How Long Can Canadians Stay Out of the Country?

One of the questions most frequently asked by Canadian travellers is, “How long can we stay out of the province or country?” There are a few things to consider on this one. For starters, it depends on your destination.

Here are the entry requirements and stay limits for the countries most visited by Canadians:

United States: Six months (about 182 days), whether all at once or over several cumulative trips, during a 12-month period.

Europe: 90 days, with no visa requirement however there are changes slated to take effect in May 2023.

The United Kingdom: Six months, or 180 days, with no visa requirement.

Cuba: Six months, however you must obtain an extension from immigration authorities for a stay beyond 90 days.

Mexico: Six months, or 180 days, however you must complete a Mexican tourist card, known as FMM (Forma Migratoria Múltiple).

Dominican Republic: 30 days, however you must obtain a tourist card for entry.

China: 30 days on a single-entry visa.

Australia: Three months on a mandatory Australian Electronic Travel Authority.

Now here comes the curveball: be sure to check the residency requirement in your home province. This is a set of rules that specifies the number of days that you must be physically present to qualify for provincial health benefits. While most provinces require that residents be present for six months to maintain their health coverage, it’s worth checking before planning a long-term vacation. Your residency requirement doesn’t affect your ability to leave Canada for vacation but it does impact your eligibility for provincial health benefits when you return.

No matter your destination country, it’s recommended that you always maintain at least six months of validity on your passport. Some countries may also require that your passport have a certain number of blank pages so be sure to do your research on entry requirements.

For peace of mind during your travels, take MSH coverage with you. Get a quote today!

Now, get packing!

 


Do you not see the answer to your question in the comments below? Feel free to get in touch with our experts for more assistance.

The US Land Border Will Finally Open to Canadians. Now What?

Now that the Biden administration has announced the reopening of the US land border to fully vaccinated Canadians in November (we hope sooner rather than later), the question remains: what documentation (paper or digital) will you need to get into shopping malls, restaurants, sports arenas, hotels—all of those venues that make for a satisfying vacation or visit with family?

The short answer is: that depends where you end up. The equally short one is: you should do just fine with the proof most vaccinated Canadians currently have.

One of the most frequent questions we have heard from concerned Canadians planning southbound travel has been: “What about the AstraZeneca shot that was mixed in with my Moderna or Pfizer jab? Does that qualify as the approved second shot needed for full vaccination status?” That’s not a trivial question as the US CDC has not yet approved AstraZeneca. But the issue has been raised to the higher levels in the CDC, which is still fine-tuning the details of vaccine documentation rules for the border reopening. So just wait and see.

We’ve also heard that some Canadians planning southbound trips “come hell or high water” have added booster shots of Moderna or Pfizer to their vaccine records just to make sure they’ve covered all bases. Good thinking.

So who’s really checking?

Given that the server in a Cheesecake Factory restaurant (who is also charged with examining your documents) is not likely to know (or care) about the mixing of vaccines, the worst that can happen is that you might have to have your dinner carried out to you in your car.

Earlier in one of our articles, we noted that 20 states have banned businesses from demanding or asking for proof-of-vaccination requirements. These are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. As of October 13, 2021, this lineup remains intact.

Four states (California, Hawaii, New York, and Oregon) have facilitated the creation of digital vaccination status applications or proof-of-vaccination programs that allow fully vaccinated people to bypass some coronavirus restrictions. Among these, California has implemented the strictest vaccine monitoring programs, and also maintains the most stringent masking, distancing, and social gathering regimens—although these are not applied on a statewide basis. Local county/municipal authorities have a good deal of latitude in determining what requirements they want to impose on their business patrons and guests.

Florida, by contrast—and to a similar extent Arizona—allow residents and visitors to use their best judgement about masking, distancing, and gatherings such as sports events. In these states, vaccine mandates are off the table—although in some instances they’re being challenged by the courts. But in the US that’s a never-ending process.

Given the very positive response to the reopening decision (which many state legislators have been aggressively promoting for several months), Canadians can expect a resounding welcome once they cross the world’s “longest undefended border.”

© Copyright 2021. Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Once the US Border Opens, You’ll Need a Vaccine Passport Checklist

With most of Canada’s provinces adopting some form of vaccine passport rules for entry to venues such as sports events, restaurants, public buildings, and other indoor functions, large portions of the US—particularly sunbelt states familiar to Canadian seasonal visitors—remain far less demanding of guests from up North, or anywhere else.

Once the US land border opens to Canadians you may want to take note of where you might be asked to show proof that you’ve had your two shots…and where that won’t be necessary. Your vaccination card or mobile app confirmation should be acceptable.

As of September 22, 2021, governments in 20* states have ordered or signed bills prohibiting government agencies from issuing COVID-19 vaccine identification cards or requiring proof of vaccination (cards or mobile apps) as a condition of entry for any premises. These states* include such Canadian target locations as Florida, Arizona, Alabama, Texas, South Carolina, and Georgia, as well as border states Idaho and Montana. In many of these states, masks are optional, left to personal choice. In Florida supermarkets, for example, there appear to be more unmasked than masked patrons. In these states masking is left to personal choice for the most part except for entry into health care facilities. (*Source: Ballot Pedia)

New York State, on the other hand, requires vaccine verification to enter most public venues like restaurants, theatres, and sports events, and masking is also widely required. Oregon allows vaccinated patrons to gather without masks in indoor venues.

In California, most decisions about vaccine requirements are left to individual cities and counties, so it’s best to have proof of complete vaccination at hand if travelling in that state. And in California, as well as most other states that require full vaccination, the term “vaccination” means two jabs with the same vaccine brand—or one jab of Johnson & Johnson. Mixed brands don’t meet the definition of “fully vaccinated,” but then a lot also depends on how perspicacious your document inspector (often your server) is.

In Hawaii, proof of vaccination is a widespread requirement, so be prepared. It’s a long way to go to be marooned outside of the airport bar.  

And if you’re travelling to Florida to board a cruise ship at one of its five ports, be prepared to show proof of vaccination—and that also means two jabs of the same brand. Mixed-brand vaccinations are not accepted for boarding on most of the major cruise lines. If you don’t show such proof, you may still be allowed to board (except on Norwegian Cruise Line vessels) but you will not be allowed the full run of the ship (like premier restaurants, saunas, pools, and other gatherings) and you’ll have to be masked. In effect you will be travelling second class—noticeably so. We note, however, that the cruise lines are imposing the vaccine-proof rules in defiance of a Florida law banning such practice while their challenge works its way through the courts. So stay tuned.

© Copyright 2021 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Have a Pre-existing Condition? Don’t Give Up on Travelling

As travel insurance has evolved over the years, more and more people in less-than-perfect health have become eligible for coverage. That’s a good thing. But you still need to be mindful that travel insurance is supplemental to your government (provincial) health plan, not a substitute for it, and there are exclusions and limitations in all travel health plans you need to be aware of when selecting insurance.

The most basic plans are those offered within credit card benefits, but they are generally short term (10, 15, or 30 days), usually designed for persons younger than 65, and generally do not cover medical emergencies caused by pre-existing conditions—although there are exceptions in higher-end credit cards for which you pay a premium. But even then, coverage for pre-existing medical conditions is very limited.

Fortunately, having a pre-existing condition does not mean you can’t get excellent coverage in a dedicated travel insurance plan. But do your diligence well, and don’t wait until the last minute to buy your insurance. Treat it as a serious purchase.

Don’t skip over the limitations

Generally, if your pre-existing condition (say, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gastric reflux, or other chronic condition) has been “stable” for a specified time (e.g., 30, 60, 180 days)—which means it hasn’t revealed new symptoms, hasn’t required a change in medication dosage or type, lab tests or procedures, and hasn’t been treated by a physician or referred to a specialist—it may be considered stable and you’ll be covered. But read and understand how “stable” is defined in the policy. It’s how the policy defines “stable,” not how you may define it, that counts in the end.

If you have a pre-existing condition that might not meet this stability standard and you still feel confident enough to travel, you might ask about a pre-existing condition “waiver” that allows you to be covered for all other medical emergencies unrelated to your pre-existing condition. That’s a good option, but make sure your policy specifies that you have such a waiver. Get it in writing.

Medical underwriting—a growing trend

As snowbirds and elderly travellers have become such a substantial force in the travel market, medically underwritten plans have grown exponentially. Their value lies in the insurer’s ability to fashion a plan of benefits for your specific health profile based the answers you provide to a detailed questionnaire or medical declaration. These generally require only “Yes” or “No” answers, but because some medical terminologies are used, make sure you look up the definitions provided. Don’t guess. And if you still are unsure about how to answer any questions, it’s always a good policy to ask your doctor for help. Accuracy is important. Once you complete your application, your responses will be graded for risk level and your premium set accordingly.

Also understand that failure to disclose any medical conditions, treatments, or diagnoses on your questionnaire can void your total application and lead to denial of your claim if you later have one.

For example, if while travelling you have a medical emergency—let’s say a gallbladder removal—and you subsequently file a claim and it’s discovered that you failed to confirm having been treated for atrial fibrillation at some earlier time, your gallbladder claim may be denied—even though your AF had nothing to do with your gall bladder emergency.

How can that be? It’s not a nasty trick. The premium and conditions of coverage in your medically underwritten plan are based solely on the information you provide. If the underwriters had known you’d had AF treatments in the past, you would have been given a different plan option, at a different premium level, with perhaps other conditions. In effect, you didn’t qualify for what you got. Your family physician’s advice may have helped.

Medically underwritten policies have opened up the world of travel to many people who otherwise would have been totally sidelined and forced to stay home. And as the world of travel opens up again, look to the new opportunities that exist. You may be pleasantly surprised.

© Copyright 2021 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.


To find out more about how MSH Americas can help you, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

HelpLine@americas.msh-intl.com

 +1 416 730 8488 (or toll-free at +1 800 360 3234)

How Travel Insurance Has Evolved—For Your Benefit

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, travel insurance providers have made policy changes to better protect you from unforeseen events and situations beyond your control. This is important, as sooner or later, you can be sure we’ll be revisited by regional epidemics, pandemics, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, civil demonstrations, or terrorist attacks—perhaps even wars. History has taught us that much.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to explore what’s new in travel insurance, what’s essential for you to know in fashioning the best coverage for you and your family as we return to normalcy, how to get the most value for your money, and how to earn peace of mind.

When to cancel a trip—and how

Let’s start with the issue that generated so much concern this past year: coverage for trips that were cancelled, interrupted, or delayed beyond endurance.

Traditionally, Canadian travel insurance has primarily focused on emergency medical benefits: high hospital costs and medical fees in foreign countries (especially the United States) that are only marginally covered (often less than 5 per cent) by government health insurance plans. It has been more than 30 years that private health insurers have been picking up the burden of foreign medical bills for Canadian travellers—bills often soaring to six figures. 

During this time, cancellation/interruption benefits have been incorporated into many travel insurance plans. But it took mass cancellations of cruise and airline itineraries as well as border closures during the pandemic to focus on the details and limitations of trip cancellation coverage.

Traditionally, the allowable reasons for claiming trip cancellation benefits have been individually listed in policy contracts. They were specific. They included an onset of sickness or injury in the traveller or the traveller’s companion; death in the traveller’s or companion’s family; a call to jury duty; sudden job loss; catastrophic damage to the traveller’s or companion’s home; unexpected weather event such as hurricane or flood at the trip destination; the failure of the traveller or companion to obtain required travel documents; cancellation or rescheduling of a destination business meeting; a default or suspension of a travel supplier such as a cruise, airline, or tour operator; and other similar scenarios—all spelled out in the contract.

But what the benefits didn’t cover were cancellations for other, unspecified reasons, such as changing one’s mind about travelling to a certain destination, or fear of catching disease, or bad weather at the chosen destination, or simply dealing with uncertainties during troubling times.

Prior to the pandemic’s readjustment of world travel, Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) plans were gradually beginning to catch on, even though they cost some 40 per cent more. But since then they have grown in popularity because of the flexibility they offer travellers to plan with more incentive and imagination. With a conventional trip interruption policy, if you cancelled to avoid a hurricane only to see the storm do a sharp turn and head back out to sea, that would void your cancellation claim. No damage, no reason to cancel. But with a CFAR option, the trip cost is protected.

