There are only three "rules" about when you can buy insurance:
- The first one applies if you're looking to purchase a comprehensive policy to cover you for trip cancellation, and that is that you must have made a payment for the trip before you are eligible to buy insurance for it.
- The second one applies if you need coverage for pre-existing conditions or cancel for any reason, both of which mandate that you buy your insurance within 10-30 days of the initial trip payment.
- 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) but this cannot be purchased if you need medical attention at that time.
So having said that, when is the best time to buy insurance? With Pre-Existing or Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) coverage, it's easier, since you know that it has to be done in short order. Also, 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.