Snowbird FAQs is a forum where we provide answers to some of the most common and interesting questions we receive from Snowbird Advisor members that we feel will be of interest to other members.
I've heard that some Canadians are driving their cars down to their winter homes and getting around the current U.S. border closure by giving fake reasons to border officers about why their travel is essential.
Is this actually happening? If so, what are the consequences if you get caught lying at the border?
We have heard anecdotal stories about individuals trying to cross the border (some successfully, some unsuccessfully) by lying about the nature of their travel so it would qualify as "essential". However, we have not been able to verify any of these stories yet.
Be aware that even if you don't get caught lying at the border, both the U.S. and Canada are sending officials to follow up on people after they cross the border to confirm that the reason and circumstances they provided for crossing the border are in fact true.
If you are caught giving false information to U.S. border officials, you could be banned from the U.S. for a period of 5 years or more.
The bottom line - lying to any customs or border official is always a very bad idea - and especially now while the Canada-U.S. border is closed to all non-essential travel.
My husband and I have heard that some U.S. states are requiring Canadians to quarantine when they travel to the United States. Is this true?
As of October 1st, 2020, there was no official requirement at the state level for visitors to quarantine when arriving in popular snowbird states Florida, Arizona, California and Texas.
However, this could change at any time so you should always check official sites before you go.
Also, it's important to be aware that just because there is no quarantine requirement at the state level, there may be local requirements at the city or county level, or in specific communities such as RV parks or golf & country club communities, so it's best to check with the management of your community before you go.
I am following the Canadian government's travel restrictions closely as I hope to be able to drive to Florida at some point this winter.
However, I am a little unclear about the U.S. Border Closure and the government Travel Advisory. Are they the same thing or are they unrelated?
The Canada/U.S.Land Border Closure, which prohibits "non-essential" travel by land between Canada and the U.S. and the Government of Canada Level 3 Travel Advisory, which advises Canadians against all non-essential travel to virtually ALL countries in the world (as of October 1st, 2020) are NOT tied together.
For example, the land border restrictions could be lifted or modified while the Level 3 travel advisory remains in place. Conversely, the travel advisory could be modified or reduced to Level 2 while the land border could remain closed.
Normally, travel advisories are country or even region specific. This one is unique in that it applies to virtually everywhere. Eventually, the travel advisories will likely be modified to warn of the specific level of risk in a country or region.
My husband and I own a home in Florida and are considering driving down for the winter.
We know the Canada - U.S. border is currently closed due to COVID-19, but I have heard that there may be an exemption allowing Canadians who own real estate in the U.S. to drive across the border.
Is this true?
Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation circulating about this topic, with rumours spreading that Canadians who own property in the U.S. are exempt from current land border travel restrictions and are allowed to drive across the border if they are travelling to their property in the U.S.
However, these rumours are not true.
While it is possible that this policy may change in the future, as of September 21, 2020:
- There is no exemption allowing Canadians who own U.S. property to drive across the border while travel restrictions are in place, and
- Travel for the purpose of visiting a property you own on the U.S. has not been deemed to be "essential travel" by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the U.S. agencies responsible for overseeing the Canada/U.S. land border closure.
NOTE: The information provided on this page is intended for Canadian citizens and permanent residents
We are planning to spend next winter in some more exotic destinations and are finding conflicting information about health and safety in those destinations. Where can we get reliable information?
Canadians can get reliable health and safety travel information on the Government of Canada’s Travel Advisory Website designed specifically for travellers.
The website provided information about:
- Local safety and security conditions and areas to avoid
- Possible health hazards and restrictions
- Natural hazards and climate
- Entry and exit requirements
- Local laws and culture
- Where to find help while you are travelling abroad
We also recommend that Canadian snowbirds register with Canadian Consular Services when they are travelling. You can learn more about why we recommend registering with Canadian Consular Services here.
You can register online or in-person at a Canadian consulate office.
We are going to be putting our Florida condo on the market because my husband is no longer able to travel. Do we have to pay tax in the U.S. when we sell our condo?
Canadians who sell U.S. real estate will generally have to pay tax in the United States when they sell their property.
