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.

Related: 6 Free Mobile Apps That Make Travel Easier

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.

Related: Using A Nexus Card To Cross The Border

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.

Your money

Check your bank’s website for advice on banking products and how to access your money while you’re away.

Your health

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.

Related: Travel Medical Insurance – Don’t Leave Home Without It

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.

Insurance

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

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.

Other considerations

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.

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10 Comments

  1. Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies on September 19, 2012 at 6:29 am

    On behalf of the state of Florida: “Welcome! We can’t wait for snowbirds to arrive and look forward to your continued stimulation of our economy!” =)

  2. Butch on September 19, 2012 at 7:05 am

    Can you please explain more about having to possibly pay taxes if you live in the US more than 30 days? The actual amount of time before this kicks in is 183 days if you file the closer to Canada connection form.

    • Boomer on September 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm

      @Butch: Under the “Substantial Presence Test” you need to add up:
      1. number of days present in the US in the current year, plus
      2. one-third of the days present in the preceding year, plus
      3. one-sixth of the days present in the second preceding year.

      If this total equals 183 days or more, AND you spend 31 or more days in the US in the current year, you are considered a resident alien for the current year and can subject to US tax.

      There are exceptions, as you say, if you meet the requirements of the “closer connection exception”. You must file IRS form 8840 to claim the exception.

      It is in your best interest to know the rules and laws beforehand.

  3. Joe on September 19, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Despite the bureaucratic hurdles, risks, and higher costs (e.g. health insurance), Canadians are consistently desperate to live in the US. Particularly recently, since the depressed costs of US housing and the stupidly high cost of Canadian real estate have made the distinction clearer ($500,000 dog-kennel-in-the-sky in TO, or a $150,000 Floridian home in a gated community?). The reason the flow is always bigger south, I think, isn’t just about the money. It’s because America is a better, more free nation.

    • Rosemary Wells on January 11, 2013 at 9:34 am

      You had me until the last sentence. The reason the flow is north to south is because of the warmer climate. The samething occurs in Europe where the flow is also north to south. I believe there is also a north to south flow in Asia.
      The N to S flow in all of these countries is greater in the winter months. Not sure the “more free nation” applies.

  4. SE Book on September 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Great tips. I used to live in an area with tons of snowbirds in the winter. I have heard many stories about how difficult it can be sometimes, when they get hit with something unexpected. The only other thing I would add is if your driving get a tune up and make sure your car is in good order. That can get expensive as well if you run into problem on the road.

    • Boomer on September 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm

      @SE Book: That’s a good tip. It’s a good idea to play it safe and enrol in an auto association (AMA/CAA) to get roadside assistance if required.

  5. James on September 19, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    I have heard stories of waiting at the border to cross into the States after midnight, and crossing just before midnight on the way back, to ensure the maximum number of days. You could feasibly do something like that. The border is still relatively simple to navigate if you are prepared. I would prefer a few days wiggle room, myself. It would be huge let down if you missed it by one minute and had to pay taxes it both countries.

  6. Garrett @ Samurai Trading on September 20, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    As someone who has spent a lot of time living/working in the US over the years I would definitely agree that you need to look closely at the tax situation.

    It is definitely worth spending the money to get someone who specializes in these sorts of situations to look at your financials. I know in my case the money was paid for multiple times over by knowing the best way to structure my returns.

  7. Pursuit on November 4, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    Thought your readers would be happy to hear the Canadian Govt has struck down the restrictions on Canadians wishing to cross back into Canada in a U.S. rental car effective June 2012. The reason for the regulation in the first place was, of course, to prevent Canadians who live near American borders from taking advantage of lower airline prices and car rental prices when we fly home for short periods during our winter stay. There are many other times this is a real restriction on our freedom – eg. vacationing far from home in the U.S. but wishing to head north (or east the the Yukon) to visit distant provinces. The limit on the time one can keep a U.S. rental car in Canada is 30 days – plenty of time to do whatever one had planned.

    I won’t go into the details of the shakedown we experienced last year when we tried to cross, unaware of the issue, before the regulation was changed. So – very good news!

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