Border loophole? Canadian snowbirds shipping cars, RVs to U.S., then flying in

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 Wednesday, sources told 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. 

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 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.”

In an emailed response, a spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency said they can only speak to the CBSA’s role as it relates to entry into Canada. U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to a request for comment at time of writing.   

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