Snowbird auto insurance should be on your checklist when packing up to enjoy warmer weather during the winter season. That’s because snowbirds who fly the coop to Florida each winter must make special arrangements to cover their car insurance claims.
Anyone with a vehicle in Florida for more than 90 days a year — and the days don’t have to be consecutive — must register the car and meet the Florida car insurance minimum requirements.
You might be tempted to register the car only in your home state to save on car insurance rates. However, 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.
Worst-case scenario: Drivers can have their license suspended for up to three years and the insurance company finds you misrepresented the car’s location and refuses to pay your claim.
Snowbird auto insurance: Florida’s insurance requirements
If you register a car in Florida, you need to have Florida insurance. To meet state law, you need at least $10,000 of personal injury protection (PIP) and $10,000 of property damage liability coverage. You can also include a deductible of up to $1,000 for PIP coverage and $500 for property damage liability.
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 snowbird auto insurance has to be purchased through an agent licensed in Florida. Most big auto insurance companies in your home state will also have agents in Florida.
You don’t need to get a new driver’s license; as long as you’re a U.S. citizen, you can use your home state’s driving license.
Do snowbirds in Florida need car insurance in the state?
Do you need to get car insurance if you’re driving around for four or five months of the year? In a word: Yes.
Suppose your legal residence is in Pennsylvania, and your vehicle is garaged in Florida but 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, so the insurer may say it couldn’t rate the car and driver properly because it didn’t have the correct information.
It doesn’t help that Florida has some of the country’s most expensive car insurance costs, tempting many to try to rely only on their home-state coverage.
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.
How snowbirds can save money on car insurance
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 drop your insurance coverage and then get new insurance and reregister your vehicle when you come back down the following year.
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 — hurricane season. You cannot make a claim if you drop your comprehensive coverage and a hurricane blows through Florida and swamps your vehicle or crushes it with a tree.
Your other option is to keep the car registered and maintain only personal injury protection (PIP) and property damage liability coverage. You may be able to get a low-mileage discount for that renewal period.
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, Florida.
The man flew into the state, jumped into his car for a quick trip to the grocery store, and got in a wreck, injuring the other driver.
“There’s a huge potential for financial disaster by suspending coverage,” Thompson says. “The least expensive choice today is, many times, the most expensive choice after a claim takes place.”
Shiner Law Group. “Understanding Florida’s Insurance Laws and How They Pertain to Snowbirds.” Accessed December 2022.
— Susan Ladika contributed to this story.