Snowbird Protection Checklist

Home, travel and auto insurance should never be considered as “get it and forget it” products. This is especially true for snowbirds. Along with changing protection needs, there could be limitations in place, or conditions that must be adhered to for coverage to be valid.

Take time to confirm your insurance requirements, the terms and conditions of your policies, and your responsibilities. It can be a costly mistake to assume you’re covered. If you have questions, check with your insurance provider before you leave for vacation!

Back to the Travel Insurance Page

Documentation

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  • Along with your passport, travel documents, medication and eyeglass prescriptions, and insurance policies, be sure to have proof of Canadian residency. For example, carry a utility or cable bill with your current address with you when you enter the United States. It shows the IRS that, “you maintain a tax home in a foreign country during the year, and you have a closer connection to that country than to the United States.”
BE AWARE
  • Resident aliens can be taxed on their worldwide income by the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It’s wise to ask your accountant whether you are considered a non resident alien or resident alien.

Home Insurance

BE AWARE
  • Coverage for damage caused by frozen pipes has conditions if your home is unoccupied.
  • Some policies require your home to be inspected DAILY if you’re away more than four days in the regular heating season.

Travel Insurance

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  • Do notify your insurer if your health changes between the time you buy your insurance and its effective date or you risk invalidating your coverage.
DON’T
  • Don’t buy your travel insurance at the last minute. You need to understand your policy’s benefits, limitations and exclusions. Most claim denials are the result of customers not understanding what they’ve purchased, not reading their policy to learn exactly what is and isn’t covered, and not understanding their own obligations.
BE AWARE
  • Be aware of your policy’s time restrictions for out-of-province coverage. If you decide to stay a few more weeks, can your policy be extended after you’ve left home? This is a question to ask before you leave!
  • You must meet “physical presence” requirements in order to maintain provincial health insurance coverage. IE: while Ontario residents can obtain out-of-province travel insurance coverage for up to 212 days in any 12 month period, you must be in Ontario for at least 153 days in any 12 month period. If in-province requirements are not met, you may be ineligible for provincial health insurance. For the “physical presence” requirements across Canada, check with your insurance provider or click here for links to the provincial and territorial health insurance plan websites.

Auto Insurance

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  • Consider increasing your liability limit on your auto insurance. Claims in the U.S can be expensive.
BE AWARE
  • You’re renting a car, and you decline the rental company’s collision damage waiver because your credit card provides insurance. But are you covered for “Loss of Use”? If not, and it takes three weeks to repair a damaged car, you could be forced to pay a three week rental, while the car was not in use.
  • A vehicle registered and insured in Canada, but left in the U.S. on a permanent basis may require separate coverage from an American insurance company. It’s best to check with your insurance provider.
  • Depending on how much time you spend living in your RV in the United States, it may be considered a home as well as a vehicle, and therefore in need of special coverage. Check with your insurance provider.

Travelling With Your Dog or Cat

The rules for bringing pet dogs and cats across the Canada / U.S. border are pretty straightforward, but there are differences between the two countries – and even different U.S. States. Before leaving home, it’s a good idea to research the regulations for the border crossing you intend to use, and the state in which you will be staying.

Pet Health

A border official’s primary focus is on the health of the animal. If the animal looks sick, dangerous, or of an illegal breed, officials can refuse entry or have you pay for a veterinarian inspection. In extreme cases, they can have your animal put down. Make sure that your pet always looks clean and healthy. It is recommended you bring a health certificate from your veterinarian detailing all the shots the animal has had.

While Canadian and U.S. regulations are similar, just because your pet was allowed across the border in one direction does not mean you are guaranteed to get it back through with similar ease. Your pet must always appear healthy and satisfy regulations of both countries. You can in fact be blocked from bringing your pet back home.

Identification

If you lose your pet while travelling, you could have difficulty trying to claim it without permanent identification. At a minimum, the animal should have collar tags with the pets name, your name, and your phone number. The safest approach is to pair an external tag with a permanent microchip ID. The microchip number should be included on the collar tag. When you do this your pet will have two solid layers of protection to get them home.