But remember the caveat

What is protected is only what has been prepaid and is non-refundable. If the trip supplier—resort, hotel, cruise, airline, or tour operator—returns your cash, rebates to your credit card, or offers a voucher for a future time, the insurer is not liable to make good. No double dipping. And there is no reimbursement for the lost enjoyment of a long-planned dream trip.

Also understand that what you’re buying with trip cancellation is protection OVER TIME, and you’re expected to buy that protection when you buy your trip—or within a few days of your purchase. And then expect diminishing returns as time goes by. The closer you get to your scheduled departure, the smaller the payout you can expect. And if you get to a certain threshold—like 14 days before your cruise—the benefit will have expired. You can’t expect a cruise ship or hotel, operating in high season, to take a loss for your “no-show.”

Trip cancellation benefits can give you great peace of mind. But you need to understand the rules.  

In the next article, we’ll get into understanding how pre-existing medical conditions may be covered in your travel insurance policy.

© Copyright 2021 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.


To find out more about how MSH Americas can help you, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

HelpLine@americas.msh-intl.com

 +1 416 730 8488 (or toll-free at +1 800 360 3234)

Where are the Canadians? America Misses You

Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Association, misses seeing Canadians…a lot.

Dow lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, and he says every night he looks out at the condos in his neighbourhood and they’re dark. Because they’re owned by Canadians.

Speaking to his trade constituents via Zoom recently, he said, “A billion dollars a day goes across that border…We need to get the Canadian traveller back. It’s the largest country for travel to the US and over 20 million Canadians come here, and it goes back and forth.

“We have to get that going,” he said, adding that though the USTA is lobbying to get all markets open for travel to the US, ”the Canadian [market] should be one of the easiest to get open based on protocols both countries are doing and it would make…the most sense to start stepping out in Canada fairly quickly.”

Congress concurs

Susan Collins, US Senator from Maine, is of the same mind, calling for an immediate easing of the restrictions that keep Canadians and Americans apart.

Collins has advocated “implementing procedures such as requiring proof of a recent negative test or vaccination to begin safely loosening the restrictions, which would be beneficial to families, the economy, and small businesses that rely on Canadian customers.”

In addition to Senator Collins, a caucus of 26 US members of Congress, mostly from northern border states, has pressed President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to start a reopening process to restore cross-border travel, to help reunite families, and to develop a clear policy for cross-border property owners.

Their petition to the president warns that “the continued ritual of monthly extensions without substantive signs of collaboration or progress only increases uncertainty and amplifies hardship for the border communities we represent.”

Partly in response to that Congressional initiative, President Biden has issued an Executive Order directing Homeland Security and other related agencies to develop a plan for stabilizing and re-opening the border. He has also further projected that any American who wants a vaccine could have it by May 1. Prime Minister Trudeau, however, does not see Canada reaching that marker until at least September.

PM not hot on vaccine passports

And though much of the world is engaged in developing some form of “vaccine passport,” PM Trudeau remains adamant that going the way of certification is “fraught with challenges.” Specifically, he has cited concerns about individual health privacy issues encoded in any form of visa or certificate, and he is also worried that while high-priority groups for vaccination (such as seniors) might be in line for certificates allowing them to travel, others who can’t be vaccinated because of health issues, or young people who are lower priority for vaccination, might not have equal access. In essence, it’s an issue of fairness.

In the meantime, need for some type of vaccine passport is gaining traction world-wide.

The European Union is pressing ahead with development of a “digital green pass” that shows if the holder has been vaccinated, has tested negative, or has developed immunity as the result of previous COVID infection. The EU hopes to have a workable credential model ready for the summer holiday season (which for Europeans is a hallowed period). Portugal, for example, is now working on its own simplified version specifically for UK travellers, whether they are vaccinated or not. The certificate would be available to unvaccinated young travellers (a low-risk group) and older age groups who have recently tested negative for COVID. Portuguese tourism officials hope to have their certificates ready from May 17 onwards.

Meanwhile, PM Trudeau has continued to wave off any suggestions that he is prepared to open the border any time soon, asserting that if and when the US/Canada border opens depends on vaccinations in Canada, not the US. (According to Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, as of March 17, 2021, the UK has administered 40.47 vaccine doses per 100 people; the US 34.05; and Canada 8.98.)

© Copyright 2021 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Can Vaccines Be the Game Changer in Opening up Travel?

As two of Canada’s closest neighbours (UK and US) lead the world in vaccinating their citizens against COVID, we’re seeing clear indications that getting those jabs might be the game changer in getting confinement-weary citizens back on the road again.

For the record, among the 92 countries being tracked by the Bloomberg (news service) Vaccine Tracker, the UK and the US are among the world’s top four vaccine jabbers: (1) Israel, with over 82 vaccinated per 100 population; (2) United Arab Emirates, 52 per 100; (3) UK, 27 per 100; (4) US, 19 per 100. These figures are mostly based on vaccine recipients having received at least one jab—although many have received both. (These figures were effective as of Feb. 22, 2021.)

According to the Guardian newspaper, since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his plans for a May 17 easing of lockdown rules, three of Britain’s top charter carriers reported major increases in international air vacation bookings. Easy Jet bookings surged 630 per cent compared to the week before the announcement—with Spain, Portugal, and the Greek island of Crete among the top destinations.

A similar story with Thomas Cook reporting website traffic up 75 per cent the day after the PM’s announcement, with Turkey the top destination followed by Greece and Cyprus, followed also by significant bookings to the Dominican Republic and Mexico. A Cook spokesperson told media: it “felt like the cork had popped on all that pent-up demand for holidays.”

Meanwhile, in the US, one of the largest aggregators of travel insurance plans reported that in the two months since vaccination efforts truly geared up (the US is now administering 1.39 million doses per day on average), there has been a distinct bounce-back toward pre-pandemic sales levels among all age groups—but particularly among seniors 60 or older.

In addition, travellers are buying their travel policies (which in the US are predominantly geared to cancellation and interruption benefits) an average of 74 days before planned departures. Prior to the initiation of the vaccine rollout, they were buying their polices an average of 42 days ahead of time.

Though much of the cruise industry is still dependent on the US Centers for Disease Control to lift its “No Sail” order before they can resume operations in and out of US waters, most cruise lines are reporting increased interest in advance bookings, as well as customer confidence that cruise ships have gone a long way to ensuring health/safety protocols on board.

Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean Line, claims that the new coronavirus safety protocols will “make sailing safer than a walk down main street.”

Our own informal surveys of Canadian travel insurers reveal a growing confidence that there is a pent-up demand for international travel later in 2021, certainly by 2022—and that traveller vaccinations may play a key role in that reinstatement.

Emphasized one long-established broker: “Canadians really need to get vaccinated and the federal government must ease travel restrictions before Canadians feel confident to travel abroad.”

© Copyright 2021 Milan Korcok. All Rights Reserved.

There May Be a Cruise in Your Future. Be Patient

If you feel the need to lift your spirits, plan ahead, “break free,” you could do worse than start scouring the Internet for deeply discounted cruise packages now being offered by the world’s leading cruise lines in anticipation of a post-COVID pent-up demand for leisure travel.

You may have to wait until late 2021 to board—that appears to be the most realistic projection anticipated by cruise professionals at this point—but there aren’t that many travel options in the meantime. And cruise companies have loaded up their packages with plenty of safeguards to protect your investment should it be delayed further or should your plans change, for whatever reason—and you may not even have to give a reason. Full cash refunds on-demand are now standard throughout the industry. If not, 125 or 150 per cent credits for changes, cruise delays, or cancellations remain an option. It’s a buyers’ market as it’s never been.

And Canadians are big cruise buyers. According to the Conference Board of Canada, they were projected to have taken more than one million cruises in 2019, and had accounted for 3.4 per cent of all global cruise activity every year since 2016 

Even dry-docked, cruise ships sell

While much of the world’s fleet of almost 300 ships has been moored in ports around the world, some cruise agents report that they have taken in more reservations for future cruises than they have processed cancellations. 

However, until the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) drops or seriously modifies its No Sail Order, there won’t be any cruises out of US ports of vessels carrying more than 250 passengers. The CDC has jurisdiction for all cruise ships sailing in US waters or docking at US ports. Though most ships sail under foreign flags, they are not exempted from that jurisdiction. Moreover, the world’s three biggest cruise lines, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Carnival Corporation (which also controls Princess, Holland America, Costa, Cunard, and several other major lines), are all headquartered in South Florida.

The CDC has imposed tough standards that ships will have to meet when they return to sea, but so have the cruise lines themselves. The cruise industry concurs with most of CDC’s standards, and a Health Standards Panel convened by Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line (including third-party scientists and other disease prevention and health specialists) has published a 64-page guide of specific actions and standards they recommend for all cruise carriers. What they presage is a far leaner style of cruising: fewer passengers per vessel to allow for appropriate distancing; shorter cruises (maximum 7 nights); tighter controls on port stop visits; on-board testing capabilities for passengers showing symptoms, including daily temperature checks for all passengers and crew; more medical staffing and resources; and on-board quarantining cabins or isolation units should an outbreak occur.

The standards also rule out self-serve buffets (reason enough for gourmands to book and rebook), and retain routine masking in situations where distancing is not feasible, while allowing maskless indoor or outdoor dining where distancing is sufficient. But no more poolside dance parties—not in the immediate future anyway.

One special caution we must highlight

At present, Travel Canada still advises against all cruise travel and warns that anyone returning to Canada from a cruise is subject to quarantine. If that advisory is still in force by your embarkation date and you choose to follow it, make sure you understand your cruise line cancellation options. Many now offer cancellation benefits up to 48 hours prior to travel, but you need to read the fine print.

Also, before you make any final arrangements for your cruise, consult with your travel insurance advisor to make sure your plan covers COVID-related disruptions (which many in Canada do), and that it provides coverage for trip cancellations or interruptions (which may be necessary if your cruise vessel is forced to change or shorten its itinerary). Insurance sold by cruise lines does not have the extensive medical/repatriation benefits that Canadian travel insurance provides.

© Copyright 2021 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

The Snowbird Conundrum: Paying to Go Home?

Feeling stranded? Confused? Uncertain if and when you can return to Canada and what you’ll have to do to get back to the northern side of the border?

It hasn’t been made any easier by Ottawa’s new plan to require Canadians flying home to quarantine in selected hotels for up to three days (at an estimated cost of $2000) while their PCR COVID tests are assessed, then complete the remainder of the 14-day quarantine period at home. At this point the hotel quarantine option is still being developed so it may be some weeks before it is operational, but it does not presage an easing of border rules any time soon.

How long can you stay?

You can stay out of Canada indefinitely and still retain your citizenship. But US law allows Canadian passport holders to remain in the country only up to 182 days per every rolling 12-month period—so long as the visit is for leisure purposes: no work, no doing business. That 182 days can be an accumulation of short trips or one long, uninterrupted one. So if you went down to your condo in September and haven’t returned home since, you’re getting close to the mark. To make sure of your status, count back 12 months (365 days) and tally up all the days you have been on US soil. Count even part-days when you crossed the border for just a few hours.

And bear in mind that Canadian and US border agencies share entry/exit crossing data, so they know more about your travels than you think they do.

If you’re close to the mark, and you’re sure you want to delay your return to Canada, you can file a 1-539 for an extension with the USCIS. Certain contingencies have been added to allow people who can’t get back home because of COVID restrictions to have an extension, but that will be judged on a case-by-case basis so be prepared for some paperwork. You’re also expected to apply at least 45 days before the extension is to begin, so this is no sure thing. There will likely be quite a lineup.

Out-of-province restrictions

There may also be a provincial issue to consider. All provinces require you to be physically present for at least a given period (most specify five months in a year, some six) to remain eligible for your provincial health insurance. And physical presence means just that. This may be a little harder for provincial agencies to track, unless you have a particularly prying neighbour, or you have filed too many out-of-province medical bills over the past few months.

Remember too that “out-of-province” does not refer only to visits to the US—it also means visits to other provinces or other countries. So that too is a calculation to keep in mind. Loss of provincial residency status carries a heavy penalty as it takes three months (without coverage) to regain eligibility for your government health insurance. Fortunately, there are private insurance plans designed specifically to fill those gaps.

Can you extend your travel insurance while you are out of the country?

