Oh, Canada! Group addresses challenges facing Great White Northern snowbirds

Jennie McKeon
Destin snowbirds for 14 years, Frank and Auda Reynolds got lucky on Tuesday morning at the weekly membership meeting at the Destin Community Center. The Ohio couple’s numbers were called for the door prizes. One was a gift certificate to The Black Pearl restaurant in Okaloosa Island. The other was for a round of golf at Crestview. There were 100 door prizes to give away after Jabbo and Friends entertained the group of about 600 snowbirds.

Destin is home — or at least a part-time home — to 354 Canadians, according to the Destin Snowbird Club.

For these international visitors, the Canadian Snowbird Association (CSA) stopped by the Community Center recently for an information session and a little entertainment from Canadian singer Crystal Gage.

"We're the voice of the traveling Canadian," said Bob Slack, president of the CSA.

Because of the proximity of Canada and the United States, it may seem like a simple procedure to cross over the border and stay for a few months, but as the discussion showed, there are a lot of rules to abide by. Working, for instance, is not allowed. In fact, a Canadian can be banned from the U.S. for even under-the-table work. The fact being, that it takes jobs away from Americans. Canadians can only stay in the U.S. for 182 days (six months less a day) in any 12-month period, which starts once you cross the border.

From the best traveling insurance to proper documentation, a CSA membership has been the saving grace for Canadians for 22 years. The CSA board of directors has even gone to court to advocate for the traveling rights of Canadians.

"After 9/11, the United States said Canadians could only be in the U.S. for 30 days," explained Slack at the discussion. "We went to court and reversed it back to 182 days."

Slack offered tips such as making sure your automobile insurance is valid in the United States to keeping a "border binder," containing documents one might need crossing in to the U.S.

"The border guard has the absolute decision — be nice to them," he said, followed by audience laughter.

After two decades, CSA membership has reached 75,000. At Thursday's discussion, Slack said he hoped to give anyone interested in a CSA membership a little bit more understanding of what they do.

Before the entertainment began, Slack had one more piece of advice for the snowbirds.

"If you're here for four months, remember, we're aliens, we're foreigners," he said. "We have to be nice."

SIGN UP: For more information on the Canadian Snowbird Association, visit www.snowbirds.org.