Snowbirds: Keep Track of Your Border Crossings

Tensions throughout the world are forcing tighter border crossing regulations and procedures. Crossing over into the U.S., and back is no exception. Be prepared for more rigid enforcement this fall and winter. Have your documents on hand, and keep track of your entries and exits. Following are some tips.

The U.S. allows you to stay in the country as a visitor (no work, no business) for up to six months per calendar year or over the previous 12 month period. Don’t be confused by that seeming dichotomy: when you look at it, it means pretty well the same thing. In effect, if you spend from June through December in the U.S., don’t expect the border agent to automatically give you a free pass to go back for another six months on January 1, the following year.

Carry some documentation such as a recent utility bill, bank statement, property tax bill with your address on it just in case you are asked to prove permanent Canadian residency.  What the border agent is interested in is that you intend to return to Canada and you have a permanent place to return to.  Carrying a recent copy of an 8840 closer connection IRS form to show you are a Canadian complying with U.S. tax laws is also a good piece of paper to have.  If you don’t know what an 8840 is, look at the next paragraph.

Have proof you have a closer connection to Canada than to the U.S. by filing an 8840 form each year with the IRS. This form establishes that though you are an alien eligible to pay U.S. taxes based on the amount of time you have spent in the U.S. over that past three years, you are exempt from the privilege of paying Uncle Sam because you pay taxes in Canada, and you have a closer connection to Canada.  This is no mere formality.  If you are a serious snowbird, file the 8840.

Stay updated on the latest duty allowance increases implemented by Canada.  The increases are not that substantial for long-term snowbirds, but every little bit helps. Try not to overdo the allowance by smuggling bottles of Canadian club over the border in your golf bag.  That’s the first place Canadian border agents look.

And make sure you stay within your provincial limits for medicare eligibility.  All provinces and territories except Ontario and Newfoundland require you to be physically present within your province for at least 183 days (six months)  per year to remain medicare-qualified.  Ontario requires only five months and Newfoundland four.  But there are slight differences from province to province you need to know about. To stay abreast of these rules, you can have access to the provincial breakdown in our Rule Book for Snowbirds, by joining our new Snowbird Plus program. Go to our homepage to find out how you can join.  It’s easy.

And most important, get your travel health insurance. Without it, the remainder of your retirement is at risk.

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