Canadians who head down south for a good part of the winter to enjoy sunnier skies and a milder climate – and the opportunity to golf in January – are known as snowbirds.
Although there are other options, the Sunbelt of the U.S. is by far the most popular destination – it’s close by, has a similar culture and the same language.
Sun Destinations for Snowbirds
Many snowbirds stay for extended periods in Florida, California, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas. It has been estimated by the Conference Board of Canada that Canadians living in Florida during the winter months account for a whopping US$1.4 billion addition to the economy.
The Pacific coast and interior of Mexico also provide a home away from home for many retired Canadians. Long-term rates are available at good-sized villas that are located on sunny, secluded beaches on the ocean or lakeside. Many snowbirds have purchase property in both the U.S. and Mexico for extended stays.
Crossing the Border
Be prepared before crossing borders. Whether driving or flying the restrictions and guidelines involved should be researched beforehand. Canadian citizens entering the United States by air must have a valid Canadian passport. For document requirements when entering by land or sea, visit the Canada Border Services Agency website at www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/whti-ivho.
U.S customs requires a doctor’s note for any medicines and prescriptions that are being brought into the country. Make sure you buy enough medication in advance of your departure.
Travelling with a pet also brings about a list of considerations that must be addressed in advance, such as up-to-date inoculations.
Be sure you know how much you’re allowed to take in and out of the country – general goods, gifts, alcohol, tobacco, food and cash.
Check your bank’s website for advice on banking products and how to access your money while you’re away.
Getting good medical coverage and insurance is the single most important step that travellers can make before travelling to any country and especially for a prolonged stay. Emergencies can and do happen and can be devastating financially. The cost of medical treatments in the United States can be very high – an average hospital stay can exceed $1,500 per day.
Without extra coverage, most Canadians’ health insurance plans only cover $75 to $400 a day, so the difference can add up quickly. Be sure to top up your provincial plan with extra travel coverage.
Home insurance plans need to be reviewed carefully to ensure that they cover theft, vandalism and water damage from frozen pipes, ice, and sewer backups that might occur while the homeowner is away.
Many home insurance companies want to be advised in writing if you are going to be out of the country for more than thirty days. Ask how often your home must be checked.
Arrange for a family member, or a house-sitting service, to empty the mailbox, clear the answering machine of messages, shovel the snow and do routine checks of such things as windows and water lines.
Travellers may also need to provide their own insurance for the accommodations, such as a time-share condominium, in which they will be staying while away.
Taxation can affect temporary residents in the United States as well. Living in the country more than 30 days can make Canadian snowbirds subject to U.S. taxes, especially if you own any property.
Related: Smart Tax Planning Strategies
Before leaving the country, seek advice from a qualified accountant about exemptions, withholding, tax credits, interest, dividends, and other non-resident tax issues.
Take photocopies of passports, birth certificates or citizenship certificates. If using travellers’ cheques, record the numbers. Keep them in a separate place from the originals and leave one copy at home.
Related: Best Credit Cards For Travel Rewards
Check the expiry dates of your driver’s license, car insurance and registration. Arrange for bill payments and other financial obliations to be taken care of.
Leave your travel and destination information with relatives or friends, in case of an emergency back home.
Make sure someone you trust knows where to find your will, power of attorney and other important papers.
Whether you’re planning an extended stay in a milder climate, or a shorter-term respite from the snow, enjoy the experience. The rest of us will be jealously hunkering down in preparation for our long, cold Canadian winter.