A Snowbird’s Florida Guide
If spending the cold winter months living in sunny Florida is something that you have often thought about but never really explored, today is the day for you to start thinking a bit more seriously about wintering in Florida.
With a history that dates back to brilliant minds like John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison, the snowbird concept of heading south to Florida for the winter has long been popular among just about anyone that can afford it. With the ease of travel, the power of the internet, and plenty of reasonably priced real estate, the snowbird dream has never been more attainable than it is today.
You’re going to love it!
When is Snowbird Season?
As a general rule, snowbird season here in Florida kicks off at the beginning of October and our seasonal residents will continue to trickle in all the way through the end of the holiday season.
Depending on where the snowbirds are coming from, they tend to head back home for the summer sometime during the months of April and May.
How Many Snowbirds Come to Florida?
It is nearly impossible to get a true number that distinguishes snowbirds from regular tourists, but by most estimates the amount of snowbirds coming to Florida each year is typically in the very high six figures.
That means that the population of Florida actually grows by as much as 5% during the snowbird-friendly winter months.
One of the less scientific ways to measure the impact of snowbirds on the population of an individual community is to simply take note of the differences in terms of traffic on the streets and crowds at popular restaurants.
The effect is even more pronounced in popular retirement communities like The Villages where, even with nearly 700 holes of golf, it can be a challenge to get a tee time on some of the more popular courses during the winter months.
How Long Can Snowbirds Stay?
While American snowbirds don’t have to worry about any limitations on the amount of time that they are permitted to stay in Florida, things are a bit more complicated for snowbirds coming from countries like Canada.
The long-standing rule for Canadian snowbirds is that they are allowed to stay in Florida for up to six months at a time on what is known as a B1/B2 visa.
However, there is currently bipartisan support here in Florida to push this limit to eight months.
Should Snowbirds Get Local IDs?
One of the most common questions we see from future Florida snowbirds is whether or not they will need to update their state identification or driver’s licenses. The answer to these questions depend on a few different factors.
The main thing to consider is what state you are going to claim as your primary residence. The majority of snowbirds prefer to remain residents of their original states, and thus maintain their identification according to the laws of that state.
However, since there are tax advantages that come with living in Florida (more on that in a bit), there are some snowbirds who prefer to claim Florida as their primary residence instead.
There are a number of legal concerns when it comes to claiming residence on your personal tax returns, so you will definitely want to consult with your accountant on this issue.
Once you have a good understanding of which state you are going to call home on your tax returns, then you can worry about maintaining proper identification according to that state’s specifications.
How Does Healthcare Work for Snowbirds?
Another common question from aspiring snowbirds is how their healthcare will work when they begin spending as much as half of the year in a different state.
In most cases, whatever type of health insurance that a snowbird has will be accepted just about anywhere in the country, which means that it will work fine here in Florida.
Of course, you will still have to find a new network of doctors that you feel comfortable with near your winter home, but there are plenty of excellent resources for doing just that here in Florida.
The only real issues to be cautious of concerning healthcare are people who have policies with very specific coverage areas. If your health insurance is only good for a small network near your original home, you won’t be able to use it here in Florida.
Another group of snowbirds that will always have healthcare issues is Canadians that spend the winters in Florida.
Anyone who is not able to bring their health coverage with them to Florida will likely want to purchase some type of private coverage to ensure they can get the proper treatment they need during the winter months.
Most Popular Snowbird Destinations in Florida
Just about anywhere in Florida could be considered a good destination for snowbirds, but there are definitely some areas that are more popular than others. The most popular destinations tend to be close to major airports, but far enough away from major cities to offer a reasonable cost of living.
Using airport access and reasonable cost of living as our two key factors, the most popular destination for snowbirds are locations within a short drive of the Tampa and Orlando airports, but there are also plenty of great options near Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, and Fort Myers.
You can’t get very far from any of those five airports without finding some affordable housing options that are a perfect fit for the snowbird lifestyle. For that reason, many snowbirds start by seeing which destination offers the cheapest flights to and from their summer residence.
Finding Winter Rentals for Snowbirds
While there is certainly a large portion of snowbirds that own their own winter properties here in Florida, there are just as many snowbirds that prefer long-term rentals instead.
