Canadian snowbirds could get more time to roost in Florida

To qualify under the proposed Canadian Snowbirds Act, visitors would have to be older than 50 and would have to own or rent a home here.
The economies of Canada and Florida go together like, well, palm fronds and maple leaves, as seen outside the Sweetwater RV Resort in Zephyrhills. (Times file photo)
The economies of Canada and Florida go together like, well, palm fronds and maple leaves, as seen outside the Sweetwater RV Resort in Zephyrhills. (Times file photo) [ KATE CALDWELL | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Sept. 19, 2019|Updated Sept. 19, 2019

Some seasonal Canadian visitors could get an extra two months in the United States under a bill introduced by Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.

The Canadian Snowbirds Act would allow Canadian citizens to spend up to eight months in the United States, two more than the current limit, as long as they were older than 50 and owned or rented a residence here.

“This bill will be a huge boost to our state’s economy," Rubio said Thursday in an announcement. Citing statistics from the Canadian Embassy, Rubio’s office said Canadians visiting Florida contribute more than $6.5 billion a year to the state’s economy. An estimated 3.5 million of Florida’s 126 million visitors last year came from Canada.

RELATED STORY: Canadian tourism, trade and corporate ties add up to big business in the Tampa Bay area

“A win-win for people on both sides of the border,” the Toronto-based Canadian Snowbird Association president Karen Huestis said in a statement of support released through Rubio’s office.

No fewer than 350,000 Canadians spend three to six months in Florida, according to the snowbird association. Nearly 100,000 more spend one to three months in the state.

In 2017, thanks partly to a favorable exchange rate, Canadians bought $7 billion worth of real estate in Florida. Twelve percent of those purchases took place in the Tampa Bay area, according to the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, second only to Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Currently, Canadians can stay in the United States for up to six months. After that, they are considered U.S. residents for tax purposes and, under existing law, must pay U.S. federal income taxes on any and all income they earn that year, regardless of the country where they earn it.

If passed, the Snowbird Act would allow qualified Canadian citizens to remain here for up to 240 days each year. The bill bans those visitors from working for American employers or seeking public assistance while in the United States.

Whether Canadians would stay the whole eight months could depend on a range of factors, including health care coverage.

For example, the province of Ontario, home to about 40 percent of Canada’s population, allows citizens who travel abroad for more than seven months to keep their Ontario Health Insurance Plan coverage under certain conditions. Among other things, they must spend at least five months in Ontario in each of the two years immediately before they leave the country.

Most Canadian provinces have a similar seven-month limit, snowbird association spokesman Evan Rachkovsky said. If the U.S. bill passes, then the association’s next step will be to lobby the provinces to raise their limits to eight months.

Meanwhile, Ontario officials have said they plan to eliminate government-subsidized travel insurance that pays for part of the cost of emergency medical care outside the country. The Toronto Star reported last month that the change had been postponed from Oct. 1 to Jan. 1, 2020, after push-back from dialysis patients.

This change is projected to lead to a 7½ percent increase in rates that Canadians pay for private supplemental travel health insurance. Most Canadians who leave the country for extended trips buy this insurance, but, Rachkovsky said, "the price of insurance may actually become prohibitive for some travelers.”