Florida Snowbirds: FAQ on Becoming a Resident
Monday, February 26, 2018 | Dennis M. Fitzgerald
First there is the dream of moving to Florida – a state with no snow, low taxes and a multitude of diversions. Then awareness of the details sets in. How do you get a Florida driver’s license? Is registering a vehicle in Florida expensive? Is there a tax risk associated with buying a car shortly before moving? What are the state tax ramifications of owning a home? It’s true that Florida has no income tax. What do you need to do to ensure that you won’t have to keep paying New York State income tax? Transferring supplemental Medicare can be complicated. How is that carried out? What about the move? Schlepping household items can be expensive. To help you be prepared, we have compiled this collection of tips on getting started in Florida.
If you decide to buy a home in Florida and make it your permanent residence, you can apply for a homestead exemption of up to $50,000 on the assessed value. The first $25,000 applies to all property taxes, including school district taxes, and an additional $25,000 applies to the assessed value between $50,000 and $75,000 and only to non-school taxes. To qualify for the homestead exemption, you may be asked to provide items including your Florida driver’s license number and proof of when residency outside Florida ended. After the first year of a homestead exemption, the assessed value can’t rise by more than 3% annually. Note that the assessed value and the market value of a home are often different. Discounts on property taxes are available to veterans who are 65 and permanently disabled. Before buying a home, ask for information on property taxes from your real estate agent, mortgage broker or local appraiser’s office.
To update your supplement to Medicare coverage, you will need to get in touch with an insurance broker licensed in Florida. Premiums are relatively high in Florida, so you will probably end up paying as much as you do in New York or more. Visit medigapseminars.org/medicare-for-florida-snowbirds/ for a description of the details you will need to consider. If you are below retirement age and want to learn about your options in Florida under Obamacare, go to HealthCare.gov. An important consideration is that Florida under Republican Gov. Rick Scott has balked at expanding Medicaid, a key provision of the Affordable Care Act.
Florida has no income tax, which makes establishing residence especially enticing. The tricky part is proving to New York’s satisfaction that its income tax – with a top marginal rate of 8.82% – no longer applies to you. Auditors may insist on seeing phone and credit-card records to ensure that you have been in the Sunshine State for a minimum of 183 days (about six months). But that’s not all. The Empire State may also scrutinize criteria such as where you earn your money and where your loved ones reside. While you may spend a lot of time basking in Florida’s sunshine, you may still end up filing a nonresident and part-year resident income tax return for New York.
Once you are a Florida resident, you can apply to register to vote through agencies including driver’s license offices and public libraries. In addition to your mailing address, you will be asked to provide your Florida driver’s license number, state identification card number or the last 4 digits of your social security number. You can write “none” in the application if you lack these three items. When you go to the polls to vote, you will be asked to provide a photo ID with your signature. If you lack that item, you can use a provisional ballot that will be counted provided your signature on that ballot matches the one on record. Florida is one of 34 states that request or require voters to show some form of identification at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. One of the exceptions is New York, where the voter’s signature is checked against information on file.
Florida newcomers supporting children attending school should be aware of the state’s tuition aid offerings. The Florida Student Assistance Grant Program for public schools is a need-based undergraduate student aid program for Florida residents. Florida residents attending private schools can tap into the Florida Private Student Assistance Grant Program. The performance-based Minority Teachers Education Scholarship Program is designed for black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American students planning to be teachers. Florida’s Educational Dollars for Duty program pays up to 100 percent of public tuition as well as a significant chunk of private tuition for members of the Florida National Guard. The Florida Public Post-Secondary Career Education Student Assistance Grant Program helps students obtain vocational training. Visit www.collegescholarships.org/grants/states/florida.htm for other tuition programs.
You will need to go to your local Florida DMV office and present your New York driver’s license as a primary form of ID and your Social Security card or birth certificate or marriage certificate or insurance policy as a secondary form of ID. You are strongly urged to call your local DMV office and make an appointment to avoid hours of waiting. The fee is $48 for a Florida driver’s license. If you don’t drive, you can pay $25 for a Florida identification card.
New residents must register their vehicles 10 days after starting work, enrolling children in school or establishing residency. Proof of insurance is required before registration can be issued. Only insurance issued or countersigned by a Florida agent is electronically reported to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for verification purposes. Mail or submit in person the original title and proof of Florida insurance to the local county tax collector or license plate agency. Expect to pay an initial registration fee of $225, an annual fee of at least $27.60 depending on the size of the vehicle and a fee of $28 for a new metal license plate.
