Travel Insurers and COVID-19

Not looking good right now. Travel insurance that is. The financial risk of travelling into the United States without health insurance coverage is high. If a Canadian snowbird were to fall ill or become injured in an accident while in the United States, the health care costs without insurance would be devastating.

Would we travel into the United States if our insurer still covered the risk with only one exclusion?

This is what our travel insurance company is telling us right now:

Moving forward: for existing Annual Plans and any new and valid Medipac Policies issued with Trip Start Dates after the Official Global Travel Advisory released by the Government of Canada, claims for medical emergencies relating to COVID-19 WILL NOT be covered. This includes claims from clients that experience symptoms that are similar to or that may reasonably be attributed to COVID-19, in absence of a COVID-19 test, as such tests apparently are in short supply.

Our government, always helpful in terms of restricting our mobility rights, has this notice posted on their website:

Avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice.

Under said notice, at least as far as I can tell, is a list of every single country in the world, including the United States, where non-essential travel is to be avoided.

Insurers use that list to invoke policy exclusions. Even if the Canadian government ends their official travel advisory against the world, insurers are unlikely to assume the risk of COVID-19.

Would we travel in the fall and assume the financial risk of COVID-19? Even if the border with the U.S. reopens to non-essential travel?

Last week, Air Canada issued a press release:

As part of the new schedule, in accordance with provisions for air travel to the U.S. for Canadians, Air Canada will resume service to the U.S. on May 22, with six destinations being served by May 25, including New York-LaGuardia, Washington-Dulles, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago. This is a reduction from 53 U.S. destinations served last year. There are tentative plans to resume more U.S. service as of June 22, pending regulatory changes and demand.

June 21st is the next date when the Canadian government will decide whether the border with the United States can reopen. I suspect that is why Air Canada is being a little careful with the June 22nd date.

Even Walt Disney World has announced plans for a phased reopening starting on July 11th.

All good.

But most Canadians will stay in Canada this winter. Under house arrest and under strict social distancing rules. Ontario’s Emergency act contains a litany of rules like this one:

SCHEDULE 1
ORGANIZED PUBLIC EVENTS, CERTAIN GATHERINGS
Prohibition
1. (1) Subject to subsections (3) and (4), no person shall attend,

(a) an organized public event of more than five people, including a parade;

(b) a social gathering of more than five people; or

(c) a gathering of more than five people for the purposes of conducting religious services, rites or ceremonies.

The government is so focused on keeping people socially distanced that they started to paint circles in parks to keep the herd properly separated. Carefully supervised by enforcement officers. Stay within your circle people!

There is, apparently, an exception for some organized protests. You can gather as many people as you wish for a protest in Toronto like this one on Saturday.

In the strange new world of COVID-19, other protests will get you a strict rebuke from government officials.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford slammed a group of people protesting coronavirus-related restrictions outside Queen’s Park on Saturday, calling them a “bunch of yahoos.”

Dozens of protesters gathered outside of the legislature demanding an easing of restrictions that officials have implemented in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s reckless to do what they’re doing and personally I think it’s selfish,” Ford said.

Our premier has yet to comment on the much larger group of people that gathered to protest on Saturday. I suspect he will not call them reckless and a “bunch of yahoos.”

Unusual times.

Yama Vans

There is tiny living. And then there is really tiny living. As in 60-80 square feet of tiny living.

I have been following the van life movement on social media. The motorcoach community is predominately older and mostly retired. Van lifers are predominately younger. Are they working? Not in the traditional sense. Most of the ones online seem to work at getting paid through YouTube views, advertisers and Patreon.

I came across Yama Vans through this video on the best van conversion ever:

A beautiful van conversion no doubt.

Yama is a Canadian company. Out of Calgary, Alberta.

This is why they build vans.

Gone are the days of gas-guzzling RVs and plug-in campsites; it’s time to cut the cord and modernize the way you travel. We believe your vehicle should match your lifestyle – one focussed on keeping you fully immersed in your adventure of choice.

At Yama, we handcraft our vans with love; the same magical ingredient made famous by Grandmothers around the world. We’re romantic about what we do. From the first design sketch, to handing you the keys, we believe that our passion for our craft shines through.

We have designed the most functional and beautiful Off-Grid Adventure Vans, and we’ve done it by falling in love with the process. Lean fully into every adventure, and experience comfort in any condition with your new mobile base camp.

Expect to pay somewhere between $60,000 to $150,000 for the conversion. Plus the cost of the van. And the van must be brand new. They won’t work on used vans. And certainly not on gas-guzzling RVs.

You can learn more about Yama over here.

Beautiful vans.

Full-time RVing During A Pandemic

“We will not be taking out of province bookings for the rest of 2020.” That was the helpful response I received when looking to make a reservation in British Columbia for October. Just in case the border does not reopen. Or worse. I’ll get back to the “or worse” in a moment.

What does it mean to be a citizen in Canada during a pandemic? You lose your mobility rights. And that has significant implications for those of us that retire full-time to the RV lifestyle.

