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Many Canadians neglect to take one of the most important items on their travels – not a camera or tourist guide, but proper insurance.

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Many Canadians neglect to take one of the most important items on their travels – not a camera or tourist guide, but proper insurance. Approximately half of Canadians see the need to purchase travel insurance, surveys have found.

When an unexpected event such as an illness or accident occurs on a trip the financial implications can be enormous, says Rob Iafrate, Assistant Vice-president and General Manager, Manulife Travel Insurance.

"From a medical perspective, you're taking a huge risk," Mr. Iafrate says.

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In the United States, any hospitalization for a serious illness or injury can cost upwards of $10,000 a day. Mr. Iafrate describes the case of one woman in her 20s who was hurt in a motor vehicle accident and had medical claims in excess of $1-million. Fortunately, her parents had purchased medical insurance for her travels. The cost – just under $20.

Why don't more Canadians buy travel insurance? Start with the misconception that they're already covered, Mr. Iafrate says.

Many people mistakenly believe their government health plan will cover them wherever they go. In fact, much of that protection disappears when they travel outside Canada, and the plans do have limitations even when people travel within Canada, outside of their home province or territory, he says.

Even those with travel insurance covered by a credit card or employer's group health plan will need to ensure that the coverage meets their needs, Mr. Iafrate says.

A full suite of travel insurance typically includes emergency medical; travel accident and flight accident, including death; trip cancellation (to cover non-refundable travel arrangements); trip interruption (to cover costs for those who must come home early or late, or make other changes to travel plans); and lost or delayed baggage.

For travellers who already have some type of insurance or are planning to buy some, it's critical to be aware of exactly what they're protected against, says Mr. Iafrate.

For instance, credit cards might have limits on the amount that can be claimed, the duration of a trip where coverage is in effect and the types of travel insurance available. Employer plans, meanwhile, might not cover the full suite of travel insurance coverage such as trip cancellation and/or trip interruption.

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While trip cancellation is a defined risk that some people might be willing to accept, the medical risk is always unknown. Medical costs abroad could be $100 or $100,000. "That's a huge risk," Mr. Iafrate says.

Travel insurance is widely available through travel agents, associations, insurance brokers, financial institutions and company on-line web applications.

The cost of travel insurance in the context of overall travel expenses is relatively small by comparison, Mr. Iafrate says. For a comprehensive type of coverage, the average premium is typically 6 to 8 per cent of trip costs, or approximately $90 for a one-week trip. For emergency medical-only coverage, the cost is even less, about $25 to $30. Multi-trip annual plans are also available.

Travel insurance costs can rise for people over 55, depending on their health. But for most people, says Mr. Iafrate, "it really is just dollars a day."

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