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Count Your Border-Crossing Days

11/28/11 • By Milan Korcok, TIF Contributor

With cross-border travel increasing: for shopping, visiting family or friends, short or long term vacations, it’s important you keep track of your time spent in the United States. Certainly, American are not trying to keep you out. They welcome Canadians and they appreciate your business. But there are rules about how long you can visit.

Canadians are allowed to visit the U.S. for no more than six months per calendar year, and given the increased sophistication of surveillance technologies, passport scanners, and inter-government data sharing, you can’t take the chance that won’t be detected for the occasional overstay.  If you are, you can be banned from entering the U.S. for years—maybe forever if your infractions have become egregious.

Border agents generally think in terms of months, rather than days: May 16 to November 16 will generally count as six months, rather than the 185 days it really is. But don’t try to split hairs with them.  They don’t like it.  Some do it one way, some another. The rules are not hard and fast on that. So to give yourself a cushion of safety, stick to the 182-day rule. And do count the day you step into or out of the U.S. as one full day, even if it is only an hour: just as you would count the six-hour shopping trip to Buffalo as one full day.

One of the most frequent questions we get here at TIF is how long must one stay in Canada before returning to the U.S. after a six month stay?  There is no specific rule for that. There is no requirement that you must stay put in Canada for X days before returning to the U.S. What matters is how many days in total over the course of a calendar year (that means between January 1 and December 31) you have been in the United States.

And besides counting your days, you also have to use your common sense. If you spent the last six months of 2011 in the U.S. and you think you can drive home to Ontario for six days and then head back south again for another six months, you’re asking for trouble.  Because besides the six month rule, that border agent is going to use his common sense and realize that you are clearly planning on spending more time in the U.S. than in Canada and with that will come a lot of questions . And the agent has a right to do that. And if he or she feels you are trying to take advantage of your rights to visit, you could be turned around in your tracks—no questions asked.  Don’t be greedy.

In coming days and weeks, TIF will be offering special services and resources, among them a detailed e-book, which will specify the rules about cross border travel, how long you can be in the U.S., how long you can stay out of the country while still retaining your medicare benefits (with a province by province breakdown of the rules), as well as advice about travel health insurance: how to keep your costs down, how to be sure the plan you choose is right for you, what to look for in buying insurance and what to avoid—in short, a survival guide to the art of snowbirding—in plain language and in the amount of detail you need to make to make it of practical value.

Keep checking back. We’ll be making announcement on these enhancements to our site in our special email Newsletter.  If you haven’t yet signed up for it yet, do so.  It’s free. Sign up is right on the homepage.

All travel insurers advertising on this site meet TravelinsuranceFile’s acceptability criteria for out-of-country health benefits for Canadian residents. You can buy online or get more information on each plan by visiting our Insurance Products section or click on the logos of insurers down the side of the homepage.

33 Comments

  1. I read this article with interest as I have others. We just recently retired and are spending more time south of the border in Florida. While some articles like this reference the maximum of 6 months or 182 days on a calendar year basis others often written by financial planning types reference 1/6 of the days spent in 2009, 1/3 of the days spent in 2010 plus actual number of days spent in 2011 can’t total more than the 182 days.

    Are there different rules in play with the Border agents vs. IRS?

    I find your newsletters very interesting and appreciate most of the information contained therein.

    • Richard:

      Your question is an excellent one. The reason you may be confused is that the “financial planning types” need to learn to write in plain English–or French, or whatever. They need to explain what they are referring to.

      The formula you refer to is also called the “substantial presence test”, which is, in effect, a threshold designed to determine if you are a non-resident alien for tax purposes. It does not define how long you are allowed to visit in the U.S. each year, which is six months–usually calculated out as 182 days. If you meet the substantial presence test, you will fall into the category of alien for tax purposes–which means you are subject to file tax forms to the IRS. Most snowbirds will meet this test and are defined as non-resident aliens for tax purposes. But not to worry. That filing can be avoided legally if you file IRS tax form 8840 which asks some relatively simple questions designed to establish that you have a closer connection to Canada and are therefore exempt from the IRS filing requirement: e.g., do you pay taxes to Canada, where is your banking headquartered, do you have a permanent home, social relationships, etc. The exception to that is if you earn money in the U.S. from investments or rental properties or similar endeavours (understanding, of course that you are not allowed to work in the U.S): in such a case you will have to file with the IRS.

      But if you don’t have those U.S. earnings, and you meet the substantial presence test, just file your 8840 each year and you don’t have to lose sleep about what the financial planning types have to say on that subject. You can still stay in the U.S. up to six months per year—either in one continuous stretch or in an aggregation of shorter trips.

      Milan

      • Thanks so much for your response as well as the follow up to the subsequent question. This is the most definitive answer I have seen on this subject and really appreciate your clarity on this subject.