Dogs and Cats

For a dog or cat 12 weeks or older, you must have a signed health certificate from a licensed veterinarian, clearly describing the animal and declaring that it is healthy and currently vaccinated against rabies. The animal description should contain a clear, detailed description of the pet including their colour, breed, gender, age and specific markings.

To enter the U.S., the rabies shot must have been given at least a full month before your trip, and the certificate should include the expiration date of the shot. If the date is not included, the shot must be refreshed every 36 months for Canada, every year for the United States. Canada does not require the 30 day lead time – the shot qualifies from the moment it is given. Also:

  • Collar tags are not sufficient proof of immunization.
  • The certificate should list the brand of rabies vaccine, the vaccine lot number, and the expiration date of the vaccine.
  • Be sure the vaccination does not expire while travelling in either country.
  • The certificate must list you as the owner of the pet. You should call the border agencies for more information if your pet is being transported by someone else.
  • Animals younger than three months are not required to have been vaccinated, although it is possible an agent could require the animal be quarantined until it is able to get its vaccination.
  • You are not permitted to cross the border with more than two animals too young for their rabies shots. This is considered commercial transportation which is governed by a different set of laws.
  • These rules can change so it is always a good idea to call the Canada Border Services Agency to confirm your situation.

Make sure you confirm you have the proper documentation early enough to get another copy if you cannot find your vaccine certificate. You may need to call the clinic that did the vaccination and request a new copy. Certificates with rabies vaccine documentation must be signed by the doctor that provided the vaccine so it can easily take more than 48 hours to get a replacement copy.

Bringing Your Pet Food Across the Border

It can be tricky to get pet food across the border, especially those that say they contain “by-products.”

  • To bring food across the border it must always be in its original packages – do not carry it in plastic containers. Any pet food in non-labeled packages may be confiscated.
  • The label should show where it was produced.
  • The ingredient list should be clearly displayed.
  • As of this writing, products containing sheep, lamb, or goat will not be allowed into the U.S.
  • Your best bet for getting food into the U.S. is to have unopened bags that state the food was made in the U.S.
  • When entering Canada, you may bring no more than 20 kg, it must be of U.S. or Canadian origin, and the pet that will eat the imported product must be with you.
Bringing a Service Dog Across the Border

This is one area in which Canadian and American laws differ. Service dogs are allowed into Canada without rabies shots so long as you are the person assigned to the dog. However, service dogs brought into the U.S. must meet the same requirements as any other pet dog.

Securing Your Home When Travelling

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  • Install deadbolt locks on all doors and remember to lock them before you leave. Lock all windows, along with doors on garages and storage sheds. Also, remove all “hidden” keys. If you can locate an extra house key hidden behind a loose brick, under a rock, or behind a shutter, so can an intruder.
  • Cancel your newspaper delivery and/or mail before you leave. If you’re only going for a few days, have someone pick up your mail on a daily basis. Ask someone to collect any free papers or sales materials left near your house. And finally, have somebody take your trash to the street on garbage day, or have your neighbour place one of their bags and/or bluebox on your usual pick up spot, so their absence doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb.
  • Remove family names from residential exteriors. By eliminating names from mail boxes and ornamental signs etc. you make it more difficult for a thief to locate your phone number, and call your home see if anyone answers.
  • Unplug the garage door opener. Remote controls produced by the same company could have the same combination or frequency. This could result in someone other than you opening your garage by mistake, or on purpose.
  • Use your driveway as a diversion. Take your vehicle out of the garage and park it in the driveway. Ask a neighbour or friend to move it once in awhile, leaving it in a different spot each time. Or simply arrange for a neighbour to use your driveway for parking.
DON’T
  • Don’t go overboard with your pre-vacation clean-up. Be sure to cut your lawn, etc., but try not to make your home exterior look “sanitized” with nothing out of place. A criminal can recognize your efforts from a distance, so consider a more occupied look. For example, leave a lawn chair on the porch, a garden hose near a side gate, an older bicycle locked up near the driveway. Your home will have a more natural appearance, and will be less likely to attract unwanted attention. And in the case of longer vacations, make arrangements to have someone cut the lawn.
  • Don’t let your voice message announce to callers that you’re on vacation. While you’re gone, clear answering machine messages as often as you can. This will avoid “voicemail full” messages, or immediate routing to voice mail; both of which indicate telephone inactivity. And finally, turn off all telephone ringers. Passersby hearing a telephone ring repeatedly without being answered will realize your home is empty.
BE AWARE
  • Motion detection and / or timed lights are recommended. Inside your home, install timers on a few lamps and radios so they turn on and off throughout the day, giving the impression someone is home. Unplug non-essential electrical devices to save a bit of electricity and protect surge-sensitive equipment like computers. Outside your home, make sure all exterior lights are in working order before you leave. Install lights controlled by motion sensors to make your home a more difficult target for intruders.
  • Having a monitored security system allows you to protect your home, whether you are at home or globetrotting. Some systems will even call the fire department automatically if they detect carbon monoxide fumes or smoke. You may also qualify for lower home insurance rates!
  • If you have a house-sitter, make sure they’re well informed. Prepare a note, printout, or drawing indicating the locations of all water/gas valves, fuse boxes, and/or main circuit breakers. Ask your house-sitter to walk through the house at every visit and look for evidence of theft and trouble with the heating.
  • An inactive air conditioner in sweltering heat is a good indication that nobody is at home. Tell the house-sitter to call if anything’s wrong in the house.
  • A trusted adult friend may be best for these tasks. While a trusted teenager can help, remember that even a well intentioned young person can share too much information through social networking.

