Cuba Bound? Canadians Need Travel Insurance

Over the next 12 months, more than 900,000 Canadians will head to Cuba’s beaches for a week or two or more. Sounds good. But keep in mind that in April 2010, the Cuban government ruled that all foreign vacationers to their island would be required to have proof of travel insurance at the point of entry or they would have to buy insurance issued by a Cuban insurance company.

At first, the Cuban announcement of how this new scheme would work was confusing and ambiguous, leading some travel companies to think there would be a preferred list of foreign travel insurance companies whose products would be acceptable to the government. That was not true. The Cuban government later amended its announcement to state that any foreign visitor with proof of any travel insurance covering emergency medical services in Cuba would be allowed entry.

The Cuban travel authorities stated that for Canadians, proof of their provincial government health insurance would be sufficient. The problem is that provincial plans will only reimburse you for a small share of the medical costs in a Cuban hospital or clinic. Most will not pay the hospital or doctor directly (you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket and then wait to get reimbursed by your domestic plan), and they will certainly not pay for any air ambulance if you need emergency repatriation to a hospital at home—which is the preferred way to handle a serious medical emergency in that country.

As for buying a Cuban plan when you arrive there, be aware that what you will get is a bare-bones product that has a very low limit of benefits, no air repatriation, and no allowance for transfer to a mainland specialty centre if you need one. Neither does it have any benefit allowing a close a family member to come to your bedside, which is a standard feature of all Canadian travel insurance plans—all of which have benefit limits ranging from $1 million upwards.

The requirement that you have “proof” of insurance is also important. It’s not enough to say you are covered by such and such insurer and hope the Cuban border agent will take the time to check that out. You will need proof: your travel insurance emergency assistance card or your policy is best. If you will be travelling only under your provincial health insurance, you will need the card. If you have retirement, pension, or superannuates group insurance, you will also need a card proving out-of-country health benefits—which, surprisingly, many group plans do not issue. Insist on getting one from your group. And also make sure you know if your group plan pays hospitals and doctors directly, as all Canadian single or multi-trip travel plans do.

You do not want to be stuck in Cuba, unable to pay a hospital or doctor bill. We have seen what happened to one young Canadian who was not allowed to leave the island for months pending resolution of his rented auto accident case.

The bottom line is: do not even think of going to Cuba for a week or two or more without having proof of travel insurance before you leave, the safest being a Canadian single-trip or annual multi-trip plan specifically designed for out-of-country travel.

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