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Canadian Snowbirds: Tips for Extended Visits to the United States

by Susan Quilty on 89 Comments

Snowbirds are retirees who migrate with the seasons

Snowbirds are retirees who migrate with the seasons

Every winter, active adult snowbirds flock from northern climates to America’s warmer southern regions. While many of these retirees are coming from the northern United States, some of them hail from neighboring Canada.

Though Canadian snowbirds share much in common with their American counterparts, crossing the border brings additional concerns. Doug Gordon is one Canadian snowbird who has been wintering in the United States for the past eight years. While Doug and his wife have enjoyed their winter visits to Arizona and California, they are careful not to stay longer than the allowed 182 days per year. If they were to exceed this limit, they would be required to pay taxes in both countries.

Like many snowbirds, Doug acknowledges, “[The taxes] would be a kind contribution for allowing us to hunker down under the wonderful California sun for the winter, but we choose to count the days.” While they can appreciate the reasons behind the laws, double taxation is a cost that most snowbirds cannot afford. Fortunately, these extra taxes can be avoided by staying only as long as allowed by law.

Canadians who visit the United States for less than 30 days in a calendar year are simple “visitors” and do not have to worry about taxes. If a Canadian’s visit extends more than 182 days in a calendar year, he is considered a “resident alien” for tax purposes and must file a regular U.S. tax return. Canadian snowbirds whose visits fall between 30 and 183 days in a single calendar year still may meet the criteria for having a “substantial presence” in the United States.

Having a “substantial presence” does not necessarily mean that snowbirds will be required to pay U.S. Taxes. They will need to file Form 8840 Closer Connection Exception Statement for Aliens with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Failure to file this form could result in hefty fines, even if no taxes were owed.

There is a simple formula to determine if a Canadian visitor meets the criteria for a “substantial presence”: Add the number of days visited during the current calendar year, plus 1/3 of the days visited in the previous year, and 1/6 of the days visited in the year before that. Let’s say a Canadian couple visited the United States for 130 days in 2009, 120 days in 2008, and 120 days in 2007. They would add 130 days, plus 40 days (1/3 of 120), plus 20 days (1/6 of 120 days) for a total of 190 days. Since this is more than 182 days, the couple would meet the criteria for a “substantial presence” and be required to file Form 8840 with the IRS.

When Canadians purchase a winter home in the United States, the tax laws can be complex, especially when the home is rented out while the homeowner is away. Before purchasing a home, Canadians should become familiar with the tax laws that will affect their ownership both in the United States and in Canada. If a homeowner dies while retaining ownership, his winter home will also be subject to U.S. estate tax laws.

Like most Canadian snowbirds, Doug and his wife recognize the need to plan for medical care or emergencies while visiting the United States. Doug’s approach will likely sound familiar to other visiting snowbirds: “We purchase travel insurance before leaving, visit urgent care if needed, or get on a plane and get home if necessary.”

Travel medical insurance is an important consideration when Canadians plan an extended visit to the United States. Though it certainly helps to have a physical examination and fill prescriptions before leaving Canada, travelers should be prepared for illnesses or accidents that may come up during the visit. Travel medical insurance will help protect visiting snowbirds from the high costs of an uninsured emergency or urgent care visit.

As they will be wintering in another country, Canadian snowbirds must also consider currency exchange rates. It’s best to plan ahead when exchanging currency. By watching the rates as they change, Canadians can purchase U.S. Dollars to their advantage.

Though there are additional considerations, many Canadian snowbirds enjoy wintering in the United States each year. The Canadian Snowbird Association (CSA) is a not-for-profit organization that offers a wealth of information to educate and support Canadian travelers. Members can also enroll in the Snowbird Currency Exchange Program, join the CSA Auto Club, or find information about recommended travel medical insurance.

Through organizations like the Canadian Snowbird Association, information found online, and the help of fellow travelers, Canadian snowbirds can learn how to accomplish their dreams of wintering in a warm climate. With a little planning, it is easy for snowbirds to divide their time between two homes, even if those homes happen to be in different countries.


  1. My days are getting close to 180. I visit only for week at a time. How is my time monitored when many times the Canadian border does not swipe my passport. Would the border be able to tell me how many days I have spent?

    1. they have now a us/cdn integrated computer program in place and all the USA guy does is swipe your passport and he knows when you entered and when u left because the cdn side swipes your passport when you re-enter Canada
      no different than they can read your plate and know who the vehicle belongs to before you even get to the booth

  2. Heed this warning. I went to the US this summer and the guard told me
    NO six months, no 183 days ,no 182 days . One Hundred Eighty days in any given 12 month period. SO I was there in July so they look at my time spent from August 01 2013 to July 31 2014 (last 12 months).and yes they calculated my stay and had a record of it as they asked me what I thought was my days spent and then they confirmed via computer!!!!!

  3. I think it would be in the best interest of all Canadians to lobby the US CBS and have them unifiy nationally the exact rules and regulations and take the discreation away from the person(border agent) and make them follow a set of rules and regulations no matter what their personal beliefs and feelings are as they do today
    save a lot of people undue grief and agrivation

  4. How do I find out how many days I have spent in the U.S.A. for the past 3 years? I have no records to use to calculate how long I was there.

    1. We are seeking the same information Lynn. It is very difficult to calculate since I have been very sick and can’t find the records. I was hoping we could call a number and they could easily give it to us from their computer. It would ease a lot of stress for many of us

  5. Hello, I am recipient of CPP. Service Canada denied my OAS , regarding the 183 days Law.
    In 2012 I was 61 days in Canada, 135 days on vacation and returned into Canada for 126 , when I left the country again.
    Service Canada is telling I can not be absent more as consecutive 183 days/per 12 Month period randomly chosen and not calendar year, after them! – but I have to be consecutive more as 183 days in Canada?! – and no way to add 61+126=187 days in Canada. No law is telling “consecutive days ” in Canada!I tell “cumulative days”.
    In OAS law can not find the Law for me, and they reject that I am coming with CRA/ Health/Travel law paragraphs.
    Can help me somebody?
    Stefan GULYAS

    1. Stefan,
      Review Income Tax Act. Section for Residence, it is not consecutive days, it is total in a calendar year. There is OAS Act on line. Review if there is definition of residence ship. Ask the officer the section of act he has used to determine your no of days. Good luck

  6. Can I Leave my Canadian Registered Car in Florida for the summer instead of driving back and forth. I am a snowbird, and visit Florida for 5 months. The maximum Liability coverage in Florida is $ 100,000. Wherein Ontario is $ 2,000.000. Incase Insurance Injury claims is in excess of $ 100,000. It would be covered by Ontario policy but not by Fla policy. The umbrella coverage is not available if properties are owned in out of Canada. Please let me know your views. Thank you

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