The flight of the Snowbird — A checklist for travelling South this winter
Nov 27th, 2014 | By John Tracy
As the temperature drops, many of our thoughts turn to warm breezes and sandy beaches.
Whether it’s for sunnier skies, an uninterrupted golf season or simply relaxation, Canadians that head to warm-weather destinations are known as Snowbirds. Snowbirds are generally aged 55 and up and live outside Canada for at least one month every year.
The Snowbird flight path
Most Snowbirds prefer to winter in the southern United States because it is close enough to provide all the comforts of home with a common language and culture, yet far enough away from the biting Canadian winter. According to a 2013 survey by the National Association of Realtors, Florida attracts 40 per cent of Canadian Snowbirds and is still most popular for extended stays. Arizona now ranks second at 24 per cent.
What many don’t realize is that living part-time in the United States requires careful preparation. In fact, two of the most common attributes of home profiling by real estate fraudsters are a mortgage-free home and an absent owner. However, with planning you can:
- Make the most of your time away;
- Stay safe and healthy; and
- Protect your finances and property.
There are several key points to consider before “flying” south for the winter:
- Remember to retire your home securely with FCT title fraud protection+
- Ensure you have adequate health insurance coverage. Provincial plans pay very limited amounts to those out of country so additional third-party coverage is prudent.
- Make sure your life insurance is up-to-date and premiums will be paid in your absence – missing just one payment may result in your policy being voided.
- Update your auto insurance to reflect your travel plans, especially if you’ll be driving south. If you purchase a vehicle in the United States, you will need to be covered by an American policy.
- Consider roadside assistance (CAA/AAA) and always carry emergency provisions such as a first-aid kit, maps, and adequate food and water.
- Make a list of all your investments, bank accounts, credit and banking cards so you have a clear picture of your overall financial status before leaving.
- Ensure your will is up-to-date and valid in your Snowbird state to minimize hassle for loved ones.
- Establish a legal power of attorney and living will so that your wishes are well-documented.
- Leave copies of important documents with a trusted individual back at home for safekeeping.
- Provide instructions to your financial institution regarding term deposits and (Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs) renewal.
- Pre-arrange Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) deposits for a steady stream of income while away.
- Pre-arrange re-occurring bill payments through online banking or by automatic withdrawal to ensure timely payments.
- Set up direct deposit for your government allowances such as Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Quebec Pension Plan (QPP); GST credits; Old Age Security (OAS) and veteran pensions to avoid missing out on income.
- Arrange for snow shovelling and/or have someone make tracks in your driveway occasionally so it looks like you have frequent visitors.
- Consider a house-sitting service or invest in light timers.
- If you have a security system, let them know of your travel plans and leave contact information.
- Organize to have your mail held and stop newspaper delivery, but ensure important documents are forwarded to you in your winter home.
- Leave a vague voice mail message and check messages frequently.
Health and safety concerns
- Make sure your cell phone has U.S. coverage or consider getting an American phone plan.
- Register with a local Canadian government office when you arrive in your Snowbird state.
- Stock up on any medicines you will need for the duration of your trip. It is also a good idea to have a doctor’s note detailing your pharmaceutical needs so that declaring drugs at the border doesn’t pose a problem.
- Rent a safety deposit box while you’re away for your valuables.
- Travel with a companion or ensure a friend or family member always knows your whereabouts.
- Store valuables out of sight, such as jewellery and important papers.
The Snowbird lifestyle is very appealing: who doesn’t dream of wintering somewhere warm and relaxing? However, preparing to migrate south each year may seem intimidating. But with research, careful planning and title fraud protection from FCT, it may be within your reach.
To learn more about the implications of being a Canadian Snowbird, speak with your financial planner.
The information contained in this blog post is provided for your general reference/interest and is in no way intended to replace the advice of a professional advisor. We do not make any representation to you with respect to the information presented above. Always consult your own lawyer, accountant and/or financial planner when planning to implement a strategy specific to your needs.