Planning Lifestyle Choices


Finally getting the opportunity to do some traveling is often at the top of people's lists when asked about their retirement plans. Now is the time to consider what exactly your travel plans are and how those plans will affect your time and financial situation. For some people, travel means visiting exotic locations around the world, for others it is spending an extended time in a southern location such as Florida during the Canadian winters. When planning to travel, be sure to complete this valuable Travellers' Contact Information Booklet and leave a copy with your loved ones and emergency contact in the event that anything should happen to you.

Here are some issues you should consider if you want to travel internationally or become a 'Snowbird' heading for a sunny southern climate.

Health coverage in the U.S.

When contemplating travelling to the U.S., either for a short trip or extended stay, it is very important to understand the type and amount of health insurance coverage required. Your provincial/territorial health plan will cover you for health costs incurred while in the U.S. but only to the extent that you would be covered while in Canada. This can have severe financial consequences since a particular health need may not be covered at all, or the amount of the expense incurred in the U.S. can be dramatically higher than the coverage provided at home. You have to pay the difference. As well, the government coverage typically will not be in place when you are out of Canada for more than 183 days. Consequently, buying private travel health insurance is highly recommended. There are many providers of private health insurance and it will pay off to ‘shop around' to find the plan that best suits your budget and requirements. Some of the questions to ask when assessing travel health coverage are:

  • Does your employer group plan provide coverage?
  • Does your credit card company provide travel health insurance?
  • Are there age restrictions on coverage?
  • Are there exclusions for 'previously existing conditions'?
  • Is the policy one of indemnity? (meaning the patient pays up-front and is then reimbursed by the insurance company later)
  • Does the coverage provide transportation back home?
  • Does the coverage allow for family or friends to travel with the patient?

If you are 75 years old or less you can usually obtain coverage through a simple application. However, if you are over 75 your coverage will probably be subject to some medical underwriting so, depending on your health and medical background, travel insurance may be difficult to obtain. As mentioned above, your provincial/territorial plan will cover you to some extent in the U.S. but different provinces/territories do provide different levels of coverage and you should take a look at your particular coverage to determine its adequacy. Following is a list of links that will detail the specific coverage provided by your jurisdiction:

Tax impact of spending time outside Canada

Not surprisingly, there are serious tax consequences relating to residency. For example, the US authorities will apply what is known as the ‘Substantial Residence’ test. The test says that the number of days that you spend in the US in the current year, plus 1/3 of the days you spent in the US last year, plus 1/6 of the days you spent in the US two years ago cannot add up to more than 182 days. If you exceed that limit, you will be subject to US taxation on your worldwide income. Looked at another way, you can consistently spend up to 121days (about four months) in the US annually before accumulating the 182 days that will make you subject to US tax.

121 days (Yr1) + 40 days (1/3 of Yr2) + 20 days (1/6 of Yr3) = 181 days, just under the limit.

If your primary residential ties are with Canada, paying U.S. tax may be avoided by filing Internal Revenue Service form 8840, The Closer Connection Exception Statement for Aliens. To get more information in detail, please speak with your financial advisor.

To maintain your Canadian residency status, the same 182-day rule applies for any other country. However, the tax situation is different in other countries and is affected by whether Canada has a tax treaty with the country. When considering taking up partial residency and/or buying property in a different country you should be speaking to a qualified tax and/or legal advisor.

Purchasing real estate in the United States

There should not be any immediate implications of purchasing another property in the United States. However, for estate planning purposes there can be issues. If you die and at the time of your death you own assets in the United States, these will be subject to US tax. The tax may be offset through tax credits but again, this is an area where you should definitely seek professional advice.

Renting Out Real Estate in the United States

If you have purchased a U.S. property it is likely that you will only be there for a few months of the year and may want to rent it out in your absence. This can certainly be done but there are tax consequences. On the U.S side, the renter has the choice of either paying a 30% withholding tax or else filing tax form 1040NR with the IRS. As far as Canadian tax, the rental income earned in the U.S. must be included in income but there are usually offsetting tax credits available. Professional advice should definitely be consulted to determine your tax status.

Selling a Property in the United States

If you sell a U.S. property you will be subject to tax in the U.S. on the gain on the property. Several factors can come into play but generally, if the property has been held for less than 12 months the tax rate will be at the U.S. graduated rates and if held longer than 12 months, at 15%. The gain on the sale of a U.S property must also be reported for Canadian tax purposes and adjusted for foreign exchange. However, this potential double taxation can usually be offset by the foreign tax credit.

Foreign Exchange Issues

When you exchange Canadian dollars for U.S. dollars you will be subject to the ‘spot' rate at the time or the rate determined by the foreign exchange markets on a given day. However, ‘forward' transactions can be made where you can lock in a specific rate for a specified time period. This can be beneficial in situations where a property is bought or sold but there will not be an actual exchange of cash until some time in the future, perhaps three months. A forward currency contract will ensure that the amount of cash to be paid or received can be guaranteed. Your advisor can help you decide if this is a strategy suitable to your personal circumstances.

Bank Accounts in the United States

Many ‘Snowbirds' prefer to have a U.S. bank account and these can certainly be established. A few of the major Canadian banks have established a presence in the U.S. through the purchase of U.S. banking institutions and they will provide a variety of account options for Canadians. It is important to appreciate that U.S. securities regulations will prevent you from opening an investment account. However, U.S. laws have been relaxed to some extent and ‘Snowbirds' can now make transactions in their Canadian registered accounts such as RRSPs and RRIFs while in the U.S. You should definitely consult with your Advisor to ensure that your dealings will conform with U.S. law

Estate Planning and the United States

U.S. tax law will levy tax on death on the fair market value of certain assets held in the U.S. by Canadians. These taxable assets will include real estate, certain personal assets such as vehicles and shares of U.S. corporations among others. Canadian tax law will also tax these assets on death which implies double taxation. However, U.S. law does allow for certain tax credits that will serve to reduce and even eliminate the U.S. taxes depending on the specifics of the situation. While U.S. law has varied over the last decade or so, the American Taxpayer Relief Act was passed in January 2013 and should be applicable ongoing. The actual rules under the Act are quite complicated and although your Advisor will be able to provide some further explanation, it is always strongly advised to seek out competent legal/tax counsel when dealing with cross-border tax issues.

Immunizations when traveling

Your risk of contracting disease depends on where you are traveling. Some countries will require proof of immunization to be allowed to visit. As with visas, you should be contacting the embassy or consulate of the country of interest to find out what immunizations are required. There may also be the risk of diseases for which immunization documentation is not required but it is still prudent to get the immunization. The following website provides a guide by country of which diseases to guard against:

MD Travel Health

Traveling to risky locations

The Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada website provides updates on situations in countries around the world and whether it is deemed safe to travel there.