incurred if you become infected with COVID-19 during your trip.

Still, Ms. Kishan advises travellers always check whether a basic insurance product covers COVID-19 and to what extent.

But regular travel insurance may not cover you for medical costs related to COVID-19 if Canada or your destination country reinstates rules advising against non-essential travel before your scheduled departure date. To be sure you’re covered in case of a travel advisory upgrade, you may still need to seek out policies or riders specifically created for pandemic travel, Ms. Kishan warned.

Keep in mind also that trip cancellation and interruption insurance typically doesn’t generally cover you if you decide – or are forced to – overhaul your travel plans because of changes in COVID-19 travel advisories or other restrictions, Mr. Firestone noted. COVID-19 coverage for trip and interruption insurance typically only means you’re covered if you have to cancel your plans because you caught the virus or lost your job because of the pandemic prior to departure or had to unexpectedly quarantine during your travel.

One more thing to check: Eligibility and coverage limits can vary significantly depending on whether you’re fully vaccinated. Canada is not currently requiring booster shots to meet the definition of fully vaccinated, although some foreign countries do.

And yet, COVID-19 isn’t the only extraordinary risk facing Canadian travellers. As demands for flights bounces back amid loosening pandemic restrictions, overbooking could also become a significant nuisance, according to Ms. Kishan. Flight Centre Travel Group (Canada) says the number of airplane ticket sales it sold in Canada between March 1 and March 27 was up a whopping 160 per cent compared with the full month of January.

Under Canada’s air passenger protection regulations, Canadians may be entitled to compensation of up to $2,400 and no-cost rebooking for being denied boarding because of overbooking. In practice, though, airlines routinely skirt around the rules, according to air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs.

Insurance can help mitigate the risk of being bumped off your flight, Ms. Kishan said, adding that some policies cover costs associated with cancellations and delays caused by airline overbooking.

Finally, if you’re heading to Europe, you’ll want to make sure your trip isn’t affected by the continuing hostilities in Ukraine. Ottawa is currently advising against all travel not just to Ukraine and Russia but also to Belarus, which allowed tens of thousands of Russian troops to gather on its territory prior to Russia’s invasion. And the federal government is telling Canadians to exercise “a high degree of caution” if travelling to neighbouring Moldova owing to the impact of the conflict.

While there are no heightened advisories for nearby Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and the Baltic states, Mr. Firestone recommends checking government websites for the latest available updates on any travel restrictions related to the conflict before buying insurance.

In general, with travel rules and risks as fluid as they are right now, it’s a good idea to turn to an insurance broker for advice, Ms
. Kishan said.

Insurance comparison sites can be “a good starting point” for preliminary research, she said. But, she added, most travellers will likely be better off asking a flesh-and-blood travel expert: “Okay, this is my particular scenario. This is the coverage that I’m looking to have: Can you help me?”

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