H1N1 Flu Virus (Human Swine Influenza); you've probably heard of it because it was all over the news not too long ago. The H1N1 scare resulted in the Canadian Government issuing a Travel Warning for Mexico asking Canadians to avoid non-essential travel. While this particular Travel Warning has since been withdrawn, another recent Travel Warning to a section of Mexico (due to escalating violence in Ciudad Juárez) has many people are wondering what a Travel Warning means and how it might affect their travel plans.

A little about Travel Warnings

Travel Warnings are there to protect you, but even the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade concedes that the decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the individual. That being said, the warning represents the Government of Canada's official advice. The warning may recommend that Canadians avoid "all travel", or in both Mexican examples, "non-essential travel". In some cases, it will even recommend that travellers leave the country or region all together.

What happens if a Travel Warning is issued after you've already booked a trip?

It depends. Are you still planning to go despite the Government of Canada's recommendation? Did you buy Trip Cancellation Insurance?

If you've decided to ignore the Travel Warning and are able to get to your holiday destination despite it, make sure you read the fine print of the travel insurance policy you've bought, or are planning to buy. There is a chance you won't be covered.

Travel insurance when you ignore a Travel Warning

Travel medical insurance is intended to offer you protection for unexpected and unforeseen events. If you choose to ignore a Travel Warning then it could be viewed that you're expecting the unexpected and depending on the policy, you may not be covered.

Read the exclusions in the policy. A benefit does not have to be paid out if it is determined that the costs were incurred due to something that was specifically excluded. Exclusions vary by policy. For example, consider Travel Warnings. If mentioned as an exclusion, some policy wordings are general in nature, while others are very specific. The following two samples illustrate this point:

  • "When you travel to a country after such time that a travel advisory has been issued by the Canadian government recommending that Canadians do not travel to such country, or to specific regions within such country."
  • "Sickness, injury or medical condition you suffer or contract in a specific country, region or area for which the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of the Canadian Government has issued a travel advisory or formal notice, before your departure date, advising Canadians not to travel to that specific country, region or area. If the Canadian Government issues a travel advisory or formal notice to leave that specific country, region or area, after your departure date, your coverage for sickness, injury or medical condition is limited to a period of 10 days from the date the advisory was issued, or to a period that is reasonably necessary to safely evacuate the country, region or area. In this exclusion "sickness, injury or medical condition" means any sickness, injury or medical condition that is attributable to the reason for which the travel advisory or formal notice was issued or complications arising from such "sickness, injury or medical condition".

In a nutshell, it is your responsibility to keep up-to-date on Travel Warnings, particularly in the hurricane travel season, and if you choose to ignore a warning then you may not be covered while away on holiday. And this doesn't just apply to emergency medical coverage. It could also apply to your Trip Cancellation and Interruption coverage if the warning was issued prior to your policy purchase and travel dates.

Not sure where to find the Travel Reports? They can be found at the site for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.

Travel insurance when you heed a Travel Warning

If you bought Trip Cancellation and Interruption travel insurance in advance of a Travel Warning, then great news, this is exactly the type of situation that travel insurance was designed to protect you from. In fact, if you cancel your trip, or interrupt it to return home because of a Travel Warning, you are often specifically covered under the terms of the policy.

Didn't buy travel insurance?

Without travel insurance, you're at the mercy of your airline or tour operator. Consider what happened only a day after the government issued its warning about Mexico on April 27th, 2009. On April 28th, all customers of Transat (which includes Air Transat, Transat Holidays and Nolitours), Air Canada and Air Canada Vacations, Sunquest Vacations, and WestJet and WestJet Vacations learned that their trips were effectively cancelled or postponed. While some of the travel insurance companies offered full refunds if you decided to cancel (without penalty), others required that you simply reschedule your trip to a later date, choose a new destination, or get a travel credit for use at a later date.

What's it all mean?

Each policy varies so read the policy carefully. If in doubt, contact your travel insurance company.

Looking for more information about Trip Cancellation and Interruption insurance?

Originally posted April 30th, 2009. Always check with your travel insurance provider for terms and conditions that may apply to you specifically as the information may vary depending on your insurer, or particular individual circumstances. All information is subject to change.

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