Snowbirds who fly the coop to Florida each winter need to make
special arrangements to make sure their auto insurance claims are
Anyone who has a vehicle in Florida for more than 90 days a year
-- and the days don't have to be consecutive -- is required to
register the car and meet the
minimum state car insurance requirements
You might be tempted to register the car only in your home state
to save on car insurance rates and avoid dealing with two insurance
agents and two insurance policies.
But that strategy could backfire and cost you more in the long
run. You could get a ticket at a traffic stop if you're caught
without proper Florida registration and insurance, says Kirsten
Olsen-Doolan, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Highway
Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Worst-case scenario: The insurance company finds you
misrepresented the car's location, and refuses to pay your
What Florida requires
"If you register a car in Florida, you need to have Florida
insurance," says Penny Gusner, consumer analyst for
You'll need to have at least $10,000 of personal injury
protection (PIP) and $10,000 of property damage liability coverage
on your vehicle to meet state law, says Olsen-Doolan.
Although car insurance requirements are minimal in Florida,
David Thompson, a licensed insurance agent who teaches courses for
the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, recommends you request
coverage and limits similar to those on your vehicle at home.
And even if you have an insurance agent you love back home, your
Florida car insurance has to be purchased through an agent licensed
in Florida. Most big auto insurance companies in your home state
will have agents in Florida as well. (See a list of
auto insurance companies licensed in Florida
What you don't need to get is a new driver's license, as long as
you're a U.S. citizen.
Olsen-Doolan says you can retain your home state's driving
license. If you're a Canadian citizen, you can keep your license
from Canada, but also need a license from Florida or any other
state in the country, she says. Canadian snowbirds face the same
registration and car insurance requirements as those for residents
of other U.S. states, she says.
Do you really need to bother?
In a word: Yes.
If, say, your legal residence is Pennsylvania and you have your
vehicle, which is garaged in Florida, registered in your home
state, "it's possible that the Pennsylvania insurer could deny
claims, stating misrepresentation about where the car was located.
The premium paid would be based on the Pennsylvania address and
thus the insurer can say they weren't able to rate the car and
driver properly due to not having the correct information," Gusner
It doesn't help that Florida has some of the most expensive car
insurance costs in the country, tempting many to try to rely only
on their home-state coverage. (You can get an idea of what coverage
might cost at your Florida residence by looking at
survey of rates in all ZIP codes
, or get personalized
online auto insurance quotes
On the other hand, if you spend only a couple of months each
year in Florida, under that 90-day threshold, you can keep your
vehicle registered and insured in your state of residence,
If your vehicle is garaged in Florida year round, you can drop
certain insurance coverage when you head back home, though that
isn't necessarily the best move.
Saving money while you're away
One way to save money on your car insurance bill is to surrender
your license plate and vehicle registration when you go home, so
you can completely drop your insurance coverage, and then get new
insurance and reregister your vehicle when you come back down the
That works only if your car is paid off -- a lender would insist
on full comprehensive and collision coverage -- and no one will
drive your car while you're away. Your car would not be covered for
any damage during that time.
Snowbirds are most likely to be in their home states during the
summer, which is hurricane season. If you drop your comprehensive
coverage and a hurricane blows through Florida and swamps your
vehicle or crushes it with a tree, you cannot make a claim.
Your other option is to keep the car registered and maintain
only PIP and property damage liability coverage. You may be able to
get a low-mileage discount for that renewal period, Gusner
But Thompson cautions against making that move. "I've never been
a supporter of suspending coverage," he says.
He recounts the story told by an agent in one of his courses.
One of the agent's clients removed all coverage but PIP and
property damage liability when he left the state, and planned to
reinstate the coverage when he arrived back in Key West.
The man flew in to the state, jumped into his car for a quick
trip to the grocery store, and got in a wreck, injuring the other
By suspending coverage, "there's a huge potential for financial
disaster," Thompson says.
"The least expensive choice today is many times the most
expensive choice after a claim takes place."