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The thought of spending up to six months in a warm, sunny US Sunbelt state or Mexico during Canada’s cold or rainy winter season is becoming increasingly appealing and popular for millions of Canadian retirees. This trend is increasing every year, as Canada’s population ages.

“Quality of life” decisions, of course, are key to enhancing one’s mental, emotional, physical and social well-being. Because Canadians are living and staying healthier longer, retirement could mean another 30 years of life. With proper planning, the Snowbird lifestyle can be the most active, stimulating, satisfying and enjoyable experience of one’s retirement years, with life-long friendships and shared memories of good times. Many Snowbirds leave in early November and return at the end of April, while others don’t leave until the beginning of the New Year. They can have the best of both worlds in terms of climate, and enjoy the benefits of both countries.

However, there are many matters to deal with when you are spending up to six months as a Canadian Snowbird. You must consider issues such as family, friends, finances, fluctuations in currency exchange rates, investments, taxes, immigration, customs, housing, travel, safety and security, and medical and other types of insurance. You also need to give thought to such important matters as money management, financial planning, wills, estate planning, and the need for reliable professionals and other advisors. Since each person’s situation is different, and because regulations and laws can change at any time, it is best to get customized feedback from professional advisors.

Where to stay
As you might expect, the US is the most popular Snowbird location. A common language and culture, familiarity, proximity, and accessibility make it the destination of choice for the vast majority of Canadian Snowbirds. The comments below therefore relate to the US experience.

However, there are also an increasing number of Canadians who prefer to spend the winter months in various parts of Mexico, a country rich with culture and diversity. Mexico has several locations that are popular retirement communities for Canadian and American part-time or full-time residents, and it is estimated that over one million Canadian tourists visit Mexico every year.

Many choices are available when deciding where to stay in the US. The most popular Sunbelt states are Florida, Arizona, California and Texas. You might want to be based in one area and take short sight-seeing trips, or use a recreational vehicle and travel through various states. Depending on your interests and needs, there are many factors to consider such as varied terrain, spectacular scenery and hot weather. Maybe you prefer the ocean, mountains or desert, and like the proximity of city life or rural ambience. Friends could also be a factor, drawing you to one place or another.

There are free state tourism booklets, and information is available for the asking. Check with your local library for videos of the state and specific city you are considering. Also, speak with other people who are Snowbirds in that location. Before making a decision to buy a condo, house, mobile home or RV, you may wish to rent one for the first season to see if you like it. Alternatively, if you have an RV, you can check many places out to see what areas appeal to you.

Living in the South during the winter can also be very affordable. In fact, you may find that you come out ahead financially. This is because of the savings from the lower cost of living in the US or Mexico. You can rent a mobile home/RV pad in the US for a small amount, ranging from US$200+ per month based on a 12-month lease. You can buy a used mobile home (fixed in place) in a park for US$5,000+ that could meet your needs. There are some good bargains, especially at the end of the season in April. When you amortize that cost over 10 or more years, it becomes very affordable. You also have use of all the facilities and amenities at a mobile home/RV park, which is generally included in your pad lease fee.

Naturally, expenses can be higher in some parks, but you would normally select the type of park or condominium community that meets your budget and other needs. In addition, you save money on heating costs at home in Canada during the winter months. You could be breaking even or paying just a bit more than you would if you stayed at home all winter, even taking into account the cost of your out-of-country emergency medical insurance (for which you are entitled to a tax credit, under the “medical expenses” category of your tax return). This type of attractive economic reality is also a contributing factor to the decision of many to winter in the South.

Despite all the positive benefits, the Snowbird lifestyle is not for everyone–it is just another retirement option. It is wise to evolve into the lifestyle in a step-by-step fashion to see if you like it, so try it for a month or so by renting.

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