Are you planning on leaving the country for a little rest and relaxation down south for the winter? If so, you’re not alone; many retired Canadians flock to warmer abodes, leaving the snow and wintry weather behind.
However, newbie snowbirds will find it's more complex than just getting up and going. In fact, there are quite a few things you should do in preparation for your winter vacation. Here are some crucial questions you should ask yourself before taking flight.
Do I need a travel visa?
Surveys have shown that most Canadian snowbirds favour U.S. destinations during the winter -- particularly Florida and Arizona. But if you’re migrating south to the U.S. for for a few months, you need to consider the limitations on the length of your stay. Even if you own U.S. property, you can only stay there for six months without a travel visa. Or if you intend on staying further abroad, rules vary greatly from country to country, so be sure to check out visa requirements before setting your sights on a destination.
Is my car covered while I'm gone?
Okay, if you're flying out, you may also want to put a protective cover on your car to prevent it from dust or weather while you're gone. But if you plan on driving to your destination, it's also very important to check in with your car insurance provider before you leave.
Some insurance companies have rules about how long a vehicle can be outside of the country, and you may or may not be required to pay a supplemental premium for your trip to maintain your coverage. You'll also want to review your policy's liability limit to confirm if the coverage is sufficient.
According to the Canadian Snowbird Association (CSA), it's advised to up your coverage to a minimum of $2 million, since claims in the U.S. can can be costly. Also keep in mind that you'll want to take your car in for a tune up and ensure it's up to the cross-border journey.
Am I supposed to let my bank know that I'm leaving?
These days, banks and creditors are very careful about fraud. If you don’t tell your bank and/or credit card company that you’re out of country, expect to have your cards or accounts temporarily frozen if you attempt to access them. While you can usually rectify the situation with a call to customer service, some banks may require you to come into the branch in-person, which could mean a costly trip home.
How will I pay my bills when abroad?
It’s a good idea to set up automatic payments for utilities while you are away, or set up an online banking option. It isn’t a good idea to turn off your utilities completely; an unheated home runs the risk of floods due to freezing and cracked pipes. Also, you’ll want to leave the power on so that lights can be switched on and off using an automatic system. This will make it appear as if someone is, in fact, home when they actually are not.
How can I protect my home from burglary while I'm gone?
Burglars prey on homes that look unoccupied, so with a few preemptive measures, you can stall off thieves. Arrange to have your mail forwarded or collected by a friend or neighbour. Uncollected mail is a sure sign that no one is home, especially if it builds up over a long period of time. You may also want to ask that same friend or neighbour to shovel your driveway or mow your lawn every once in a while, or you can opt in to pay for a snow removal service. An unkept home is a sure sign that the owner has flown the coop.
Should I really ask someone to housesit?
Some home insurance companies require you to have someone check in on your home at regular intervals to maintain your coverage. Check in with your insurance provider to see what they expect you to do.
As well, it's important to leave a list of emergency contacts with friends and family on how to reach you, the Canadian consulate, and your health care practitioner are good bases to cover.
And going back to snow removal, asking a friend or neighbour or paying for a snow removal service will ensure your driveway, walkway, and sidewalk are clear of snow and ice. Home insurance claims for slips and falls may only be covered if you've taken the necessary precautions to avoid potential injury.
Is my licence expiring anytime soon?
Double check if your health card, driver’s licence, licence plate sticker and passport expire while you are away, and renew if necessary. Check the expiry dates on your credit cards too, as well as your auto insurance and home insurance policies.
What if my baggage is lost or stolen?
Bringing expensive items like jewellery or technology along for the ride? It's a good idea to take out additional coverage through your home insurance for your contents in case they're lost or stolen on your trip. The same goes for your baggage when flying down. Ensure your travel insurance includes coverage for things like lost/stolen baggage and flight delay insurance.
What if I get sick while I'm gone?
Depending on which province you live in, your eligibility for health care could be in jeopardy if you’re gone too long. You must reside within your home province for a minimum amount of time to qualify for coverage -- six months in most provinces. In Ontario, you can only be gone for a total of 212 days out of a 12-month period or risk losing your residency coverage.
Provincial health care plans also only cover the bare minimum when it comes to American health care and they may have daily spending caps that are far below what may be required (a hospital stay in the U.S. can cost thousands of dollars a day.) That is why buying additional travel insurance for a few dollars a day is so crucial, no matter the length of your stay.
Ensure that your policy term covers the entirety of your stay, and be sure to disclose any pre-existing medical conditions so you won't void your coverage. Moreover, travel medical insurance is for emergencies only -- you won't be covered for routine checkups when abroad -- and paying out of pocket will be costly. So before leaving, you should visit your family doctor, dentist and optometrist to make sure everything is okay. And while making your rounds, ask your medical professionals for a detailed list of your prescriptions, including eyeglass prescriptions, if you need them. This will save you a lot of time and hassle should something happen while you are away.
In terms of price, travel insurance premiums for snowbirds can differ wildly from one provider to the next by hundreds of dollars.