Florida Expat Health Insurance Guide
America’s Sunshine State doesn’t let anybody down when it comes to delivering beautiful weather. However, there is more to Florida than just stunning beaches and Walt Disney World.
Florida is the USA’s most south-eastern state and is surrounded by ocean on three sides. It has historically been a gateway for the rest of the continent. Many immigrants now call it home; Latino, Hispanic and Caribbean influences echo through the southern parts, whereas the north is proud of its Deep South heritage.
With such an incredible variety of places to experience, it’s easy to see why anyone considering relocating abroad would consider Florida as a destination. The sun is always shining, education is free and you are never short of delicious cuisine. What more could you wish for?
Surrounded by Caribbean islands, it is not hard to fathom why deep southern Florida has a tropical climate. The likes of Key West and Miami revel in summer temperatures averaging at 28°C but easily reaching over 30°C on the hottest days. However, the hottest months (May to October) are also the wettest in South Florida. Thunderstorms are commonplace and there are heavy downpours every few of days.
The dry season for southern Florida starts in late October and lasts until around April. During these months, temperatures tend to dip below 25°C and average around 20°C.
Hurricane season typically spans August to October. Over the years, Florida has been struck by some of the deadliest tropical cyclones, hurricanes and tornadoes in history. Severe weather of this nature can occur in other months. Sometimes years can pass without Florida being struck by a destructive storm or, like in 1994, there can be multiple incidents in a single year.
The northern and central areas of Florida have a humid subtropical climate. Summer temperatures match those in the deep south of Florida but there tend to be many more rainy days, particularly in coastal areas.
Winter temperatures tend to be cooler the further west you venture into northern Florida, averaging around 10°C in December and January. In the east, however, a dip to between 14°C and 18°C is the norm in the winter, which is also the dry season.
–Miami Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days
–Orlando Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days
–Jacksonville Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days
–Pensacola Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days
–Tampa Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days
Due to Florida having a booming tourist industry, this is what many envisage when they consider any level of culture in the state. However, as a coastal state in the South, there are two influences that greatly affect Floridian culture.
You will rarely hear a Southern accent or find any soul food in central or south Florida these days. However, head upstate to the north and you will find Southern accents, cuisine and culture.
Although the southern and central parts of Florida have lost their Southern sparkle, the immigrant population has ensured there is some zest injected into this part of the state. Southern Florida is a melting pot of different ethnicities and is an international crossroads to the USA. There are people residing in Florida from all over the world but Hispanic and Latino residents make up approximately 20% of the population.
The fact that Florida is a New Spain state means there is history, culture, and food shared with the Spanish; especially Cubans and Puerto Ricans.
Miami is known as ‘the Capital of Latin America’ and is home to large communities of Cuban, Haitian and Puerto Rican residents, especially in Little Havana.
English became the official language of Florida in 1988 and 73% of residents speak it as a first language. Both Spanish and Haitian Creole hold co-official status in the Miami-Dade county and 20% of Florida’s population speak Spanish as a first language.
There is a high density of Spanish speakers in Tampa and Orlando. Interestingly, more than 200 first languages (other than English) are spoken at home in the state.
If you’re just visiting Florida, you can legally drive on a license issue by your home country or an international driving license. However, expats must obtain a Floridian driving license which involves taking the following tests: vision, hearing, road signs, road rules, and a driving test. Florida’s DHSMV is responsible for issuing driving licenses and there are many offices dotted throughout the state.
Driving is not a necessity in Florida but it can help if you regularly travel long distances. Traffic in Hollywood, Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville can be tedious at rush hour.
As a whole, the state of Florida has a strong bus and train network. Amtrak operate two trains within Florida – the Silver Star and the Silver Meteor. Each train departs from a different US city before reaching Florida. However, both routes stop at the same stations between Jacksonville and Miami: Jacksonville, Palatka, Deland, Winter Park, Orlando, Kissimmee, Lakeland, Tampa, Winter Haven, Sebring, Okeechobee, West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, and Miami.
Taking the coach is less expensive and Greyhound buses connect between Florida’s major cities. A ticket from Miami to Jacksonville would cost roughly $40 (£32.91) and a journey time of over 8 hours. Orland to Tampa takes under 2 hours at a cost of $10 (£8.03). Expats and visitors will benefit from an easy-to-use online Greyhound booking system that shows routes and prices clearly.