You may also be subject to a withholding tax of up to 15% of the sale price, unless you are able to secure an exemption well in advance of the sale.
You’ll also need to report the sale and pay tax on any net gain in Canada. However, this amount can usually be reduced by claiming a tax credit under the U.S. Canada Income Tax Treaty.
It is always advisable to seek the advice of cross border tax professionals on both sides of the border well in advance of any sale of U.S. real estate to plan appropriately and minimize your tax bill.
You can learn more about tax implications for Canadians who own U.S. real estate here.
We had trouble finding a suitable winter rental this past Fall. When is the best time to start looking for a winter rental property for next season?
With so many people retiring each year, there’s a lot of pressure on the winter rental market across the southern U.S. and some parts of Mexico.
In addition, many owners of rental units give preference to their existing renters for the following year, so you may not even have access to these units if the current renters commit for next season.
With that in mind, its never to early to start seeking out a rental property, but the ideal time to look and book for the following year is in March and April, near the end of the snowbird season.
It’s also important to be aware that landlords usually prefer someone looking for a minimum 3-month rental, so if you’re thinking of just renting for one month, you may have a tough time finding something during peak season.
We have been renting a property in Florida every winter for the past 5 years and plan on coming to the same spot for many years to come. Is it cheaper to keep renting or would be better off buying a property in the long run?
When it comes to renting vs. buying a vacation property for snowbirds, the rule of thumb is if you spend 4 months or more in the same destination year after year, you’re usually better off financially if you buy, because the carrying costs of owning will be less than renting for 4 to 6 months.
Of course, if you’re looking to buy you’ll either have to have the necessary capital or the means to finance a purchase. Some snowbirds use a line of credit or mortgage on their Canadian home to finance a winter home - or you can finance through a Canadian bank that operates in the U.S.
Ultimately, whether it makes financial sense for you to rent or buy comes down to several factors, including:
- Do you plan on spending your winters in the same place for several years?
- How much time do you plan on spending in your winter destination each year?
- Do you have the means to purchase a property outright or finance the purchase?
I’ve read in the news that a new law may allow Canadians to spend up to 8 months in the U.S. instead of 6. What is the status of this legislation?
As of early January 2020, the Canadian Snowbirds Act, which would effectively amend U.S. tax law to allow Canadians who meet certain criteria to spend 8 months in the U.S. per calendar year (instead of the current 6 month limit) has only been proposed as a bill and has not been passed into law.
We are following the status of this bill closely and will advise Snowbird Advisor members of any important developments.
In the meantime, you can learn more about the proposed Canadian Snowbirds Act here.
We are going to be spending a few months in California this winter for the first time and plan to drive our car down with us. Can you please clarify how long we can keep our car in the U.S., as we hearing conflicting information?
You can keep a Canadian car in the United States for up to 1 year at a time on a temporary basis for personal use, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). At the one-year mark, you would either need to bring the car back to Canada or permanently import it to the U.S.
Keep in mind that this rule only applies for U.S. customs and import purposes.
Auto insurance is a different story. You should contact your auto insurance company before you leave to find out how long they will insure your car in the United States. Typically, auto insurance providers will only cover you in the U.S. for up to 6 months, but your coverage may have a longer or shorter coverage maximum.
My husband and I have been driving our car down to Arizona for years. We don’t want to make the long drive anymore, but we still want our car with us in Arizona. What are the best options for having our vehicle transported to and from the U.S.?
Your situation is not an uncommon one. Many snowbirds who drive their car south for the winter eventually decide they don’t want to deal with the long drive there and back. If you find yourself in this situation, you basically have three choices to get your car to and from your winter destination:
- Get a friend or relative to drive your car for you
- Hire a driveaway service to drive your car for you
- Hire a vehicle transport company to transport your car on a truck
Each option has its own pros and cons, so you’ll need to consider things like price, convenience, delivery options, safety and wear and tear on your car to determine which option is best for you.
Regardless of which method you use, the company or individual transporting your car will need to present certain documents when taking your car across the border to avoid customs and immigration issues. If you work with a reputable driveaway or vehicle transport company, they should be able to assist you with these documents.
