How to Get the Best Insurance for Snowbirds?

The term snowbird refers to travellers who flock to warmer, sometimes tropical climates, to escape the frigid winter months back home. These are often senior citizens or retirees.

Snowbirds living part-time outside of Canada can face serious out-of-pocket expenses for their medical care.

Did you know that the average cost for treatment for a heart attack in the United States is $21,500? And that the hospital stay is an average of 5.3 days? Some patients may end up paying upwards of $100,000 when surgery is involved. 

If you are growing tired of spending winter months in Canada's bone-chilling cold and would rather spend your days with your toes in the sand, this guide will break down what snowbird insurance is, why you need it and the best plans available on the market. 

What is snowbird travel insurance?

Snowbird travel insurance is single or multi-trip travel insurance that covers seniors spending the winter months away from home in a warmer climate. The insurance covers unforeseen medical complications and new medical conditions that develop. 

Many snowbirds from Canada travel to warm parts of the United States, like Arizona, Florida or New Mexico. Others decamp to places like Mexico or Costa Rica. While Canadians are well-covered by provincial insurance plans and supplemental private health plans while at home, that is not always the case while away at a sunny Caribbean beach. 

Not only are seniors more likely to need medical care while away, but the cost of medical care is also on the rise every year.

Pre-existing conditions and routine maintenance or preventive care are typically excluded from snowbird travel insurance plans, but there are exceptions. Some insurance companies will cover controlled and stable pre-existing conditions. 

Are you planning to get away this winter? Compare medical travel insurance prices now.

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What are the types of snowbird travel insurance?

Single-trip snowbird travel insurance covers you for a specified trip duration assuming you only stay in one place during that time. Do not worry if you end up staying at your destination longer, most plans allow you to extend the dates of your trip. 

There is also the option to have multi-trip snowbird insurance. If you plan to make multiple trips to multiple destinations, it may be cost-effective to purchase an annual multi-trip travel insurance plan. Keep in mind, you can take any number of trips. Note that coverage for each trip may be limited to 30 or 45 days, depending on the terms of the policy. 

What does travel insurance for snowbirds cover?

Travel medical insurance for snowbirds commonly covers the following medical expenses:

  • Medical treatments
  • Prescription medications
  • Paramedics and ambulance rides
  • Repatriation to Canada
  • Emergency dental care 

Since snowbirds are usually retirees, travel insurance is particularly important. Many of them go to warm parts of the United States, the country with the world's highest medical care costs. 

Snowbirds may be more at risk for a medical emergency while away due to the length of their trips and underlying health conditions. 

Watch out!

Snowbird insurance policies do not usually cover elective treatments. Those should happen before you leave or wait until you return to Canada.

How much does snowbird travel insurance cost?

Our team was quoted $527.70 for a standard plan for a 63-year old with no major illnesses or pre-existing conditions travelling outside of Canada for 62 days.

Like with many standard private health insurance plans, prices depend on age, policy maximums, insurer, location and the duration of coverage needed. 

Also keep in mind that if you are over the age of 59, a lot of companies will require you to complete a medical questionnaire. Remember to answer the questions truthfully. Omitting underlying health conditions may disqualify you from getting reimbursed for care while outside of Canada. This can leave you responsible for paying a hefty medical bill all on your own. 

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How is snowbird insurance different from medical travel insurance?

At a glance, snowbird insurance and medical travel insurance may seem like one and the same. The lines certainly blur. In fact, many providers do not use the term snowbird. Snowbird medical insurance can be thought of as an unofficial type of travel medical insurance catering specifically to seniors travelling for a long time.

There are a few important distinctions:

Snowbirds travel insurance:

  • For senior travellers
  • Intended for long-term travel duration
  • Better adapted to working within the US healthcare system
  • Some policies cover stable and controlled pre-existing conditions. 

Traditional medical travel insurance:

  • Designed for people of all ages
  • Travel duration is usually short-term (fewer than 30 days).
  • Pre-existing conditions, even acute, are usually not covered.

It is always important to have coverage when you travel outside of your home province. So carefully weigh your budget, medical needs and specific circumstances. 

