One of the most important concepts to understand, when you're thinking about whether or not you need to insure your travel plans, is how soon you need to buy your insurance policy after you begin planning your trip. Knowing the best time to buy can help you get access to the greatest number of options and the most complete coverage for your needs.

There are only three "rules" about when to buy travel insurance:

  1. If you're looking to purchase a comprehensive policy to cover you for trip cancellation, you must have already made a payment for the trip before you can buy insurance for it. You don't need to have paid for everything related to your trip, but you do need to have put some money down before buying a policy. It's important, also, to have a good grasp of what your total trip cost will be, so that you can get the most accurate quote and find the best coverage for you.
  2. If you need coverage for pre-existing conditions, or are interested in a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) policy, you should be aware that both of these options mandate that you buy your insurance within 10-30 days of the initial trip payment. In other words, once you've paid for anything -- whether it's airfare, accommodations, or a cruise booking -- you have less than a month to buy your policy, if you need either of these specialized benefits.
  3. Finally, the third 'rule' applies to medical emergency coverage, which you can technically purchase even after you've left on your trip (with most companies). However, you can't buy this product once you recognize a need for medical attention; you must have your policy already in place before an emergency happens. That rule actually applies to all travel insurance plans -- just as you can't buy homeowner's insurance when your house is on fire, you can't insure a trip if something has already happened to put your plans at risk.

So having said that, when is the best time to buy insurance? With Pre-Existing Conditions Waivers or Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) coverage, it's easier, since you know that it has to be done in short order. With a Single-Trip Medical policy, Evacuation policy or membership, or an Accidental Death plan, these can be done even at the last minute since the benefits they provide will only protect you while you're traveling. We don't advocate waiting until the last minute, of course, but there's no rush with those types of plans.

One exception is if you need the insurance to obtain a Visa to travel to Europe. If this is why you are purchasing medical insurance, it is never a good idea to wait until the day before your embassy appointment.

Comprehensive plans are different. Technically speaking you can purchase them up until the day before departure, but even if you don't need one of the time-sensitive benefits to be included in your policy it's still best to purchase coverage as soon as possible. Remember that only unforeseen events can be covered for cancellation, so it's going to be too late if you become sick or injured, or a family emergency arises before you can buy the insurance.

WHEN TO PURCHASE COVERAGE FOR CANADIAN CUSTOMERS

TIC, Travel Guard and RSA offer All-Inclusive packages that cover for medical emergency and evacuation as well as cancellation, delay, and baggage. They also offer Cancellation-Only plans. They will cover for a specified period of time, which must begin on the day you leave Canada and cover you until you return. What this means is once you have left Canada, you cannot purchase any of these policies. Also, you cannot just purchase coverage for a portion of the trip, you must fully insure it. If you do not, then the policy would be considered invalid and would not provide the protection you needed it for.