Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Canadian Snowbird Guide

Having spent some time in the southern U.S. during Canadian winters, I understand the appeal of being a snowbird who lives in Canada during the warm months and travels south for the cold months. I respect those who choose to embrace Canadian winters with outdoor activities, but many of us, particularly as we age, prefer to avoid winter.

With this in mind, I read the fourth edition of Douglas Gray’s Canadian Snowbird Guide, revised in 2008. This book covers a wide range of topics including deciding whether you’re well-suited to snowbirding, home exchanges, financial planning, immigration, renting and buying real estate, insurance, taxes, estate planning, and permanent retirement outside Canada.

Expecting to cover all these topics in full detail is far too ambitious for a single book. For my money, the main value of this book is that it made me aware of a number of issues that had never occurred to me before. For example, supplemental health insurance won’t do you much good in a hospital that only takes cash if your policy doesn’t require the insurance company to provide a cash advance.

Few people will need all of the information in this book, but you can just read the sections that interest you to get a useful overview. Then you can do some further investigating.

It’s not too hard to criticize this book for being out of date. There are constant references to traveler’s cheques, government blue pages in the phone book, and other things that still exist but have largely been replaced by the internet and our modern financial system. But if you’re serious about wanting to avoid big mistakes in living in another country for part of each year, these references to old ways of doing things are easily ignored.

One amusing and (in my opinion) terrible piece of advice in this book is to leave your shoes on during a flight because your feet will swell “and you may have trouble getting your shoes back on if you take them off.” Taking my shoes off during a flight makes me far more comfortable. I make sure to buy shoes wide enough that I can just loosen the laces if my feet swell. Your mileage may vary.

In general, Gray uses calm language to describe problems you may encounter, but he uses slightly sharper words for timeshares: “Be wary of hard-sell marketing” and “Trying to get your money back if you suffer from buyer’s remorse is extremely difficult.” I would be more blunt: the majority of people who buy timeshares have made a terribly expensive mistake. Actually figuring out all the costs of a timeshare usually makes it clear that it is a horrible deal financially.

On the subject of supplementary health insurance while traveling in the U.S., Gray makes it clear that this is a minefield of potential gaps in coverage. One common theme is the importance of giving an accurate medical history. Failing to disclose health problems and tests either deliberately or accidentally can leave you without coverage.

On the subject of gambling, I always thought that the only reason to use a casino's gambling card is to accumulate loyalty points to get free rooms, meals, etc. However, professional poker players may use these cards to help track wins and losses for tax reasons.

Overall, this book isn’t exactly a page-turner, but it does cover a wide range of issues to consider before becoming a snowbird.

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