For our annual July meet-up for my wife’s summer vacation, we did something different this year. Normally I don’t cross the border back into the States between my winter stints in Georgia, as I have to be careful to stay below the 182 days Canadians are allowed in the States without visas. But I checked with the U.S. Consulate and Border authorities, and was cleared to cross the border, though I have to deduct the days spent in the U.S. from my winter migration this fall. That was fine with me, so off I went to meet up with my wife in Madison, WI, where we enjoyed a wonderful time with family and friends, including a large family reunion picnic where people, some of whom hadn’t seen each other in seven years, sat down to break bread and catch up.
While there, one of my sisters-in-law, who RVs a good portion of each year, told me about some new regulations concerning border crossings. She kindly made a photocopy of the pertinent information in an RV newsletter, and when I stopped in Winnipeg on the way home, a friend who also goes south for part of the winter gave me more information. As soon as I got home, I dug into the IRS website to find out what was going on. It turns out that it’s not actually a new regulation, simply one that hasn’t been consistently enforced until this year. If you’re a Canadian snowbird and you spend more than 183 days aggregate south of the border over a three year period, you can be considered a Resident Alien rather than a Non-Resident Alien, which has tax and legal implications.
There is a relatively easy solution, but it requires filing Form 8840 to prove you have a closer connection with another country, ie. that you’re taxed, registered to vote, covered by medical insurance, own a home, keep your bank accounts, receive your income, and have your primary family attachments in another country, in my case, Canada. Aside from being daunted by the fact that I was now going to be officially on file with the IRS, something I’d never anticipated, I also had to provide exact entry and exit dates for the past three years (2011 to 2013.) I hadn’t exactly been keeping records, but fortunately I retain all the e-mails my wife and I exchange, and was able, through brilliant sleuthing, to deduce those dates.
I also discovered that I was an inadvertent scofflaw, as I was supposed to have filed the form by mid-June. Since I didn’t learn of the regulation until July, and Mr. Peabody stubbornly refused to loan me the WABAC machine—he’s such a grouch some days—I had to write a humble explanatory letter to the IRS to accompany Form 8840. I swore to them that I would keep precise records of every time I set a toe south of the 49th, and never again miss a filing deadline. Since the penalty for failing to file in a timely matter is being treated as an American citizen with all the tax and legal implications, I fully intend to comply. (Do they still have the draft? Am I too old? Too female?)
So after thirteen years of considering myself a bacon eating, syrup slurping, Timmy’s loving Canadian snowbird, I found out that the almighty IRS could actually consider me a Resident Alien. It surprised my wife, too. She almost missed her own filing deadline for reporting foreign-held bank accounts (since she’s on my accounts up here) because she forgets I’m a foreigner. Must be that her ear has adapted to my accent after all these years.
If, like me, you’ve been blithely crossing the border, only vaguely aware of the number of days spent in the sunny south, you may want to start keeping records. And if you want to look up the pertinent information and find Form 8840, it’s at: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8840.pdf Spread the word—we don’t want to become a nation of scofflaws. What would it do to our national image?
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