In most cases you can extend your insurance to cover your additional days of travel so long as you have made no claims, or your medical condition hasn’t changed since you applied. But you must call your insurer and have that done as soon as you know how much of an extension you’ll need. There may be consequent adjustments to your policy so make sure you understand what your extension entails. You should also be aware that since you left for your trip the conditions of coverage may have changed as coverage for COVID-related issues has been added to many policies. Have a thorough discussion with your insurer on these points.

© Copyright 2021 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

StudyInsured™ kicks off 2021 with newly streamlined, student-focused phone line, StudyInsured™ Assistance

PRESS RELEASE, TORONTO, February 1, 2021 – StudyInsured™ announced today the launch of StudyInsured™ Assistance, a single phone line providing all-encompassing medical assistance and mental health support for its students. The in-house line features centralized resources for students, via a single phone number, for all their assistance needs, including:

• A crisis line for mental health support via the Stay Healthy at School program

• Medical assistance and health care guidance

• Insurance coverage queries and claim support.

“It’s all about making sure the resources we provide to students are easily identifiable – the simpler, the better,” said Susanne Hendrickson, Director, Sales. With in-house assistance previously named Intrepid 24/7, the new branding of StudyInsured™ Assistance reflects the company’s commitment to simplifying and streamlining student products and support. Intrepid 24/7 will remain the company’s assistance line for white label services and various non-student clientele.

StudyInsured™ has provided student insurance services for over 70 years. The organization continues to raise the bar to provide products and services that evolve with the needs of the thousands of international students it serves across Canada and beyond.

About MSH

MSH International (Americas) comprises MSH International, StudyInsured™ and Intrepid 24/7. These are all subsidiaries of SIACI SAINT HONORE, a world leader in the design & management of international health care and life and disability insurance solutions for globally mobile individuals. Its services are designed for employees of multinationals, micro-businesses, small and medium-sized enterprises, workers in international organizations, individual expatriates and local high net worth individuals in need of international insurance coverage. Thanks to its decentralized structure, 4 regional head offices in Toronto, Paris, Dubai and Shanghai and 18 service offices worldwide, MSH International (Americas) provides round-the-clock assistance to 2,000 corporate clients and over 400,000 insured members in nearly 200 countries.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Pamela Kwiatkowski, Senior VP Distribution and Client Experience

Direct +1.416.640.7868 email: Pamela.kwiatkowski@americas.msh-intl.com

Susanne Hendrickson Director of Sales

Direct: +1.604-561-0381 email: Shendrickson@americas.msh-intl.com.

It’s Your Policy. Take Responsibility. Take Your Time

More than ever, travel insurance products are giving customers in less-than-perfect health opportunities to leave home, visit friends and relatives in distant countries, and even indulge themselves in leisure activities that would have been unthinkable a decade or two ago.

Even for the elderly, given their normal range of chronic conditions (e.g., high blood pressure, heart flutters, diabetes, artery or vein disorders), coverage may be available so long as their health has remained stable for specified periods (three months, perhaps six) and they have completed their medical questionnaires accurately and haven’t “shaded” the truth to gain a slight reduction in premiums.

Such attempts at “savings” can turn into financial catastrophes if the insurer is forced to deny a claim for emergency medical services because you failed to fully or accurately disclose that you had been “checked out” for a respiratory condition within the past three months, or that your medication for diabetes was recently changed, or that you were referred for a heart murmur that your cardiologist said was OK for now but should be rechecked when you returned from Florida.

Such “minor imperfections” may seem routine and unworthy of mention on a questionnaire, but they can be vital signs to medical underwriters that further information about your health is needed. Underwriters have no information available to them when gauging a patient’s health but what they see on the questionnaire. And they have no other way to determine the risk of offering coverage, or if you are ineligible for the plan level you are seeking but might be better placed in a different level.

Claim denials are rare, but take your application seriously

Though claim denials for Canadian travellers are extremely rare, when they do occur they can be devastating to a family’s finances. And non-disclosure of pertinent information on one’s medical questionnaire is one of the most frequent reasons for claim denials.

It’s one thing to say you answered the questions as best you knew how and “in good faith.” It’s quite another to say your answers were accurate. And though questionnaires tend to be loaded up with medical terminology, you should take the time to look up the definitions of terms used. If they’re not included with the questionnaire or in your policy—demand them. Example: the definition of “Internal condition” may include gallbladder disease, kidney disorders (including stones), liver or pancreatic disorders, prostate or urinary disease, and so on. If you’re being asked if you have been diagnosed or treated for an internal condition in the past 24 months, you need to know what the insurer considers an internal condition.

And if you’re completing an application with the assistance of an agent, perhaps over the phone, have the agent read the questions one by one as they are printed on the questionnaire, and have any pertinent definitions explained to you. Take your time… it’s your policy and it’s your money. And when you receive your Confirmation of Coverage (which explains the details of coverage, the price paid, the dates and conditions of coverage)—read it all, especially the completed questionnaire, to make sure your Yes or No answers are correctly recorded and consistent with your medical record.

If there’s any doubt in your mind about your medical record, or why you underwent certain tests a few months ago, or why you’re taking certain drugs, ask you physician for help—perhaps even to look over your application.

Remember: The agent is there only to assist. If there are any losses resulting from faulty information, they will be yours. Not the agent’s—“good faith” notwithstanding.

Insurers want your business. They don’t want to deny a claim any more than you want to see it denied. They are constantly looking for ways to design products for their varying markets in all age groups and with all health profiles. But it requires some effort from you.

Do not consider travel insurance a casual, routine purchase. And though you have seen many entreaties to “sign up… it just takes 30 seconds,” unless you are in perfect health and can leap tall buildings in a single bound, take your time. Don’t wait for the day before your departure. And if your application is medically underwritten, allow for any additional time it may take for your physician to review it.

It’s your application. It’s your time. And it’s your money.

© Copyright 2020, 2021 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Simple Tools for Avoiding US Taxes for Canadian Snowbirds

Canadians spending long periods in the US on B2 visitor’s visas (see our previous article) often ask at what point their presence becomes taxable to Uncle Sam. It’s a good question because paying taxes at home is irritating enough. You don’t want to get tangled up with tax demands from two governments.

And the good news is that the great majority of snowbirds won’t have to pay US taxes. But they need to follow some not-too-complicated rules.

Let’s take it from the top

The demands of the IRS, which governs tax collection, and the requirements of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection agency, which controls who enters the country and for how long, are separate. CBP agents are not tax collectors.

The IRS, however, is. And it wants to know if you spend enough time in the US to be considered a resident for tax purposes. Don’t read that as being a shortcut to residency. It is not. You can’t become a legal US resident just by agreeing to pay taxes. The IRS simply wants to identify your tax status and for that it uses what it calls the Substantial Presence Test.

Here’s how it works, and let’s use the tax year 2020 as an example. According to the IRS, if you were in the US at least 31 days during calendar year 2020, count the total number of days you were there, then count 1/3rd of the days you were present in 2019, and 1/6th the number in 2018. If that adds up to 183 days, you meet the Substantial Presence threshold and you are a resident for tax purposes. If you were present for fewer than 183 for the three years in question, you’re not. But caution: The IRS counts in calendar years—not 12 rolling months, as does Homeland Security. Two different systems for different purposes. Don’t confuse them. Many do. So, we emphasize: The IRS has nothing to do with the rules about how long you can stay in the US.

Now the good part: IRS form 8840 is the Closer Connection Exception Statement for Aliens. Completing this is how youexempt yourself from paying taxes to the US. The form is free and easily available from the IRS website. This form also explains the Substantial Presence rules we have just alluded to.

In completing the form, you will verify that Canada is your primary home, it’s where you live most of the year, where you do your primary banking, where you pay your taxes, where you are registered to vote, have your cars licensed, have your primary social and family connections, etc. It also asks when you entered the country on your most recent trip, your passport number, and some questions about out-of-country income sources. But don’t let those questions about income sources intimidate you as they would be relevant only if you were a questionable candidate for exemption. And make sure you file with the IRS by June 15 for the tax year in which you did your last trip. If your last trip was in 2020, file by June 15, 2021.

The main purpose of the form is simply to verify you are who you say you are. And once you file, you’ll likely never hear from the IRS—even to confirm that they got your form. It’s not their highest priority.

But if you normally spend about four months a year in the US, we advise strongly that you file, keep a copy, and carry it with you when you cross over into the US as it’s evidence of your status and it shows you know the rules and are adhering to them—even if you’re slightly under the Substantial Presence threshold.

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All Rights Reserved.

Winter is Coming: How to Best Protect Ourselves from COVID-19

We are still learning about transmission of the virus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes COVID-19. We have come to learn that the way this virus spreads is a bit more complicated than what we initially understood. Thankfully, the main mode of transmission is still felt to be through direct exposure to respiratory droplets that carry the infectious virus. These types of respiratory droplets are larger and heavier in size and rarely travel farther than six feet. They fall quickly to the ground or land on surfaces.  If you are around someone who is infectious, your highest likelihood of catching the virus is if you inhale respiratory droplets that they have exhaled while you are in close contact with them. Hence the importance of masks, particularly in situations when you cannot adequately physically distance. 

The comfort in knowing that this is the main mode of transmission is that it offers us a mode of control. If we keep at least six feet away from others or wear a mask if we cannot always do this, then we can substantially lower our risk. 

We can also be exposed by touching surfaces that are contaminated with the virus and then touching our eyes, nose, or mouth. However, what is interesting is that we have come to understand through careful study that this mode of transmission is a less common route. We should still be careful about it, though. Regular hand-washing and avoiding touching our face help to minimize the risk of exposure through this route.

However, it is unfortunately not so simple. There have been some rare case reports of people getting infected when they have kept to these rules. There have been outbreaks of cases when people were far away from infectious individuals, in indoor settings. How could this happen?

The CDC has recently amended its guidelines on transmission to reflect our new understanding. This link explains the new understanding in detail. Basically, the new guidelines state that there are rare circumstances where you can become infected when you are far apart from others, beyond the six-foot distance. This can occur especially if you are in an enclosed space, with inadequate ventilation. Infectious people in such a location who are breathing heavily, such as when singing, shouting, or exercising, can produce significant amounts of smaller respiratory droplets that are light and can stay suspended in the air for longer periods, sometimes for hours.  These suspended droplets have the capability of travelling longer distances and, if there are enough of them, can lead to infections in those who are far away. When we are outdoors or in an indoor area with good air circulation, such small droplets are blown away and don’t have the ability to stay suspended in air and become concentrated. But given the right circumstances, they can. It’s vitally important that we are aware of this in order to fully protect ourselves.

The new and improved guidance is simply to avoid crowded indoor settings, especially enclosed spaces with inadequate ventilation. Stay away from people shouting, singing, or breathing heavily. There is a small chance of becoming infected in these situations, even when physically distanced.  Of course, the wearing of masks helps to reduce these risks, and in that regard, there is now an update on that subject as well.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has now revised its mask guidelines in anticipation of most of us spending more time indoors over the winter. The use of 3-layer masks has now been recommended as additional protection.  This link provides more details on the ideal mask. An optimal mask contains two layers of a tightly woven material fabric, such as cotton or linen. The third (middle) layer should be ideally a filter-type fabric, such as a non-woven polypropylene fabric. You can use a craft fabric, or even a folded paper towel or coffee filter.  But be sure to not use plastic as this will make it difficult to breathe. A more robust mask such as this is felt to be much better protection now that we will be spending more time indoors. 

The changing of guidelines and recommendations can be quite confusing for many of us.  It can sometimes make us question the validity of what we are being told. Ultimately, it should serve to increase our trust in the experts issuing the guidance. The science is changing, and our understanding is always growing. Public health recommendations must also change to reflect this situation. We don’t want to keep to rigid rules and regulations when it comes to keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe. As we move into winter, we need to adapt to the new knowledge about the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and tweak our approach. Stay safe, everyone!

Still Hope for the 240-Day Visa? Patience is a Virtue

For more than a decade, Canadian snowbirds hoping for permission to spend more time in warm-weather states south of the border have pegged their hopes on passage of US federal legislation amending the Immigration and Nationality Act to authorize their admission for up to 240 days—eight months per year. 

That’s two months more than is currently available through the standard B2 tourist visa, which is what Canadians use when hopping the border for a one-day sports event—or for a 183-day winter vacation in Florida or Arizona.

Known generically as the “Snowbird Visa,” the amended visa would allow Canadian citizens aged 50 or older to reside in the US for up to eight months per year contingent on their retaining homes in Canada, owning or leasing long-term residences in the US, waiving all rights to welfare or public assistance funding, and refraining from any employment or other work for hire. In effect: tourism only, no business.

