This question remains the most frequently repeated of any we get, and the answer, the most misunderstood. But it’s really not complicated if you keep in mind that the rules about how long you can stay in the U.S. are defined by the U.S. Government, not by Ottawa or the provinces. And the laws about how long you must live in your province each year to keep your health coverage are set by your province, not the U.S. Two sets of laws—quite separate.
So when you hear someone from Ontario or B.C. telling their neighbour that they can now stay in Arizona or Florida for seven months a year instead of six, be sure to set the record straight.
American immigration rules allow Canadians (citizens or legal permanent residents) to stay in the U.S. as visitors for up to six months in any consecutive 12-month period. These six months are sometimes interpreted as 180 days, 182 days, or simply as “six months”—which gives you some leeway depending on which months you pick. The reason for the difference is that immigration laws are hybrids, blended together over decades, and not always with great consistency. Consequently, we come to rely on written or declared “opinions” by Immigration, Customs, or Homeland Security officials who actually apply the rules. But these too are only opinions, although enforceable ones.
The bottom line.
You may stay in the U.S. for as long as the Customs and Border Protection agent says you may, and he or she will determine if, or for how long. They must be satisfied you will abide by the rules. My suggestion: budget a total of 180 days per any consecutive 12-month period, and always leave yourself a little leeway.
Count your days as you go. Be precise. Count the day you set foot on U.S. soil as one day, and the day you leave as another—even if they’re only partial days. Most U.S. border officials now apply the six-month or 182-day quota over any consecutive 12-month period—say the last three months of 2015 and the first three of 2016. That’s OK.
Forget the calendar-year paradigm, and don’t try to attach the last six months of 2015 to the first six of 2016. It won’t work.
Count your days. Play by the rules. They are twice as generous as the 90-day maximum allowed citizens of any other country except Mexico, which is also allowed six months.
And beware of rumours. Last year, Canadian media reported that the U.S. would tax Canadians whose visits exceeded 120 days a year. Not true. Canadians who stay in the U.S. an average of 120 days over three years are generally considered aliens for tax purposes, but the IRS also provides a simple way to legally avoid such taxes. So stay calm. You’ve still got 180 days. We’ll discuss that in forthcoming articles.
Next: How long can Canadians stay out of the province? We’ll cover each.
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