      • Do we have to count the 19 days that we are physically out of the USA and can prove so, by way of passport stamps as time in the US. My concern is we aren’t in the usa, however; we are not in canada either, so maybe there is some convaluted rule that will require us to count those 19 days and I have to be sure we don’t go over the 182.

        We are snowbirds, and are very careful about staying less than 182 days, even if just by a few days.
        We know about the form 8840, and comply.

        This year we had greater than normal # of days for us, because of purchasing a new apartment and returning next month for about 30 days to renovate it.

        We need to go back November 27 at the latest, as we are flying to Italy out of Ft Lauderdale Dec 1 for a 19 day cruise. and will re-enter the US at the Ft. Lauderdale Port on Dec 20

        Please help

        Sharon

        • Sharon:

          I think what you’re asking is: do you have to count the 19 days you were out of the U.S. on a cruise as part of your U.S. 192 day allotment. Yes. So long as you left from a U.S. port and returned to a U.S. port, it counts so long as it is less than 30 days. Makes no difference how many stamps you have in your passport. Why don’t you stay 11 more days in Italy to bring your total up to 30 and then you can discount them all? Italy’s not bad in November.

          Milan

  2. I live in Quebec as a permanent Canadian citizen. I travel to Vermont most weekends for 3-4 days. I believe that immigration and IRS are 2 separate issues. My questions are as follows:

    1. For immigration purposes if I stay under the 182 days in the US per calender year am I legal?
    2. For tax purposes must I file form 8840 to protect my closer connection exemption?

  3. Hi, I was wondering how i can find out how many days i have spent in the USA? i have been recording them but i am unsure exactly where i am at and want to make sure i do not go over. Can you please help me find someone who can tell me?
    THanks,

    Laurie

    • Laurie:

      You have to keep track of these days yourself. The U.S.Border Control does not

      provide a tracking request service. They’ve got enough to do. Get a calendar and mark off the days as you use them.

      Milan

  4. Please tell me if we go to USA for 3 or 4 hours during one day. Does it count for 1 day for Canada?

    Thanks

    Yvan

  5. 1- I understand that the US keeps track of you when you enter (point of entry) but how do they know when you leave (you only check into the Canadian side of the border or when returning from Mexico on a day trip you only check into the US side) —–as I understand it, the US/Canadian Borders do not share information unless requested?

    2-Form 8840 should be filled out by whom? I do weekends, day trips and 3 months in the winter…Is it for me or should I worry?

    3-Where on the US Customs site would you find the Calendar Year and 6 month calculation…..Your site says from Jan1 to Dec 31 and I have been told it is from your last entry back a year!

    Thanks
    Appreciate all the info that your site gives
    Al

    • Al:

      The tracking system out is imprefect but it should should be followed. The U.S. and Canada do share information frequently and when you go back home your passport is looked at and stamped. The reciprocal arrangements between government are increasing so you should assume your crossings are pretty well tracked.

      You should complete an 8840 if you spend long periods ot time in the U.S each year. There is a three year retroactive formula that tells you if you are subject to U.S. taxes, and the 8840 relieves you of that. If you are only a casual visitor, a few days at a time and not in the three to four months a year range, you needn’t bother.

      There is no single U.S. website that articulates whether the six month rule is on a calendar year basis or a previous 12 month basis. They are both applied and when you look at it you will see they amount to the same thing. We arrive at these distinctions after going to many sites, and documents and discussions with Immigration officials. A lot of discretion is given to the border agents who must be satisfied you are not spending more time in the U.S. than in Canada, that you have a closer connection to Canada, and that you will return to Canada when you say you will.

      Milan

  6. Three questions if you don’t mind

    1 Do you have any recent ie June 2013 information about when the 240 day bill may come into force in the US?

    2 Will the 8840 form then be based on 240 days rather than 182?

    3 Can you get around the 182 days currently by filing an 8840 ie even if you are in the US for 7 months, you have a closer connection to Canada ? Thank you

    • Ross:

      Your questions are all based on the assumption that a 240 day bill will be enacted. I caution you that just because a bill is introduced does not mean it will be signed into law or even come up for a vote. For every 100 bills that are introduced, one may actually make it to a vote. So until, and if, it happens, don’t sweat the other stuff. Congress moves at the pace of a glacier.

      Milan

  7. I’m a brand new snowbird. I plan to go to AZ from mid-October to the beginning of April each year, bearing in mind the 182 day rule. However, if I fly back to Canada for a month in December, while leaving my RV in Arizona, am I still considered as being in the US or can I deduct those 30 days from my 182 day total?

