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Tips for the Snowbirds

Millions of Canadians escape the harsh, cold winters every year and travel south. Traditionally, those ‘snowbirds’ have clustered together in certain areas. Ontario residents prefer the west coast of Florida, Quebecois head to the Fort Lauderdale area, Saskatchewan residents go to Texas and Arizona, while BC residents head to California, Arizona and Mexico. Recently, more snowbirds are striking out on their own to choose winter homes based on more personal criteria, like Georgia for horse racing, farther south for sailing and so on. Wherever you choose to spend your winter months, it is important to use the old scout motto; ‘be prepared.’ Here are just a few tips to keep in mind while you are packing:

  1. How long can you be out of the country?

Believe it or not, this depends on your province. Most provinces require you stay in them for at least six months plus a day in a year to maintain your healthcare benefits. Ontario allows you to be out of province for seven months, and Newfoundland for eight months.

  1. How long can you be in the other country?

Depending on where you choose to spend your winters, the length of stay and requirements vary. For example, Canadians can apply for a 180 day tourist card to stay in Mexico. Should you choose the U.S. as you winter country of choice, do not need a visa for stays less than 180 days. However, you may be required to file a U.S. tax return if you spend too much time there. It is important to know the rules of your country of choice, and to know what will happen should you overstay in that country, as there are penalties ranging from certain fines to being restricted from re-entry.

  1. Choose the right travel health insurance plan.

First off, know the limits of your provincial health care plan. A good place to start is the Canadian Snowbird Association. They have evaluated each province’s program and how it meets the needs of our travelling Canadians. To meet your specific travel needs above and beyond your provincial care, speak to your McDougall insurance broker well before you leave. Whether you require Travel Medical, Major Medical or Emergency Medical Evacuation, your McDougall Insurance broker can help you get the best protection you need for where you are heading.

  1. Get your Finances in order.

To start, check the expiry date on all of your credit cards and debit cards. To keep your credit safe and flowing, it is a good idea to advise your Credit Card Company and bank of where you are going and for how long. Also check to expiry dates of your driver’s licence, house and vehicle insurance and your passports. For your convenience, you may want to set up on-line banking and pre-authorized payments for bills.

  1. Take care of your home.

One of the most important things to take care of before you leave is your Canadian home.  Everything from forwarding your mail, having someone do regular checks on the house, and ensuring regular maintenance is completed while you are away.  The maintenance includes snow removal, checking your lighting and your alarm systems too. Finally, just before you go, unplug all electrical appliances, clear the fridge of perishable foods and lower your heating.

Every insurance company has different requirements when you leave your house. For example, if you are away for more than four consecutive days, there is no coverage unless:

  • You have a competent person check your house every day, OR
  • You shut off the water supply and drain all the pipes and domestic water containers, OR
  • If your plumbing and heating system is connected to a monitored alarm station providing 24 hour service.

Now that you are prepared – we wish you well over the colder winter months. For those of us who stay behind, we envy you the warm weather you are heading into, and remind you to pack your swim suit and shorts. And if you have any questions before you go, please call us at 1-800-361-0941.

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