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Considering a Trip Outside of Canada? Do You Have Travel Insurance?

Written by Edward H. Masters

Did you know that, if you are travelling outside of Canada, you will likely not be covered by OHIP in the case of a medical emergency? Even if you manage to get some OHIP coverage it will be limited and you should not expect that it will pay for your medical bills in another country.

If you want coverage for medical emergencies or illnesses while travelling abroad, you will need to buy travel insurance. This type of insurance is available to cover unexpected expenses, such as an emergency hospital visit or medical treatment while you are travelling. 

The coverage available through travel insurance may differ from policy to policy depending on the company that issues it. One thing that all insurance policies have in common is exclusions. There are several exclusions that travel insurers typically include in their policies. The main exclusion found in virtually all travel insurance is for "pre-existing conditions." A pre‑existing condition will be defined differently in different policies. You will need to read the policy wording carefully to determine what it defines as a pre‑existing condition. A common definition is "a medical condition that exists before your effective date of insurance." Pre‑existing conditions can include disease, illness, injury, complications due to pregnancy and mental or emotional disorders.

While some policies will exclude all coverage for pre-existing conditions, others will only offer limited coverage if a pre‑existing condition requires treatment. It is important to read the fine print carefully before selecting a travel insurance policy so that you know what is considered a "pre‑existing condition" and what coverage is available should you experience medical problems because of a pre‑existing condition.

Other common exclusions found in travel insurance are:

  • "High risk" activities, for example, skydiving, bungee jumping, scuba diving;
  • Self-inflicted injuries or suicide;
  • Treatment for substance abuse such as drug or alcohol dependency; and
  • Certain destinations, especially those under travel advisories.

Maximum payments vary from policy to policy. There may be a financial "cap" for individual fees or total coverage. There may be "co‑insurance" which only pays for a percentage of the total cost.

Time limits may be set out in the policy, so if you end up staying longer than anticipated, you may need to extend your travel insurance or buy a new policy.

You may already have some form of travel insurance through your group health plan at work, a credit card, or a professional association. Review your policy carefully before leaving Canada to ensure that you are aware of any exclusions it contains. You may wish to buy additional travel insurance.

Finding yourself in a foreign country after an injury or illness without sufficient travel insurance can make a bad situation worse. Depending on your situation, it may be worthwhile consulting with a lawyer to review the fine print of a travel insurance policy. If you have already purchased the policy, or if you have travel insurance through a group health plan, it may also be worthwhile having a lawyer review the exclusions in it so that you are fully informed of the coverage that you have or, more importantly, the coverage that you do not have.


For more information about OHIP coverage outside of Canada, review the government's website. The Ontario government "strongly advise[s]" residents of Ontario to obtain travel health insurance.

Each situation is unique. The blogs posted on this site are informational. They are not intended to be taken as legal advice for your situation. It is always a good idea to seek professional legal advice before making any decisions related to your particular case. 

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