Most of Florida’s cities and large towns have strong public transport networks. Miami-Dade county is served by Metrobus, Metrorail and Metromover. These three services all intersect with each other seamlessly. Metrobuses serve all major shopping, entertainment and cultural centres throughout the county, as well as hospitals and schools. Metrorail is Miami’s version of a tube system and has 23 stations.
Metromover is completely free to use and is a 4.4 mile electrically-powered and fully automated sky-rail transport system. It operates on an inner loop and outer loop.
Orlando’s transit system is vast and designed with tourists in mid. It is home to Walt Disney World so having ample transport is key. The Central Florida Regional Transport Authority operates LYNX, a bus service with over 60 routes serving the Orlando metro area. The I-Ride Trolley is mostly used by tourists to travel between attractions and runs along International and Universal Drive.
There is no National Health Service throughout the USA. Medicare and Medicaid are two state-funded plans put in place for the elderly, disabled, poor, and young. Some are lucky enough to have their healthcare paid for by their employer. However, if you are a regular citizen without such a luxury, you will be footing the bill yourself. Expats in America must take out private healthcare insurance.
There are countless citizens without insurance and many people go bankrupt because of high health costs. Hospitals and doctors do not turn away the uninsured but an invoice is sent to them upon completion of treatment. The cost can be paid in instalments depending on their financial situation.
There are numerous hospitals and clinics throughout Florida and the quality is generally very high. Trendy areas such as Miami place an importance on wellness and looking good so amongst the regular doctor’s offices are nutritionists, life coaches and cosmetic surgeons.
Pharmacies are also very easy to come by. This includes chain stores such as CVS, Walgreen and Navarro Discount Pharmacies. Most supermarkets have in-store pharmacies too.
Florida uses the United States dollar, often shown as $ or USD. It is the official currency of the United States and its insular territories.
Each dollar is divided into 100 cents and there are 25, 10, 5 and 1 cent coins. Notes are available in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollars.
Expats will find that, like the entire continent, Florida is a cash and card society. Only the smallest outlets won’t take card and all towns and cities throughout the state have branches of most banks and numerous ATMs.
Expats may be overwhelmed when trying to decide which bank and which account to open in America. Those on short stays tend to simply use their overseas account to save any confusion. Those staying for the foreseeable future tend to dabble between their overseas account and a new US-based account.
Most banks will require expats to provide their passport, immigration information, social security number and proof of address to open an account.
Just like throughout the USA, education is compulsory for children aged between 5 and 16. Most parents prepare their children for school when they are three or four by attending pre-school.
The school system is divided into three levels. Elementary School covers kindergarten to grade 5 (ages 5 to 10). Middle School is grade 6 to grade 8 (ages 11 to 13). High School is grades 9 to 12 (ages 14 to 18). Grade 9 is often referred to as Freshman year and grade 12 is Senior year.
After High School, many choose to attend college (university). A popular choice is Florida State University. Many High School students aim for one of the Ivy League universities which are favoured for academic excellence, social standing and exclusivity. These include: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
Expat children are entitled to attend their local state school. Schools in Florida tend to be funded by property taxes so the schools in wealthier suburbs tend to have the better facilities. Parents will only need to pay for books, equipment and uniforms.
Those who speak English will have no problem in the American public school system. As school placement is based upon your catchment area, many children end up making friends with local kids.
Charter schools are often set up by teachers, parents or non-profit organisations. They do receive a little state funding but rely on donations from private sources. They are championed for providing specialised curriculums as they must follow fewer rules than state schools. However, waiting lists can be long.
Magnet schools are also state funded and tend to have a specialism. Although the curriculum covers all subjects the school may be a STEM school which specialises in science, technology, engineering and maths. Others may be specialists in performing arts, world languages or sports.
Standards of public schools in Florida can fluctuate but, in general, education is considered a strength. However, many hold the teaching and facilities of private schools as far superior. Private schools are not restricted by where a child lives and teachers do not need to abide by government guidelines, which results in a variety of engaging teaching styles.
Expat parents hoping to send their child to one of the more popular private schools in Florida should be aware that competition for places can be stiff and schools can be very selective about the students that they accept.
Children who don’t speak English or will not be settling in Florida for their entire school life may benefit from attending an international school but it is worth remembering these establishments have high fees. Expat parents have the option to send their child to an English teaching school to study for the International Baccalaureate. Alternatively, they can send their child to a school teaching the curriculum of their home country.
Food & Drink
There are three influences to Florida’s food; the Caribbean, the Deep South and the ocean.
