Lucky you: you’re headed off on a three-month tour of Asia. Your group plan at work includes travel insurance for up to 30 days. To make sure you’re covered for the rest of the trip, you therefore plan to take out “top-up” insurance. But do you know the risks?

Your options

In cases where your insurance doesn’t cover you for the full length of your trip, you have three options:

  1. Extend your travel insurance policy.
  2. Buy new insurance covering the full length of the trip (i.e., you won’t use your existing insurance).
  3. Buy top-up insurance (a second policy, which kicks in when the first coverage period ends).

The best option is always a single policy covering the entire trip. So the second option is an excellent choice. Extending your current policy is also a great solution, but not always possible: group insurance policies, or the coverage provided with a credit card account, often have a limited coverage period with no option to extend.

If neither of the first two options works for you, you can consider additional travel insurance, called top-up insurance. But you’ll want to be well informed and understand the limits of this type of insurance. Read on to learn more.

Things to check

Contact the first insurer to make sure complementing their insurance policy with another is in fact possible.
Some insurers don’t allow travel for longer than the set coverage period. Or they might not allow their insurance to be complemented by a policy from another insurer. We recommend that you check before taking out top-up insurance, because doing so might invalidate your first insurer’s contract.

Have your first insurer’s policy handy when you purchase the second policy.
The second insurer may ask questions about your existing policy. You also need to verify that your coverage options are sufficient.

Good to know

The coverage amounts of the two insurance policies can’t be added together.

Say you have two insurance contracts: the first covers up to $100,000 in medical care costs, while the second (the top-up travel insurance) offers coverage up to $5 million. You are hospitalized for a heart problem that occurs during the period covered by the first insurer, and the costs are well over $100,000. Bad news: you’ll have to pay for the excess costs, because the top-up travel insurance can’t be used to cover expenses exceeding the first insurer’s coverage limit.

The pre-existing conditions that are covered or excluded may differ from one policy to the other.

A particular pre-existing health condition might be covered under one of the insurance policies, but excluded under the other. If the first insurance doesn’t cover your condition and a health issue related to that condition comes up during that first contract’s coverage period, the additional insurance won’t cover the care required.

An event occurring during the first insurance policy’s coverage period probably won’t be covered by the second contract, because it may be considered a pre-existing condition.

The general rule is that a pre-existing health condition is one that exists before the travel departure date and that, depending on the specific case, may not be covered. The majority of top-up travel insurance policies consider pre-existing conditions as of the date the contract takes effect (rather than the travel departure date). As a result, expenses for a health issue related to an event occurring while the first insurance was in effect won’t be covered by the additional insurance.

This case reported by the TV program La facture in the winter of 2016 is a good example:

A woman sustains a wrist injury during the period of her trip covered by her first insurance policy. She has a cast put on at a hospital. She has the cast removed a few weeks later, at which time the top-up travel insurance is in effect. The second insurer refuses to reimburse the expense, because the cast removal is defined as treatment for a pre-existing condition that was known on the effective date of the insurance. The first insurer won’t pay either, because the woman was no longer covered at that point. Both insurers are fully within their rights. Most insurance policies work this way. Watch the La facture segment (in French) here.

There are now top-up insurance policies on the market that cover travellers in this type of situation: CAA-Quebec top-up travel insurance is one such product.

Keep in mind

After reading these clarifications, you can see that having a single insurance policy covering the full length of your trip is the safest option. If in doubt, ask for advice from a travel counsellor.