Canadian Snowbirds Will Not Be Denied

Since the global recession in 2008 and 2009, Canadian snowbirds have shown a stubborn refusal to stay grounded. Many may have diversified destination choices or shortened trips, but snowbirds have proven to be the bedrock of Canada’s leisure travel market.

According to David Redekop, principal research associate with the Conference Board of Canada (CBoC),  Canadians of all ages have increased their number of out-of-country leisure trips from 21.3 million in 2009 to 26.2 million in 2012, and if they keep to that trajectory they will exceed over 31 million international trips by 2017. That’s quite remarkable considering that Canada’s total population is just over 35 million.

Redekop also notes that the 55- to 64-year-old age group has generated the greatest increase in Canadians’ international travel. “We’re getting older, visiting more countries… Who would have thought that countries like Cambodia, those in Eastern Europe or Turkey would become major tourism destinations?”

Over the past decade, Canadian seniors and snowbirds 65 and older have increased their travel to countries other than the United States, a trend Redekop expects will continue. But even with such increases, approximately 65 per cent of Canadian out-of-country leisure trips are still taken to the US. And given the increasing costs of overseas travel, Redekop believes that seniors 65 and older may return to destinations closer to home, to warm weather locations within the US.

New rules give snowbirds more flexibility

As you may have seen in our recent post, “Alberta Extends Out-of-Province Health Coverage,” a majority of Canadians now have one extra month to travel out of their home province without risking loss of their provincial health insurance. British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario now allow their residents to travel out of their home province for up to seven months per year instead of six. Newfoundland and Labrador allows its residents to stay out up to eight months per year. The remaining provinces and territories still allow only six-month absences. But they don’t all implement their rules the same way.

In Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland, which apply a 12-month framework, you must add up the total number of days you have spent out of the province over the most recent 12-month period, even if it overlaps from one year to the next. The remaining provinces (except Quebec) use the calendar year framework by which you tally up all of the days you spent out of the province during one calendar year (from January 1 through December 31 of the same year).

Quebec allows its residents to take short trips of up to 21 days without counting them against the six-month limit. That leaves only Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Yukon, Nunavut, and NWT retaining six-month limits on out-of-province travel. How long can they hold out? Probably not much longer. Stay with us and we will flash that news to you as soon as it happens.

Get the facts. Stay with us.

But we have to caution you, as we did in our recent posting on Alberta’s new rules, that you need to count on reliable sources for your news about cross-border travel. For example, when Alberta announced its out-of-province extension, newspaper headline writers jumped to the conclusion that its residents could immediately add one more month to their winter vacation in Arizona, Texas, California, Nevada, Florida, or anywhere else in the US. That is not true. The extension gives snowbirds the option of travelling to other provinces or to countries other than the US after having exhausted their six-month vacation in the sun, but it does not give them permission to spend more than six months in the US. Only a change in American immigration law can do that, and such a change is not imminent.

240-day visa? Not yet.

For several months, Canadian media have also been touting the US Senate passage of a 240-day retirement visa for Canadians as if it were inevitable. We at TIF have been besieged by questions about when this will come into effect. Our answer: don’t hold your breath. The US government does not act quickly, and even when it does act, every bill still requires not only Senate passage, but approval by the House of Representatives and the president. How long has it been since you saw these three entities agree on anything? Moreover, the 240-day visa bill has also been rolled up into a highly contentious immigration debate that has little chance of being settled prior to the 2014 congressional election.

More incentive to count your days

We also need to caution you about the evolving cross-border information activities of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (a part of Homeland Security) and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA).

We reported on these activities in an advisory we posted on TIF on November 12 (“Canada and US to Share Border Data”).

We noted: “Under the new system, when Canadians return home by road or air, they will present their passports to a CBSA officer and be ‘checked in.’ But that data will then be shared with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and recorded as an ‘exit’ (from the US) for that particular traveller. Thus, an entry into one country will be considered an exit from the other.”

As we reported in our post: “The first phase of the system was activated from September 2012 through to January 2013 at four of the busiest crossing points between Canada and the US:

  1. Pacific Highway, Surrey, BC
  2. Douglas (Peace Arch), Surrey, BC
  3. Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
  4. Niagara Falls Rainbow Bridge, Niagara Falls, Ontario”

There have been subsequent test runs of the system.  It is expected to be fully operational by June 2014, and it will be used to track the exits and entries of all travellers, US and Canadian citizens included.

As members of Snowbird Plus, you will continue to receive these exclusive advisories. So stay tuned. And if you have any questions about travel insurance or cross-border issues, please don’t be shy about contacting us directly. We would like to hear from you.

Finally, we at Travel Insurance File would like to thank you for your support and wish you a truly Merry Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year. A happy holiday season to all!

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