Preparing To Travel

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  • Be sure to check for travel alerts or warnings online before leaving on your trip. A good resource is: www.voyage.gc.ca.
  • Use a special “back up” credit card with a lower than normal credit limit for booking your transportation and accommodations. If this card is used illegally, the exposure will be minimal and you won’t be stranded away from home without funds.
  • Long before departure, thoroughly research your route and destination. While website reviews can be helpful, they are easily manipulated. A personal recommendation from a traveller with similar preferences, interests and comfort level is your most reliable source.
  • For the less adventuresome, deal only with established names. Major hotels, rental companies and attractions will generally hold fewer surprises and offer greater security.
  • Notify your family, friends, reliable neighbours, building manager and alarm company of your travel plans. Make sure everyone knows how to reach you while you’re gone.
DON’T
  • Don’t put off getting your out-of-province travel insurance until the last minute. You need to understand your policy’s benefits, limitations and exclusions and you want to take a copy of your policy with you.
  • Don’t place a “house-sitter wanted” ad in the newspaper or on the internet. This leaves it open for professional thieves to read.
  • Don’t talk about your travel plans in public. Remember, the wrong people, including potential burglars, might overhear them.
BE AWARE
  • If you’re an early shopper and your health changes in any way between the time you buy your insurance and the date it goes into effect, you must notify your insurer. A health change in the interim might invalidate your coverage.
  • The internet is especially useful for looking at risk trends and prevention tips. By clicking on the city or region you’re considering and adding travel safety, helpful information is typically available from tourist boards, chambers of commerce and police agencies. One example: Florida agencies are alerting visitors to “pizza scams” where bogus pizza brochures are slid under hotel room doors in an attempt to get credit card information from unsuspecting tourists.

Safety On The Road or In The Air

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  • Know your route and destination as well as you can. Mapping and GPS has made it easier than ever to appear more confident and less vulnerable while travelling.
  • Divide your cash. Do this in a way that makes some money is available, but a large “roll” is not displayed for every small purchase and tip.
  • Make sure the rental car has no identifiable markings. Nothing says “tourist” like a rental company sticker on the back of your car!
  • Luggage identification tags should display a work place address or be zipped closed to reduce visibility.
DON’T
  • Don’t ever leave your vehicle unlocked! Every time you leave your vehicle, make sure it’s locked and be sure to hide all contents from sight.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be caught in a bad situation. Recognize increasing vulnerability as early as possible. Are you lost – low on fuel – fading cell phone battery – is the weather threatening – is reliable assistance distant – are you starting to feel like a potential victim? Vulnerability often results from several negative factors aligning at once.
  • Do not leave luggage unattended, and do not carry the belongings of others in airports and other transportation terminals.
BE AWARE
  • Remember: It may be impossible to avoid looking like a tourist but you can look like a confident traveler and avoid looking vulnerable.