Hunting for a Retirement Haven

by Barbara Lewis

“Any place we retire requires a number of different elements and as time goes on with talking to different friends and family we are finding out how
to prioritise these requirements. The number one element we feel is the place must give us a sense of community.”

We are Canadian and have been overseas for almost 25 years straight. During this time we have maintained, under the guidelines of Canadian tax laws, non￾resident status. Canadians are taxed on residency not on citizenship the way Americans are. One of the primary ways in which we establish non-resident status is that we cannot own a home in Canada that we can live in year-round. We can own property but it must be rented out via a third party so that we cannot ,at any point, simply go and start living in the home.


Canadians can own other types of property as well like fractional ownership – anything that would not allow the non resident to simply decide to return to Canada  and take up residence in the home. Canada is one of the most heavily taxed countries in the world because of our social programmes that allow all Canadians the right to education, decent living conditions and healthcare. I would never want to change this about Canada but you can understand why if we can avoid being taxed so heavily when we don’t live there we would. So, although we own a property it is only a quarter share which means that we can only spend one week a month there and therefore even if we finish working overseas we would like to maintain our non-resident status in Canada so we won’t be taxed so heavily.


This means we have to find an alternative country to establish residency in and find somewhere else to live. We want to be around for our children when we retire since we have been away from them for so long and that means being close to the West coast of Canada – Vancouver. Our quarter share is in Whistler B.C. about one and half hours north of Vancouver. We came up with the idea that we could spend part of our time in the US just over the border in Washington.

We cannot establish residency there but it is an easy two to three hour drive from Whistler to the border into Washington, specifically: Point Roberts, Blaine, Birch Bay, Bellingham and surrounds where we could spend about half of our time and then we would have to find another country that had a low or no tax rate where we could establish residency. If this plan sounds complicated and involved it is. Any place we retire requires a number of different elements and as time goes on with talking to different friends and family we are finding out how to prioritise these requirements.


The number one element we feel is the place must give us a sense of community. Having written this I don’t mean it is the place’s responsibility but rather our need to be able to find a sense of community. However, it must be something that can quite easily be achieved if one strives to become a part of the community. Some towns and cities are very closed and don’t allow outsiders in. We need to find a place that will accept us because no matter where we move we will be outsiders.

Next for me, it is that my dogs are welcome and not shunned. There are places for me to walk them and it is not a problem to have them, meaning I can find food and care for them. The healthcare system must be affordable and very good care. If we are not residents of Canada we are not entitled to their socialised healthcare so we must pick a country for residency that has good affordable healthcare.


Does the place have programmes for different interest groups that a person can get involved in or volunteer opportunities?Is there lots of entertainment in the form of restaurants, events, shows, etc.? Is the cost of living reasonable so that you can enjoy all these activities or make your own fun?

Travelling to see the kids and them to see us must be quite easy and affordable. Some places would be great but they are hard to get to and our children would never be able to afford to travel to them. This is why spending part of the year over the border would work well for us because we could own property as non-residents of Canada and our children could come visit us because it is an easy drive.


Our place in Whistler is in the mountains which we love because we love snow skiing and everything that comes with a mountainous environment. I wanted at least one of our places to have an ocean view. When we went to look in Washington we were specifically looking at property with an ocean view or on the ocean.

We went  back to Canada for my son’s 30th birthday and took a short trip into Washington to spend some days in the places listed above to see what they were like and to look at property. It was in the low season and it was very interesting to experience. I think anyone who decides to take up residence somewhere they have never really been needs to spend time in that place during the slowest season during the worst weather so they get a real feel for the place and they know if they will like it.


We didn’t really have time to do this, this time. We found Point Roberts incredibly quiet but for me that might be fine in the right circumstance, so long as it wasn’t all year around. Many of the communities are based around a seasonal surge so this is also something that has to be taken into consideration as during the down season the communities are very small and I believe quite tight knit.

In the end, we saw some beautiful properties and realised we need much more investigation. It is hard to continually hold off and for me personally there is an itch inside of me to have some place to call ours but I am willing to wait so that we make the best choice for us; it takes tons of research and patience.


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