To date, there have been several variations of such bills floated in Congress by legislators warm to the idea of having affluent Canadians spending money in their states for three quarters of the year.

And there has been little opposition to these legislative initiatives in either political circles or local economies. Yet, the chance of seeing such visas enacted remains as slim as ever thanks to the tortuosity of America’s legislative gauntlet.

Death and resurrection

Most recently, high-profile senators Marco Rubio (R), acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and former Florida Governor Rick Scott (R), serving his first term as US senator, sponsored the Canadian Snowbird Act S 2507 in 2019. These are so far the highest-ranking political figures to have endorsed the 240-day visa model. They are also among the few political powers who are not up for re-election this November, so though the current Snowbird Act (bill) dies with the extinction of the 116th Congress, we can expect it to be resurrected (with a different S number) when the new 117th Congress convenes on January 3, 2021. Ditto three other related House bills that were introduced in 2019 (some of them dating back several years). Some of them sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans.

Despite the misleading nomenclature, an act is not an act until it has been approved by the House, the Senate, and has finally been signed into law by the president. Until then it is just a bill, and so far none have ever worked their way out of the committees to which they were originally assigned. And the committee stage, where they are worked over by opposing parties and their picky staff, are only Step One of the forbidding legislative process.

It’s going to be a tough slog

Skopos Labs, a tracker of legislative bills, gave S 2507 a 3 per cent chance of enactment in 2019. That’s par for the course. Over 13,000 bills were introduced in the 116th Congress.

Given other immediate measures that the next highly divided Congress is likely to face, a bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to authorize admission of Canadian retirees as long-term visitors for pleasure is not a headline-grabber in the DC bubble.

So, if you’re one of those fortunate Canadians who might fit the profile of a 240-day sun-state visitor—stay tuned and we’ll update you as these various measures work through the jungle of DC politics. But don’t hold your breath. And for now, be content with the 183-day limit—which isn’t all that bad… so long as you are allowed to leave home to enjoy it.

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Can’t Wait to Get Back to Cruising? Expect Changes

In 2019, Canadians took almost one million cruises, sailing oceans, lakes, and rivers around the world.

And a large majority of them say they would do it again. Cruisers are a committed lot—all surveys confirm it.

Then came COVID, and though it took some time, cruisers returned home, wondering when or if they would get another chance to sail. Now, almost nine months later, the question remains. When will cruising resume? And how will the experience be changed?

Since the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) first issued its “no sail” order for ships in US waters (March 14, 2020), there have been a few isolated attempts at cruise resumptions—primarily in the Mediterranean and other parts of Europe. But outbreaks of COVID on some of these voyages have cut them short as well. Since then, extensions of the “no sail” order have been continued through to the end of October. Actually, the CDC proposed extending the order through to February 2021, but the Trump White House nixed that order and compromised on ending the ban November 1—with the proviso that it could be extended if conditions warranted. (Cruising is a worldwide industry extending far beyond US ports, but the world’s three biggest lines* are headquartered in Florida, and their vessels at some time or other sail in US-controlled waters patrolled by the US Coast Guard. Thus, CDC jurisdiction is quite clear. *Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Holdings account for 60 per cent of all cruise traffic).

Where does that leave potential cruisers who would like to nail down reservations for winter Caribbean sailings—the most popular cruise destination among Canadians?

Make an exit plan

At this point, we can only urge caution. Keep your options open. Don’t lock yourself into a distant commitment without an exit plan. If you’re about to make a substantial investment in a cruise booking, how long are you prepared to keep your deposits or payments locked in? What if the cruise line changes the itinerary you booked? What if it substitutes a vessel you particularly wanted to one less attractive to you? What if your health or economic situation changes and you need to back out?

And if you do want to change or cancel, will you be offered future cruise credits or the cash you have put in minus any “non-refundable” charges? 

At present, there are still many thousands of cruise hopefuls waiting for cash rebates from cruise lines that are burning through millions of dollars per day as their ships sail in circles, empty except for skeleton crews—like modern-day Flying Dutchmen.

Cruise lines have very aggressively marketed fare upgrades of up to 150 per cent as well as on-board cash credits just to keep passengers booked. And the majority of them originally accepted those “bargains” in lieu of cash. But as time wears on and the uncertainty of cruise resumption continues, the future cruise credits are losing their lure. Cash is still king.

Private travel insurance can help

Can travel insurance from the brokers you normally buy your out-of-country coverage from protect you from the future-cruise-credit dilemma? Yes, to a degree, but you need to understand what trip cancellation offers and what its limitations are. There are limits on coverage. We’ve written about this widely in past articles and will again. Know the terms.

Also, check with your insurer if your coverage will be restricted if Canada still maintains its blanket warning to “avoid all travel on cruise ships.” That restriction is a reminder only that insurers may limit your benefits related to cruise travel. That decision remains up to the insurer.

Expect a different cruise lifestyle

You should be prepared for a very difference cruise experience once the “no sail” orders are lifted.

According to new CDC rules (accepted by the Cruise Lines International Association—the organization representing the interests of 90 per cent of the world’s cruise lines), for the foreseeable future you will have to be tested for COVID before embarking and have your temperature checked frequently while on board, perhaps daily. You’ll also have to wear your mask while in public areas, keep to distancing requirements, and there will be limitations on port stops. It’s going to be a stripped-down regimen. 

Still, cruise lines are betting that their alumni passengers will understand and be prepared to put up with the restraints. Many will, as virtually all customer satisfaction surveys show that those who have taken cruises have enjoyed their experience enough to want to do it again, and again. As we said, this is a committed lot.

If that’s your “cuppa,” great. But before you put any money down, ask a lot of questions and make sure to have an exit plan if you change your mind anywhere along the process. You’ll want to keep your investment safe—in one form or another.

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

You’ve Covered “Medical” Insurance—Now What About “Cancellation”?

If there is anything positive to be said about how travellers have been impacted by COVID, it’s that trip cancellation insurance has become a “top of the mind” issue.

For Canadians that’s critical, because though more than 70 per cent of travellers normally buy emergency out-of-country medical coverage, fewer than a third have, up to now, considered trip cancellation/interruption insurance a necessity.

No longer. With millions of the world’s travellers now lining up for refunds or rebates for cancelled air travel, cruises, or tour packages due to COVID, the focus has shifted to gaining some assurance that family finances are also protected in case of unexpected disruption.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of trip cancellation/interruption products in the travel insurance marketplace, but understanding the conditions of coverage, the limitations and exclusions, and how and when one goes about getting a “refund” when travel plans go awry is part of the purchase process. It means reading the policy.

For example, virtually all cancellation plans offered in Canada (and there are many comprehensive plans that blend medical and cancellation coverage together) list the conditions or situations that are covered by the cancellation benefit (e.g., sudden illness of the traveller or traveller’s companion, death in the family, loss of job, call to jury duty, etc.). These are usually clearly stated in the policy. Not all cancellations qualify for a benefit. But if the cancellation is the result of some unspecified cause—such as a pandemic—then the travel supplier (airline, cruise ship, tour operator) who has already been paid a deposit or full fare is responsible for the rebate. The insurer still remains responsible for covering other listed benefits such as the costs of returning home if the passenger has already started their trip, trip delays, missed connections, or other associated incidentals like stay-over hotels or meals, but not fees already sitting in the providers’ accounts that are recoverable by either refunds or travel vouchers. The point is to avoid double dipping.

As one insurer explains in its trip cancellation policy:The benefits payable, as described in this Certificate, are in excess of all other potential sources of recovery, including alternative or replacement travel options offered by airlines, tour operators, cruise lines and other travel suppliers and other insurance coverage (even where such other coverage is described as excess) and will only become available after all other sources are exhausted.”

So when is a refund not a refund?

COVID has put this issue into focus. Both airlines and cruise operators affected by COVID cancellations initially offered vouchers for future travel, which are generally considered payment in kind. Cruise lines upped the ante by offering hefty bonuses—some up to 150 per cent of the original ticket value—to keep their passengers locked in for cruise itineraries well into 2021 even 2022. But under pressure by the US and EU governments, most lines have relented and are now offering passengers their choice of cash rebates or enhanced travel voucher packages. Interestingly, many cruisers are opting for the voucher packages. Cruisers are a very committed lot.

US and EU governments have also ordered airlines to issue cash rebates to cancelled-out travellers, though there are widespread reports that some airlines—under intense cash flow pressures—are dragging their feet in processing the refunds. The Canadian government has not yet taken that step but Air Canada is offering refunds for trips cancelled because of COVID, but only for itineraries originating in the European Union, not for flights originating in Canada.

Trip cancellation/interruption insurance is becoming increasingly important as the costs of travel become more expensive and as travel itself becomes more integral to our lives. And as with any policy, it should be carefully read, understood, and preferably discussed with the agent selling the product—not filed away to be thought about another day.

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Travel Demands Determination—Don’t Give Up

Though the Canadian government continues to warn against all international travel because of ongoing COVID-19 prevalence, the US State Department has begun easing its warnings for most countries down to Level 3 (Reconsider travel) from the highest Level 4 (Do not travel). Canada is now listed in the Level 3 range even though the border with the US remains shut to non-essential travel. Still on the US “Do Not Travel” list are such major destinations as Mexico, Russia, China, Brazil, India, Egypt, and several countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

However, despite the warning level easing for outbound travel, there are still some European countries that do not allow Americans entry for leisure purposes, or that at least demand certain health checks or other clearance conditions. Canadians, however, are welcome in more countries—even though your government would prefer you to stay home.

How do you plan ahead?

So how do you plan your winter break? In effect, it’s a crapshoot. You can fly from Calgary to Las Vegas without incident, but getting into your car and driving down to Nevada may be a little more intimidating. If you’re looking for a simple, easy-to-follow formula as to who can travel, where and when, you won’t find it. So if you really are determined to get to your niece’s wedding in Italy or California this fall or winter—don’t give up. Do your research first by checking the host country’s official travel website and see how the details apply to you as a Canadian citizen traveller. In most cases, Canadians will be welcome, but you may have to jump through a few hoops first.

See what documentation you need—evidence of a recent COVID test? Proof of travel insurance? More and more countries are demanding such evidence. Make sure your other travel documents are also in order  (e.g., passport, visa if necessary, planned itinerary, and evidence of ability to pay your travel expenses). 

The Canadian government can’t keep you from travelling out of the country. But it doesn’t have to help you get back if you run into problems it warned you against. So be prepared and make sure your credit card has plenty of “room” on it in case you run into delays or detours. Canadian consulates are not ATMs.

Lower your expectations

And once you’re at your destination, don’t expect the same environment you experienced last time you were there. For Canadians and Americans, the Caribbean is a very welcoming place. But expect some unpleasant restrictions. For example, the Jamaican government has just re-imposed a “stay in place” rule that requires hotel guests to remain on their specified property while in the country. No moving from place to place, no sightseeing, no dining out. It lifted such a rule just a few weeks ago but clamped back down as its COVID numbers started to surge here and there—much to the dismay of the hotel industry.

You can expect similar day-to-day exigencies throughout the fall, maybe longer, anywhere in the Caribbean.

Whatever your travel plans this winter, remain agile. Keep your reservations as restriction-free as possible. Keep your deposits as low as you can. Insist on full refunds with no—or very few—restrictions: from your airline, your host resort, your cruise ship, any entity you have paid with cash or credit card. And if you’re counting on your travel insurance to protect you in case you change your mind at the last minute and decide to cancel, read the fine print and talk to your travel advisor so you know the coverage exclusions as well as the benefits. Even though you might buy a “Cancel for any Reason” plan, don’t expect to get 100 per cent of your deposits back if you do cancel. And the closer your cancellation is to your date of departure, the lower your rebate. Know what you’re buying.

Don’t stifle your dreams of travel. Just put more effort into preparations.

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Is Florida In Your Sights This Winter? A Ground Level Report.

As the Canadian/US border shutdown moves towards autumn, snowbirds and short- term winter vacationers are being left with little time to plan their next moves or commit to travel plans that many have considered their God-given right during inconsiderate winter weather.

Though many Caribbean countries and Mexico have sent a hearty welcome to their northern neighbours, (see our previous  article on this issue) there are some caveats that go with the invitation—masks, distancing, virus test verifications, stripped-down luxuries, even beach and surf patrols to ensure proper behaviour. Not great, but perhaps tolerable considering the alternative.

