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9 questions to ask yourself if you’re a newbie snowbird

Aug. 17, 2022
6 mins
An older couple smiles and wears sunglasses as they get ready to ride their bikes

Are you planning to leave the country for a little rest and relaxation this winter? If so, you’re not alone; many retired Canadians flock to warmer abodes, leaving the snow and frigid temperatures behind.

Snowbirds may have to wait longer than usual before they depart, though. Due to a sharp increase in post-lockdown travellers, airport and airline staff shortages, and the continuation of health screening measures, Toronto Pearson advises departing passengers to expect delays for all upcoming trips.

According to the Canadian Snowbird Association (CSA), 70% of Canadian snowbirds drive to the U.S. each year. However, newbie snowbirds will find heading south more complex than simply 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 or getting behind the wheel.

Do I need a travel visa?

Many Canadian snowbirds favour U.S. destinations during the winter — particularly Florida and Arizona. But if you’re migrating to the U.S. 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 without a travel visa for six months. 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?

If you’re flying abroad, you may want to put a protective cover on your car to shield it from inclement weather while you’re gone. But if you plan on driving to your destination, it’s also 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 coverage to confirm the limit is sufficient.

According to the CSA, it’s advised to up your liability coverage to a minimum of $2 million since claims in the U.S. can be costly. Also, keep in mind that you’ll want to take your car in for a tune-up to ensure it’s up for the cross-border journey.

Should I let my bank know that I’m leaving?

These days, banks and creditors are incredibly careful about fraud. If you don’t tell your bank and credit card company that you’re out of the 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 an expensive trip home.

How will I pay my bills while abroad?

It’s a good idea to set up automatic payments for utilities while away or use 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. Doing so will make it appear as if someone is, in fact, home when they are not.

How can I protect my home from burglary while I’m gone?

Burglars prey on homes that look unoccupied, but with a few preemptive measures, you can deter 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 an extended period.

An unkept home is a sure sign that the owner isn’t home. So, you may also want to ask that same friend or neighbour to shovel your driveway or mow your lawn occasionally, or you can pay for a snow removal service. This 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.

Should I ask someone to house sit?

Some home insurance companies require you to have someone check in on your home at regular intervals while you’re away to maintain your coverage. Check with your insurance provider to see what they expect you to do.

It’s also 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.

Is my licence expiring anytime soon?

Double-check if your health card, driver’s licence, licence plate sticker, and passport expire while you plan to be away, and renew if necessary. Additionally, you’ll want to ensure your credit cards, auto insurance, and home insurance policies are up to date, too.

What if my baggage is lost or stolen?

Are you bringing expensive items like jewelry 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. Ensure your snowbird travel insurance includes coverage for things like lost/stolen baggage and flight delays.

What if I get sick while I’m away?

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 of six months to qualify for coverage in most provinces. In Ontario, you can only be gone for a total of 212 days out of a 12-month period or you risk losing your residency coverage.

Provincial health care plans also only cover the bare minimum for 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 duration of your trip.

Ensure that your policy term covers the entirety of your stay and be sure to disclose any pre-existing medical conditions so you don’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 eyewear, if you need them. It 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 from one provider to the next. Compare quotes to find the lowest price for the coverage you need.

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The RATESDOTCA editorial team are experienced writers focused on sharing stories and bringing you the latest news in insurance and personal finance. Our goal is to provide Canadians with the information and resources they need to make better insurance and financial decisions.

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