Snowbirds: Know your rights, responsibilities

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Hmmm... frost on the car this week, geese gathering and fattening up, those are sure signs of fall. That means snowbirds are getting ready to head south.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/10/2014 (2981 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hmmm… frost on the car this week, geese gathering and fattening up, those are sure signs of fall. That means snowbirds are getting ready to head south.

If you are one of those people fortunate enough to spend some of your winter in warmer climates, here are a few tips.

Obviously, you already have your travel health insurance in place, as it would be foolhardy to travel to the excited states, land of private medical care and multimillionaire doctors, without a full medical jacket to protect you in the event of illness or accident.

Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press files Heading to the U.S. for several months? Exchange half of your money now.

During the summer, I spoke with several people who had the “opportunity” to experience the medical system in the U.S. first-hand.

While all were highly complimentary of the service they received, nobody got off with a bill for less than $10,000, no matter how minor the ailment.

Don’t travel unprotected.

Check your dates

Remember you are present in the U.S. on a B-2 visitor’s visa. (You don’t have to apply for this, but that’s your actual status.) This only allows you to be in the US 183 days or less per year, or you may become a deemed resident, and be required to file a U.S. income tax return.

With last year’s late spring, many people stayed longer than usual and could have run afoul of this.

If you spend roughly 121 days per year in the U.S., you may have a “substantial presence,” and need to file IRS form 8840, the closer connection exception statement for aliens, to prove you have a closer connection to Canada than the U.S. This avoids the request for a tax return and preserves other privileges you have as a visitor.

The deadline to file this form is June 15 each year. Let me know if you need the details, and I will send you an article on this.

As of June 30, the two border services are collecting and sharing personal biographical data, so there’s no more fudging on the number of days.

Border kit

Terry Ritchie, co-author of The Canadian Snowbird in America (ECW Press), has a great suggestion to avoid any concerns at the border with regard to residency status.

The kit includes required basics such as your passport and any other travel documents, but Ritchie also suggests copies of most recent Canadian tax return or notice of assessment, a utility bill showing your home address in Canada and proof of ownership of property in Canada, if available.

These would provide very good proof to an overzealous border official that you really do live in Canada, notwithstanding the fact you are heading south to spend three or four months in a warm state. This can also be important on the way home.

Currency

I know you’ve taken my advice in the past and always tried to hedge your travel money needs by holding U.S. dollars and exchanging more when the Canadian dollar is relatively high. That means you’re not concerned about currency fluctuations, or with the fact the Canadian dollar is currently down around 89 cents US.

However, if you missed the boat on such transfers and you are heading south without any U.S. dollars, I’d recommend exchanging at least half of your needs at this point, assuming you have the money. You will at least be half right, instead of all wrong.

If you have purchased real estate in the U.S. or plan to do so, that opens another series of complications on which you should definitely get specialized, expert advice. Renting out such a property immediately puts you in a different category and properties with substantial value could also make you eligible for U.S. estate taxes.

It’s always something…


Dollars and Sense is meant as an introduction to this topic and should not be construed as a replacement for personalized professional advice.


David Christianson, BA, CFP, R.F.P., TEP, CIM is a financial planner and adviser with Christianson Wealth Advisors, a vice-president with National Bank Financial Wealth Management, and author of the book Managing the Bull, A No-Nonsense Guide to Personal Finance.

David Christianson

David Christianson
Personal finance columnist

David has been a practising financial planner and life advisor since 1982, specializing in helping clients identify and reach their most important goals, and then helping them manage all of their financial affairs, including investments.

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