Florida at ground level.

Despite these offerings by other warm weather destinations, Florida remains Canada’s pre-eminent winter vacation destination, and given the recent reports of COVID surges throughout the state, many of them somewhat overblown, let’s take a ground level look everyday life in the Sunshine State today and what Canadians might expect to see and experience, should the border be freed of its current restraints.

Normalcy has not returned to Florida, but it has begun and is gaining momentum day by day.

Traffic is heavy and annoying. But that’s normal. Publix, Walmart and Costco are fully-stocked and doing big business—but masks and six-foot distancing are mandatory indoors. Most restaurants are open with spacing limitations. Open air venues are especially popular, and most are allowed to serve alcohol in its various formats.  Malls are humming, and barbers, nail salons, gyms are for the most part open and operating quite well with mask and distancing requirements.

Hotels and resorts are open and doing a fair business from local travelers, with all of the health precautions in place—masks and distancing required until further notice. Generally, the rules are set locally, more stringent application in high density areas.

Most public beaches are being regulated and patrolled. The sand and sea is where it used to be, although the scenes of rowdy, alcohol-lubricated 20 and 30 year-old “students” and hangers-on cavorting mask-less throughout the July 4th weekend  have precipitated tighter beach access—particularly in urban areas like Miami Beach.

As for the continuing presence of COVID, troublesome surges have generated unwelcome headlines for local businesses although Governor Ron DeSantis has vowed to keep the opening going and to have schools operational on schedule in mid-August.

COVID data as of July 21, 2020.

Florida’s Department of Health, which issues detailed daily reports from all counties and all testing sites

throughout the state has confirmed spiking of COVID transmissions,  primarily in metropolitan areas: Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties accounting for about 48 percent of Florida’s new cases—and Miami Dade for more than half of all cases in this three county area. These data refer to individuals newly testing “positive” with the COVID virus, as opposed to those testing “negative.”

Since last weekend ending July 19, when as many as 156 deaths were reported over the previous 24- hour period, the daily death count has dropped to 90. But I note that COVID daily death counts are not necessarily accurate indicators of the spread or severity of infections at any given time as deaths may occur long after the initial diagnosis or infection—weeks or even months.

With well over 100,000 tests being conducted per day throughout Florida it was expected the detection of positives would rise, and it was until July 19. Perhaps a moderation is now setting in.

Hospitalizations have consequently risen, particularly iin Miami Dade, but Florida health authorities claim that statewide, there is sufficient hospital capacity to deal with the current numbers of new cases.

How do these rates compare to Canada’s experience with COVID? According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center,  Florida’s COVID- related death rate is 23 per 100,000 population, which compares very nearly to Canada’s COVID mortality rate of 24 deaths per 100,000 population. And despite the high media profile, Florida’s Covid -related death rate is at the mid-point of all other states, 24th out of 50.

We can all hope that deeper into the fall and certainly into the winter season, these data will be less intimidating and more normal travel conditions (with many fewer imposed restrictions) will prevail.

Regardless, you’ll have to be especially diligent in choosing your health insurance—both for cancellation as well as for medical benefits. Forget about the way you have buying insurance in the past. Looking for “cheap” insurance or waiting until the day before departure to make this important purchase is not healthy. Ask questions, read your policy thoroughly, consult with your doctor if you have the slightest questions about your health status, and demand clear and straightforward answers from your broker or travel advisor. Know what you’re buying.

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok.  All rights reserved.

Is Coming Back to Normal, Good Enough?

It may be too early to think about getting back to “normal” once the threat, and the carnage, of COVID recedes. It could be that what was once normal just isn’t realistic anymore. 

In Europe, border-free travel between neighbouring states is no longer a given. We have seen how quickly self-preservation can overrule an ideological imperative. 

In North America, the unthinkable action of shutting down the “world’s longest undefended border” has actually happened—even though commerce continued and most “trapped” travellers eventually found their way home. But just the fact that it could be shut down came as a stunning shock of millions on either side of the so called 49th parallel who had come think that “crossing over” for a few days or half a year was a basic human “right.” 

It isn’t. It never has been. It’s a privilege. And it can be withdrawn if push comes to shove…quickly. Reality can be stark.  

How are these new “realities” going to colour our perspectives as we go about rebuilding our travel plans, our instinctive sense of freedom to move about and to enjoy the riches of globalization (while enduring its hazards).  

As we will see in a Conference Board of Canada report soon to be released, the Canadian consumer confidence index (the level of confidence consumers have about making major purchases of goods and services—such as travel) fell to its lowest level “ever” in March. In effect, respondents were extremely negative about their household finances, future job prospects and plans to make any big purchases. As the CBoC report concludes, given that Canada is in the midst of major job losses and is facing a Q2 economic contraction of 25 percent, this recession will be very bad. 

For the travel industry, air carriers, tour promoters, travel agents, cruise lines, and travel insurers this is not good news—although travel insurers might regain a little bounce given the public’s growing recognition that major travel purchases can be insured against sudden, unexpected trip or tour cancellations or interruptions. Canadians have been so focused on covering medical emergencies abroad that they have largely neglected to possibility of non-medical contingencies ruining their travel hopes and financial investments.  Maybe COVID has shaken Canadians out of that inertia. 

So far, the 21st century has visited SARS, MERS, the SWINE FLU and now COVID on us all. We didn’t seem to have learned too much from the first three of these plagues.  But maybe the last of these, affecting   virtually every country on earth, has awakened us to the need to be prepared for anything and everything. 

Maybe now we won’t think of getting on a plane for a week on Italy, Cuba, or Fiji; or a cruise to Cambodia; or a weekend in Las Vegas of New York as just another right of passage—requiring nothing more than a credit card and a jar of suntan oil. 

[Battling COVID-19 Episode 3] Face Masks in a COVID-19 World: To Wear or Not to Wear? By Dr. Michael Szabo

Should we wear a face mask when out in public right now? It’s a question many people have since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its new recommendation that people wear face masks when leaving their homes. Canada’s chief public health officer has echoed the recommendation.

There is confusion because the CDC and the Public Health Agency of Canada had initially suggested that face masks not be worn in public. The flip-flop in recommendations has triggered many questions.

It’s important to understand that, in a complex and evolving situation as this, it can be quite difficult to set a firm policy. As the situation changes, the risks and benefits of recommendations are constantly re-evaluated. In a way, it’s reassuring that agencies aren’t being rigid and are revising their guidelines based on the best available information, with the goal of keeping us all safe.

However, the reason behind much of the change in face mask recommendations is the increase in community spread of the virus. We now believe that there is indeed some community transmission from people with no symptoms (asymptomatic), or minimal symptoms (pre-symptomatic), before they realize that they are sick. This occurs when these individuals are breathing, sneezing or coughing in close proximity to others (within 6 feet). At first, transmission of the virus in these circumstances was thought to be unlikely but we’re now reconsidering that possibility. The CDC wants to err on the side of keeping people safe, particularly in areas of the world that have seen high levels of community transmission and where physical distancing measures can’t always be optimally practiced.

While wearing a face mask does have some risks – it must be worn properly or it can increase the risk of infection, for example – experts believe that the benefits likely outweigh the risks at the present time.

We should consider wearing a face mask when venturing out into the community where it may be difficult to maintain social distancing measures. In other words, if you’re likely to get within 6 feet of others despite your best efforts, wear one. This includes visits to a grocery store or pharmacy where groupings of people are common. However, individual interactions such as going for a jog or a walk don’t necessarily require one.

In addition, you don’t need a medical grade face mask (surgical or N95, for example). In fact, you can make your own cloth mask at home. The CDC provides useful information on how to do just that: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html

Wearing a face mask safely is of the utmost importance. The cardinal rule is to treat it as if it’s covered with the virus. Remember to wash your hands before putting the mask on, making sure it covers your mouth and nose. Never touch the mask itself while wearing it. Be very careful to not let the mask touch your face when removing it. Wash your hands immediately upon removing it. It should not be reworn until it has been fully cleaned in hot water in a washing machine.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, don’t fall victim to the false sense of security that a mask can provide. No mask can provide 100% protection. Continue to practice physical distancing while wearing it.

Battling COVID-19 Episode 2: From the Front Lines with Dr. Michael Szabo

With the increasing number of COVID patients presenting themselves to hospital emergency departments across Toronto, it’s a regular occurrence for me to come across several suspected cases while I’m working. Most are well enough to go home, but some are so sick that they need to be admitted. I find myself checking in on the test results of patients I have sent home, breathing a sigh of relief with each negative and feeling a knot in my stomach with each positive. The challenge with being an emergency doctor is that we see a lot of the bad outcomes. They are our reality. During a pandemic, it begins to feel to us like “everyone is dying” – but not everyone is. In fact, the majority of people recover from the virus. The increase in positive results will not only usher in a new reality but hopefully will reduce my own anxiety about a positive test result and its implications. A positive result is not a reason to panic and most of the patients I discharge won’t ever come back to the emergency department. I will likely stop checking their results after a while.

One of the things that is true about life is our ability to adapt. Once the new ‘normal’ takes hold, we adjust. Life just keeps moving. We’re living amid a pandemic and simply put, we can’t will it away. To accept this harsh reality, or modern-day Twilight Zone, is a process we’re all going through, in our own time and in our own way.

Some of us may need a bit more help and time to acclimate to this new ‘normal’. Getting help is not a sign of personal weakness but rather an expression of our own humanity. Reaching out shows self-awareness and strength of character. Sometimes we need help to talk through our concerns. Sharing our deepest fears with others is powerful, particularly with those trained to help navigate the complexities of human emotion. Using technology, it’s now easier than ever to

connect with a mental health provider, or family doctor, to discuss our emotions and secure advice to get the help we need.

This is a difficult time that poses a tremendous challenge for all of us. Let’s remember to do the little things to boost our mental health as much as possible. This means eating well, getting fresh air, exercising, connecting virtually with others and getting a good night’s sleep. Over time, we will adjust to our new circumstances. And if you need a little help along that journey, then please reach out for mental health support and at the same time, pat yourself on the back for having the strength to do so at such an arduous time.

Battling COVID-19 Episode 1: From the Front Lines with Dr. Michael Szabo

Recently, I’ve been working quite a bit in the emergency room of the hospital where I’ve served as a staff physician for the past 20 years in downtown Toronto. There are many positive things happening at the hospital: Everyone is working together to prepare for all the challenges that lie ahead. We’re all connecting with co-workers in ways that are meaningful and inspirational. The strength of the human spirit is alive and well. And we know that we will get through this difficult time and be better for it.

We’re starting to see a number of cases of very sick patients with COVID-19 at the hospital. Yes, most of them are older folks over 70, often with chronic health problems. But I’m going to be real with you. We’re seeing some young and otherwise healthy people becoming very sick – sometimes, critically. It’s important to realize that these cases are rare when compared to all the people likely infected – much less than 1%, but we are still figuring that out. The overwhelming likelihood for those of us who get this virus, and are under 60 with no chronic health problems, is that we will be able to fight it off and recover. But one thing that we’ve always known about infectious disease is that a very small number of otherwise healthy people can become quite sick. While it’s true for the flu, this is much worse. We don’t fully understand why and we’re unable to predict to whom it could happen. A nerve-wracking tidbit of information, I know.

This won’t be easy. It’s okay to say it aloud because it’s good to be honest. Being honest can diffuse the tension we may feel inside by getting our feelings out into the open. The most important thing is to remember what we CAN do to help get us through this time. We have the power to lessen the impact of this virus and reduce the chances of becoming infected. We’re not powerless here.

For example, we’re all doing an EXCELLENT job with physical distancing.  So, let’s keep that up.  Remember to stay home as much as possible. Avoid any close contact with anyone other than immediate family. By all means, go out for walks, breathe some fresh air and get some exercise  – but stay at least 6 feet away from others. That’s about the size of a pair of skis! 

We must remember to wash our hands and not touch our faces. If we’re sick with any kind of cough, runny nose or sore throat, self-isolate at home and avoid close contact with anyone.

These are all simple things but sometimes the most powerful things are the simplest. We’ve got this. If we all do the right thing, we can greatly lessen the impact of this virus. The power is in our hands.

