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Heading south for the winter?

Retired snowbirds aren't the only ones traveling south for the winter.

"People in their late 40s and 50s are not chained to a desk anymore, and they can take their work with them," says Michael MacKenzie, research and communications officer for the Canadian Snowbird Association (CSA), who has seen an increase of younger seasonal travelers in the past few years.

And who can blame them? But this seemingly carefree lifestyle can be costly if you don't consider the tax, insurance and travel costs associated with living abroad for up to six months.

Mandatory medical
"Medical (issues) are the biggest, scariest risk that any snowbird faces," says Douglas Gray, author of "The Canadian Snowbird Guide." "An accident down there can financially devastate you. The horror stories are real. If you have a heart attack or a stroke or anything of that nature, a quarter of million dollars isn't an unrealistic figure."

Depending on your home province, the amount of time you're allowed to travel out of the country and retain your health insurance is generally about six months. In provinces such as Ontario and Manitoba, it is seven.

But every province provides different coverage for out-of-country health-care costs. For instance, in Ontario you only receive $400 a day. Only Prince Edward Island and the three territories provide the same coverage for out-of-country travel expenses as you'd receive at home.

To ensure your insurance company provides the coverage you pay for, be sure to inform it of any changes to your health to avoid your claim being denied, even if it's something as simple as your medication dosage changing while you're in the U.S.

Depending on how you plan to travel, there are two kinds of health insurance. If you plan to stay in the U.S. for one long period, then you'll want extended stay coverage. If you anticipate visiting family often, then opt for a multitrip plan for 15, 30 or 90-day coverage; your days accumulate, and each time you leave the country, the cycle starts over again.

"One of the main benefits of a multitrip plan is that it covers spontaneous trips any time you go back and forth across the Canada-U.S. border," says Gray.

Car woes
Considering the litigious nature of the U.S., snowbird experts suggest getting as much third-party accident coverage as you possibly can.

This type of insurance covers the costs should you damage another car or person in an accident. "Your million-dollar, third-party insurance won't mean squat in terms of your Canadian coverage," says MacKenzie. Instead, he suggests getting a policy worth at least $5 million.

And if you decide to go to Mexico with your car, you'll have to buy Mexican auto insurance as Canadian coverage isn't valid there.

(continued on next page)
-- Posted: Sept. 23, 2009
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