Travel Health Insurance: Don’t Leave Home Without It

Before you leave home for any trip, whether it’s a short hop across the border or the trip of a lifetime, it’s important to take two things along with you; your passport and your travel insurance. Your passport must be current and your travel insurance should pay for your care upfront. We found out that if you don’t have the right kind of travel insurance, you will be out of pocket for a lot of money for at least six months. This is what happened to us.

We are regular visitors to a small town to the north of Puerto Vallarta called Rincón de Guayabitos and we have never had any problems. But last year there was an outbreak of Dengue Fever in the region and when I came down with similar symptoms, the doctor, who was already treating three Canadians with the illness, initially thought I had contracted Dengue Fever as well.

However after I had been on IV antibiotics for a few hours in the doctor’s clinic, I began to feel better and the doctor felt he could rule out Dengue Fever but he wanted me to remain overnight for observation just in case. If I continued to improve, in the morning I could go back to our hotel and resume our vacation. But later in the day, I was struggling to breathe and having chest pains. The good doctor feared a heart attack was imminent and he wanted to send me to an American type hospital in Puerto Vallarta. He asked if we had travel insurance and my husband said yes so he called for an ambulance and prepared me for the trip.

Much of the ambulance ride was a blur but I do remember thinking, ‘thank God we have travel insurance’. By the time we arrived at the Hospital it was almost midnight. While I was being stabilized, Topher, my husband. was in the hospital’s finance department making payment arrangements. It came as a shock to learn that our insurance carrier was not one in which the hospital had a partnership agreement. A stressful situation was becoming even more so. “Who can you call and where can you get money right now Señor?” asked the Financial Manager. We would need to pay for my care upfront and seek reimbursement once we returned to Canada. Because it was 1:00 a.m., Topher explained that we did have money and he would make payment arrangements in the morning.

Amerimed Hospital in Puerto Vallarta is very upscale and our room resembled a suite in a five star hotel, and the care I received was extraordinary. Early the next morning, test results came back that ruled out Dengue Fever but because of the cardiac issue, a stress test to rule out any cardiac damage was ordered. Providentially, that test came back normal as well. It was concluded that I had an infection that had gotten out of control, but now my condition was much improved and I could be discharged.

Before we could leave, however, we needed to settle our bill which turned out to be almost $10,000. This was truly American style medicine and the five page itemized invoice in Spanish included every test, every drug, every nurse visit to my room and everything else in between. The armed security guards at the front of the hospital indicated that no one left without paying for their stay. We contacted our bank and money from our credit line was transferred onto our credit card and we paid up.

Mexicana Lilianna Fuller

We returned to Canada and I began the process to recover the funds. This proved to be a real eye opener. In hindsight, before we purchased extra travel insurance from a third party, we should have looked into the benefit package that covers retired federal employees. Included in that package is a $500,000 travel insurance policy of which we were unaware. Another mistake we made was that we didn’t read the fine print on our additional policy. In the case of trips under 40 days, the only thing this company was required to do was transfer our phone call to our extended medical carrier who in turn sent our claim over to yet another company that processes these types of claims.

Fortunately I have a clerical background because it took numerous phone calls, a tremendous amount of follow up and six months before we finally recovered our money. It was an exercise that proved the necessity to completely examine any travel insurance policy. I learned that our primary insurer uses a company in which Amerimed Hospital has a partnership agreement. I would have been completely covered. By purchasing additional coverage from a third party, it circumvented our original policy and we had to pay upfront. We have since cancelled our third party coverage but for non-federal retirees it could still be a viable option.

But hospitals around the world have different policies, so it’s a good idea to have your travel agent check in advance for insurance requirements in the location you wish to visit. For example Amerimed Hospital has four locations in Mexico: Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, Cancun and San Jose del Cabo. Their website lists the insurance companies with which they have a partnership agreement and the list includes: RBC, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Allianz Global Assistance and CanAssistance.

To find out how these partnership agreements work, I contacted Allianz Global Assistance and this is what they told me. “Frequently when traveling overseas, healthcare providers will require patients to pay first, then they can file a claim with their health insurance company when they get home. With Allianz travel insurance, we provide a payment guarantee to a healthcare provider so that travelers do not have to pay for their care out of their pocket,” said Daniel Durazo, Director of Communications. Each company listed have similar policies regarding coverage.

Our experience showed not only the need to have travel insurance but also to have the right kind of travel insurance. For most people, the last thing they want to think about before heading out the door is what could go wrong. That could be why, according to a survey by the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada, that 35% of Canadian travelers don’t buy health insurance

Insurance companies require that if you have a pre-existing condition, it must be under control for at least three months before you can even purchase travel insurance, and if you have a pre-existing condition and you fail to disclose it, your coverage could be null and void.

Different insurance companies have different policies and practices, so it’s a good idea to shop around. Compare pricing and make sure you speak to a representative to ensure that you will be covered in advance. Prices do vary and the lowest price is not necessarily the best factor to consider.

Traveling is a wonderful experience and we decided not to let what happened to us keep us from visiting Mexico. And this year, we know that we have a travel insurance policy that if necessary, will pay our medical bills upfront.

View two Travel Health Insurance options in our Business Directory:

by Lilianne Fuller
Lilianne is from Langley, BC and visits the Jaltemba Bay area for 5 weeks every year.

This story was submitted by one of our readers. If you want to join in and share information, stories and photos of Jaltemba Bay, Mexico, please email them to

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5 Reviews on “Travel Health Insurance: Don’t Leave Home Without It”

  1. :

    I had a heart attack in Mazatlan Mex, I had no insurance and went to sharps hospital for angioplasty and stent in a blocked artery.The care was fantastic and the doctors were Bi lingual.It cost me around $13000 and couldn't leave the hospital until I paid in full.

  2. :

    Just out of curiousity, what if you didn't have insurance and went to the hospital in PV that people go to that don't have insurance not the American Hospital? Has anyone been there and how much was that experience and was the care equal? Thanks for any information on that...

    1. :

      I had the experience of using a Mexican hospital that my health insurance would not cover . The hospital was San Javier Hospital . It was amazingly clean and the staff was wonderful . The doctors are top of the class . It was a very positive experience in every way . I had a scope done on my knee and must say the surgery was good and the healing was extremely fast . The Doctors are very responsive to your financial situation without insurance . My insurance would not cover me as they felt I could get it done at home . We were in Mexico for another two months and were driving back to Canada . My knee was very swelled and aching . I decided to go ahead without backing from the insurance company . I did not regret the move .

      1. :

        Thank-you for your input,would you say your surgery was less expensive than going to the American/Mexican hospital ?

    2. :

      I wouldn't want to try! Unless you have a lot of money!

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