It’s the dead of winter, and as Canadians hunker down from coast to coast, there’s one lucky group of them that have their mittens holstered and toques in storage: the snowbirds. Every year, thousands of Canadians make their way to warmer climates, often spending the bulk of their winter salting margarita rims instead of sidewalks. If you’ve ever thought about migrating for an extended stay somewhere balmy for the winter (and who among us hasn’t?), here are a handful of travel options and manageable risks you should consider before taking flight.
1. The USA and Mexico aren’t the only places to go
If your getaway prioritizes sunshine above all else, there’s no denying the appeal of our neighbour to the south (and its respective neighbour). The perennially-popular destinations of the American sunbelt and Mexico (where Canadians make up a third of all foreign retirees) offer ample options for those who enjoy golf, beaches, and above 0°C weather. But they aren’t your only options when it comes to snowbird destinations, especially if you’re feeling adventurous.
For those who crave a taste of Europe, Spain offers a mild climate year-round – you can even visit the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains for some skiing, if you need a reminder of what you’re escaping back home. Those looking for a family destination should consider Costa Rica, while others after a little more adult-oriented excitement can always visit the casinos of Panama City. Both of these destinations are best enjoyed in the first four months of the year, as rainy, muggy weather tends to set in over the summer. Wherever you choose, make sure you know what weather to expect, and pack accordingly.
2. RVs are more popular than ever
Suppose you didn’t have to limit yourself to just one destination? Though the size and investment of an RV can be intimidating, they make for an ideal winter vacation for snowbirds who love the open road. Far from being an oversized tent on wheels, modern RVs are increasingly equipped with the kinds of convenience technology you’d expect at any resort, including integrated WiFi and Bluetooth.
This combination of freedom and luxury is perhaps why RV sales have soared in the last decade, and why popular RVing destinations are scrambling to keep up with the influx of highway snowbirds. As many as 3,000 new RV sites are anticipated to open in Florida alone over the next 2 years. Those concerned about paying for gas may be in luck soon, as a number of all-electric motorhomes have been announced by major producers like Winnebago…though they haven’t made it to market just yet.
3. The length of your stay has a limit
No one ever wants to come home from vacation, but even if you have the time and resources to stay in your sunny holiday home all year, chances are, you won’t be able to. Even if your Canadian passport is still valid, that doesn’t mean a country will let you stay there as a visitor indefinitely.
Take the US, for example. Canadians can stay for a maximum of 6 months (182 days) in the US per calendar year. Such limits are also enforced for tourists visiting Mexico (180 day), Panama (180 days), and Costa Rica (90 days). Your visa requirements can also be impacted by the specific region you are in; Schengen region countries of Europe (including Spain) require visas, should you cumulatively spend more than 90 days of any 180-day period in a Schengen country. Be sure to use the government of Canada’s website to confirm your visa requirements and stay limits before travelling.
4. Provincial healthcare doesn’t cover everything – and it expires
It’s not just the rules of your vacation country you need to be mindful of if you take an extended trip away from home. If you spend too much time outside of Canada, you can lose your provincial health care coverage. The risk is largely determined by the length of time you’re away from Canada, and which province you call home; Ontario recently discontinued its Out of Country coverage for residents, a matter that the Canadian Snowbird Association is pursuing legal action over.
But more concerning than the loss of provincial OOC coverage is assuming that provincial coverage is all you need to have when travelling abroad. The average one-night hospital stay in the U.S. costs over $16,000 USD, an amount that no Provincial Health Care plan comes close to covering. A comprehensive travel insurance policy that covers you for medical emergencies abroad (especially in the US) is a must for any Canadian snowbird.
5. Travel insurance is available if you have a pre-existing condition
One of the common misconceptions aspiring snowbirds (and travellers in general) have is that no travel insurance coverage is available for those who have a pre-existing medical condition. False! While every insurer has different rules when it comes to pre-existing conditions, TuGo’s snowbird travel insurance is a prime example of a policy that can cover outbound Canadians who have a pre-existing medical condition.
A short medical questionnaire will determine what the premium for your coverage would be, and consulting with your medical professional will help ensure that the information you provide your insurer is accurate. For the small amount of legwork it requires, a travel insurance policy that covers you outside of Canada is one item no snowbird should fly south without.
Knowing what you know now, the life of a snowbird is closer than ever. If you do decide to follow the sunshine this winter, be sure to let us know in the comments below where your ‘snowbirding’ takes you!