Border loophole? Canadian snowbirds shipping cars, RVs to U.S., then flying in
TORONTO -- The border might be closed, but that’s not stopping Canadian snowbirds from using what some call a loophole to get their cars, trailers and RVs down to sunny American beaches.
Transport companies have long offered trucking services for snowbirds to move vehicles across the border. This year, some are even offering seats on small chartered jets as part of that package. Cross-border air travel is still permitted, though discouraged by the federal government. One Quebec-based transporter is charging $500 for a direct flight to Plattsburgh, N.Y., where they’ll meet snowbirds with their vehicle.
Some are seeing the service as a clever loophole through pandemic travel restrictions.
“How to bypass customs and go to Florida,” wrote one Facebook commenter in French on a post by Transport KMC, adding sun, airplane, beach and tropical drink emojis.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that travel restrictions in place at the Canada-U.S. land border would remain in place until at least Dec. 21, peak season for many snowbirds.The border remains open to commerce, meaning companies like Transport KMC can use their commercial licences to bring Canadian vehicles Stateside. In a survey of more than 3,000 sun-chasers across Canada conducted earlier this month, travel site SnowbirdAdvisor.ca found that over 30 per cent of respondents still planned to go away for some or all of the winter season.
The land border restrictions have meant good business for Ron Ohayon’s Toronto-based Snowbirds Auto Connection, which has been picking up new clientele this fall.
“We do have a whole bunch of new customers that normally used to drive their cars down, and now we’re trucking it down there for them and they’re flying in to Florida,” he told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Thursday.
But where they’re going and what they’re doing there isn’t any of Ohayon’s concern. He doesn’t ask or require customers to disclose a purpose for travel and doesn’t believe he has any right to inquire. As for COVID-19 safety protocols, his staff “sanitize everything,” wear masks and gloves, and complete digital paperwork with clients.
“People are going to go to Florida no matter what,” he said. “I know a lot of people are opting to still go. A lot of snowbirds are saying, ‘If I’m going to live in the house I might as well live in the house in the warm weather [rather than be] stuck here in the freezing cold.’”
Many of his customers are permanent residents in the U.S.; others are just shipping their cars back that they don’t need in Canada. Some are relocating for work, others for school. And indeed, many are vacationers, leaving Canada in October and returning in the spring.
“A lot of our snowbirds haven’t really seen snow in 30, 40 years,” he said, acknowledging that the businesses like his might be used as an evasion of pandemic protocols for Canadians chasing the sun.
“It is I guess, in a sense, a loophole, because technically you can fly to Buffalo, to Michigan, to Detroit, they’re not stopping you. You’re picking up your vehicle and moving down from there,” he said.
“It is a way of circumventing it, but that is something that the government’s got to deal with.”
A spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency said in an email Thursday that they can only speak to the CBSA’s role as it relates to entry into Canada. U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed to CTVNews.ca that CBP officers at land borders determine whether a person’s reason for travel is “essential,” but did not comment on air travel.
“Travel for the sole purpose of visiting a personal property for recreation is not deemed essential under the temporary travel restrictions,” the statement read.
Global Affairs Canada said in an email the agency “continues to advise against all non-essential travel outside Canada” and warned that should complications arise during travel outside the country, the Canadian government may be limited in its resources to help.
“If Canadians deem their travel essential and decide to leave Canada despite the advisories, note that the Government of Canada may have limited capacity to offer consular services,” the email read.
“Canadian travellers should be aware that -- as the COVID-19 situation changes constantly -- governments that have reopened their borders to tourists could impose strict travel restrictions suddenly if they experience an increase in cases.”