You can learn more about transporting your vehicle between Canada and the U.S. here
We own a condo in Florida and are thinking of renting it out for part of the year to bring in some extra income. However, we have heard we could run into some issues. What do we need to be aware of?
Many snowbirds rent out their U.S. vacation properties for part of the year, as it can be a great way to help cover costs or bring in a little extra income.
However, there are some matters you need to consider and deal with ahead of time to avoid running into unexpected problems down the road:
- Taxes: Any rental income you earn from your U.S. vacation property may be subject to both U.S. and Canadian income tax, so make sure you get advice from a cross border tax expert on the potential implications before you rent out your property.
- Rules: Condo’s and planned communities have homeowner associations with rules that govern your ability to rent out your property. Make sure you know the rules that apply to your property. Things to look out for include minimum rental period requirements, how many times you can rent out your property during the year, whether you need approval to rent out your property, pet and children restrictions and minimum age requirements for renters.
- Rental Agreements: Always enter into a written rental agreement with your tenants so the rental terms and obligations are clear. Use an agreement vetted by a real estate professional or lawyer to ensure you comply with local laws and have the necessary language and clauses to protect yourself if an issue arises.
- Payment: Whenever possible, be sure to get paid in advance and ask for a security deposit.
- Insurance: Notify your insurer that you will be renting out your property and make sure you (and your renter) have adequate coverage while your property is rented out, especially liability coverage.
- Property Management: You will need a property manager or caretaker to handle any issues your renters may have with the property and inspect it after they vacate.
- Personal Possessions: Remove or lock away any personal possessions, empty your fridge and food cupboard
Can I take my CBD oil with me to the U.S. if I have a prescription for it from my Canadian doctor?
We receive a number of inquiries about the legality of bringing cannabis products and CBD oil from Canada to the U.S. now that it is legal in Canada.
We have also written extensively on this topic and want to reiterate that even though cannabis and CBD oil are legal in Canada and some U.S. states, they are still illegal federally in the United States, making it illegal to bring marijuana products and CBD oil to the U.S.
This applies even if you have a prescription from your Canadian doctor for these substances - as many snowbirds do. Your prescription is irrelevant and you are still NOT allowed to bring marijuana and CBD oil to the U.S.
Can I take any food from Canada to the U.S. if I am crossing the border by car using my NEXUS card?
When you cross the border by car with a NEXUS card, you are often not asked any questions about food or what you are carrying with you, as the NEXUS system works on trust (Trusted Traveller).
And while you are allowed to bring certain foods into the U.S. when using your NEXUS card, the onus is on YOU to declare if you have any food with you.
If you have food and you don't declare it, and a U.S. customs officer decides to inspect your vehicle and discovers the food, they can revoke your NEXUS card, even if the food you have with you would have otherwise been allowed into the U.S.
The safest solution is not to take any food with you when entering the U.S. and stop after you have crossed the border for snacks, fruit etc...
Remember, when you are issued a NEXUS card you are warned that if you violate any of the rules, you risk losing your NEXUS card.
You can find more information about what you can and can't bring to the U.S. from Canada here.
We are considering buying a vacation property in Arizona. Can (or should) we get a U.S. mortgage? What are our other financing options?
Canadians snowbirds have a number of financing options available when buying U.S. property.
U.S. mortgages can be a good option for snowbirds, but be aware that many U.S. lenders won’t offer mortgages to “foreign nationals” (including Canadians) and those who do may charge you a hefty premium.
If you’re looking for a U.S. mortgage, you should check first with Canadian banks that have operations in the U.S., as some of them offer U.S. mortgages for Canadians that use your Canadian credit history to evaluate your mortgage application and won’t charge you a premium for being a foreign national.
If you own property in Canada, you should also explore getting a mortgage in Canada or Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) on your Canadian property and using the proceeds to purchase your U.S. property.
There are pros and cons to each option, and the right option for you will depend on you your personal situation and the general economic environment.
Your best bet is to explore all options so you can compare each of them.