Florida is a costal state with 2,170 km of coastline; the longest in the USA. For this reason, is it any surprise that seafood is a real hit? Particularly in the south, there are seafood shacks and restaurants serving up fish caught just hours before. Oysters and clams are devoured by the bucket load and Florida stone crab is a favourite.
Despite an affinity with the sea, Floridians love their traditional Southern pit barbecue. Most Florida natives have a barbecue in their back garden and spend hours marinating meat before a family feast. Chicken wings, soft-shell crabs, fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits and fried greens can all be found in the state.
If you want a sweeter taste of the South indulge in some Key Lime Pie. Key lime pie juice, egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk are mixed together and poured into a pie crust to form a layer. This is then topped with meringue. This delicious pie was actually invented in Florida.
Lastly is the Caribbean influence which is so prevalent that the term Floribbean has been coined. It is one of America’s most exciting cooking styles and perfectly marries the variety and quality of foods indigenous to the Caribbean Islands and Florida. Conch fritters are a popular snack, as is the Cubbano. The Cuban sandwich was originally served up by two Cuban immigrant workers in Key West. Cuban bread is laden with ham, roasted pork, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard.
Florida also has Cuba to thank for a couple of its most popular drinks. Mojitos are served far and wide, and Cubita is a sweet espresso drunk in the afternoons.
The South gave Florida sweet tea. It is a style of iced tea made by adding sugar to bags of black tea brewing in hot water while the mixture is still hot.
Florida is also known for its orange juice. The orange was bestowed the title of Official State Fruit in 2005 and orange juice is now the state beverage. Oranges have been grown in Florida as far back as history stretches and there are generations of citrus growers who will not reveal their secrets.
Due to America’s history, there is an understandable general threat of terrorism throughout all states. In Florida, visitors and expats should be vigilant when in busy places or tourist areas. Equally, people should also remain aware of pickpockets and bag snatchers in these places. Thieves make the most of these opportunities so keep belongings safely concealed in a bag.
As mentioned previously, tropical cyclones and hurricanes have battered Florida in the past and resulted in a number of fatalities. Hurricane season typically spans August to October, with some hitting the state as early as July. If you are living in Florida, make sure your home is appropriately protected and you know what to do in the event of a hurricane. If on holiday, always do exactly what you are told and leave as soon as possible in the event of a warning.
You may think you only need to worry about wildlife in rural Florida, but there are gators making their homes in urban areas too. Sharks can sometimes be seen in the shallows of the southern coast and snakes are common on both land and water. If you come across any of these dangerous animals remove yourself from the situation as quickly and calmly as possible and alert the authorities.
Florida Emergency Numbers:
- Ambulance, Fire Brigade, Police: 911
- Gas Leak: 392-1121
- Coast Guard: (305)-535-4368
- Hurricane Hotline: 954-831-4000
Places to Visit
Whether you want a city break or to escape in the wilderness, you can find both in Florida. Many have an image that popular American states are one dimensional, but when you investigate further you realise there is a variety of experiences and opportunities available to tourists and expats.
Just off the coast of Fort Myers Beach is Sanibel Island. Much of the island echoes the 19th century, especially the lighthouse and boardwalk which meanders through the marshes. Half the island is comprised of J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Not only can visitors see 245 bird species, 35 mammal species and 60 reptile species, they can also take part in a number of outdoor pursuits.
Part of the Florida Keys archipelago is the island city of Key West. It is known as one of the best diving and snorkelling destinations in the world. Many take part in walking tours of Key West to take in the intriguing architecture, courtyards and gardens. Just 90 miles from Cuba, you are guaranteed a Caribbean climate in Key West.
Walt Disney World
It is not an experience for everybody but, if you have little ones, chances are Walt Disney World will be on any Florida itinerary. Even those without children cannot help but be perplexed by the sheer grandeur and charm of the place. The park is split into four parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom) and two water parks (Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Disney’s Blizzard Beach).
If you didn’t know better, you’d assume you were in Cuba. Florida’s international coastal city is a melting pot of different Latin cultures and the pastel architecture is a throwback to the 80s. It is considered one of the most glamorous places to live in America and Miami Beach is the place to go; you may even spot the odd celebrity there.
Away from the tourist haunts and trendy cities is the wondrous Everglades. A merging of swamps, wetlands, lakes, rivers, prairies and grassland makes up the 1.5-million-acre national park. Visitors can take to the water on guided tours to see gators, herons and cranes amongst the mangroves. On land you might catch yourself a glimpse of a racoon, bobcat or white-tail deer. Keep your wits about you, however, as there are 100 remaining Florida panther calling the Everglades home.