New car sales tax
People often ask if they have to pay sales tax on a car recently purchased out of state when they move to Florida. The answer for New Yorkers moving to the Sunshine State is typically no. Florida’s sales tax and the local discretionary sales surtax due on cars purchased out of state less than six months before a move are offset by the sales tax in the prior jurisdiction. If, for example, you paid 8.375 percent in state, county and local tax on a car purchased in White Plains, you won’t have to pay the Florida sales tax, which is 6 percent plus any local surtax ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 percent Because the New York sales tax is higher than in Florida, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to buy a new car less than six months before the move. While New Yorkers can avoid paying Florida sales tax, the $225 initial vehicle registration fee and the annual tax still apply.
When to move
Florida has two weather seasons. The dry season begins in October, when a cold front passes through and ends months of high heat and humidity. The wet season starts in May or June and is characterized by frequent rainfall and the potential for hurricanes. Consider moving early in the dry season, when the storm risk is low and tourism traffic on Florida’s roads is relatively light. Sweating in 95-degree heat is no way to begin your Sunshine State adventure. And it’s certainly a good idea to avoid the potential for your move’s being disrupted by a hurricane.
You can invest in so-called catastrophe bonds, which are sold by insurance companies to transfer some of their risk to investors. The bonds pay competitive interest rates and in 2016 were outperforming the S&P 500 Index. Yet the risk is significant. Investors forfeit the principal if losses attributed to a specified catastrophic event such as a hurricane or an earthquake or a cyberattack occurs. While Florida has largely been spared significant hurricane damage in the past decade, the National Oceanic Atmospheric and Atmospheric Administration predicts an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season for 2017. That outlook has been borne out by Irma and Harvey.
Other things to consider
Hurricanes: The potential for hurricanes is one of the prices one pays for living in a subtropical paradise. One strategy to consider is living in a part of the Sunshine State that is historically less prone to hurricanes. We are assuming that you’re not committed to a particular region (to be near children and grandchildren, for example). Obviously, inland areas including Orlando are less historically susceptible to hurricanes. Next consider Tampa, Jacksonville and Tallahassee and their surroundings, which have had fewer hurricanes than the southeast coast (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, the Palm Beaches) and much of the Panhandle (Pensacola included). Note that no part of Florida is immune to hurricanes, and everyone, everywhere in the Sunshine State needs to be prepared during the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June through November. Basic supplies include flashlights, a battery-powered radio, canned food and a first-aid kit. Houses should have hurricane shutters or a supply of plywood to board up windows. And newcomers to Florida should quickly become familiar with evacuation procedures and the availability of floor insurance.
Simplify, simplify: Besides thinking about where to move, it’s also important to consider what to bring. Transporting household furnishings and clothes a thousand miles south is expensive. According to Moving.com, it might cost $8,000 to pack and move the contents of a three-bedroom house in Yonkers. N.Y., to Fort Pierce, Fla. You can cut costs by jettisoning stuff before the move. Donate clothes – especially winter garb – and think about selling or junking furniture. For home furnishings, consider esthetics. A sofa that looks great in a Scarsdale colonial might appear out of place in a Spanish-style residence in Boca Raton.
Roadside attractions: It can be rewarding to visit the state’s offbeat roadside attractions. One long-time favorite is the City of Mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Weeki Wachee, Fla., about 20 miles north of Tampa. You’ll see women dressed as mermaids (and men dressed as mermen) dance a ballet in an underwater theater fed by natural springs. Air hoses allow the performers to stay underwater for the duration of the 30-minute show. The attraction was established in 1947 by Newton Perry, a former U.S. Navy frogman who perfected air-hose breathing techniques. After struggling in the early 2000s, Weeki Wachee became a Florida state park in 2008, ensuring its survival.
Migration trends: The attraction of Florida among residents of the Lower Hudson Valley is supported by recent population data. In 2008-2009, the Sunshine State was the new home for 20 percent of Westchester County residents moving out of the New York metropolitan area, making it the most popular destination. The top five Florida counties for people moving from Westchester County were Palm Beach, Broward, Miami Dade, Orange (Orlando) and Hillsborough (Tampa). Florida surpassed New York in 2014 to become the third-most-populous state. California and Texas are the top two.
Best beaches: It’s hard to think about Florida without considering its hundreds of miles of beaches. The following are the top 10 in the recent USA TODAY 10 Best Readers’ Choice survey. Of the favorite strands, 9 are on the Gulf coast and 1 is on the Atlantic.
- Gulf Islands National Seashore – Pensacola
- Clearwater Beach – Clearwater
- Siesta Beach – Siesta Key
- Playalinda – Titusville
- Pass-a-Grille Beach — St. Petersburg
- Caladesi Island State Park – Dunedin
- St. Joseph Peninsula State Park – Port St. Joe
- Fort de Soto Park – Tierra Verde