For more information on this topic, you may want to check out our top mortgage tips for Canadians buying U.S. property and snowbird vacation home financing options.
We’re a same-sex couple considering spending our winters somewhere warm. Which snowbird destinations are the most LGBTQ friendly?
While LGBTQ snowbirds share the same needs and concerns as all snowbirds, many seek out winter destinations that are LGBTQ friendly where they can feel safe and find a like-minded community.
Some favourites that are particularly welcoming to LGBTQ snowbirds include several destinations in Florida like Key West, Ft. Lauderdale, St. Petersburg, Tampa and South Beach.
And if you’re looking beyond Florida, take a look at Palm Springs, California; Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and Honolulu, Hawaii, as they also make the list.
You can find more information about winter destinations for LGBTQ snowbirds here.
We have been spending the past several winters in different destinations across the U.S., but are looking to try a different country this year. Can you please let us know what the top non-U.S. snowbird destinations are?
You are not alone – a growing number of snowbirds are exploring destinations outside the U.S. for their winter getaways. And depending on where you go, some of these destinations can be more affordable than spending your winter in the United States.
Some of the most popular non-U.S. snowbird destinations are the Puerto Vallarta and Bay of Banderas region of Mexico, the Northwest coast of Costa Rica and Panama City, Panama. In Europe, snowbirds are increasingly heading to Southern Portugal and Spain. And if you want to go further, the Gold Coast of Australia also attracts Canadian snowbirds.
My husband and I are planning for our winter in Florida and my passport expires in June, 2020. I always thought my passport had to be valid for 6 months after my return date to Canada, but a friend recently told me that it only has to be valid until my return date. Can you please confirm if this is true?
Your friend is correct that your Canadian passport only has to be valid for the duration of your stay in the U.S.
However, we have heard reports that some U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents are unfamiliar with this exemption and are requiring passports to be valid for 6 months after your expected return date.
Accordingly, whenever possible we suggest travelling to the U.S. with a passport that is valid for 6 months after your expected return date to Canada.
If you do decide to travel with a passport that has an earlier expiry date and you run into trouble at the border, you may want to try politely directing the CBP agent to the directive on the CBP website that states Canadian passports only need to be valid for the duration of your stay in the U.S. Learn more here.
We are new snowbirds who just retired. We'll be driving down to Mesa where we have rented a house for the upcoming winter and will be bringing our dog. What do we need to do to bring our dog across the border with us?
First of all, your pet must be healthy, look healthy and be well groomed or it can be turned away.
It is required that all pets are up to date with rabies shots and other vaccinations and you should carry a document from your veterinarian certifying general good health and vaccination records. It is also required for coming back to Canada.
Before you travel, be sure to look at the websites of the departments that oversee the importation of pets (even though you are not importing your pet, you are subject to the same health requirements).
In the United States, this is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). You can find regulations for importing pets on the USDA website. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) website also has requirements for importing pets, including rabies vaccinations.
It is also highly recommended that your dog be micro-chipped for identification purposes should he or she escape during travel or during your stay in the United States.
You can find more tips for Canadian snowbirds travelling with pets here.
We have been spending the past few winters in the U.S. and everyone keeps telling us we should get NEXUS cards. Is it really worth it?
While everyone's situation is different, the short answer is generally YES!
The NEXUS program allows members to travel between Canada and the U.S. much more quickly by using automated self-serve kiosks and dedicated lines for security and customs at airports, and dedicated lanes for cars at border crossings.
Depending on how busy an airport or border crossing is, having a NEXUS card can sometimes save you hours when travelling
However, it's important to keep a few things in mind:
- Everyone travelling with you must have their own NEXUS card, including minors under the age of 18.
- There are very strict compliance rules for NEXIS cardholders, including updating the personal information associated with your NEXUS card and complying with all customs declaration rules. Even a minor or unintentional infraction can result in you being kicked out of the NEXUS program for life, so be very careful to know and follow all the rules.
Canadians can apply for the NEXUS program online through the Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) website operated by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). You can also find information about applying for the NEXUS program on the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) website.
Paper applications for the NEXUS program are no longer available.
