What do Snowbirds Need to Know About Travel Insurance?

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Every year as the weather turns cold, tens of thousands of retired Canadians head south to spend the winter in a more hospitable climate.

If you’re one of those Snowbirds, you know you need travel medical insurance. You know your provincial health insurance will be of little use if you get sick or injured while out of the country. You also know that emergency care outside of Canada can be very, very expensive.

Everybody knows that, right?

Apparently not! A recent industry poll indicates only half of Canadians over the age of 50 are checking their travel insurance policies before leaving the country. Shockingly, only 16% of Snowbirds contact their insurance provider to see if they need to update their coverage. That’s some pretty risky behavior!

If you’re one of the lucky ones leaving our cold Canadian winters behind, you need to know a few things about travel insurance.

Provincial Coverage Does Not Cover Vacation Expenses

Some people assume they will be entitled to some provincial coverage while travelling outside of the country. Policies vary by province, but any coverage you MAY be entitled to is only available under a very specific set of circumstances, and you might be surprised to learn how little help you can expect without travel medical insurance.

For example, if you are an Ontario resident, you MAY be reimbursed $50 for an emergency room visit while travelling out of the country. When you consider the average cost of an ER visit in the U.S. for something as simple as a sprain or an upper respiratory tract infection is over $1,000, that $50 reimbursement isn’t going to do you much good. If it’s something more serious, you are in for a shock.

You might think you’re in the clear if your home away from home is somewhere other than the U.S. Fair enough, there are countries with dramatically cheaper medical treatment options.

But what if you’re really sick and you want to be closer to your loved ones? Will you expect your family members to leave their homes and their jobs and their own families to be by your side, or will you make your way home instead? Did you know commercial airlines may deny you boarding if they think you’re too sick to travel? Did you also know that a medical transport starts at around $10,000?

Limits on Time Away from Canada

You might think that once you have ridden off into the sunset of a long career, you’re free to come and go from Canada as often as you wish. While it’s true that the total number of trips outside the country have no effect on your provincial insurance coverage, the total number of days spent outside the country does affect your eligibility.

While you may only spend the four coldest months of the year at your vacation home, it’s the total number of days outside of Canada that matters. Most provinces only allow 183 days away from home before you need to reapply for provincial health insurance benefits. So if you spend 120 days in a southern home in the winter, and then a month visiting family overseas, and then a couple of days shopping over the border, you could find yourself over the annual maximum.

Contrary to popular belief, these restrictions on the time allowed out of the country before affecting health coverage are not new policies. What is new, however, are the plans for the federal government to use border tracking measures to record the dates spent in and out of the country. This could affect your eligibility for provincial health benefits and your payments under the Old Age Security program.

In addition to calling your insurance broker, a call to your financial advisor is also in order!

Other Insurance Conditions

Health insurance is an obvious one, but other insurance-related issues can crop up if you’re planning to spend your winters elsewhere. Here are a couple of questions you might not have considered.

  • Home insurance: Rates and coverages are different for occupied properties than for vacant ones. Your annual trip outside of Canada may be long enough to have your principal residence classified as a vacant property.
  • Auto insurance: Taking your car with you over the border? A temporary change in residence can affect your rates and exclusions.

As you can see, it’s complicated. Getting away from the snow is fantastic, but you simply must contact your insurance providers before you go, and make sure your travel insurance is adequate. If you need help, our customer service agents are standing by, waiting to answer your call. You will never find yourself sitting in a hospital emergency room wishing you didn’t have all that travel insurance.


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