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Vacation home car insurance

If you're a snowbird who heads south to another state for the winter, you'll need to make sure you understand the car insurance laws at your destination.

Common questions about car insurance for snowbirds include:

  • Do you need to register your car at your winter home?
  • Do you need to buy insurance in the state where you spend the winter?

Below, we'll cover snowbird car insurance requirements in two popular winter destinations for snowbirds, Arizona and Florida, to see how their requirements differ for their temporary residents. We'll also provide general information about snowbirds and insurance, so you're covered no matter where you spend the winter.

Key takeaways

  • If you spend the winter in a different state from your primary residence, you may need to register and insure your car in that state.
  • If your car is in Florida for more than 90 days each year, you need to register it there to comply with Florida laws, but in Arizona, you can stay up to seven months before registration is required.
  • Snowbirds need car insurance in the state where they spend the winter if they stay long enough to require the car to be registered.

What is snowbird car insurance?

The term snowbird refers to individuals – typically retired – who travel south from the northern part of the country for the winter. Snowbird insurance is car insurance for vehicle owners who live in a northern state but spend the winter months at a second home in warmer areas such as Florida or Arizona.

That home could be a vacation rental, a home the person owns or even a timeshare. There's no difference in terms of the insurance policy itself, but rather how coverage works when you spend a long period away from the state where your car is registered.

How does car insurance work if I drive a car in another state?

If you’re visiting another state for a few days or weeks or just driving through, your existing vehicle coverage should be all you need. However, if you plan on settling in a different state for a few months, you’ll need to have car insurance in that state.

Car insurance companies will automatically adjust your coverage to match the required limits in another state when you're visiting. But if you live there part-time, you might be subject to the laws of that state and need to make adjustments.

Do I have to register my car at my winter home?

You can’t insure a car and register it in two different states, except in rare circumstances. That means your first hurdle is finding out whether you must register in your winter home state. The rules differ from state to state, so make sure to check with the state's Department of Motor Vehicles to find out which rules apply to you. In some states, you are required to register your car if you plan to stay for a specific period.

If you own a home in that state, you can be considered a resident and subject to the same laws as other residents of the state, even if you're not full-time.

Do I have to insure my car at my winter home?

It depends on how long you will be staying. Your car insurance covers you in all 50 states, D.C., U.S. territories and Canada. But if you are considered a resident rather than just a visitor, it can affect the insurance rules.

In Florida, the rules depend on how long you will be staying in the state; if you plan to stay more than 90 days, you are required by law to register the car in Florida. And if you register the car in Florida, it will need Florida insurance.

That means that even if you live in New York for nine months of the year and in Miami for just three months a year, you need to register your vehicle in Florida.

You must get your coverage from an insurance company and agent licensed in Florida. That means you can't use your agent back home in New York unless they're licensed in both states. But you can use the same insurance company if it is licensed to do business in Florida.

In Arizona, the same rules apply. If you register the car there, you must insure it through a company licensed in that state.

Can a snowbird register a car in Florida?

In Florida, if you have a car in the state for more than 90 days each year — and those days don't have to be consecutive — you have to comply with Florida's registration requirements.

You can register a car in Florida even if you have an out-of-state license, but you will need to provide the garaging address and proof of a Florida car insurance policy.

tip iconTIPIf you’re driving south for the winter, you might want to look at all your insurance options. “There are special coverages such as trip interruption, roadside and theft of personal property,” says Jimmi Lewis of the Voi Insurance Solutions insurance agency. “Trip interruption coverage can pay for expenses such as hotel and food if your vehicle breaks down. … Roadside assistance is a no brainer. And since regular auto policies do not provide any coverage for your personal belongings in your car, personal property coverage can help.”

What is needed to register an out-of-state vehicle in Florida?

To register a vehicle that’s titled out of state, you’ll need:

  1. The out-of-state title
  2. A completed HSMV 82040 application for a certificate of title
  3. A copy of your driver’s license or passport
  4. Proof of Florida car insurance
  5. The bill of sale

Do snowbirds need to register a car in Arizona?

If your winter roosting place is Arizona, you'll have a much easier time. If you live there less than seven months a year, you're considered a part-time resident and don't have to register your vehicle in Arizona, says Ryan Harding, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation.

How much insurance does a snowbird need in Florida or Arizona?

Every state sets minimum insurance standards. Arizona and Florida have some of the least stringent requirements.

Under Florida law, to drive legally, you'll need to have at least $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) and $10,000 in property damage liability coverage.

To meet Arizona law, you'll need to have at least $25,000 in bodily injury liability coverage for one person and $50,000 for two or more people. You'll also need to have at least $15,000 in property damage liability coverage.

Your home state likely has higher minimum requirements than Florida and Arizona do. (See what levels of coverage drivers like you typically buy using Insurance.com’s auto insurance coverage calculator.) Plus, snowbirds with significant assets should consider bumping up their coverage limits. Florida and Arizona’s minimum coverage requirements are not enough to protect you in case of a serious accident or lawsuit. Skimping could cost you your savings and homes.

The senior driver discounts in Florida and Arizona may be a little different as well. Make sure you ask.

Do snowbirds have to insure their car in other states?

We've covered two popular snowbird destinations, but there are other warm states where you might be headed for the winter. Your best bet is to check with the DMV in that state to find out what the rules are. In most states, there is a specific number of days you can reside there without needing to change your registration or insurance.

It's also a good idea to talk to your insurance company; most major insurers will work with snowbirds to adjust coverage as necessary from state to state,

Can I buy temporary car insurance in another state?

Many drivers look for temporary car insurance to cover relatively brief stays in other states, but it's generally not necessary. An insurance policy in one state will cover you in any state.

Your insurance will automatically cover you for the legal requirements of the state you're in if an accident happens. If you are required to register your car and buy insurance in your winter home state, temporary car insurance is unlikely to meet the legal requirements. You're better off asking your insurance company to switch your policy to that state for a few months.

If you're concerned about the cost of insurance in another state, there are ways to save:

  • Ask for a senior discount. You may find that senior driver discounts in Florida and Arizona may be a little different from your home state.
  • Ask about low-mileage discounts if you drive very little while on vacation

What happens if I don't insure my car at my vacation home?

While Arizona car insurance rates are relatively cheap, parts of Florida – the bigger South Florida cities, especially – are among the most expensive places in the country to insure a car.

That may make it tempting to keep your car registered in your home state, even if it stays in Florida for more than 90 days.

Your auto insurance rates are determined based on where your car is housed. By misrepresenting where your car is garaged, you run the risk that the insurer in your home state could deny your claims for misrepresentation.

It's considered premium fraud or rate evasion, says Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Your insurer will typically investigate your claim or hand it off to the NICB for investigation.

On top of that, if you're caught without proper registration and auto insurance in Florida, you can be ticketed by law enforcement officers.

Ashlee Tilford contributed to this report.

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