Before you visit the United States, whether it’s for a few months in the winter or for an overnight shopping trip, it’s important to get travel medical insurance.

Travel insurance should be part of your vacation itinerary because a medical emergency can strike when you least expect it, and your existing provincial plans won’t necessarily cover all the bills.

This is true when you visit other provinces in Canada, and especially true when you head south of the border.  Here are five things to keep in mind when you choose your travel insurance coverage:

1. Single trip vs. multi-trip plans:  Make sure that your coverage reflects the traveling you will do.  If you only go south once a year, for the winter, you can get one-time travel insurance that covers the specific period of your trip.

However, if you make multiple trips, it’s a good idea to get an annual plan.  These plans cover all of the trips you make in a 12-month period.

2. Price is just one deciding factor:  While the cost of your coverage is an important aspect to consider, it isn’t the only thing.  What happens if your medical emergencies are only covered up to $25,000 and you end up needing more coverage?

Determine your needs and then choose the appropriate coverage.  You might have to pay a little more to buy travel insurance, but the peace of mind is often worth it.

3. Look for exclusions in the coverage:  There are a lot of interesting things to do in the United States.  However, you need to make sure that you understand what might be excluded from coverage in your policy.

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Some “adventure” activities like mountain climbing or whitewater rafting, might not be covered.  Know the exclusions before you leave.  Also, understand what constitutes a pre-existing condition, since that might not be covered.

4. Making a claim:  Some travel insurance policies pay the health care service provider directly.  Others require you to make all payments up front, and then reimburse you.  Find out the policy.

If you are worried about paying out of pocket, consider a policy that pays the health care providers directly.  You should also check co-pays and deductibles.

5. Customer service: Find out about the procedures involved when it comes to complaints, and do some research online into consumer reviews.  While no insurance company is going to have a perfect record, you can get a pretty good idea of general customer service when you poke around.

Find out if there is a toll-free line you can call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in the event of an emergency.

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Planning a trip can be exciting, but don’t get so caught up in the fun aspects of your itinerary that you neglect the more practical parts.  Buy travel insurance so that you’re prepared for almost any situation when you’re out of the country.

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