Canadian snowbirds concerned as U.S. land border closure drags on

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As fall kicks off and winter approaches, Canadian snowbirds are busy planning their trips down south with greater interest this year.

While the threat of COVID-19 in Canada and the U.S. is far from over amid the spread of the Delta variant, there is an increased demand to travel compared to last year, travel insurance experts say.

“There’s a pent-up demand for Canadians to travel outside of Canada, particularly to the U.S.,” said Pamela Kwiatkowski, co-founder and vice president of Goose Insurance.

Since August, she said, they have seen increased activity with sales continuing to grow every day as Canadians plan and book their travel.

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For now, Canadians can get to the U.S. by air, as the land border closure – imposed since March 2020 – will remain in effect until at least Oct. 21.

That creates a few problems for those who were hoping to drive down to sunny U.S. destinations and escape Canada’s harsh winter cold.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 travel measures critisized by Canadian snowbirds'
COVID-19 travel measures critisized by Canadian snowbirds

Martin Firestone, a Toronto-based travel insurance broker, said his snowbird clients typically start making their way to Florida, Arizona, California and Texas in October and stay until April.

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Their biggest concern, he said, is why they are unable to drive in their own cars but are allowed to fly with 300 other people in an airplane.

“The bottom line is those who want to leave prior to Oct. 21 are not going anywhere and they are going to now wait for the next 30 days and see what happens then,” Firestone told Global News.

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“The hopes of 90 per cent of the snowbirds returning down south may diminish down to 50 per cent if they can’t drive down and take their vehicles with them because I think for many it would be a very costly factor to follow up with any of the options.”

Canada reopened its land border to fully vaccinated Americans back in August.

American travellers who are fully vaccinated don’t have to quarantine upon arrival in Canada, but they’re required to show a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival and provide proof of vaccination by way of the ArriveCAN smartphone app or web portal.

Currently, there is no vaccine requirement for air travellers to the U.S. But starting in November, all passengers entering the U.S. will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken at least 72 hours prior to boarding and certification of their double vaccination status.

Some are now wondering whether the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, which is not approved in the U.S., will even be accepted.

“There’s some concern there as to how that’s going to be handled, said Firestone.

Click to play video: 'Tips for snowbirds planning to head south this winter'
Tips for snowbirds planning to head south this winter

Daily COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have dropped since the start of September but deaths are soaring – averaging more than 1,500 per day.

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Travel insurance experts strongly recommend Canadians, especially the more vulnerable older population, get fully vaccinated before they head south.

Kwiatkowski said that since provincial health coverage does not apply to any emergency medical services and hospitalizations while travelling, it is important for snowbirds to buy an insurance policy that includes COVID-19-related expenses.

They should also make sure that besides medical expenses, their policy covers costs incurred if they have to cancel a trip, quarantine or delay their return, she said.

“One day in the hospital can cost you $10,000 to $50,000 and no one wants to pay that price.”

Click to play video: 'Some Canadian snowbirds continue to defy travel warnings'
Some Canadian snowbirds continue to defy travel warnings

Firestone said more than 90 per cent of his clients are interested in travelling to the U.S. this year – up from around 30 per cent last year.

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He said many have already booked their trips and made arrangements of where they will stay.

“Their attitude is ‘life is short. I was away one year from this place. I’m going this year regardless.’”

Global News reached out to the Canadian Snowbird Association for comment but did not get a response by the time of publication.

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