Maggie Parkhill CTVNews.ca Writer
With the announcement that the federal government is eliminating the pre-arrival PCR test requirement for fully vaccinated travellers,and all Canadian airports that normally receive international flights will once again be able to do so beginning Feb. 28, many Canadians may be contemplating a trip abroad.
Tourism has recently been on the rise in Canada,despite restrictive measures. November 2021 was the sixth consecutive month with an increase in overallCanadian tourism activity– including domestic and international travel, as well as spending in the tourism industry –since May 2021, according to a Feb. 8 report from Statistics Canada, and the highest level since the pandemic began in March 2020. And during December 2021, nearly eight times as many Canadian residents returned from abroad via air travel than the previous December.
Omar Kaywan, the co-founder of Vancouver-based Goose Insurance, told CTVNews.ca that the travel economy is seeing two trends: "revenge travelling," or those flying because they’ve been under restrictive measures for so long, and "the great resignation" of people quitting their jobs amid the pandemic to move abroad or travel.
And amid a frigid Canadian winter, Andrew D’Amours, the co-founder of the travel advice website Flytrippers, told CTNews.ca that many people are looking for a getaway after being stuck at home.
"If you were a passionate traveller and you haven’t been anywhere for two years almost, you’re really itching to go discover a new place," D’Amours said.
But with COVID-19 restrictions that vary from province to province and country to country, travellers may find themselves unsure if they’re following the rules.
"We get hundreds of questions every week, and 99 per cent of them is about how to travel during the pandemic," D’Amours said. "Everyone is confused."
And even after travellers figure out what the restrictions are, some are concerned with what might go wrong once they’ve left the country.
"The worry is two things: ‘What happens to me if I get COVID-19 and I need medical attention if I’m travelling? And number two, what happens if I test positive and I can’t come home?’" said Kaywan.
So before you pack your bags, CTVNews.ca has asked these experts what you need to know before you go.
While Canadians may be raring to go on a winter getaway, the federal government said there is still risk involved in travel.
"I want to underscore that Canadians should still exercise caution when travelling abroad," Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclossaid at a press conference on Feb. 15. "There is still a real risk of becoming sick or stranded while abroad and having to extend their trip or find themselves in need of medical assistance should they test positive for COVID-19."
Duclos also said the new border measures are "transitory" and will continue to be adjusted based on the national epidemiological situation.
Experts say preparing for the worst and hoping for the best is the key to success when it comes to pandemic travel, especially with changing travel rules.
"The best protection is good planning," D’Amours said. "It’s always been important to plan well even if you were travelling before the pandemic, but right now it’s absolutely necessary."
D’Amours said he has personally travelled to more than a dozen locations during the pandemic. Last month he went to Guatemala, but said that the day he flew out of Canada, the Central American country changed its travel rules and began requiring COVID-19 tests to enter the country.
"You have to be ready to adapt your plans and be more flexible than you used to be," he said.
He also recommended being discerning about the sources from which you accept pandemic-related travel advice.
"Any information that is not from an official source is likely to be misleading," D’Amours said. "People don’t have bad intentions, they don’t want to mislead any other travellers by trying to provide answers or trying to help, but they often mix up rules."
D’Amours said rules around whether or not travellers need to be vaccinated when leaving and entering Canada and vaccination rules for children who are travelling are two common questions he sees lots of misinformation about on social media.
And even if travel advice worked for a friend or family member who travelled recently, that same advice may not hold up for future trips.
"One thing that comes up often, for example, is that people say, ‘Oh well, my friend went to Peru last week and she didn’t need a test.’ That might have been true last week, but things change every day," D’Amours said. "So if you rely on that, you get to the airport and could get denied boarding because you don’t have the test."
With pandemic-related travel rules causing confusion and delays for some passengers, it’s important to be prepared. But protecting yourself against extra costs related to COVID-19-related delays and cancellations isn’t the only reason travellers should consider purchasing travel insurance, Kaywan said.
"You should not be risking not having travel medical insurance, or COVID-19 insurance specifically," he said. "We know one too many cases of Canadians who have gone to Mexico for an all-inclusive vacation – or anywhere in the world – and they have gotten hurt or injured, or they had an accident or something unexpected happen to them, and they were responsible for those medical bills."
The federal government recommends purchasing travel medical insurance for every trip outside of Canada, even for a day trip to the United States, as your Canadian health insurance may not cover medical bills abroad. Hospitals in other countries can be very expensive – some may even require cash payment – and some clinics and hospitals may not treat you if you do not have insurance or money to pay your bills.
Beyond medical insurance, Kaywan recommended getting additional COVID-19 travel insurance, which could protect you if you encounter flight cancellations related to ongoing staffing shortages, border closures, or quarantine expenses as you travel.
"A lot of things are happening right now that may actually impact your trip, but if you have for example the COVID-19 insurance, you can be covered for the non-refundable portion of your trip," Kaywan said.
When it comes to what to look for in a travel insurance policy, Kaywan recommended actually reviewing the terms of your policy.
"It’s a big document, but that’s what has all the benefits, exclusions and limitations," he said, adding that those with questions or concerns should ask to speak to their licensed agent.
With Canada currently under a Level 3 advisory until Feb. 28, when the recommendation to avoid all non-essential international travel will be lifted, Kaywan suggests travellers also ask their insurance agent about whether the policy they’re purchasing will still cover them, as some policies may include or exclude claims under Level 3-4 advisories.
Older travellers, especially snowbirds who spend extended periods of time outside of Canada and people with health conditions should pay particular attention to terms of their policy to make sure they’re covered.
"For them, it’s very important that they have a policy that covers them for pre-existing conditions," Kaywan said.
Another consideration is to ensure that, while abroad, the excursions and experiences you had planned on are actually open and available. With COVID-19 restrictions in varying states of strictness and openness around the world, D’Amours said to make sure you research your destination and what it has to offer.
"I’m not someone who’s into nightlife at all, but if I was someone who likes to go to bars, I would make sure the bars aren’t closed where I’m going," D’Amours said. "Or for example, if you’re a big foodie, you want to make sure you can dine in at the restaurants where you’re going. Just make sure that what your preferences will be met where you’re going."
D’Amours also recommended researching where and how to get a COVID-19 test at your travel destination, as well as any associated costs, in order to be prepared for your trip back to Canada. For fully vaccinated travellers, that test can be a rapid antigen test as of Feb. 28, which is often less expensive and has a shorter wait for results than the PCR test previously required by the federal government. Unvaccinated travellers will still be required to undergo a molecular teston arrival into Canada and must quarantine for 14 days, and fully vaccinated travellers could still be randomly selected for additional testing.
And if anything should go wrong during your stay abroad, whether it’s a medical concern or a logistical one, Kaywan said to bring your insurance policy with you for information on what to do. Kaywan’s company also offers policy terms, as well as emergency information like your destination’s local hospitals, on an app you can download on your phone, and updated travel guidelines will be available on Canada’s ArriveCan appas of Feb. 28.
"I don’t want to understate it, but it’s really easier than it looks," D’Amours said. "It looks intimidating, it looks complicated, but things in many countries are almost back to normal in terms of tourism."
Travellers are photographed at Toronto Pearson International Airport, on Thursday, December 16, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Tijana Martin)
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