Dr. Michael Szabo

COVID-19: STAY SAFE WITH THE FACTS

COVID-19

from the MSH Americas Medical Team

WHAT IS COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans.

CORONAVIRUSES are a family of viruses causing illness ranging from the common cold to more serious diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Synrdome (MERS-CoV), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), and COVID-19 (2019-nCoV).

Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and humans. SARS was first transmitted to humans from civet cats; MERS was transmitted to humans by dromedary camels.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Common symptoms are:

  • Fever over 38°C
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath / difficulty breathing

In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, kidney failure, and even death.

HOW IS IT SPREAD?

COVID-19 is transmitted from person to person by respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing. These droplets can be inhaled if you are in close contact with an infected person. Touching objects or surfaces with respiratory droplets on them and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes can also spread the virus.

The time between exposure to the virus and the onset of symptoms is between 5 and 14 days, so the appropriate quarantine period for an individual exposed to COVID-19 is 14 days.

HOW IS IT TREATED?

There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19. Medical care is focused on managing symptoms, by getting lots of rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and treating the fever.

PREVENTION IS KEY

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water
  • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, and/or sneeze or cough into a tissue
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing or sneezing
  • Stay home if you are sick. Do not use public transportation or taxis. Do not go to work, school, or other public places.
  • If you have symptoms, avoid travel, particularly flying, and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

If you are travelling to an area known to have cases of COVID-19, avoid:

  • High-risk areas such as farms, live animal markets, and areas where animals may be slaughtered
  • Contact with animals (live or dead), including pigs, chickens, ducks, and wild birds
  • Surfaces with animal droppings or secretions on them

If you have or may have COVID-19, please refer to this link for more guidelines on preventing the spread of infection.

Top US Spring Break Destinations for 2020

Whatever the reason for your getaway– tired of the cold, need some family time, or just plain burnt out– here are some tips to help you get the most out of your travels during this upcoming spring break. First up, some places to consider for both relaxation and excitement in the continental USA.

3 places to spend a week off in America:

MIAMI, FLORIDA

It’s called the Sunshine State for a reason, so be sure to wear lots of sunscreen and drink plenty of water. The Metromover train is a convenient (and free!) way to get around downtown Miami. If you can’t do without your dose of yoga while on vacay, free classes are offered across the city. View local graffiti and street art at Wynwood Walls or take in one of the live music shows at Bayside Marketplace. A trip to Miami isn’t complete without a visit to Miami Beach, but steer clear of hotel restaurants along Ocean Drive and their 2-for-1 drink offers—they typically include conditions, hidden gratuities, and extra charges, with an astronomically expensive bill as a result.

ORLANDO, FLORIDA

For many families, going to Disney World is a rite of passage but a costly one. Buying bottled water on Disney grounds will seriously hurt your wallet (not to mention the planet!) so do as the locals do and tout your own reusable (non-glass) water bottles. You’ll be able to refill them at water fountains and quick service restaurants around the park. Consider insulated, stainless steel bottles to ensure water stays cold for as long as possible. Bringing snacks for the kids can also be a big money saver, unless you don’t mind paying $7 (US) for a Mickey Mouse pretzel. Be sure to pack the daily essentials—sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, umbrella—as these items are outrageously overpriced. Ditto for the Mickey Mouse ears and other Disney souvenirs—they’re considerably cheaper at stores outside the park. The My Disney Experience app can help maximize family fun by bundling every aspect of your trip, from booking your hotel to researching wait times at attractions to looking for the nearest bathroom and other amenities.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

Check out the spectacular Fountains of Bellagio for a beautifully choreographed performance of music, water, and light. The free 15-minute show runs daily and draws huge crowds, so consider getting there early. Tour the hotels along the strip—with their various themes, they’re attractions in their own right, even if you’re not an actual guest. But there’s more to Vegas than just the strip. Sample some tasty brews (try the coffee beer!) at Banger Brewing, learn about some less-than-upstanding historical figures at the Mob Museum, marvel at the views and engineering of the Hoover Dam, or take a short day trip to one of the many nearby natural attractions like the Valley of Fire State Park, the Grand Canyon, or Red Rock Canyon.

Coronavirus Impacts Travel Insurance Coverage: Stay Protected

With commercial airline traffic to and from China virtually shut down, and with little prospect that control of the coronavirus is imminent, travellers need to do a quick study of what travel insurance can or cannot do in protecting them from unexpected costs of emergency medical care, trip cancellations, disruptions, re-routings or possibly even temporary isolation far from home.

To help with that study, we have asked Matt Davies, Senior Product Specialist with MSH International to help us navigate through the finer points of travel insurance benefits and limitations as they are provided to Canadian travellers planning visits to countries impacted by the coronavirus epidemic.

One important point to emphasize is that these guidelines or limitations are largely dependent on government assessments of health or other risks in foreign countries and are not just arbitrary rulings set out by insurers.

The before or after rule

Generally, if you purchase insurance for travel to any nation for which the government of Canada has issued “avoid non-essential travel” or “avoid all travel” warnings, certain benefits normally provided may be limited or excluded.

In the case of China, where there is a Canadian government warning extant against non-essential travel to the country as a whole, and all travel to the specific province of Hubei (the immediate site of the coronavirus outbreak), any medical expenses you incur related to that disease would not be coverable if you bought your insurance after those warnings were raised. Once the warnings are lifted, coverage returns to normal.

But if you purchased travel insurance for a trip to China before the government issued its warnings, and you either cancelled your trip or decided to return home early due to concerns about the coronavirus, your trip cancellation and interruption benefits would remain intact.

What would those benefits be?

Again: for trip cancellation and interruption benefits to be applicable, you must have purchased your insurance before the government raised its travel warnings.

Any money you prepaid for your trip that is not recoverable from airlines or hotels or other tour services

may be covered by your travel insurance. But if your airline or tour operator offers refunds or vouchers for future travel, that will reduce your insurer’s obligations.  No double-dipping. And though we say your costs would be covered, we must add that all such costs are subject to certain daily specified in your policy. Know those when you sign your contract.

If you choose to interrupt your trip due to the travel warning raised by your government, your trip interruption benefit will pay the cost of your economy airfare home if your return ticket is not changeable or refundable by your airline.  And if you’re returned home by a government-arranged charter (as some have been during this recent coronavirus crisis) and the government charges you a fee,  your travel insurance may reimburse you up to the cost of an economy airfare.

Your trip interruption benefits may also cover any out- of- pocket costs of unexpected layovers that are beyond your control, such as for meals, hotels, taxis, telephone charges. But these expenses will be subject to daily limits and you need to check them out in your policy. Don’t expect free nights at the Ritz Carlton if your original tour had you booked in a Holiday Inn.

Remember that covered benefits for trip interruption are designed to keep you safe and comfortable and get you home as conveniently as possible. And again, that only works if your insurance was purchased before your government raised its warning to “avoid non-essential travel” or “avoid all travel.”

So know your policy. Know the reimbursement limits. And always stay tuned in to the government travel advisories that often change from day to day–https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/china

© Copyright 2020 Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.

Join Our World Wanderer Club! Experience the World in a Whole New Way.

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World Wanderer Club 

We are excited to introduce the new and exclusive “World Wanderer Club” to you travel lovers! If you’re looking for new places to go, travel secrets and tips, the right products to assist your trips, helpful travel blog posts on current events, and special travel perks, discounts, and contests – this is a travellers’ wonderland for you!

We hope to inspire you to travel and see the world just like we do and to discover places you never knew about.  You can gain a new perspective and educate yourself by travelling abroad as well as learning how to protect yourself when you’re away from home. You can always have fun, but you’ll have the most fun when you’re prepared!

Our World Wanderer Club is your resource for:

  • International travellers
  • Canadian travellers and Visitors to Canada
  • Special risks and adventure travellers
  • Group travellers
  • International student travellers
  • Snowbirds
  • Expatriates

Be entertained, stay informed, and prepare for travel with the World Wanderer Club.

Let us help you travel with confidence!

Travel Insurance & Food Allergies: Make Sure You’re Protected During Your Travels

When my baby boy was first diagnosed with a number of severe food allergies, I was devastated. All I could think about was all the delicious food he—and we—would miss out on. Peanut butter, once a staple in our home, was now banned. Much-loved bakeries were now off limits. If my husband and I wanted Asian takeout, we’d do so guiltily, after the baby was in bed, and then disinfect our table, countertops and anything else our food may have come into contact with.

As time passed, I realized that his food allergies would make it challenging, if not impossible, to take part in other much-loved experiences, like travel. Not only would we need to contend with eye rolls and exasperated sighs on airplanes (not to mention seating areas covered in crumbs that could kill from previous passengers), we’d need to research where it is safe to eat out, and whether or not our overseas host could accommodate 6+ allergies.

And then there’s travel insurance. This one is a biggie. If only because people know so little about it. See, I’m part of a couple of different support groups for parents of children with food allergies. It’s great because I’m surrounded by seasoned allergy parents who encourage newcomers when we’re feeling down, provide us with practical tips for everyday life, and give us the inside scoop on safe eating spots in the city. And yet…

This same group of moms and dads who’ve been doing this for years aren’t necessarily in the know when it comes to this one really important thing. Because I once worked for a travel insurance company, I know things aren’t always as straightforward as they seem—especially when it comes to travelling with a pre-existing condition. (And yes, food allergies are considered just that.) I know from writing about topics like travelling while pregnant or travelling with kids that pregnancy, for example, is also considered a pre-existing condition. Not everyone has been programmed to think this way—or to ask a million questions when it comes to travel coverage. But I have.

So I’ve compiled a list of tips for people travelling with food allergies below. Give them a read before your next trip—it just might save you a tens of thousands of dollars.

  1. Never, ever assume. A lot of the parents I spoke with had travel insurance through their workplace benefits and simply assumed their child was covered—no questions asked. But when it comes to travel insurance, it can be dangerous to assume anything. Always triple check your policy and then speak to an actual person to make sure your food-allergic child is eligible for coverage.
  2. Take that first “yes” with a grain of salt. The first time I hopped on the phone with my insurer (also through work), the representative assured me that, yes, my little guy was covered. If I hadn’t worked in the industry, I would have let out a huge sigh of relief, left on vacation, and then gone into debt had my child experienced an anaphylactic reaction OR—get this—any unrelated injury or illness during our trip. Luckily, I knew better.
  3. Ask questions. I found it hard to believe that my son was covered, pre-existing condition and all. So I repeated the question. And got the same answer. I thought of a different way to word it and asked again. The answer remained “yes.” I tried again. Still “yes.” I eventually got off the phone feeling really confused and very uncertain about the whole thing.
  4. Then ask more questions. A few weeks passed, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it—something just didn’t seem right. I decided to call one more time. And guess what, this time I received a completely different answer. I was told that, in fact, I’d need to buy a separate policy for my son. (What?! I knew it! But what about all those parents out there who didn’t know any better?) After being transferred to an affiliate company, what I learned made a lot more sense to me: My son would be covered if his condition was “stable” for 90 days prior to the trip.
  5. Find out what they mean by “stable” or “stability period.” The term “stable” has a positive connotation, so many people assume (there’s that word again!) that a pre-existing condition is stable as long as it didn’t worsen during the period in question. This is absolutely, positively incorrect. While it goes without saying that an allergic reaction that results in a trip to the doctor or ER would deem your child’s condition unstable, you probably didn’t know this: A simple follow-up visit to the allergist also results in an “unstable” label even if you learned that your child had grown out of one of his allergies. So when you’re booking your trip, check your calendar to make sure you don’t have an allergist appointment within the 90 days* prior. If you do, reschedule the appointment or the trip—whichever is easier.
  6. Check how long the stability period is. *For me, it was 90 days. That may not be the case with your insurer. Read the fine print on your policy (under “Pre-Existing Conditions”) or speak with a representative on the phone.
  7. Carry your wallet card with you at all times. You will need this on you in case of a medical event while travelling. Insurance companies prefer that you call them before seeking out care, but in the case of an emergency, that’s not always possible. As soon as you have a free moment, though, do be sure to give them a call. You wouldn’t want your claim to be denied because your insurer didn’t have a say in the matter (read: negotiating fees so that they aren’t paying the highest prices out there). Here’s another card you might like to keep around in your wallet, and the good news is, it’s a bit more fun.

You might not believe it, but there’s a happy ending to my story. After all those questions and all that stress, guess how much my son’s travel insurance ended up costing me?

