With the majority of British Columbians fully vaccinated, and more of the world opening to Canadian visitors, we’re starting to get comfortable with the idea of travelling again. According to a recent BCAA survey, 58 per cent of British Columbians feel ready to travel either this year or next.Jungles and waterfalls are back within reach: Costa Rica welcomes visitors who fill out a health form pre-trip, providing proof of vaccination or travel insurance that covers COVID-19.
Where Canadians can travel now
What to expect depends on where you’re headed. As winter approaches, Canadians typically set their sights on warm weather destinations. Many of those spots are now open to us again, along with more than 100 countries worldwide. This includes Mexico – the most popular sun destination flown out of Vancouver International Airport – plus Cuba, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and many more. As of November 2021, fully vaccinated Canadian travellers can cross the US border by land. Arrival by air is also permitted, with proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure.
Whether it’s safe to travel in general is a personal question. No destination is risk-free, so travellers will have to decide for themselves, says Agnes Gulbinowicz, Manager of Travel Insurance Product for BCAA. Before you go anywhere, check and follow the advice at: travel.gc.ca. “Depending on where you’re going, different requirements and restrictions may be in place – something to keep in mind as you plan,” she adds.
Vaccination is your most important travel prep step and best line of defence against COVID-19, abroad and at home.
Essential prep and planning
Begin by ensuring that all eligible members of your travel party are fully vaccinated, at least two weeks before departure. With new, highly contagious COVID-19 variants emerging around the world, this is the best way to prepare and protect yourself abroad.
Once you’ve picked your destination, allow extra time for research and planning, says Gulbinowicz. On top of entry requirements, read up on rules within your destination. For instance, are masks required in public spaces, like shops, subways, taxis and theatres? Along with your normal travel documents, such as current passports and visas, you’ll need to pack proof of vaccination for most places. Some countries have vaccine passport programs similar to BC’s Vaccine Card system, so keep your document on hand and ready to produce in museums, restaurants and wherever requested.A masked tourist snaps photos in pandemic-era Italy. Canadian travellers are now free to visit Italy, as long as they fill out a Passenger Locator Form, take a COVID-19 test 72 hours prior to arrival and provide proof of vaccination.
During your trip
At airports, patience is a must. You can expect longer lines due to additional security and safety checks. Departure and arrival delays are common, too, so get there as early as possible. Masks are mandatory in lounges, concourses and other communal spaces. As you board, gate agents may take your temperature, and you’ll notice flight attendants checking in regularly to make sure masks stay on, except during meals.
Sensible safety precautions apply as much during your trip as they do back home: wash your hands frequently and wear a mask in all crowded spaces, even when it’s not required by law. When possible, stick to outdoor dining and activities in your destination to lower your risk.
You should also self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms before and during your travel, and isolate if you experience symptoms, even mild ones. And what if you catch COVID-19 while travelling? In most places, you would be forced to quarantine locally at your expense for 10 days to two weeks (or until you needed medical attention). “If a traveller is showing symptoms, we encourage them to call us and get an assessment right away,” says Gulbinowicz.
Travellers returning to Canada must take a PCR test and share info using the ArriveCAN app.
Travel insurance in the age of COVID
If travel insurance was a smart choice before COVID-19 – to cover unexpected delays and out-of-country medical issues – it’s even more essential now. Finding a provider that offers COVID-19-specific coverage is key.
BCAA Travel Insurance now includes COVID-19 medical coverage at no additional cost, says Gulbinowicz. Travellers who are fully vaccinated with a Health Canada-approved vaccine at least 14 days prior to departure can receive up to $10 million for COVID-19-related medical expenses outside of Canada. Those who have a first dose 14 days before departure can get up to $1 million in coverage. Meanwhile, a new BCAA Virtual Care program allows customers to speak to a doctor by phone or video, from anywhere in the world, by dialling the BCAA claims assistance centre. A team member guides the caller through a remote assessment, and assists with accessing the service.
“It allows you to potentially skip having to go to an ER or clinic in person while travelling abroad. You can avoid unnecessary in-person interactions that may put you in harm’s way,” says Gulbinowicz. The team then works closely with medical personnel to understand your situation, direct you to local medical resources and, where possible, set up direct payments for medical costs if needed.
Wherever your travels take you, one thing is certain: the comfort of knowing someone is watching out for you back at home makes it easier to go with confidence.
Planning a trip? With BCAA Travel Insurance, you get FREE COVID-19 medical coverage and worldwide virtual care. Plus, Members save 10%.
Photo credits: iStock, Shutterstock, Getty Images - Ergin Yalcin, Getty Images - Marco Bottingelli