Tips for Snowbirds Heading South

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Scott Boyd

December 02, 2019

Travel and lifestyle

The annual migration of Canadian Snowbirds heading south in search of warmer weather will soon be underway. These dedicated travellers are not looking for a mere couple of weeks to break up a long Canadian winter; for these travelers, the goal is to avoid winter altogether! If you dream of joining the Snowbird lifestyle, here are some things to keep in mind to help you prepare for an extended stay.

1. Be clear on how many days you can stay in the U.S.

Because the U.S. is such a popular destination for Canadian travellers, it deserves special mention when it comes to understanding rules around your length of stay. That’s because if you exceed a certain number of days the U.S. government may determine that you have a “substantial presence” in the country and will expect you to file a U.S. tax return.

The length of your stay is calculated using the Substantial Presence Test which considers the time you’ve spent in the U.S. for the most recent 3-year period. For more information on the substantial presence requirement you can refer to this Internal Revenue Service website.

2. Ensure you have adequate medical coverage

Because healthcare is provided by your province of residence, coverage and availability varies based on where you live. Generally speaking, however, provincial healthcare provides only very limited coverage outside of Canada. For this reason, it is highly recommended that you have adequate travel insurance in case you require medical services while travelling abroad.

Speaking of healthcare, you also need to know that depending on how long you’re away from your home province you could lose your provincial healthcare coverage. Again, rules vary by province so be sure to check with your provincial health authority for specific requirements.

Government pensions and benefits

If you receive either Canada Pension (CPP) or Quebec Pension (QPP) benefits, you will continue to receive your payments no matter how long you choose to be out of the country. In fact, you could even relocate to another country and remain eligible for your pension benefits.

If you also qualify for the Old Age Security (OAS) benefit and have resided in Canada for at least 20 years after turning 18, or move to a county that has a social security agreement in place with Canada, you will continue to receive this benefit as well. See the Service Canada website for more information.

Review your home insurance policy

Many home insurance policies have a 30-day vacancy rule that could result in denied coverage should something happen to your home while you’re away. You might be surprised to learn that if you leave your home unattended for as few as four days during the winter, your insurance company may not cover damage caused by frozen water pipes or other weather-related damage.

You can arrange to have a neighbour or friend regularly stop by to check on things, but there are also professional service providers that specialize in looking after properties for owners away on extended vacations. You can even hire house sitters who will watch over your home in exchange for living rent-free in your home while you’re out of the country.

Forward your mail

There’s no need to let your mail pile up at your front door or rely on your neighbour to collect your mail while you’re away. Canada Post offers a mail forwarding service that will forward your mail to you practically anywhere in the world.

Check for expiring documents

Before heading off for your annual escape from the snow, ensure that none of your important documents will expire while you’re away. You’ll need to make sure your passport will still be valid for the duration of your stay but be sure to check other important documents like your driver’s licence and health card as well.

It’s also a good idea to make photocopies of all your important papers. Keep one copy at home and take copies with you that you can pack separately from the originals. These copies may not always suffice as stand-ins for the official document but having a copy of a document to refer to may make it a bit easer to get replacements should you lose an original.