Car Insurance for Snowbirds

Whether migrating to a Florida beach or the Arizona desert, snowbirds need to comply with insurance laws in the state where they’re spending the winter.

Car in Florida

Every winter, hundreds of thousands of people flock from colder northern climates to warmer destinations. The majority of people end up in Florida, but many others head to Arizona, Texas or other states. These people who leave their home states for the winter, are called snowbirds.

And no matter where these snowbirds end up, they should be aware of their winter destination’s insurance laws. Snowbirds might need to update their car insurance depending on how long they're staying. Otherwise, they could end up unknowingly breaking the law. As a result, snowbirds may end up losing their driving privileges.

If you are planning on "migrating" south for the winter, contact your insurance agent. They can help you figure out if you need additional coverage. You should also research state insurance laws for both your home state and the one you'll travel to for the winter.

State Liability Insurance Minimums

Except for New Hampshire, every state requires that you have liability coverage. States differ on the required minimum amount of coverage. Consider using our state and city auto insurance guide to find out the amount you need.

As a general rule, if your car is registered in a particular state, you are required to follow that state's insurance guidelines. So, if you register your car in New York, you must meet New York's minimum coverage requirements. Then you'll be free to drive it in other states without worrying about meeting their liability minimums.

However, driving through a state for a day or two is different than living in a state for more than a few weeks. If you're planning on staying somewhere longer—like many snowbirds do—you may need to register your car in that state. Then, once you register your car in the new state, you must follow their insurance rules.

Drivers who register their car in a different state must purchase a policy from an insurer in that state. That means even if the coverage from the policy in your home state is enough to meet the minimum requirements in your winter home, you'll need a new policy.

Some states will also require you to have coverage for uninsured motorists and personal injury protection (PIP). PIP is required in no-fault states. This type of insurance covers medical expenses for the driver and passengers. Uninsured motorist coverage pays for your expenses when the other people in the accident don't have insurance.

For instance, if you move to Texas during the winter months, you're required to have car insurance coverage with a minimum of 30/60/25. Broken down, you'll need:

  • $30,000 for bodily injury or death to 1 person in an accident
  • $60,000 for bodily injury or death to more than 1 person in an accident
  • $25,000 for property damage

Florida, another popular snowbird state has a minimum coverage of 10/20/10. You're required to have:

  • $10,000 personal injury protection
  • $10,000 property damage liability

Registering Your Car

Whether you must register your car or not as a snowbird depends on the laws of the state you’re wintering in. For example, in Florida, you are required to register your car after being in the state for 90 consecutive days.

Other states have less stringent requirements. In Arizona, you’re required to register your vehicle if you're a resident. You're considered a resident if you live there for at least seven months.

Some states may have permits you can get for shorter stays. In Arizona, you can get a 30-Day General Use permit. This registration may only be issued once per year per vehicle. It is given to people who do not meet the requirements for a permanent registration.

As previously mentioned, the state your car is registered in determines what insurance laws you must follow. If your vehicle is registered in Texas, you'll be expected to follow Texas insurance laws. Most states require drivers to have insurance from the state in which the car is registered.

Buying Car Insurance

When you register your vehicle in a new state, you'll not only must meet their minimum coverage laws, you'll also have to purchase insurance from a company that is licensed in that state.

Why? Because the location where your vehicle is garaged is a major factor in determining your insurance rates. Rates differ widely even within a state itself. Some factors insurers consider based on location include:

  • Number of claims filed
  • Climate
  • Road conditions
  • Unemployment rates
  • Crime statistics

A national company may offer coverage for drivers in both their home and their winter abode. Ask your insurer to find out if they're able to cover you in both areas.

Drivers who keep their car in Florida, Arizona, or another warmer location may want to consider dropping more expensive coverage when they're away. They may also want to reduce their coverage if they leave a car back home during the winter months.

Dropping collision or comprehensive coverage, but maintaining the required liability coverage can help reduce you rates.  Remember, when you drop these extra coverages, you'll have to pay out of pocket for such occurrences as theft and vandalism.

Another more extreme option is to cancel your registration and completely drop your insurance. Then, when you return to the state, you must register your vehicle and get a new policy. Of course, no one can drive your vehicle without it being licensed and insured.

Although this may save you money, be careful if you plan on doing this. Although damages are less likely when a car is sitting in storage, nature won't care that your vehicle isn't insured. Hurricanes and other natural disasters could still damage your vehicle. Make sure you leave your vehicle in as secure of a location as possible.

Penalties

The high cost of insurance may tempt snowbirds to ignore the law and not purchase additional coverage for their winter getaway. While this is certainly easier than going through the process of buying extra protection, it can end up costing more than a few hours of your time.

One of the biggest consequences of not having the proper insurance occurs when someone gets in an accident. An insurer may deny a person's claim because they didn't know where the car was located. Drivers must pay out of pocket for any damages to their car or others. The driver must deal with these expenses in addition to fees for not having the correct coverage.

Laws vary by state on what happens if someone doesn't follow insurance rules. In Florida, according to the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles website, they are able to suspend a person's driving privileges. This can mean suspending a driver's license plate and registration for "up to three years or until proof of Florida insurance is provided, whichever is first."

That's not all. Once you reinstate your license, you have to pay a reinstatement fee. The fee depends on how many violations you've accumulated and can range from $150 to $500. You'll also have to show proof of Florida insurance before reinstating your license.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, not having the right insurance may result in suspension of your driver's license and vehicle registration. According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, future proof requirement is often in the form of an SR-22 from your insurer. By law, you'll have to carry the SR-22 for three years. This form can lead to higher premiums or even denial of coverage depending on the insurance company.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do I need to buy car insurance from the state I move to in winter? Can I just make sure I meet their insurance laws through my current policy?

A:  Yes, if you are in the state long enough that you must change your vehicle registration, you'll also have to get insurance through an insurer in that state. For example, even if you have enough liability insurance from your home state in Delaware to meet the minimum requirements in Florida, you must buy a policy from a Florida company.

Q: What happens if I don't have the proper car insurance in the state I'm driving in?

A: Penalties for not meeting state car insurance requirements differ from state to state. You could face thousands of dollars in fines depending on how many violations you receive. Many states will also suspend your registration, plates, and driver's license for a certain period of time. The suspension time usually correlates with the number of times you've been caught without the right insurance.

Q: Buying insurance for two different states seems expensive. How can I save?

A: Similar to buying other insurance, the best way to find the lowest insurance rates is to compare quotes from at least three companies before deciding on a policy. Other common ways to save include bundling policies, like your home and car insurance, with the same company.

Besides that, you can save in both states if your vehicle has safety features like anti-lock brakes and passive restraints. Ask your insurer if there are any other discounts you qualify for such as a military, senior citizen, or mileage discount. For a list of common car insurance discounts, click here.

Q: Will I need to get a new driver's license?

A: In general, you shouldn't have to get a different license, but check the laws for your specific state. For instance, as long as you're a United States citizen, you won't need a Florida driver's license. If you're in Arizona long enough to be considered a resident (seven months), you are required to get a new license.

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