I’ve heard that when OHIP stops coverage for out-of-country medical expenses, my private travel insurance policy won’t cover me either because one of the eligibility requirements is that I need to be covered by OHIP for out-of-country medical expenses.
This doesn’t seem right. Is it true?
The short answer is no, this is NOT true.
Private travel medical insurance plans simply require you to be covered by OHIP (or the Government Health Insurance Plan in your province of residence). They do not require OHIP to cover you for out-of-country medical expenses.
You can find more detailed information here about how this rumour may have started and what the facts are.
My husband and I have been advised that we should file a Form 8840 with the IRS to avoid paying taxes in the U.S. When do we need to file this form?
The filing deadline for IRS Form 8840 - also known as the Closer Connection Exemption - is June 15 for the previous calendar year. The form must be filed annually.
Canadian snowbirds who qualify for the exemption and file Form 8840 by the June 15th deadline can stay in the U.S. for up to 182 days without being considered a U.S. resident for tax purposes.
My husband and I are considering buying a winter home in Arizona and a friend told us that we should set up an LLC in the U.S. to own the property. Is this the best option for owning U.S. property?
While LLCs (Limited Liability Companies) may be a good structure for Americans to own real estate, they are often NOT the best structure for Canadians to own U.S. real estate. Unfortunately, a number of Canadians have been incorrectly advised that LLCs are their best option by individuals who don’t understand the tax and estate planning issues on both sides of the border.
The best ownership structure for Canadians to own U.S. property really depends on your personal situation. Before you choose an ownership structure, we always suggest you consult with a legal advisor who specializes in cross border real estate transactions so they can help you decide on the right structure to meet your needs.
You can learn more about U.S. real estate ownership structures for Canadians here
I’ve heard there are different rules for how long Canadians can stay in the U.S. for immigration purposes and for tax purposes. Can you explain the difference please?
You are correct, there are two different sets of rules – one for tax purposes and one for immigration purposes.
A common misconception among Canadian snowbirds is that there is only one set of rules to comply with. This misconception can lead to the misapplication of the rules, resulting in a variety of negative consequences.
Tax rules deal with how long you can stay in the U.S. before you are considered a U.S. resident for tax purposes. Violating these rules by spending too much time in the U.S. or failing to file the required forms with the IRS can lead to serious adverse tax and financial consequences. You can learn more about U.S. tax rules for Canadian snowbirds here.
Immigration rules, on the other hand, dictate how much time you can spend in the U.S. in general. Spending too much time in the United States can lead to a number of adverse consequences when trying to enter the U.S., including increased scrutiny when crossing the border, being denied entry to the U.S. on a one-time basis or even being banned from entering the U.S. You can learn more about U.S. immigration rules for Canadian snowbirds here.
It’s essential for Canadians who spend time in the U.S. to comply with both sets of rules to avoid running into issues south of the border.
When I try to pay for gas at the pump in the U.S with a credit card, it asks me for my zip code. As a Canadian, I don’t have a zip code. I have heard there’s a “trick” to get around this issue but haven’t been able to find any details. Do you know anything about this?
Yes, there is a workaround you can use the often works:
When asked for your zip code, simply enter the three numbers of the Canadian postal code for the billing address associated with your credit card, followed by two zeros.
For example, if the postal code for your credit card’s billing address is F1F 2F3, you would enter 12300 as your zip code.
NOTE: We have been receiving word from some members who were able to use this workaround in the past that it no longer works for them. However, it still seems to be working most of the time in most regions of the U.S.
If I need medical treatment while travelling, will I have to cover the expenses out of pocket and claim them later, or will my travel insurance provider pay them directly? I have heard conflicting information about this.
First and foremost, whenever possible you should contact your travel medical insurance provider before seeking medical treatment, as they will want to ensure the treatment you are seeking is covered, send you to an approved treatment provider, help coordinate your treatment, and where possible, arrange for direct billing with the treatment provider.
Obviously, in an emergency situation contacting your insurance provider before seeking treatment may not be possible. In such situations, you should contact your insurer or have someone contact them on your behalf as soon as possible after seeking treatment.