$25. That’s it.

I had prepared myself for the worst, but because my son was an otherwise healthy little boy, and because he was stable for the 90 days prior to the trip, our travel insurance was more than just affordable—it was a steal!

The moral of this story? Do your homework before your next trip. You could end up saving yourself big bucks.

Health Care Haggling is Bad for Your Health

If you’re tired of the haggling between health ministry bureaucrats and doctors over fee cuts and health costs, be patient and pay attention. This is more than a ritual dance about money and working conditions. And the haggling does affect you, directly.

If you’ve had a harder time getting in to see your doctor in a reasonable time, if you’ve been re-scheduled again and again for an elective (albeit painful) back or hip procedure, or the family physician you have been seeing for 20 years moves away, you’re getting close to the nexus of why these interminable negotiations between the blue suits and the white coats have become so heated.

All provinces are strapped by mounting healthcare costs which now consume 40 cents out of every tax dollar you pay.

With Canadians enduring ever-longer wait lines for medically-necessary care, with emergency rooms and acute care beds jammed at unsustainable levels, healthcare bureaucrats have traditionally tended to clamp down on fee reductions for physicians as one means of health care cost restraint.  Doctors are soft targets. Health ministry bureaucrats know that physicians do not want to “drop tools” and walk away from patients who depend on them for the health of their families.

At present, of all developed countries with universal comprehensive health care systems (that excludes the US), Canada is among the top five most expensive in terms of its share of gross domestic product (GDP) spent on health care.

Yet, of 36 countries whose economies are tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Canada ranks in the bottom 4 or 5 in terms of acute (curative) hospital beds per thousand population, and practicing physicians per thousand population.

Same story for high tech: in 2015 Canada had 9.5 MRI units per one million population—that was 13th out of 36 (OECD), about the same as Chile and Turkey. By comparison, Australia had 15 per million, Germany 30.5, US 39, Japan 51.7.

Of Canada’s $228 billion estimated health care spending in 2016 (11 percent of the GDP, $6299 CAD per person), where is all that money going?

Doctors, and healthcare analysts are increasing looking to bureaucrat bloat as a major contributor to the costs of healthcare in Canada: partly to their constant efforts to set up layers and administrative structures to regulate healthcare professionals, and partly by spawning their own numbers.

In a highly informative, and provocative blog, Canadian family physician Dr. Shawn Whatley notes that between 1990 and 2013, Ontario had closed some 17,000 hospital beds, yet the province has not cut a similar number of bureaucrats.

He also notes that Ontario currently has 1.7 acute care hospital beds per 1000 people—half the average for other OECD countries.

Dr. Whatley also cites original research by Matthew Lister, Senior Director Strategic Planning with the   Ontario Medical Association which reveals that Canada’s 32,000 healthcare bureaucrats account for a ratio of 0.9 such bureaucrats for 1000 population.  By comparison, Sweden has 0.4 healthcare bureaucrats per 1000 population, Australia 0.255, Japan 0.23, and Germany (one of the most effective and efficient systems tracked by the OECD) has but 0.06 per 1000 population.

As Dr. Whatley summarizes, “Does it make sense to have so few beds and so many bureaucrats?”

I also suggest we could use a study to compare the average and median salaries  of healthcare bureaucrats vis a vis the real, actual “take home pay” of family physicians and even other specialists?

To be fair, the raw numbers of hospital beds per thousand, or physicians per thousand, are not necessarily good indices of health care quality or access. Fewer beds properly used, or fewer physicians better located and incentivized can have a far more salutary effect on the quality of care received by patients.

But given the growing wait lines, the logjams in hospital waiting rooms and acute care beds, and the constant haggling about fees and other restraints on healthcare professionals, attaining that quality in Canada remains elusive.

 

Are you expecting visitors from out of country? Make sure they know about the high costs of Canadian health care. Find out more here.

4 Home Security Tips for Holiday Travellers

You have enough to worry about over the holidays that you should not have to worry about leaving your home while you travel for vacation or a visit with friends and family. Yet, each year, homes fall prey to intruders who wait for homeowners to go away for the holidays.

If you will be travelling over the holidays this year, give yourself some peace of mind. Our home security tips will help you protect your home and alleviate some of the stress associated with holiday travelling.

1. Give the Appearance That You Are Home

Even though you’ve probably seen Home Alone, not all thieves plan or organize their home invasions that thoroughly. In most cases, intruders drive into a dark neighbourhood and look for homes that appear empty or unprotected. To prevent thieves from thinking your home is vulnerable, you need to give the appearance that you are home. Make arrangements for a neighbour or friend to pick up your newspapers and mail each day and to keep an eye out for late packages. This person should also be prepared to shovel snow in the event of a storm if you don’t have a service that does this for you.

Set your lights to turn on and off with timers, but also leave some lights on the entire time that you are gone, so that it appears as though someone is in the home switching lights on and off each day. Consider purchasing flameless candles that are realistic enough to fool someone from the outside into thinking that you have lit candles; most thieves will assume you would not leave a real candle burning if you are away for any length of time.

One final trick to give the appearance that you are home is to put your Christmas tree lights on timers. Most people will not leave their Christmas trees on when they leave home because it can be a fire hazard, so if thieves see your Christmas tree lights come on, they may believe you are home.

2. Make Sure Motion Detectors Work Properly

If you have installed a home security system that is connected to your cellphone, make sure that the motion detectors are set properly so that your curtains or pets will not set off alarms. Keep in mind that your heat most likely will come on while you are gone, so make sure there aren’t any loose items that your heated air will blow in the path of the motion detectors.

If you have motion-detecting lights outside, make sure that they are properly angled to capture movement near doors and windows. Also, make sure that the bulbs work so the lights will come on should anyone get near your home at night.

3. Include Windows in Your Preparations

As you prepare to leave, you probably already double-check your doors and lights. Don’t forget to include double-checking your windows as part of your routine, and make it a point to reinforce ground-floor windows, which are one of the most common break-in sites. If you have double-hung windows, insert sash pins to secure them. Another option is to arm your windows with wireless alarms. It’s also a smart idea to test your windows and their locks prior to your departure so you can make any repairs that are needed to protect your home and belongings.

4. Keep Christmas Gifts Out of Sight

While it may look beautiful for you to display your Christmas gifts at the base of your tree, keep in mind that this looks inviting for thieves. You are especially vulnerable to intruders if you display your tree and gifts in a front window or one they easily can reach from the ground by smashing the window, reaching in, and stealing the gifts without setting foot in your home. The best option is to display Christmas trees and gifts on upper floors that are less visible from outside, or to keep gifts in a closet or other area that is out of sight until you return home.

Avoid unnecessary stress this holiday season by following our tips to protect your home while you travel. Thieves want an easy score, so do all that you can to deter them from even thinking about hitting your home this holiday season by making it look like you are home, making sure your motion detectors, lights, and window locks are in working order, and keeping your gifts out of sight.

More Canadians Than Ever, Wait for Health Care

As provincial premiers wrangle with the Trudeau government over their diminishing share of transfer payments for health care, Canadian patients are being increasingly forced into ever longer waiting lines for medically necessary treatment—many of them leaving the country for care they can’t get at home in what they and their physicians consider a “clinically reasonable” time.

It’s a pattern that now appears to be an inherent reality of health care in Canada, one that has exacerbated tensions not only between provincial and federal politicians, but between the professionals responsible for treating patients and their increasing legions of bureaucrats and paymasters.

Each year, Canada’s leading independent public policy/healthcare think tank (it accepts no government money), the BC-based Fraser Institute releases an update on the wait times faced by patients for non –emergency (but medically necessary) treatment for conditions that are still painful, possibly debilitating, and sometimes deadly.

 

Wait your turn

In Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada, 2016, released in November, the study reported that median medical wait times across Canada for medically necessary elective procedures had risen to 20 weeks—the longest ever recorded—double the 9.3 weeks Canadians waited in 1993, 23 years ago. “Median” is the mid-point between the longest and shortest wait times recorded in the survey. And it refers to the total wait time a patient is referred by his or her family physician to a specialist, to when the patient ultimately receives treatment.

On the basis of its national surveys with physicians in 12 medical specialties, the report team, headed by Bacchus Barua, senior economist in Health Policy Studies at  the Fraser Institute,  Canadians are now waiting for nearly one million medically-necessary procedures beyond which their physicians consider “clinically reasonable” times.

Says Barua: “Long wait times aren’t simply minor inconveniences, they can result in increased suffering for patients, lost productivity at work, a decreased quality of life, and in the worst cases, disability or death.”

 

Where are the wait times worst?

The longest wait times for referrals by a family physician to consultation with a specialist have risen to 9.4 weeks (155 percent longer than in 1993), and the longest waits are in New Brunswick (21.5 weeks), the shortest in Ontario (7.2 weeks). The longest wait times, from consultation with a specialist to receiving actual treatment, are 10.6 weeks (88 percent longer than in 1993).  The shortest specialist-to-treatment wait times are in Saskatchewan (7.9 weeks), the longest in Nova Scotia (17.7 weeks).

As for types of treatment needed—the longest median wait times nationally are for neurosurgery (46.9 weeks), the shortest, for medical oncology (cancer), 3.7 weeks.

 

What’s the solution?

The quickest answer usually given to the problem of wait lists is “more money.” But there are many powerful arguments extant that go well beyond money, and focus more on re-organization of systems and creation of a new set of incentives for better, more direct care. But that’s another story, and we’ll get to it in more depth in 2017.

 

Look beyond your borders

One immediate solution to painful and disruptive wait lists is being practiced by increasing numbers of
Canadians (at least 45,000 of them in 2015) who have ventured abroad for non-emergency medical care.

This number does not include the many thousands who receive unexpected emergency treatment while traveling out of the country, usually under private travel insurance as their provincial insurance covers less than 10 percent of foreign hospital and medical bills.

In a related report from the Fraser Institute released in October, 2016, an estimated 45,619 Canadians traveled abroad in 2015 to receive non-emergency (but medically-necessary) medical care—the greatest numbers for eye treatment, general surgery, internal medicine procedures such as colonoscopies, gastroscopies and angiographies.  This number, cautions report author Barua, is almost certainly an underestimate as it reflects only those patients who were referred out by their own physicians, or who reported their out-of- country treatment to their home physician.

It does not count the many Canadians who went directly to foreign hospitals, predominantly American, who advertise their services to international clientele, or who were referred by friends or relatives—without involvement of their own physicians.

We should note, however, that some of the Canadian patients referred out of the country by their physicians may have their expenses covered, or subsidized, by their provincial health ministries if they apply for such referrals.  Health ministries are now spending millions of dollars “exporting” such patients to mostly border-area hospitals in the US for treatments or procedures unavailable within reasonable time periods. Those costs, we will explore in forthcoming articles.

The greatest number of these medical expatriates were from Ontario (over 22,000), B.C. (over 10,000), and Alberta (over 4,600).

“Considering Canada’s long health-care wait times and their potential negative effects, it’s not surprising that so many Canadians are travelling abroad for medical treatment,” says Barua.

So while the provincial and federal politicians continue wrangling over what is the proper amount of money to put into health care, Canadians wait, wait, and wait some more. Or, they just cross the border to take measures into their own hands.

 

Want to stay up to date? Find more news on our blog.

Flying with Medical Marijuana? Here’s What to Expect

 

If you have a prescription for cannabis, you may be hoping to bring some along the next time you travel—but this can be much more complicated than travelling with your average prescription drug.

The good news is that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) has recently released clarification on the procedures around flying with medical cannabis, as long as you’re travelling within Canada. The bad news? If you’re heading anywhere else in the world, you may have to leave your prescription at home—at least for now.

 

Travelling within Canada

It is legal to travel with medical marijuana within Canada, according to CATSA. However, there are a few important caveats to note:

  • You must bring medical documentation to prove that you have a prescription. And CATSA notes that, in airports where police are present, they will be called in to check this documentation.
  • As well, your bags will be searched to ensure you do not have more than the legal quantity of medical cannabis with you (30 days’ worth).
  • Because of this extra screening, you will likely be spending a longer time than usual at security. That means getting to the airport early is essential—depending on who you ask, it’s recommended that you budget an extra 30 minutes to an hour for this process.
  • It’s always a good idea to call your airline before the day of your flight to let them know about your prescription and find out exactly what their protocol is. You should also inform airport staff up front that you are carrying medical marijuana—this will help to expedite the process of verifying that everything is in order. If you fail to declare it, staff may assume you are trying to bring it along illegally, which will inevitably call for extra screening and delay.
  • While the CATSA site notes that it’s acceptable to bring medical marijuana in your checked luggage, experts highly recommend that you keep it only in your carry-on so that you are able to account for it and present your documentation with it at all times.

