Many snowbirds who flock to sunny southern destinations have already indicated that they plan to extend their travels until the federal government eases travel restrictions, according to one expert.
Travel insurance broker Martin Firestone of Toronto’s Travel Secure Inc. says as soon as the newly imposed federal provisions were announced, he heard from many people looking to extend their trips.
“My phone was blowing up with people calling and saying they wanted nothing to do with a three-day hotel quarantine ‘nightmare,’ is what they positioned it as,” Firestone told CTVNews.ca on Saturday.
“The majority of snowbird property owners will extend their trips and avoid the quarantine. The quarantine to them is like a curse and they want nothing to be a part of this whatsoever.”
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said all arrivals into Canada must quarantine in an approved hotel for up to three days, pending the results of a COVID-19 test taken at the airport. The rules are expected to come into effect in the coming weeks and will cost $2,000 per person.
Trudeau said the restrictions are meant to discourage non-essential travel and reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.
Firestone says some travellers see the move as heavy-handed.
“You can’t imagine how it’s being received – nobody wants to be a part of it,” he said.
As a result, he said, hundreds of his clients plan to extend their stays abroad until the restrictions ease.
“The majority of my client base will not come back to face hotel quarantine,” he said.
He said typical snowbirds leave Canada in November and return in April. The newly imposed travel provisions are in place until April 30.
The government has also banned all flights to the Caribbean and Mexico. There is, however, a loophole where travellers can still fly to restricted destinations via the United States. Firestone says he strongly discourages this as he expects the U.S. government to impose strict travel measures and Canadians will still have to isolate upon their return.
Travel insurance is another issue facing Canadians who are already out of the country as it will likely need to be extended.
“The problem is if you have already claimed or are not feeling well, and you’re seeing a doctor, you will not get an extension. The dilemma there, is to be in the United States without any insurance is a scary thought,” he said.
Firestone says that leaves snowbirds with few choices as insurance brokers aren’t likely to offer coverage for all travellers amid a global pandemic. Not only are Canadians endangering their own lives, but they are endangering the lives of others.
Firestone says his biggest fear is someone being denied health care at an overwhelmed hospital in the United States, or not being able to afford the cost of health care should they fall ill with COVID-19.
“It’s a scary thought if you can’t get looked after, and if it’s something that needs immediate attention you could be in big trouble,” said Firestone.
Many of Firestone’s clients have told him that they have been successful in getting their first and second COVID-19 vaccination. Currently, Florida is offering vaccinations to anyone 65 and older during its first phase of its vaccine rollout. While the state opposes visitors who come specifically to get the shot, foreigners who own property in Florida and can provide proof are welcome to get vaccinated.
“The Canadians argue that they are taxpayers who support the economy five months of the year and they too should be available for the vaccine – so why not,” Firestone said.
There are also snowbirds who have been able to make the transition to working from home all while doing so from a tropical destination.
“That’s another reason why people can extend their stay, because there’s no delineation between their home in Canada and your home in Florida,” said Firestone.
Another implication that may arise for people abroad is the fact that Canadians are only permitted to stay up to 182 calendar days – or six months – outside of the country without paying income tax in another country, such as the U.S.
This could also result in further issues at home and risk consequences upon their return.
According to Ontario’s ministry of health, residents are able to travel outside of Canada for a total of 212 days in any 12 month period and still maintain OHIP coverage so long as their primary place of residence remains Ontario.
Bottom line, Firestone says, is it’s best to avoid travel at all costs.
“I do not recommend travel even though I sell travel insurance. My feelings are that this isn’t the year to travel,” said Firestone.