Are Canadian Snowbirds Allowed to Work in the U.S.?

Can Canadian Snowbirds Work While In The U.S.?

LAST UPDATED: August 22, 2023

The pandemic changed the way we work forever.  Remote work is now readily facilitated by technology and accepted by many employers.  

While many Canadian snowbirds are fully retired, many other snowbirds still engage in full or part-time work, a trend we are seeing now more than ever before due to a number of factors, including:

  • Technological advancements have made working remotely easier than ever.
  • The pandemic, which has made remote work more acceptable, and
  • An increase in individuals who are delaying retirement or transitioning into part-time work after retirement.

The reasons snowbirds still work are many - perhaps to fund the snowbird lifestyle, avoid boredom, or for a variety of other reasons. They may also be part of the new generation of “younger snowbirds” who are still working full-time but want to do so from a warm, remote location over the winter months.

However, Canadian snowbirds need to be aware that there are strict rules about working in the U.S. that must be complied with, and failing to comply with these rules can have severe consequences.

This article explores when – and how – it is ok for Canadian snowbirds to work while you are in the U.S. for the winter.

To help clarify what the rules are for snowbirds working in the U.S., we interviewed two experts on the subject:

  • Greta Campos, Deputy Executive Director, Operations, Office of Field Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), and
  • Guidy Mamann, JD, certified by the Law Society of Ontario as a specialist in immigration law and founding partner of the Toronto immigration law firm of Mamann, Sandaluk and Kingwell LLP.

Can Canadian Snowbirds work while they are in the U.S.

CBP Deputy Executive Director, Greta Campos, says that since “Canadian Snowbirds traditionally enter the U.S. as temporary tourists (visitors) for pleasure to escape the harsh winter season in Canada. Canadian Snowbirds are categorically PROHIBITED from any employment and full-time education in the United States while employed by a U.S. employer or paid in the U.S.” 

She warns the consequences of violating these rules can be extreme: “Foreign nationals from any country who are granted entry into the U.S. as tourists/visitors can only do tourists/visitor activities. Any Canadian snowbirds who work in the U.S. are in violation of their U.S. Immigration status under which he/she was admitted to the U.S. and can be deported from the U.S.      

However, Campos goes on to say: "Canadian snowbirds who engage in work for an employer not located in the United States and not affecting the U.S. labor market while a visitor to the U.S. may be admissible in such status if the accrual of profits and the principal place of business remains abroad.  This includes telework, and work whether full or part time. Further, the individual must meet ALL requirements for the intended class of admission.”

According to immigration law specialist, Guidy Mamann, when Canadian citizens enter the United States temporarily as ‘snowbirds’ they are admitted in the B1 or B2 category which means they are being admitted for business (B1) or pleasure/tourism (B2)

Mamann explains: “At the port-of entry, the officer determines the maximum length of their stay which is usually 6 months. This permit does not allow a person to ‘work’ in the United States. However, what is ‘work’ is now becoming more and more a topic of interest given our increased ability to work remotely. However, for people who do they should exercise caution.”

“To be clear, a visitor to the US may not receive a salary from a U.S. source for services rendered in connection with their activities in the United States’. This applies to full-time, part-time, and incidental work. I would strongly caution those who attempt to claim that work that is usually performed for compensation was done for no salary i.e., as a ‘volunteer’. This tactic will rarely work outside of the typical sort of volunteer work i.e., for a religious or charitable organization.”

“Accordingly, snowbirds who want to work remotely for their Canadian (or other foreign) employer while physically in the U.S. certainly can, but within limits. They must be careful not to be receiving any form of salary or remuneration from a U.S. source.”

“If they are self-employed and service Canadian and U.S. customers, they should be careful not to be providing services to their U.S. customer while they are physically in the United States because this can easily be construed as working in the United States without a valid work permit. This can lead to significant problems if this is discovered when later seeking re-entry to the U.S.”

What should Canadian snowbirds say their purpose is at the border?

When snowbirds cross the border to enter the U.S. – whether it is a land border or at the airport – they may be asked the purpose of their visit. We asked Guidy Mamann how to correctly answer that question if you are a snowbird:

“U.S. immigration authorities are generally courteous and professional but are definitely not known for their sense of humor,” says Mamann.  “So, if you tell them that you are entering the United States for some sun and relaxation, they better not find out that you entered the United States and worked for an American customer. There can be dire consequences for those who are perceived, even innocently, of having violated U.S. immigration laws.”

He added: “While some violations can lead to a ban from entering the United States even where  a violation doesn’t lead to a ban, a person who has not abided strictly with the terms of their admission will forever have to deal with the consequences of their diminished credibility when their immigration violation will be in plain view on the computer screen of the border officer who questions them on their next attempted return to the United States.”

Honesty is the best policy

“The way to stay out of trouble with U.S. border officials is to tell the truth. If the truth, cannot be told, it’s best not to seek entry because the consequences can be severe,” says Mamann. “Keep in mind that U.S. border officials can search you, your vehicle, your luggage, your cell phone, laptop etc. They don’t rely on you to tell them the truth. They have many other avenues of discovering the truth, and can even read the emails and text messages on your phone.”

Mamann says that U.S. border officials will look for statements that can be very incriminating…i.e., “Hi, Joe…we’ll be happy to pick you up at the airport and take you straight to the office to meet the team” or maybe “Don’t forget, just tell the border officer that you are going to a wedding”.

“I have seen officers deny entry to the U.S. by a simple review of the travelers’ cell phone address book where the contacts inexplicably contain U.S. recruiters, HR managers, suppliers and customers that are difficult to explain when claiming you are not intending to work in the United States. It won’t go well at all if a traveller to the U.S. is caught lying. A ban of five years can have devastating consequences for someone who needs to travel to the U.S. to conduct business or for leisure.”

The Bottom Line

To summarize, Canadian snowbirds who enter the U.S. as temporary tourists are generally permitted to work remotely in the U.S. - full or part-time - as long as they meet ALL of the following criteria:

  1. Their principal place of business is outside the United States
  2. The employer or client they are doing work for is not located in the United States
  3. They do not receive any remuneration from a U.S. source and are paid outside the United States
  4. Their work does not affect the U.S. labour market (i.e. they are not taking jobs away from Americans)

But keep in mind, every situation is unique and if you’re a snowbird who plans on working in the U.S., it is highly recommended that you carefully analyze your work situation before hand, are fully complying with the criteria above, and if you have any questions, consult with a Canada – U.S. immigration lawyer.

And if you run into an issue with a CBP officer when entering the United States, politely ask to speak with a supervisor who may be more well versed on the rules.

Disclaimer: The material provided on the website is for informational purposes only and does NOT constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial, real estate, medical or other advice, and should not be relied on as such. If you require such advice, you should retain a qualified professional to advise you.

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