Is it worth it to travel back and forth to Canada to “reset” your travel medical insurance?

Thinking of traveling back and forth to Canada to reset your travel medical insurance coverage? Getting a top-up is usually a better option...

Should Snowbirds fly back to Canada to reset their travel insurance?

LAST UPDATED: December 14, 2022

If you’re a snowbird, you probably have a friend or acquaintance who travels back and forth to Canada over the winter for the sole purpose of “resetting” their multi-trip annual travel medical insurance coverage – or maybe you’ve even done this yourself.

This usually involves a very short trip back to Canada from your snowbird destination for a day or two – or in some cases for as little as just a few hours – before turning around and flying right back to your winter home.

While this makes may make sense for some snowbirds, the fact is it rarely makes sense when you look at the cost, inconvenience, and possible risks of travelling back and forth compared to alternative options.

Here’s what snowbirds need to know about travelling back and forth to reset their travel insurance, why it rarely makes sense and what the alternatives are.

What’s the logic behind travelling back and forth?

To understand why some snowbirds travel back and forth, it’s important to understand how multi-trip annual travel insurance plans work.

Multi-trip plans provide emergency medical coverage for an unlimited number of trips over a 12-month period.

However, annual plans also limit the number of days you are allowed to travel per trip - for example, 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, etc… Once you reach your limit, you must return to your home province before travelling again to reset the clock on your coverage (unless you purchase “top-up” coverage - see below).

As a result, some snowbirds with multi-trip travel insurance plans interrupt their winters away to fly back to Canada for very brief periods for the exclusive purpose of resetting their per-trip coverage period.

By doing this, these snowbirds believe they are saving money by not having to buy additional travel insurance coverage, and in some cases they are.

However, in many cases, these snowbirds would actually be better off simply staying in their winter destination and purchasing what is known as “top-up” coverage for their existing multi-trip plan, as outlined below.

Top-up coverage – the alternative to travelling back and forth

Top-up coverage allows you to add extra days of coverage to a trip under your multi-trip plan if that trip is going to be longer than the maximum per-trip limit allowed by your multi-trip plan.

For example, let’s say you have a multi-trip plan that allows you to travel for 30 days per trip, but you want to be away for 59 days on a particular trip. In this situation, you would purchase a 29-day top-up plan for that trip to cover you for the period beyond your policy’s 30-day per-trip limit (It’s important to note that if you already have a “cause for claim” under your original travel insurance policy, you likely won’t be eligible to purchase top-up coverage).

Some travellers are under the impression that top-up coverage is much more expensive than the cost of round-trip airline tickets (and other related travel expenses), however, in many cases top-up coverage can be less expensive, equally expensive, or only slightly more expensive. Plus, you’ll have the added benefit of not dealing with the hassle and inconvenience of flying back and forth.

  • TIP: If you’re considering flying back to Canada for a short period of time for the sole purpose of resetting your coverage on your multi-trip annual plan, get a few quotes on top-up insurance first so you can compare the cost of top-up coverage vs. the cost of airfare and travelling.

When is it worth it to travel back and forth to “reset” your travel insurance?

While it usually isn’t worthwhile to travel back and forth to reset your travel insurance, there are a few scenarios where it might make sense:

  1. If the cost to top-up for your annual plan is significantly more than the cost of a round-trip plane ticket and other associated travel costs, you may be better off flying back and forth.
  2. If you can’t get a top-up for your annual plan: If prior to purchasing your top-up coverage, a health or medical issue/condition has resulted in a claim, or has the potential to result in a claim in the future, you may not be eligible to purchase top-up coverage. In addition, in rare cases your plan may not allow top-up coverage, so check with your provider first.
  3. If you’re planning on coming back to Canada for other reasons, such as visiting friends or family, you may not need top-up coverage. However, you will need to make sure you time your travel so you return to your home province before you reach the days per-trip limit under your multi-trip plan.

Watch out for changes to your health or medical conditions

If you are thinking about returning to Canada to reset the clock on your multi-trip plan, another important risk you need to be aware of is that changes to your health and medical conditions may negatively impact your coverage.

Travel medical insurance policies cover you based on your health and medical conditions at the time you leave your home province or territory.

If you return to Canada and there have been any changes in your health or medical conditions - either while you are away or while you are back in Canada, no matter how briefly – you would need to contact your travel insurance provider to inform them of the changes and your travel insurance coverage could be negatively impacted in the following ways:

  1. Premium Increase: If your insurer determines that the change in your health or medical condition has resulted in an increased risk, you may need to pay an additional premium to maintain your coverage when you resume your travel.
  2. Coverage Exclusion for Certain Conditions: If your policy has a stability period requirement and changes to your health/medical conditions result in you no longer meeting those stability requirements, those conditions could be excluded from coverage when you resume your travel.
  3. Ineligibility for Coverage: Some changes to your health/medical conditions may result in you becoming ineligible for coverage altogether, invalidating your policy and leaving you without medical coverage when you resume your travel.

Disclaimer: The material provided in the Snowbird Advisor Insurance Learning Centre is for informational purposes only and does NOT constitute insurance, legal, financial or other advice, and should not be relied on as such. If you require such advice, you should speak with a qualified professional to assist you.