Apples to Apples: How Much Does Snowbird Travel Insurance Cost?

This is one of the most frequent questions we hear from younger snowbirds planning their winter vacation. We say “younger” snowbirds because older ones know better. They know that cost depends on age, health status, length of the trip, and, to some extent, destination.

Travel insurance does not come in a “one size fits all” package. Example: A healthy 55-year-old travelling out of the country for two months might pay less than $2 a day. An 86-year-old in normal health (for an 86-year-old) travelling for 180 days might pay $25 a day—or more. Where do you fit into that spectrum?

There really is no way to get a definitive answer until you find the plan options you want and complete the application and medical questionnaire. If you are a super healthy snowbird, in your early or mid-50s, take no medications, have no medical conditions requiring monitoring or treatment, see your doctor only once a year for a routine checkup, and require no coverage for any pre-existing conditions, your application will be a breeze, and you will get the cheapest rate. Take a deductible (from $99 to $5,000 and up), and you can reduce that further. But in applying for this super healthy option, think twice. Many look only at the price and think they can “squeeze” themselves in—even though they take one or two medications for high blood pressure or cholesterol, or because their doctor tells them they are doing fine, or due to the fact that they feel great.

Squeezing yourself into a price category because its meets your budget, regardless of your health status, can be a disastrous way to buy travel insurance. If you go away and have no claim to make, you’ll be fine. But stay even a few hours in a foreign emergency room—where you are not covered by your provincial health plan—and you’ll see how costly that “squeezing in” exercise can be. It will likely be in the thousands of dollars. Even if all you suffered was indigestion (and not a heart attack). Once you submit your claim, your insurer will be obligated to look at all of your medical records from your home physician. And if that shows that you were, in fact, taking medication, or were treated for a pre-existing condition a couple of years ago, or had symptoms suggestive of a medical condition, it may well be you, and not the insurer, who will have to pay the hospital bill. Will that be worth the initial savings of 50 cents a day?

I often see snowbirds chatting to each other, comparing the prices they paid for of their out-of-country travel insurance, oblivious of the content or conditions of their respective plans. That’s as senseless as equating the purchase of a Toyota Corolla to a Bentley.

Besides your health status, prices depend on other factors such as:

  • Length of trip: The longer your trip, the more you will pay per day. (It’s like a golfer taking out insurance against being hit by lightning while on the course. If you play golf every day, your chances are greater than if you only play three times a year.)
  • Age: A 90-year-old is statistically more likely to encounter a medical emergency than a 50-year-old. (Premiums will reflect that.)
  • Destination: Many Canadian insurers offer lower rates for non-US travel. (American hospitals are among the most expensive in the world.)
  • Deductibles: If you are prepared to pay a certain portion of your medical bills, you can reduce your premiums. (These savings can be substantial.)

Shopping around is important. There are considerable price differentials offered by brokers, associations, affinity plans, motor leagues, groups, and the many insurers who administer and underwrite plans in this very competitive marketplace.

But first: Find the plans that meet your medical, age, trip length, and deductible needs. Then compare prices—apples to apples.

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