Good to know

Want to learn more about travel medical insurance. See our travel insurance guide!

What are the top snowbird travel insurance companies?

You are ready to pack your flip-flops and golf clubs, and know you need snowbird insurance before you hop on your flight. Not sure which travel insurance provider to choose?

Popular private travel insurance providers in Canada include:

Compare travel insurance for snowbirds and get quotes here.

How long do I need to stay in Canada to keep my insurance?

Each province has different rules regarding how long you can spend out of your home and also keep your provincial health insurance. It is important to spent some time each year at home in order to maintain residency and access to provincial health plans. Provincial minimum residency requirements are as follows:

Province territoryMinimum days required per year
Alberta183 days
British Columbia6 months
Manitoba6 months
New Brunswick183 days
Newfoundland and Labrador4 months
Northwest Territories183 days
Nova Scotia183 days
NunavutNo requirement
Ontario153 days
Prince Edward Island6 months + 1 day
Quebec183 days
Saskatchewan6 months
Yukon6 months
Minimum days spent in home province to keep provincial insurance plan

Does snowbird insurance cover Covid-19?

Many insurance companies have started offering Covid-19 coverage, so it is entirely possible to get it covered with your snowbird travel insurance. It is important to note, however, that coverage varies greatly under these insurance policies. 

National restrictions, travel warnings and medical advice also change rapidly. Insurance company’s Covid-19 policies often change with them. For example, at the time this article was published, many companies were excluding Covid-19 coverage for travellers going to destinations under Level 3 or Level 4 travel advisories.  

Some companies are also offering a Covid-19 rider add-on that will cover costs associated with the virus. Other companies may exclude Covid-19 coverage depending on pre-existing conditions you may have. 

! If you have a trip coming up, we highly recommend reviewing the terms of your policy carefully. Stay up to date by calling your insurance company or broker before leaving. 

Top tips for saving on snowbird travel insurance:

There are some easy steps you can do to try to save money on your snowbird travel insurance. 

  • Inquire about discounts. For example, some companies offer a 5% discount if you have at least one shot of the Covid-19 vaccines while other companies offer companion discounts if you book your insurance with your partner. 
  • Make an appointment with your doctor, dentist and optometrist to make sure you are healthy, before heading south. Treatment back home is easier to access and less expensive than while away. They can help you be sure you are not suffering from any surprise pre-existing conditions that could be excluded from your travel insurance policy or increase your premium. 
  • Make sure your prescriptions are up to date and get them filled before leaving. 
  • Check your coverage amounts. It is a good idea to have a minimum of $100,000 in coverage. Medical care is expensive, but you may not require the $5 or $8 million coverage that some plans offer. Lower coverage amounts will bring down your premium significantly. 

Everyone wants to save a few bucks, but make sure you are properly insured. Medical expenses abroad can be expensive! Read the fine print and ask questions if you are unsure. It is important to get the right price and policy for you.

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4 comments
Asit mukherjee
on 2022-04-22

If i go to India for 5.5 months, from Toronto, Ontario, will I receive the OHIP Coverage while in India for emergency medical conditions and hospitalization?

James rodriguez James rodriguez
on 2022-04-22

Hi Asit,
When travelling abroad, your OHIP coverage is limited. Doctor services, emergency inpatient and outpatient services are covered up to a maximum. Other services such as ambulance services are not. You can find more information about Out of Country coverage on the Government of Ontario website.

Have a nice day,
The HelloSafe team

John
on 2022-03-30

if you have a pre-existing condition and travel to another province in Canada does OHIP cover medical costs in the event you need medical care for pre-existing condition

James rodriguez James rodriguez
on 2022-03-31

Hi John,
OHIP does not consider pre-existing conditions separately. As long as you have a valid OHIP card, every condition is covered, pre-existing or not.
When you travel outside of Ontario, your OHIP card allows to to be covered for physician services and every services provided in a public hospital. However, your coverage of ambulance services, prescription drugs, assistive devices or home-care services do not follow you outside of Ontario.
If you are away for more than seven months, you need to confirm you coverage before leaving by calling ServiceOntario to determine what you may need to do.

Have a nice day,
The HelloSafe team