The majority of provinces in Canada blocked the movement of Canadians. Some of the blockades involved armed enforcement:

Quebec wasn’t the only government setting up armed blockades within Canada. New Brunswick did it, and so did Prince Edward Island.

In New Brunswick, for weeks, “provincial enforcement officers” were stationed at seven different road crossings, and two airports. Their task: turn back – forcibly, if need be –  anyone they deemed to be “traveling for non-essential reasons.” Canadians from Quebec, PEI and Nova Scotia were routinely refused entry to New Brunswick.

Over and over, motorists trying to enter the province had their licences checked and licence plates recorded – and they were grilled about where they’d been and where they were going. New Brunswick residents were being stopped and questioned, too.

Prince Edward Island, being an island, had an easier time of it. There, highways staff – not police – were given authority by the provincial government to stop anyone crossing the Confederation Bridge.  The Confederation Bridge, a 13-kilometre fixed link between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, was built and paid for by Canada.

The article continues and asks the relevant question. Are the actions of our provincial governments legal?

Because, on a plain reading of Canada’s Constitution – which is, you know, our supreme statute – the blockades were completely illegal.

Section six of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is about mobility rights. Here is what it says: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.”

How important is that section? This important: section 33, the so-called notwithstanding clause – which governments like Quebec’s have routinely invoked to gut essential freedoms – does not even apply to it. It was seen by the framers of our Constitution as that critical: governments aren’t allowed to opt out of it – pandemic or no pandemic.

Can an RV park in one part of Canada refuse to take a booking from an out-of-province Canadian? Yes they can and yes they did. Any form of “non-essential” travel in an RV in Canada is at risk right now and it will probably continue to be at risk through to the end of the year. Or longer.

We are safe and secure and we have shelter until October.

We are not fine after that. The “or worse” scenario will hit us then. Because of government overreach. It is easy to shut things down. Hard to reopen them.

A recent note from one of my financial advisors put it this way:

So there are two schools of thought.

On one hand we overreacted dramatically. Politicians let doctors take over the economy. They closed too much, idled too many, spent too freely and destroyed too widely. Public finances are a ruin. Paying people not to work was unwise. We could have achieved the same result with social distancing and sheltering the vulnerable in those retirement homes, without nuking society.

On the other hand, decisive action, emergency measures and draconian stay-at-home measures saved countless lives. Flattened the curve. We prevented an historic disaster from unfolding. The pathogen was defeated. And our guard cannot be dropped, lest there’s a second wave. This was a public health triumph.

Well, guess which story will be told, regardless of the outcome? Perhaps history will judge. But clarity will not be forthcoming anytime soon.

I do not have the expertise to determine whether government actions were appropriate. My sense is that the public health and government officials in decision-making roles reacted without a full understanding of the virus hence the constant change in rules and regulations.

Okay. Back to the “or worse” scenario.

Will we be able to travel south in the fall?

This article explains the “or worse” scenario for a retired Canadian snowbird couple looking to return south to the United States for the winter:

Insurance broker Martin Firestone believes that when Canada lifts its advisory against international travel, travel insurance providers may continue to exclude coverage for COVID-19-related illnesses — until there’s a vaccine.

“A person who ends up on a ventilator in the U.S., it could be hundreds of thousands of dollars, so [insurance providers] are in no position to take that risk,” said Firestone, president of Travel Secure in Toronto.

He said if travel insurance continues to exclude COVID-19 illnesses, many Canadians will refuse to travel, including his snowbird clients.

“I’m worried that the entire snowbird season, upcoming, could be put on ice … until such a time that there is a cure or a vaccine.”

CBC News reached out to several major insurance travel providers to find out if they would resume covering COVID-19-related issues when Canada lifts its travel advisory. They said they couldn’t make a definitive statement at this time.

No travel insurance, no travel. If we became ill in the United States and required care, we could face severe financial consequences if our carrier determined that the symptoms were related to COVID-19.

And who can predict what actions governments might take should a second wave occur in the fall.

A cure? A vaccine?

I doubt that we will see any of that in the next few months.

Very frustrating and very uncertain times for those of us that travel full-time in our coaches. I spent the afternoon looking at houses yesterday. I wanted to put an offer on this one.

Beautiful property in a stunning location.

Lorraine is telling me to wait.

Waiting is hard. Especially when I don’t know where we will be in a few months time.

The probability of returning to Myakka in the fall?

Low.

Very low.

The probability of being able to travel to a milder location in Canada in the fall?

Low.

Very low.

The dream of being home free in our coach has become a bit of a nightmare. COVID-19 began as perhaps a few weeks or a few months of disruption. It now appears to be a force that will disrupt our lives for much, much longer.

This uncertainty impacts most of us full-timing in our coaches in Canada.

Planning is almost impossible.

With only four more months before we have to move somewhere, I am getting just a wee bit concerned.

Form 8840

Taxes. Likely not a surprise but among all 61 provinces and states in Canada and the United States, the highest combined personal income tax rates in North America are in the 10 Canadian provinces. Canada has a progressive system that really kicks in as income goes up. Someone with income over $200,000 CAD in Ontario would pay the province’s combined top tax rate of 53.53%. The top rate in New York is lower at 45.82% and that rate doesn’t kick in until income goes over $1 million USD.

