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Insurance Advice for Snowbird Clients

(From the October 2020 Edition of eFORUM)

By Michael Camacho and Stephen Fine

For many Canadians, and in particular snowbirds, Boomers, and seniors, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a great deal of uncertainty with respect to upcoming travel plans and travel emergency medical insurance coverage. It is still unclear when travel restrictions will be lifted and Canadians will feel safe to travel again.

By early October, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases exceeded 700,000 in Florida, 220,000 in Arizona, and 815,000 in California. As a result, many Canadian snowbirds have accepted that they may not travel south for the winter or that they may only go for a few weeks near the end of the season as opposed to four to six months.

While some countries are partially opening their borders, the Government of Canada has issued a Level 3 travel advisory, advising against non-essential travel outside of Canada, and a Level 4 travel advisory, advising against all cruise ship travel outside of Canada.

No doubt, while many of your clients are hopeful that travel will resume in time for the upcoming snowbird travel season, it is quite possible that these restrictions will continue well into 2021. The Canada-U.S. land border has been closed since mid-March to non-essential travel. As it stands now, the border will remain closed until November 21, with the likelihood that the closure will be extended beyond this date, and possibly into the New Year.

But the U.S. Customs and Border Protection travel restrictions apply only to Canadians trying to enter the U.S. via land border crossings. Travel by plane is currently still permitted. However, flight availability from Canada is still limited at this time and available flights may be cancelled at any time due to insufficient demand.

For many snowbirds, this could be their first Canadian winter in many years.

And for Canadian clients who do choose to travel abroad in the coming months, advise them to keep a few things in mind:

  • They may have difficulty obtaining essential products and services, including access to local medical care, regardless of whether their medical emergency is related to COVID or not;

  • They may suddenly face strict movement restrictions and quarantines at designated facilities;

 

  • They may find that their return flight to Canada has been cancelled and they may need to incur additional expenses (airfare, accommodations etc.) to remain at their destination;

  • Their travel medical insurance may not cover their travel or medical expenses related to COVID as long as the Canadian Travel Advisory remains in effect (depending on their insurance provider).

COVID-19 Travel Insurance Coverage Options

The Government of Canada issues four levels of travel advisories for travel destinations outside Canada, with Level 1 being the lowest risk and Level 4 being the highest risk. Currently, all countries are at least at Level 3.

Until recently, travel insurance providers would not cover COVID-19 if there was a Level 3 or Level 4 travel advisory issued for a destination, and as the severity of the pandemic became apparent, some providers even suspended coverage for non-COVID related medical treatment.

However, a handful of providers have recently introduced varying types of coverage for COVID-19 — regardless of travel advisory levels — with more expected to offer COVID coverage soon.

While COVID-19 coverage is a welcome development for those intent on travelling this year, the coverage being offered varies greatly among providers. Accordingly, they should ensure that they carefully review and understand any coverage terms, limits, exclusions, or conflicting language in their policies that might limit or nullify their coverage for COVID-19.

Those who don’t plan on travelling until the end of this year or the beginning of next year may even want to consider waiting to see other available options in the future.

The decision to travel has taken on much more significance given the current pandemic. The ultimate decision to travel remains a personal one. Your clients need to understand the risks associated with travelling abroad, regardless of whether travel insurance is available to them.

Michael Camacho, MBA, CFP, CLU, CHFC, CHS, FLMI, and Stephen Fine, LL.B, are the co-founders of Snowbird Advisor Insurance Inc., www.SnowbirdAdvisorInsurance.ca, a travel insurance brokerage that specializes in assisting Canadians snowbirds, Boomers, and seniors with their unique travel insurance needs.

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