    • Brenda:

      If your stay in Canada is 30 days or longer, it will not count as part of your 182. I would suggest that you carry with you your airline ticket to prove how long you stayed in Canada in December–just in case you are challenged when returning to Arizona. Your vehicle doesn’t matter, so long as it has plates from you home province and it hasn’t been registered in Arizona.

      Milan

  8. Hi Milan,

    Would days working in the US under a TN visa count towards my 6 months?
    My job there is now done, and I just visit back and forth from Canada.

    • Mark:

      Your TN visa and your B2 visitors visa are separate items. I suggest that when travelling cross border on non working trips you have your TN handy just to show a U.S. border agent. But this is a pretty common situation. I would be grateful if you would alert me if you have any problems. Not all border agents work off the same page.

      Milan

  9. Hi Milan,
    As a snowbird if I return to Canada for 30 days , does it have to be a designated month or could I go from December 15 to January 15, for it not to count in my 182 day limit. Don

    • Don:

      Any return trip to Canada of 30 days or longer (no matter when), will allow you to claim two separate trips. I am assuming you will not have used up your 182 days in 2013 prior to Dec. 15. What the U.S. border agents are on the lookout for is the snowbird who has spent 182 days in one year, say 2013, returns to Canada for a short trip, then appears at the border a few days later expecting to be given another 182 days. That person, clearly, is spending more time in the U.S. than Canada.

      Milan

  10. If I go home for Christmas and arrive into Canada Dec. 1st does the next 30 days of Dec NOT count as part of my 182 days?? Does it matter if I break into the month at all??

    Thanks for all the info. It is the best I have been able to understand all the info.

    • Debbie:

      If you go home to Canada for Christmas and stay 30 days or longer–those 30 days will not count as part of the 182 you are allotted. If you stay in Canada for less than 30 days, they will count against your 182. It doesn’t matter if you break into another month.

      Milan

  11. Milan,
    I have read with interest your advice on calculating the number of days spent in the US. Of particular note are your comments re the number of days one must leave the US in order not the count the continuous days. You state that if one was to come home to Canada for less than 30 days, the time spent in Canada would have to be counted against your total days spent in the US. Also of note, are your comments re leaving the US for destinations other than Canada for periods of less than 30 days would be counted in the same manner.

    Can you please provide your reference basis for these regulations as I have been unable to find anything of any substance to back this up. I concur with your comments about the border agent you are standing in front of being the rule maker. Interestingly enough I asked two US border agents who were doing a supplemental Nexus check on me how they calculated days and defined a “calendar year”. I received two different answers from each one of them standing in the same room. One stated he counts in the calendar year and the other said he counts in the previous12 month period.
    I read conflicting advice in your article and the answers you are giving to questions. Your early comments refer to a calendar year and that there are no rules. “One of the most frequent questions we get here at TIF is how long must one stay in Canada before returning to the U.S. after a six month stay? There is no specific rule for that. There is no requirement that you must stay put in Canada for X days before returning to the U.S. What matters is how many days in total over the course of a calendar year (that means between January 1 and December 31) you have been in the United States”. But in your answers to reader’s questions you refer to this 30 day rule.

    As we travel back and forth all year long, being mindful of our 182 days (filing our 8840 forms), there are definitely times of the year (i.e. Dec)that we are in Canada for less than 30 days before heading back to the US. We keep a spreadsheet with both a total of our calendar year totals to date and the 12 month rolling totals but have always counted our days in Canada as such regardless of the amount of time we have been out of the US. At no time do we ever exceed 182 days in either calculation.but if we were to calculate using your 30 rule are in all likelihood in contravention as are numerous other snowbirds of our acquaintance.

    I think you can understand the confusion and would appreciate if you could qualify your ’30 day rules” and give us the basis for the same.
    Thank You

    • Rick:

      The 30-day “rule” to which you refer is normally applied when a Canadian visitor spends a long continuous period of time in the U.S. and either returns home for a break, such as Christmas, or takes a cruise out of Miami, a short side trip to Mexico and then returns to the U.S. for the remainder of their stay. If you stay out of U.S. for less than 30 days, those days will be charged to your 182 day allotment. If you stay 30 days or longer, your travel will be considered two separate trips. You can’t really apply this to an aggregation of short trips throughout the year. Nexus users, such as you, are not likely to stay in the U.S. for 182 days at one stretch so this won’t really affect you.

      You will not find a single reference basis for this rule clearly defined in the legislation underpinning the B2 visa requirements. That’s why those of us who provide this information have to work so hard to get definitive answers from a multiplicity of sources.

      You are also concerned about different interpretations given you by CBP agents, some of whom tally your stay in the U.S. on a calendar year (January 1 to December 31) and others who tally according the last 12 months. That’s normal. As CBP agents they are expected to use their discretion, the bottom line being; are you spending more time in the U.S. than in Canada, do you have a closer connection to Canada, are they satisfied that you will return to Canada when you say you will. They are also expected to use their discretion in allowing you to enter the U.S. and for how long. It’s not automatic that they must grant you 182 days. They may grant you 30 days, or 120, or none at all . It depends on them and how they assess you.
      You can’t write precise rules for that.

