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Sunday, August 7th 2022

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Should the Canadian government's travel advisory be removed? Does it matter? (Update: It's coming back)

Government travel advisory

On March 13th, 2020, the Government of Canada issued a Global Travel Advisory advising Canadians to 'avoid non-essential travel' (aka leisure travel) outside of Canada until further notice.

Nearly 19 months later, that advisory is still in place. Does the advisory really mean anything? Well, the advisory has been in place the entire time, despite the fact that:

- Canadians can now travel, and have been travelling to, over 100 different countries for leisure travel purposes, provided they meet the entry requirements. All of those countries are currently assigned a blanket 'Level 3' advisory level by the Canadian government.

- The rest of the world can now travel to Canada for leisure travel purposes, provided they are fully vaccinated and meet the requirements for entry.

So really, what is the point of having the travel advisory at all? The reality is the advisory itself doesn't mean much of anything when it comes to a person's ability to travel for any purpose, but there are a few issues that usually get brought up when travellers discuss the travel advisory.

Does the advisory affect insurance coverage?

I've seen a certain percentage of Canadians who think that all insurance coverage suddenly becomes null and void while a travel advisory is in place or if the advisory level gets raised. No, this is not true.

However it is true that each insurance company can decide how travel advisories impact your coverage.

An individual policy can use language that excludes coverage if the Government of Canada has issued a Level 3 or Level 4 advisory.

But another insurance company can offer a policy that explicitly states the advisory, or the advisory level, does not matter at all, even if it's in place before you travel.

By and large the insurance companies that do consider the advisory level in their policies will continue to offer coverage if the advisory level changes (becomes worse) *after* you depart for your trip . If not, I would keep looking.

And as always, you need to dig into the details of your policy to see what it says about travel advisories.

What harm is there keeping the advisory in place?

It can have real world consequences for those trying to get insurance through certain providers that may disqualify them due to the advisory.

"If I travel during the advisory, the government won't be obligated to bring me home if something happens or changes!"

I mean, to be honest, I don't think the travel advisory levels would have any impact on the Canadian government's ability or obligation to bring you home.

What we saw in March of 2020, which was hopefully a once-in-a-lifetime event, unfolded like this:

March 13th: Government of Canada issues a Global Travel Advisory advising Canadians to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada

March 14th: Canada's Minister of Foreign affairs states that Canadians abroad are encouraged to come home now.

March 16th - 18th: Canada's airlines start to suspend many of their international flights.

During this time the Canadian government also stated that they "have no plans to repatriate people from other countries, and travelers should rely on whatever commercial flights they can find on their own to make their way home."

And these were all travellers who were travelling while travel advisory levels were 'normal'.

The Canadian government (in cooperation with Air Canada and WestJet) did eventually coordinate some 'repatriation flights' to bring Canadians home from various places around the globe, but it didn't really have anything to do with the travel advisory levels.

It was mainly just a matter of looking at the numbers of where the most Canadians were based that were trying to get home from places where commercial flights had stopped.

It didn't really matter if you were a traveller who departed before March 13th, or after, or what the advisory level was of the country you were in at the time.

Why the Canadian travel advisory website is useless

Take this with a grain of salt. I'm someone that's never been a fan of the Canadian government travel advisory page.

Prior to the pandemic, if you ever took a look at this page, you would notice that the vast majority of countries that any normal tourist would ever want to visit were assigned 'Level 2: Exercise a high degree of caution'. (In March 2020 those countries were all raised to 'Level 3: avoid non-essential travel').

I mean, just look at that label itself. 'Exercise a high degree of caution'. It already invokes fear about countries that are statistically extremely safe, even for less experienced travellers.

The problem is you'll often see Canadians actually using this page as a research tool to see if a country is safe to visit.

Believe me, this page can make just about *any* country in the world sound extremely dangerous. I'll sometimes look at the advisory page for a perfectly safe country I've recently visited and just shake my head about what a disservice this website must be doing for someone that was considering a trip to this country, but was probably scared off by visions of being a victim of violent crime or terrorism (I think there's about 4 countries where violent crime or risk of terrorism are *not* listed).

Yes, we should all be aware of what's going on in the country we're planning to visit, but you're much better off doing your own research. Ask someone who's been recently or actually lives there (usually the best). Read the Lonely Planet guide. Look into reputable news sources (hopefully ones without too much sensationalism).

But consider the info on the Canadian government advisory page to be akin to asking a dear old grandparent who's never stepped foot outside of Canada: "Is it safe for me to visit [country] ?"

The biggest problem with the advisory page at the moment is that every country just has a blanket Level 3 advisory, rather than truly differentiating the risk level for each country. But I guess that's not much different than the way it was before the pandemic, when virtually every country was assigned a blanket Level 2.

The U.S. Government is no better at this. They've been assigning Level 3: 'Reconsider Travel' or Level 4: 'Do Not Travel' to some of the safest countries in the world, usually for no logical reason (other than perhaps political or for lack of reciprocity).

Update October 21: Canada quietly lifts the blanket travel advisory

The CBC is reporting that Canada has quietly lifted their blanket travel advisory.

Update December 14: Canada will be bringing the advisory back

Because, you know, it's just good science. It accomplishes nothing, other than negatively affecting certain insurance policies. Let's be honest here, the government needs a scapegoat to make it appear as though they're doing something against the Omicron wave that's about to wash over Canada, and travel is the most appealing target.

I am seeing a lot different sentiment from travellers this December compared to last December though. Last year you could not find anyone who thought traveling was a good idea. Travellers aren't willing to be the scapegoat this year.

Common questions about the travel advisory being reinstated for December 2021

1. What's happening?

For 19 months between March 2020 and October 2021 the government had a travel advisory in place that recommended avoiding non-essential travel. It was removed on October 21st, and now as of December 15th it's being reinstated for 4 weeks.

2. What does it mean?

The one area the travel advisory has an affect on is travel insurance. Your insurance policy coverage may or may not depend on travel advisories. (See info in the article above)

3. Did anything else change for travellers either leaving or entering Canada? Is anything else affected? Entry policies? Test requirements?

No, this was the only change.

4. Will insurance companies offer insurance while the travel advisory is in place?

There were a fair number of insurance companies that offered insurance while the travel advisory was in place last time around. You can find a list of them here.

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