While the vast majority of the Canadian snowbirds who go south for the winter spend some of the snow season in the U.S., there is a growing contingent of Canadians who go south to Mexico, as high medical costs in the U.S. force them to reconsider their traditional escapes to Florida, Arizona or other destinations.
Steven Fine, founder and content director of Snowbird Advisor, a Toronto-based on-line information source for the one million Canadians who spend their winters in the south, said increasingly the winter escapes are spent in Mexico.
“In fact, my mother, who used to spend her winters in Florida, now goes to Puerto Vallarta,” he said.
She does so because, as a Canadian with a dollar that usually lags its U.S. counterpart by about 20-25 percent, not to mention growing concerns about healthcare coverage as she ages, the Canadian dollar goes much further down Mexico way.
While a growing number of Canadians are also choosing to move to Mexico permanently, both for financial and lifestyle reasons, the number who snowbird there is also on the rise, he said.
“We did a survey this past year of our membership (it has 50,000 members) and, while the majority still snowbird in the U.S., about seven percent now go to Mexico,” he said.
The Snowbird Advisor, which, in addition to providing ongoing updates on snowbird issues, also offers travel, medical, RV and other insurance products, regularly surveys its members and rising numbers are expressing concerns about medical cost and other financial aspects with snowbirding in the U.S.
Launched in 2016, the Snowbird Advisor, which also offers a currency exchange service, travel booking and a “virtual pharmacy,” was hit hard by COVID, with Canadians only able to cross into the U.S. last year for commercial or emergency purposes. Nevertheless, about 30 percent of snowbirds managed to spend some winter months last year in the U.S., Mexico or elsewhere (Costa Rica also is attracting growing numbers).
However, Fine said interest in snowbirding has almost returned to its previous levels.
Because most snowbirds live in the most populous provinces of Ontario (14.5 million) and Quebec (8.6 million) out of an overall Canadian population of 38 million, and because Florida is a relatively easy drive (most snowbirds still drive to their destinations), 50 percent of Canadians still go there for a few months each winter. Next in popularity is Arizona (about 20 percent), where most Western Canadians spend their winters. California and Texas are next in popularity.
“But we have definitely seen a trend towards more Canadian snowbirds going to Mexico,” said Fine.
The cost of medical coverage is definitely a factor, but so is the cost of accommodation. In his mother’s case that also played a role in her decision to shift from Florida to Mexico, since skyrocketing housing prices in popular sunshine destinations in the U.S. is crowding out many Canadians, he said.
It is also playing a factor in older Canadians’ decisions to move permanently to sunshine destinations. The immigration process to move permanently to the U.S. is cumbersome and requires proof of substantial income sources or jobs that require a move to the U.S.
But, in the case of Mexico, the requirement for temporary or permanent residence visas is income based, with temporary residency being attained if one can establish tax-free monthly income of about CAD$2,720 (about US$2,100) and permanent residency attained for about 70 percent more. Savings are also considered and can lower the requirement substantially.
According to the Mexican government’s 2020 census, there are just over 1.2 million expats in Mexico, nearly 90 percent are Americans. But there are now as many as 80,000 Canadians living permanently in the country.
Fine said digital nomads who still work but are looking to relocate to a southern climate, are a growing contingent. It is illegal for Canadian snowbirds to work in the U.S., while temporary or permanent residents of Mexico can work locally or on-line.
While Canada’s public healthcare system provides coverage for all of its citizens, many snowbirds are unaware of how little that coverage extends beyond their provincial borders, he said.
In a recent article on the Snowbird Advisor website it became clear just how inadequate that coverage can be, particularly for high-cost medical systems like the U.S.
For instance, depending on the province, there is minimal coverage provided outside the province where snowbirds reside.
In the case of Ontario, for instance, the government’s health agency stopped providing any coverage (except for dialysis treatments) outside of the province as of last year. Quebec provides CAD$100 a day coverage for hospital stays and $50 for doctor visits.
“A typical hospital stay in the U.S. can cost US$10,000 per day and can be as high as $25,000 or more,” Fine pointed out, in an article he wrote on the site. “A typical doctor’s visit in the U.S. can cost US$200 to $1,600 per visit and can be as high as $2,500.”
He added that most provincial healthcare plans will only cover less than five percent of emergency medical treatment costs in the U.S.
Similar costs in Mexico are a fraction of those rates, according to Scott Kramer, the owner of Medical Tourism Mazatlán, a medical insurance and medical service access company in that Pacific resort city. He is partnered with a similar company in the Lake Chapala area of Mexico, where many Canadians live year-round or snowbird.
For instance, a routine visit to a doctor can cost about US$50 (or less), examinations by specialists are about US$75, a hospital stay can cost about US$450 for basic care and US$2,000 for intensive care for a day. Surgical procedures are a fraction of what they would cost in the U.S.
For example, plastic surgery and other costly procedures in the U.S. and Canada (Canadians need to pay for cosmetic procedures in Canada) are much less expensive. A facelift can be had for about US$5,000, for example, with the same procedure costing US$35,000 or more in both Canada and the U.S.
Kramer, a former resident of Philadelphia who moved to Mazatlán 14 years ago, sells an insurance product that offers a fly-back option for Canadians and Americans, as well as Mexican-based insurance that can offer US$100,000 coverage for six months for about US$700-$1000, even for snowbirds in their 80s. Although, he pointed out, there have been cases of emergency procedures costing US$80,000, it is unlikely medical care in the country “will bankrupt you.”