The Canadian Snowbird’s Checklist: Everything You Need to Do Before Heading Home

Canadian snowbirds returning to Canada after the winter

As the snowbird season winds down in March and April, most Canadian snowbirds begin heading home. However, there are several things to attend to before you depart to ensure a smooth transition home, so we’ve created a snowbird checklist to help you remember everything you need to take care of.

To some extent, this is our Getting Ready to Leave for the Winter Checklist in reverse, but there are a few other considerations too.

And remember, if you’ve been wintering in the U.S. you may be up against a definite deadline to get home to avoid being considered a U.S. resident for tax purposes or overstaying the number of days you can spend in the U.S.

You’ll also want to make sure you get home before your travel medical insurance expires and before you run the risk of losing your provincial health coverage.

COVID Update:

LAST UPDATED: April 12, 2021

For snowbirds who chose to travel somewhere warm this winter during COVID, there are several additional requirements and considerations when planning your return back to Canada, many of which are highlighted below.

Please note that at this time, being vaccinated does NOT exempt you from any of the following requirements.

Returning to Canada by air

If you are flying, keep in mind that most flights between Canada and the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean and elsewhere are either not operating, or are operating on a much-reduced schedule in terms of frequency and capacity.

Be sure to book your flights as early as possible. You might consider using a travel agent to assist you if you are having trouble finding flights or you would like to know all the options.

Snowbirds travelling to Canada by air are also required to do the following:

  • Provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 72 hours of the departure time of your flight to Canada (if you have a connecting flight, it must be within 72 hours of the departure time of your connecting flight to Canada).

    The test must be an approved molecular test, NOT an antigen test.

    If you fail to meet these requirements, you will be denied boarding by the airline.
  • Prior to your flight, use the ArriveCAN app or website to submit details about your flights and your quarantine plan for your 14-day quarantine in Canada (including your mandatory quarantine hotel stay). Print your receipt or have this available on your smart phone or tablet.
  • Pre-book a 3-night stay at an approved quarantine hotel in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto or Montreal.

Full details about requirements for returning by air can be found here.

Returning by land

Snowbirds driving back to Canada are required to do the following:

  • Provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 72 hours of your arrival at the land border crossing. Depending on your driving route and the amount of time you take to drive home, you may need to arrange for this test to be taken at a city along your route.

    The test must be performed in the United States and must be an approved molecular test, NOT an antigen test.
  • Prior to your arrival at the border, use the ArriveCAN app or website to submit details about your quarantine plan for your 14-day quarantine in Canada. Print your receipt or have this available on your smartphone or tablet.

If you are driving back to Canada, you do NOT need to book a quarantine hotel.

Full details about requirements for returning by land can be found here.

Getting organized

There’s a lot to do before going home. Some of it is just what you did in the Fall before heading south and some of it is strictly about going home.

  • Mail: if you were having your mail forwarded or if you want your U.S. mail forwarded or stopped, be sure to do this in sufficient time before you leave to return to Canada, so things don’t go to the wrong destination in the interim.
  • Service Reconnection: If you put your phone, internet and cable services in Canada on hold for the winter, remember to have them reconnected before you head home.
  • Medication: If you are flying, make sure your medication is in your carry-on luggage. If you are driving, in your overnight bag.
  • Travel Documents: Make sure your passport and/or Nexus card are easily accessible.
  • Pet Preparation: If you are taking your pet home make sure you have all the right documentation to travel. Check out our snowbird guide on travelling to the U.S. with pets.
  • Vehicle Transport Services: If you are having your car picked up or driven home, be sure to order the date you want well in advance.
  • Put your Canadian cash back in your wallet.

Driving home

  • Plan your route ahead of time and make hotel reservations in advance. You will want to have enough U.S. cash for the journey and any unexpected emergencies, such as speeding tickets that must be paid in cash.   
  • Check the weather for your route home to make sure there are no storms forecast.
  • Have your vehicle serviced and check tire pressure, brakes, etc… before you go.
  • Vehicle Documents: Make sure your vehicle ownership and insurance certificates are in the vehicle
  • Travel Documents: Make sure your passport and NEXUS cards are handy for crossing the border and not packed in the trunk.
  • Packing: Pack a small carry-on bag with all that you need for the journey (including warmer clothes, shoes, socks and a winter jacket as you get farther north) and take this into your hotel at night (include toiletries, laptop or tablet, chargers, medication, changes of clothes and anything else you will need on the way home). Then you don’t have to lug your big suitcases into the hotel each night.
  • Accessories: Remember to take all your chargers for phones, kindle, tablet, laptop, shaver, etc.
  • Water: Pack a small case of bottled water so you have plenty for the journey and your hotel stays.
  • Bringing Goods and Food Across the Border: The best plan is to not bring food across the border, but if you do, be sure to declare it. Likewise any alcohol, tobacco, etc. You must also be prepared to report the value of everything you have bought and are bringing home with you. This includes any work done on your vehicle (such as new tires or brakes). The maximum personal exemption is $800 CDN per person. There are also restrictions on how much alcohol and tobacco you can bring back.

Flying home

  • Book your flights well in advance and remember that flights are busiest northbound around the first of the month.  Be sure to notify the airline if you require a wheelchair or have any special needs at the time of booking.
  • Seat Selection: Most airlines now charge for seat selection but this small fee is the best way to ensure that you are sitting together and in seats that you prefer.
  • Valuables: Keep your valuables and medication in your carry-on luggage.
  • Check-in online 24 hours in advance to save time at the airport
  • Travel light:  You are allowed two pieces of carry-on luggage (that includes a ladies’ purse) and many fares no longer include checked luggage, so you may be charged for a checked bag. You will also be charged if your checked luggage is over the weight allowance.

Closing up your winter home - if you own it

  • Inspections: Advise your home watch person or service of your departure date
  • Maintenance: If you own your winter home or condo, make any necessary arrangements to maintain the property until you return next winter.
  • Newspapers: Suspend any newspaper delivery.
  • Strip your beds and cover furniture and beds with sheets as dust covers if you won your winter home.
  • Fridge: Clean out your fridge and freezer of all perishables, leaving only condiments and empty the freezer of ice and food in case of a power interruption – or, empty the fridge entirely and turn off, leaving the door propped open.
  • Unplug your TVs and any computers to avoid power surges
  • Service Suspension: Make arrangements to suspend services like your landline, cable and internet.
  • Set your air conditioning to a higher temperature and adjust the humidistat to a summer setting.
  • Lock all windows and doors and close blinds and drapery.

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