      The fact you use Nexus, file your 8840 each year, and keep close track of your cross-border travels, suggests to me, you will have no problems crossing the border. You are doing it the right way.

      Milan

  12. Milan,
    Thanks for your response. It does add a bit more comfort to “our interpretation” of our own situation which does involve travel back home sometimes just for 5-7 days during the Feb to Apr period which would be our longest continuous stay in the US. We have many friends who travel back and forth all winter long from Nov to Apr sometimes staying in the US for 2-3 weeks and then going home to work or visit family for less than 30 day periods before they return for another several week stretch. In their view, they are well under the maximum 182 days but If they were to have to count the the days back home many would be well over the 182 by the end of the year.

    The tough part of the whole situation is which border agent are you going to get. The one who concurs with our interpretation based on discussions with previous border agents or the one who who takes an opposing view. Ironically, after reading your original comments I recalculated our spread sheets to include all the days in between our trips back home going back for the previous 12 months and it increases our highest monthly totals from about 165 days on the rolling year to almost 180 and in one month my wife actually hit 183 days which puts her in breech if she was to hit a border agent who insisted she count the days back home. Going forward we are going to try to adhere closer to the strictest interpretation to be on the safe side

    Once again, thx for your help and advice. It as good and reasonable as we have heard from anyone.

  13. Great Blog as i have learned a lot from here!

    My situation is i went to US in Sept 1, 2012, i stayed there and during my stay i found an employer and applied for my TN status by mail. In February 2013 i worked for the company but then got laid off on April 30, 2013, due to company moving to another state. I continued living in the States thinking since my TN is valid for next 3 years. I returned back to Canada on January 2014. I am very confused as to how do i file taxes? do i need to file 8833 or 8840 along with 1040 NR. How does that 182 days came into equation if a person was on TN status? days are counted while a person on TN? when will my clock “reset” and can go there for maximum of 182 days? I am sure number of people are in the same predicament. I would really appreciate your answer.

    ALso, i must add, i had registered my car there at the DMV, have car insurance there and have a US bank account.

    • Frank:

      You have a problem other than taxation and where to file. Your original TN visa allowed you to work and live in the U.S. up to three years, but only if you worked for the employer who originally hired you. Once that job ended, so did your permission to stay in the U.S. I am not a tax specialist, so I won’t venture into that area except to say that the 8830 seems more appropriate for you as it is specific to dual residents and the 8840 is designed primarily to establish one’s closer connection to another country–in this case, Canada. Also, you appear to be confusing the TN (NAFTA) visa and the B2 visa which allows Canadians to visit the U.S. each year or 12 month period–but only to visit–not to work or do business. Forget about the 182 day clock and when it “resets.” You can’t intermingle different sets of visa allowances.

      Also, taking your US-registered car into Canada is not without glitches. Though Americans are allowed to drive their cars (or U.S. rentals) into Canada freely, Canadians driving US-registered cars into Canada are required by Canada customs to pay full taxes and duties–even if they intend to drive the cars back to the U.S. That could amount to quite a bundle depending on the value of the car. So be prepared to hand over some cash.

      Milan

  14. Great info on your site. My question is; if I cross the border into the USA twice in the same day, just for 10 minutes each time for gas, does this count as one or two days toward my allotment. Thanks

  15. I have been driving professionally semi-trailer (Visa B1) for a Canadian Transport Company from NB to Boston on 9 to 12 Sept 2013 (4 days) and on 19 to 21 Sept 2013 (3 days). Again for another trucking trip to Boston (Visa B1) 9 to 11 Oct 2013 (3 days). Then I went on a personal vacation trip to Las Vegas 28 Oct to 1 Nov 2013 (5 days) under Visa B2. On 25 Nov 2014, I re-entered the USA border to remain in vacation in Florida until 31 Mar 2014 (Visa B2). Due to the difference in counting Visa B1-B2, would I be correct to count Sept 2013 as 7 days, Oct 2013 as 7 days, Nov 2013 as 30 days and then Dec 2013 to end March 2014 as 121 days for a total of 165 days.
    Thank you!

  16. Milan, disregard my comment Visa B1 and B2 that I erroneously made after I realized the difference between the Visa B1 and B2 which was not the case. Basically everytime I drove semi-trailer in the USA, I showed my Fast/Expres card and for vacation I showed my Canadian passport . As per previous email, the only change is the date 25 Nov 2014 which should read 25 Nov 2013. Thanks again and sorry for the confusion I created with the B1 and B2.

    Alain

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