It is a bit of a shock when the government leaves you with less than half of your income after tax. It would be even worse if, as a Canadian snowbird, you had to pay taxes in both Canada and the United States.

We carefully track our time in the United States as overstaying our welcome can result in being deemed a U.S. resident for tax purposes. We would be required to pay taxes in the United States even though we are not U.S. citizens. There are other issues with overstaying and with new systems in place at the border all Canadian snowbirds should be careful to track their days and respect applicable tax and immigration laws.

The IRS uses an odd and confusing test to determine whether a Canadian snowbird should be considered a U.S. resident for tax purposes. If you spend 31 days in the U.S. in the current calendar year and 183 days during the three-year period covering the current calendar year and the two preceding calendar years on a weighted basis then you may be taxed. To arrive at the three-year total you have to add all of the days spent in the current calendar year plus one-third of the days spent in the preceding year plus one-sixth of the days spent in the U.S. in the year prior to that.

Much easier to use this U.S. Residency Calculator from the Snowbird Advisor website.

Our result:

Uh oh. We may be considered a U.S. resident for tax purposes.

To avoid being taxed in both countries, we need to file a Form 8840 Closer Connection Exception Statement for Aliens. You can download that form over here.

It is a short questionnaire which determines whether you have a closer connection to your home country.

Questions cover the following:

  • Where your permanent home is
  • Where you keep your belongings
  • Where your family lives
  • Where you’re registered to vote
  • Where your drivers license was issued
  • Were your banking and financial accounts are located
  • Where you’re covered by a government health plan

You can continue to enjoy up to 6 months in the United States year after year as a Canadian snowbird provided you file the 8840 form prior to June 15 in the year following the year in which you qualified as a U.S. resident for tax purposes. If you fail to file on time, you may be considered a U.S resident for tax purposes and subject to other penalties.

We completed our forms this past week-end and we will send them on their way today. One form for me. One for Lorraine. Two separate envelopes, one for each form. Copies on file in the coach.

Confinement

The action of confining or state of being confined. Since we returned to Canada on March 26 I have not gone out in our car. I have not been outside the immediate area of our coach save for some short walks. In other words, I have avoided all non-essential travel. Until yesterday.

Yesterday I took a drive to plot a route for cycling and to pick up a replacement for our water hose at Canadian Tire. Essential? Given my current state of mental health, absolutely. Almost two months of house arrest can take a toll.

Things are beginning to open up in Ontario.

From the Government of Ontario’s newsroom:

Private parks and campgrounds may open to enable preparation for the season and to allow access for trailers and recreational vehicles whose owners have a full season contract.

I’m not sure what that statement really means and, based on some of the social media sites I follow, no one else seems to know either. Does allowing access mean that recreational campers with a seasonal contract can enjoy camping for the week-end while those without a seasonal contract are not allowed? Seems to be the case. Does that mean that recreational campers with seasonal contracts can engage in non-essential travel to go to a private campground for a few days? Not at all clear.

There was quite an influx of people that came into their seasonal sites at our park over this long week-end. This despite the Ontario government still urging restrictions on non-essential travel.

Non-essential travel is defined by the government as any travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature.

So confusing.

Here is what our media told us about non-essential travel over the long week-end:

The Ontario government is urging all residents of that province to stay home whenever possible.

Beyond that, there is no evidence on the province’s website that suggests travel within the province – including to seasonal properties – is in any way limited.

However, Premier Doug Ford has urged cottagers to “hold off” on visiting their properties this weekend after it became clear that many popular cottage communities were uncomfortable with the idea of hosting out-of-town guests.

At this point, it is becoming less and less likely that the overall population will continue to abide with strict confinement protocols. I follow Viva Frie, a Montreal lawyer turned vlogger, and here is one of his tweets from a few days back:

It went from “flatten the curve” to “find a cure”. From “social distancing” to “house arrest”. From “2 weeks” to “3 months”. From “we’re in it together” to “snitch on your neighbors”. From “individual liberty” to “comply or pay fine”. We lost the target. And government knows it.

We have been doing our part to flatten the curve and we will continue to do so however I find much of what comes out from the government to be confusing and contradictory particularly as it relates to the RV community.

Our government keeps telling us that it makes all of these decisions based on science and guidance from medical experts. Likely from this source.

I am curious as to the science behind restricting seasonal campers from going to their sites two weeks ago but allowing them to go now. I am curious as to the science behind allowing a seasonal camper in a self-contained RV to go to a private campground for the long week-end and yet prohibiting a non-seasonal camper with a self-contained RV from doing the exact same thing. I am curious as to the science behind urging people to stay home and yet allowing private campgrounds to provide access for trailers and recreational vehicles whose owners have a full season contract.

There is no science at play here I suspect. Just an arbitrary set of rules and regulations.

The province will continue to reopen gradually and presumably it will continue the process as long as the risk to the population remains manageable.

It was wonderful to see many of our RV friends return to their seasonal sites. Hopefully this will soon be the case for the rest of the RV community.