With respect to who pays for the costs up-front, it depends on the situation.
In general, if you go to a hospital for treatment and contact your insurance provider prior to or during your hospital visit, your insurance provider will arrange for direct billing, so you won’t have to pay your expenses out of pocket. However, for minor visits to a hospital emergency room, you may need to pay your bill and have your travel insurance provider reimburse you.
Alternatively, if you receive medical treatment at a doctor’s office or clinic, you will generally need to cover your medical expenses up-front and make a claim to be reimbursed by your insurance provider. However, in some cases, your insurance provider may be able to arrange for direct billing with the doctor’s office or clinic.
In either situation, it’s important to keep all of your receipts and get copies of your treatment records in case you need to provide them to your insurance provider at a later date.
We will be driving home to Canada from California soon. We love the food down here including the fresh fruits and vegetables. Can you please let us know what we are allowed to bring back to Canada in terms of food?
Generally speaking, you can bring limited quantities of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat products and some other food items across the border from the United States to Canada.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that the rules vary from product to product and can change at any time due to potential threats. There may also be restrictions depending on where the product was produced and which province you are returning to.
It’s also essential to know that Canadian law requires travellers to declare all food, plants, animals and related products when entering Canada.
To be safe, you should always declare all food items you are bringing in to Canada. In some cases, these items may be confiscated if they are restricted or prohibited
If you have a Nexus card and you fail to declare food you are bringing with you, you could lose your card, even if the item is allowed into Canada!
Some common food items you need to declare that may be restricted or prohibited include:
- meat and meat products
- cream, milk, cheese and other dairy products
- fruits and vegetables
- seeds and nuts
For more details about bringing food into Canada from the U.S., visit the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website.
I’ve been wondering if I should get the flu shot in Florida rather than the Canadian one since I spend most of the winter down there. Is there a difference?
We consulted with several medical professionals and learned that the flu shot is the same throughout North America – and indeed, in most Western countries. The flu strains that are covered in the shot each year are generally the same everywhere and the efficacy rate varies from year to year depending on how accurate the prediction was as to which strains would be dominant.
There is also an extra strength flu shot now that is recommended for seniors over 65.
While our research indicated that the flu shot is the same across North America, we still suggest you consult with your doctor on this point in case things change.
We are travelling to Florida shortly and wanted to know if the construction on I-75 around Detroit is finished or are there still detours?
We are happy to report that the planned construction over the past two years in the southbound lanes of I-75 in Michigan is now completed.
My husband and I have both just retired and are beginning our snowbird lifestyle. I have heard that we could lose our provincial health insurance coverage if we spend too much time outside Canada.
My question is this: Is there a limit to how long we can be away and still retain our OHIP coverage in Ontario?
Yes, there is a limit in each province for how long you can be away without being at risk of losing your health coverage.
For Ontario residents, you are generally allowed to spend up to 212 days outside the province in any 12 month period and still maintain your provincial health care coverage (there may be exceptions in certain circumstances).
If you plan to spend more than 212 days outside Ontario in a 12 month period, it is best to check with Service Ontario to explain your circumstances and get clarity on whether you will be able to retain your coverage.
Every province has its own rules for how much time you can spend outside your home province and still retain your health care coverage, so snowbirds in other provinces should check with their provincial health ministry for clarification.
You can find a summary of how long you can spend outside each province and still retain your health care coverage here.
On a side note, Canadians snowbirds should also be aware of the limits for how long they can spend in the U.S. without violating U.S. tax and immigration rules.
I take medical marijuana and cannabis oil for various health conditions. These medications really help me a lot. Can I bring them with me to my winter home in the U.S. since they are for medical purposes?
Unfortunately for you and other Canadians who depend on using cannabis products for medical reasons, cannabis remains illegal under U.S. federal laws in any form and quantity, making it illegal to bring it across the Canada-U.S. border, even though some U.S. states have legalized cannabis for medical and/or recreational purposes.
Do not attempt to fly or drive cross the Canada-U.S. border with any amount of cannabis in any form. You could be barred from entering the U.S., charged with an offence or even serve jail time.