The accident in a Boston cab happened 15 or so years ago. The taxi was hit, and its Canadian passenger got a concussion and required 16 stitches.

Recalling the accident, Linda, who is now 72 and calls Montreal home, said the incident was just more proof that buying health insurance for her time in the United States is a must. She’s a snowbird and lives part of the year in Florida and regularly visits Boston. “You have to be covered. You get separate insurance that says you’re in the States. There’s no question.”

Yet behind that decision lies a complicated array of calculations affecting how long she and Canadian snowbirds like her can stay in the U.S. (often in the sunnier climes of the South) and yet still qualify for their home province’s health coverage back in Canada.

It’s not just a matter of simply knowing their home province’s length-of-residency rules for health coverage. It requires a dance of calculations also involving U.S. immigration and tax law. These all need to be factored in when figuring our how long to stay Stateside.

“The way you look at your time from an immigration perspective will differ from the way you look at it from a [U.S.] tax perspective. And then from a provincial health-coverage perspective as well, that will also be different,” said Evan Rachkovsky, director of research and communication at the Canadian Snowbird Association, an advocacy group.

Even U.S. customs agents sometimes get it wrong, said one immigration attorney who works in both New York and Toronto.

But Linda in Montreal said there are a few key points snowbirds like her must remember. (She preferred not to use her full name when talking publicly about her immigration details. “I don’t want to be famous,” she said.)

According to Quebec health care limits, she can be away up to 182 days in a calendar year to qualify still for coverage at home.

Yet that’s the easiest calculation. “One of the important points is from the perspective of the [U.S.] Internal Revenue Service, the IRS. A Canadian traveller who spends more than 120 days [a year] in the United States needs to file an IRS form called 8840.”

The IRS considers a Canadian visitor eligible to pay U.S. tax if that person’s stay exceeds 183 days in the States.


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