 

What about travelling to other destinations?

Here is where things get tricky: CATSA’s rules for travelling with medical marijuana do not apply to international travel. Wherever you go, you will still be subject to the rules of your destination.

What about snowbirds with medical marijuana prescriptions who are hoping to head down to the United States for the winter? Although medical marijuana is now legal in 25 states, it is still prohibited at the federal level. A recent court ruling does protect medical marijuana users in any of those 25 states from federal prosecution, so long as they have fully complied with state laws. However, that applies to those already in those states—not those attempting to fly into them. Unfortunately for travelling snowbirds, the U.S. federal government does not currently allow marijuana on airlines or in secure airport zones.

In fact, there has been recent discussion around a controversial U.S. border policy: denying entry to any Canadian who admits to having smoked marijuana in the past—even if they have a prescription for doing so. With the Trudeau government’s promise to legalize marijuana in Canada—along with the fact that marijuana is now legal in a handful of states, including Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Alaska—policies like this are necessarily being reviewed. But, of course, this process will take time.

As the laws continue to shift and evolve, change is more than likely on the horizon. For now, however, those hoping to fly with medical marijuana will have to stick with a Canadian destination.

 

Sources

Cannabis Life Network. “Tips for flying with medical cannabis.” CLN. https://cannabislifenetwork.com/tips-for-flying-with-medical-cannabis/

CanniMed. “Travelling with medical cannabis.” CanniMed Blog. https://www.cannimed.ca/blogs/blog/117970885-travelling-with-medical-cannabis-voyager-avec-son-cannabis-medical

Crawford, Alison. “Flying with prescription pot? CATSA has finally clarified the rules.” CBC. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/catsa-pot-medical-fly-guidelines-1.3802032

Hamilton, Keegan. “Feds can’t prosecute medical marijuana users who follow state law, court rules.” Vice News. https://news.vice.com/article/feds-cant-prosecute-medical-marijuana-users-who-follow-state-law

Hopkins, Andrea. “Canada to press U.S. on ‘ludicrous’ marijuana border policy.” Reuters. https://ca.reuters.com/article/topNews/idCAKCN11F2HB

 

Planning to travel out of province? Don’t forget: Canadians need travel insurance for trips within Canada.

Travel Fatigue and How to Avoid It

I’ve been proverbially homeless for 10 years, travelling through and living in over 50 countries.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with many different styles—and paces—of travel. In 2010, embracing a “backpacker” moniker, I breezed through a dizzying number of countries. In that entire year, the longest I spent in one place was three weeks; on average I “moved house” every five nights.

After this fevered travel pace, I spent the first six months of 2011 in a near-comatose state of recovery. Something wasn’t right. I couldn’t quite define what was wrong, but I had an unsettled feeling.

I was fundamentally tired, like I hadn’t slept well in months. On reflection, this was true; too many late nights, early mornings, unfamiliar beds, and communal living quarters had taken a toll.

I was dizzyingly confused; the whirlwind of travel in the previous year left me feeling like the world was spinning around me, as if I’d had too much to drink.

And I was apathetic about everything around me. A beautiful vista, you say? Not to be missed? Meh. I’ve seen lots of beautiful vistas. Here are a few hundred pictures; have a look. Why go out of my way for one more beautiful vista?

These, I eventually realized, were the cumulative effects of Travel Fatigue.

Years ago, I watched a documentary called A Map for Saturday, which follows the adventures of a few backpackers on long-term trips around the world. At a certain point, each backpacker felt similar to my description above. They suffered from information overload, and their emotional response was to shut down.

Although many world travellers on long trips fall prey to travel fatigue at some point, it doesn’t have to be a crippling experience. Here are some pointers to avoid this travel ailment.

 

Don’t Try to Conquer the World

….or even a country. My last traditional vacation (before I sold everything to travel full-time) was a month-long trip to South Africa. I’d never travelled for that long, and figured a month was long enough for me to “crack the code” of the country, see everything worth seeing, and depart satisfied that I could tick it off my list. Instead, after travelling everywhere at a furious pace, I departed with more questions than answers. (I consequently realized that in order to travel the way I really wanted to, a lifestyle change was necessary.)

 

Know Your Limits

Some people have higher energy levels than others. Even if you’re the Energizer Bunny, your batteries will eventually run out.

 

Solo Travellers: Be Mindful

I’m all for solo travel—it’s empowering and liberating. It’s easy to meet people along the way, so you’re rarely alone unless you wish to be. But I also found that travel fatigue hits harder and faster when travelling solo. Without a travel partner by your side, providing a contextual baseline for your constantly changing environments, travel dizziness (I call it “motion sickness”) takes hold quicker.

 

Work with Your Time Frame

Six months for a round-the-world trip actually isn’t that long. Build in rest periods to stabilize your energy levels, so you don’t need a vacation to recover from your vacation.

 

Flex with It

It’s an evolving process. Since 2010, I’ve done other stints of fast-paced travel. For example, in 2011 I travelled by train from Lisbon to Saigon (25,000 km) in 30 days. The following year, I did a sponsored trip through eight countries in three weeks. In 2015, I spent two months traipsing through five countries.

In all cases, I ensured that after a fast-paced period, I had somewhere to chill out and recover.

 

Know Yourself

Given that my travels aren’t temporary but a lifestyle choice, I love slow travel. I usually stay somewhere for at least a month (often much longer) so I can discover the local pace and ways of life. With a location-independent writing career, slow travel also helps me strike a comfortable work-life balance.

Your travel pace and style will be totally unique, as it is for everybody. The trick is to recognize the signs of travel fatigue before they become a problem, and to know what to do about it.

 

Planning multiple trips this year? Consider a multi-trip annual plan for hassle-free coverage.

 

Detour Home: Stuff to Do Outside of San Francisco

The Castro, Duboce Triangle, craft beer, Haight-Ashbury, Alcatraz, seafood, the Golden Gate Bridge, historic streetcars, sourdough bread, and Dolores Park are just a few of the places and things that attract tourists and make up the vibrant city of San Francisco.

Like a lot of the big cities in California, San Francisco is surrounded by even more vibrant, fun, and often quirky towns and cities with their own festivals, attractions, and small-town/big-character personalities that are just as colourful as the rainbow-lined streets of the Castro District and just as bustling and entertaining as the Embarcadero. Better yet, many of these towns are accessible through the very well-connected mass transit line.

On one of our travels we discovered the town of Burlingame. Just 10 minutes away from SFO Airport, Burlingame is one of those small towns with a big and welcoming personality. It hosts a lively and walkable downtown complete with outdoor shops, restaurant patios, and streets lined with locally owned coffee shops and bars. The restaurants we saw were all small and family-owned, providing not only great food but also pleasant and welcoming conversations. It’s one of those rare places that have found that perfect balance of urban living and suburban peacefulness.

Burlingame is a great place to visit for families looking for a change of scenery from the big-city vibe of San Francisco, or for visitors looking to grab a more relaxing small-town experience without travelling too far from the downtown core. We were lucky enough to visit Burlingame during its annual Pet Parade, which saw the whole town come out to showcase their furry, clawed, feathered, and even scaled friends.

We were sad to leave the town knowing that just a few days later there would be a chili cook-off, but despite that, Burlingame was a pleasant “road less travelled” destination to visit. It was hard to believe that we were actually exploring the suburbs, as the town is far from having that sleepy suburban feel. The experience of walking through the town’s quaint yet lively downtown, passing under giant and majestic eucalyptus trees, was a breath of fresh air from the busy rolling hills of downtown San Francisco. We were happy to have stopped over in Burlingame before flying back home via SFO, which was just a short drive away!

 

For more travel adventures, check our blog.

Riding Alone across the Continent: Therapy on Horseback

On July 8, 2012, when I jumped into the saddle to ride horseback from Canada to Brazil, I had no idea the journey of solitude I was about to undertake. There were times during the 803 days I spent on the road when family and friends met me, but for the majority of the trip, it was just my horses and me. Some nights I met generous people who kindly hosted me in their homes, while other nights were spent camping in the wilderness. But every day, while I rode, I spent eight to ten hours alone. Without saying a word. Or hearing one.

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Some days my voice hardly came out in the afternoon. And on some stretches I went days without seeing or conversing with another human being.

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Being left alone with your thoughts for such long periods of time, away from your family and loved ones, is not easy. In fact I wonder what it will do to me in the long run. In total, I have spent two years and ten months living life as a saddle tramp. That’s 974 days. 23,376 hours. 1,402,560 minutes. When you are travelling at 4 kilometres per hour, 30 kilometres a day, a minute can seem like a lifetime.

Although there is a melancholy aspect to being alone for such long periods of time it also offers a unique opportunity to get to know oneself better. I have never been able to meditate or sit in yoga class because my mind would never stop racing. Being alone for days in the saddle has given me, for the first time in my life, the opportunity to have an internal conversation with myself. As much as it is hard at times to be in such intense solitude, it is a tremendous chance to be honest with myself and learn exactly what I am made of and why. It’s a cathartic experience. Therapy on horseback.

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In the age of Pokémon Go and Instagram, being able to disconnect from the modern world—to cut out the noise and focus on a simpler way of life—is a luxury. It is something I have always strived for. But my time alone has also reminded me how much I love being around people and making new friends.

If anything, Long Riding has showed me again and again that life is meant to be shared!

 

For more travel adventures, check our blog.

Travelling with Pets on a Plane

In our last post on this topic, we shared some tips for travelling long distances with your pets in the car. But what about when you’re making the trip by air?

Flying with your pets is, of course, a quicker solution than taking the car, but you also have less control over the situation from start to finish. If you’re trying to decide between flying or driving, try to weigh the overall stress it will place on your pet. Is yours the kind of pet who would easily sleep through a few hours in a cargo hold? Or would they rather stick close to you, but be stuck in a car for a longer period?

If you and your pet are going airborne, here are a few things to note.

  • You’ll need to get in touch with the airline well in advance, as your booking won’t be as flexible as usual. Airlines tend to block off specific times when pets are allowed to travel along on their flights.
  • You will likely have to remove your pet from their carrier at security. If your pet is prone to bolting in terror, you might want to have some kind of harness on them, just in case.
  • If your pet is small enough, you may be able to take them into the cabin with you. However, they’ll need to comfortably fit in a soft carrier that can be placed under the seat in front of you. And, for the sake of other passengers (who may have allergies—or a fear of animals), you shouldn’t take them out of the carrier while you’re flying.
  • If you do bring your pet on board, your other carry-on will be restricted to a satchel or purse. Additional small baggage will be disallowed.

Tip: No matter where you’re travelling or how, placing an absorbent pad at the bottom of your pet’s carrier is a wise thing to do! It will significantly minimize the catastrophe level of an untimely accident.

  • If your pet isn’t petite, then they’ll have to be checked as cargo. Not to worry, they will be treated more gently than your suitcase! And, of course, pets are placed in a pressurized and climate-controlled part of the cargo hold. Still, especially on a long plane ride, this can be a stressful experience. Some travellers choose to give their nervous pets a mild sedative—this is something to discuss with your vet and possibly test out in advance. Placing a favourite toy as well as a t-shirt you have worn a few times into your pet’s carrier may also alleviate stress.
  • Obviously, your pet will not come bouncing down the baggage carousel—you will likely be reunited with them at the “oversized baggage” area. Talk to airport staff at your destination to find out where you can pick up your pet.

Tip: Are you bringing your pet to a new country? You’ll need to ensure they have the proper vaccinations—and get documentation of this on your vet’s letterhead with their signature. Make sure you arrange for their shots well in advance, as a certain amount of time needs to elapse after the vaccine is given to ensure it’s effective. If you take your pet over the border too soon after vaccination, they may have to be quarantined until the wait time is up.

In special circumstances, some airlines make exceptions for larger pets to join the cabin. During the evacuations of Fort McMurray during early spring 2016, WestJet welcomed many animals aboard.

With careful planning and consideration of your fuzzy friend’s needs, you’ll have them safely at your destination in no time!

 

Check out our blog for more travel tips.