As I look out my window on this sunny Ottawa Sunday morning in March, I have to admit … it’s a pretty sight.  Fresh, newly fallen snow sparkling on the branches of the bare, black trees.  But as my husband just replied … I’d rather be looking at flowers right about now!

According to a recent BMO Insurance survey, fewer Canadians will be travelling this March Break due to the lower Canadian dollar.  But approximately 116,000 passengers passed through Toronto’s Pearson Airport on Friday … heading south!  Not to mention the over 1 million Canadian boomers who go south each winter to escape the cold … the so called “snowbirds”.  After one of the coldest winters in recent history, I can’t help being ever more convinced that I will NOT spend my retirement enduring the deep freeze!

Every few months I get into a craze about researching the best possible place on the planet to spend the winters.  The U.S. does offer many options but beware of the tax man.  The magic number is 182 days in a single year. More than that, and Canadians risk being considered a U.S. resident for tax purposes.  That number gets slightly skewed though if you are travelling every winter down south.  There is a special formula that is used by the IRS to track the number of days in a three year period.  Each day in the current year calendar counts as a day.  Each day from the year prior counts as 1/3 of a day and the year before that as 1/6th of a day.  The safe number is really about 120 days a year if you don’t want to be considered a U.S. resident and therefore taxed on your world wide income.

What about a bit farther south?  Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and Ecuador are popular destinations where you can comfortably live for less and stay for 180 days a year.  Costa Rica has a “Retiree” resident program where you are welcome to stay as long as you like (but you must stay at least 1 day a year to retain it) and you must prove a life long pension of min. $1000 U.S. per month.  If you are husband and wife, it is only necessary that one person has a pension of that amount.  Panama is similar, where as you can stay 90 days as a tourist or apply for a pensioners visa.  Many boomers stay the 90 days, cross over to Costa Rica for a weekend, then return for another 30 to 90 days.  In Ecuador the pensioners visa requires a monthly pension of only $800 U.S. per month and the maximum stay on a tourist visa is 180 days.

Europe is another option.  Although the winters are not hot, you can find some temperate climates in the south of Spain, Portugal and Italy.  With a tourist visa your stay cannot extend past 90 days but there are options for longer stay visas if you are retired and can prove a monthly pension.

Of course, everyone’s biggest concern is healthcare.  You must stay at least 5 months a year in Ontario to not lose your OHIP and you must purchase private insurance for when you are outside the country. If you have no pre-existing conditions, then the prices can be quite reasonable if you purchase an annual policy.

Well, enough said!  I have to get back to reality … warm up the car … put my winter boots, scarf, gloves and coat on just to pick up some groceries and a bottle of nice wine to help me forget all that white stuff out there.  I will definitely continue my retirement research and dream about lazy days in the sun and surf … one day!