We’ve written about finding a winter rental in Florida here before, but here is a quick recap.
Renting a Florida home for a few months during the winter is a fantastic way to get started living the snowbird dream, and finding those winter rentals is easier today than it has ever been.
Airbnb and VRBO are the best places to start any search for a long-term rental, and you can find properties for all locations and budgets here in Florida on either site.
With such a wide range of options available at the click of the mouse, you can feel free to adjust either variable as you see fit until you stumble onto the perfect place to call home for the coming winter months.
In addition to those mainstream sites, there are also plenty of local management companies operating rentals all over Florida. You can find most of them by simply typing something like “CITY NAME property management” or “CITY NAME winter Rentals” into your favorite search box.
While sites like Airbnb and VRBO will give you the most options, finding a local property management company will give you other advantages like more personalized service and faster responses to any issues that might arise during your stay.
Buying a Winter Home in Florida
Renting a winter home in Florida is a perfect way to get started enjoying the snowbird experience, but most snowbirds have the long-term goal of purchasing their own winter home eventually.
Once you are fairly certain about the snowbird lifestyle and find the perfect location, owning a winter home in Florida offers a host of financial benefits that make it a better deal for most snowbirds in the long run.
But there are also plenty of issues that come with owning a second residence in another state.
Maintaining Multiple Homes
One of the best things about owning multiple homes in this modern age is that we have plethora of technology available to make the process a whole lot easier than it was even just a few years ago.
With services like Nest and Ring, you can monitor live cameras set up around any of your homes at any time you like. These services can be as simple as a single camera looking at the front door, or they can include a more complicated multi-camera setup that lets you see every room in the house.
These modern technologies give you the ability to check in on your home from anywhere in the world.
Managing Subscription Services
Another common concern that comes up when people begin to entertain the snowbird lifestyle is what to do about all of the subscription services that will need to be started and stopped when changing locations.
Because snowbirds will only use services like cable television and newspaper subscriptions in each location for about six months out of the year, they don’t want to be on the hook to pay for those services when they are not planning on being around to using them.
Fortunately, just about every major subscription service makes it easy to either put an account on hold for up to six months or simply change the primary location.
Combining the increasing popularity of the Florida snowbird lifestyle with the power of the internet, just about anything is possible these days.
Finding Someone to Keep an Eye on the Place
All of the technology in the world will never give us the peace of mind that comes from having a real human check in on our homes when we are not there, and no one knows this better than snowbirds.
Because of this, there are plenty of companies that will be happy to make sure everything is running smoothly at either of your homes when you aren’t around.
All it takes is a quick search for something along the lines of “snowbird home watch” and you will be well on your way to finding a reputable company to keep an eye on your place for you.
Renting Your Winter Home Out During the Summer
Snowbirds who purchase a winter home here in Florida also have the option to rent out that home during the months that they aren’t planning to use it.
In addition to providing a source of income that can offset some of the cost of the property, this is also a great way to make sure that someone is keeping up with basic maintenance and keeping the place in good shape while you aren’t there.
The easiest way to rent out your Florida home during any time of the year is to partner with a local management company. However, you can also manage rentals on your own through Airbnb or VRBO.
Using the power of the internet to manage your own rentals will definitely save you a few bucks, but working with a local management company will provide a truly hands-off experience. So depending on what you are looking for, either option could be the best course of action.
Choosing Your State of Residence
After buying a winter home in Florida, many snowbirds begin to consider whether it would make sense for them to change their permanent residence to Florida and travel back to their summer home as a visitor.
There are a number of tax advantages that come with living in Florida, but there are also plenty of rules that come with making that change, so you will definitely want to discuss this with your accountant before filing any paperwork.
Changing your permanent residence will also impact your driver’s license, voting location, and many other factors of life that you are accustomed to. Plus it will require you to spend a certain minimum number of nights here in Florida, which may be more than you originally planned for.
Regardless of whether you are a first-time snowbird looking to visit for a month or a regular snowbird looking to expand your commitment to the Sunshine State, there are many paths to happiness for snowbirds of all types here in Florida.
The best way to get the most out of your snowbird experience is to write down exactly what you want it to be and then find a way to make that lifestyle happen.