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Retirement may be the time in your life where you can make those travel dreams come true, but it also comes around the age where travel insurance gets seriously more complicated.

That’s because at 60 years and above, insurers will generally start to ask much more detailed questions about your health history to better calculate the risk they’re taking on.

“Answering these questions is where the problems begin. You have to be careful,” says Martin Firestone, president of Toronto-based insurance brokerage Travel Secure.

He says the information you need to provide isn’t always straightforward, and answering any questions incorrectly can jeopardize your coverage. If you’re travelling in the U.S., that could mean tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills.

Also not covered in this article is trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance, which are particularly important as climate change continues to create destructive weather events such as the wildfires in Hawaii. This form of insurance can have all sorts of different conditions, so it’s important to know your policy’s limitations and keep all receipts if things go wrong.

If you’re planning to become a snowbird, picking the right insurance plan will be critical to your peace of mind. We list some top tips from insurance experts below.

Five destinations snowbirds should consider

Don’t expect to be able to escape if disaster strikes

Many travellers think they can get whisked back to Canada by plane in a medical emergency. But Firestone says he knows of all sorts of situations where a person in medical distress has been deemed unable to fly. You could be at risk of paying large sums out of pocket if you’re in that scenario without insurance.

Relying on your credit card’s basic insurance likely will not cut it

Credit card insurance often comes with all kinds of limitations, including restrictions on how long each trip can be and whether people over a certain age are eligible. Inquire with your credit card provider for exact details, but you’ll likely need to purchase extra coverage.

Speak to a real person, rather than filling out an online form

Firestone says a lot of online insurance companies let you buy a package without ever speaking to a real person. All you do is fill out an online form and the company spits out a number.

Here’s the problem though: Those questions about your health history are not always straightforward. If you answer something wrong, even on a technicality, an insurer could refuse you coverage.

The consequences of misunderstanding questions can be enormous. Brad Dance, chief customer officer at the insurance company TuGo, says his company is being forgiving by applying a US$15,000 deductible if it turns out that a client misrepresented their medical history by mistake. Firestone says he has heard many stories of people left without any coverage at all in the same scenario with other insurers.

Pending tests, investigations or results can upend your claim process

Make any major doctors’ appointments months in advance before you leave, because any change in your health status that goes unreported to your insurance company could jeopardize your insurance.

That includes if, for instance, a doctor recommends you get a test related to your heart, but says that you’re stable enough to travel for now. If you end up having a heart attack on vacation and your insurer finds a record of that doctor’s recommendation, you could lose coverage.

“Doctors have no issue saying ‘go away and have a good time,’ but they’re not the ones who’ll be on the hook for $500,000 for a triple bypass,” says Firestone.

Multitrip annuals can be a great way to save money for certain travellers

The reality is your coverage may become prohibitively expensive if you’re a senior with an extensive medical history. Firestone has seen premiums quoted anywhere from $2,500 to upward of $20,000 for such people.

One option for people looking to lower their premium is to shorten the length of coverage for each trip. For example, if you plan to spend three months each year in Florida, you can have your coverage for each trip set to 31 days. Then you can fly back to Canada twice during the winter.

It may seem time and money intensive, but you only have to set foot on Canadian soil for a moment before flying back. For certain customers, the money saved on insurance would outweigh the cost of flying.

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