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Canadian snowbirds flock to the Cayman Islands for more than a vacation

The Cayman Islands’ private wealth industry has reported a surge in interest from Canadians considering retirement or permanent relocation to the jurisdiction. This was highlighted at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) Cayman’s ‘International Wealth Structuring Forum’ earlier this year, and is a trend that is anticipated will continue to grow.

Given that Canada is consistently ranked globally as one of the world’s best places to live, some may find this movement surprising. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) ‘Liveability Ranking’ placed three of Canada’s cities in the top five out of 140 cities in 2019. So, with this in mind, what is driving Canadians to the Cayman Islands?

According to Brian Cohen, a partner and co-leader of the Private Client Services Group at Gowling WLG, an international law firm with offices in many Canadian cities: “Canada’s high liveability ranking comes at a cost – that cost being a high tax rate. For example, in Ontario, the top combined federal and provincial tax rate is 53.5%. There is also a consumption tax in Canada and in Ontario the total consumption tax (or Harmonised Sales Tax – HST) is 13%.”

Cohen went on to prognosticate that, “Given the high tax liability and the possibility of those rates increasing in the future, Canadians are looking, more than ever, at alternative choices that may save them and their family’s money in future. By moving to another jurisdiction, it may be possible to take advantage of not only the tax rate in that jurisdiction for income earned there, but for a potentially lower non-resident tax rate on Canadian sourced income as well.”

Taxes aren’t the only reason that Cohen believes Canadians are heading to the Cayman Islands: “It is no secret that Canadian winters can be hard. Compare that to the tropical climate in Cayman and it is easy to see why Canadians are turning to Cayman as an excellent retirement destination.”

Cohen believes that Grand Cayman’s beaches, natural beauty and landscape are also a factor, and he states that, “for a diver or deep-sea fishing enthusiast, well, it is second to none.”

It is also noteworthy that the Cayman Islands benefits from superb infrastructure and superior amenities that few other Caribbean islands can boast. Cayman is well-known in the Caribbean for its sophisticated, first-world environment, and Cohen comments: “From banking to restaurants, practically everything a Canadian could want is available there.”

Sue Nickason, Vice President of Marketing and Sales with Dart Real Estate, is a Canadian who relocated to the Cayman Islands eight years ago. She agrees that Cayman’s quality of life and world-class infrastructure are an important driving factor: “We find that many Canadians considering relocation and property purchases in Cayman first ask us about infrastructure, with particular interest in the quality of healthcare. In Grand Cayman, we are able to easily reassure them – we have three full-service hospitals here, over 150 registered healthcare facilities and little to no wait time to see physicians. According to the Cayman Resident’s 2019 statistics, there are 4.5 doctors and 6.3 nurses for every 1,000 people. This gives a lot of comfort when comparing Cayman to other Caribbean islands, and even the mainland USA, where according to the World Bank there are an estimated 2.6 doctors per 1000 [people].”

Cayman’s geographical location is also an important consideration, as Cayman is easily accessible via nonstop flights year-round with Air Canada, Sunwing Airlines and WestJet from Toronto, and seasonal nonstop flights from Montreal. This makes it especially appealing, according to Brian Cohen: “When the expat wants some time back in their original jurisdiction, it is simply a four-hour flight away, which makes visiting friends and family very simple.”

Being able to continue operating existing business from the islands is something that many relocators consider, and Cohen adds that: “Fund managers and the like have looked to Cayman for its possibilities to continue their corporate endeavours in a global financial centre with a nicer climate.” During the recent shelter-in-place mandates in Canada and Cayman in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cayman quickly emerged as a shining example of business continuity as the financial services community demonstrated seamless client services during the transition, thanks to solid infrastructure and IT systems island-wide.

Canadians, of course, aren’t just considering the Cayman Islands when weighing up their options. Brian Cohen has had clients consider the USA and other Caribbean islands as part of this process, but he finds that Cayman often comes out on top: “Historically Canadians have looked at the USA for their retirement, with Florida, California, and Arizona often leading the way. However, as US costs have increased and questions about the future of the US political landscape continue, Canadians have started to look elsewhere. For some, Mexico was a choice location, but the safety concerns there are not something many are willing to worry about – especially when they have the financial means to consider other locations.

“Cayman, Bermuda, and Barbados seem to come up frequently,” Cohen added. “Bermuda has some unique concerns for some people and processing work permits and residency applications can be a time-consuming and somewhat challenging process on occasion, whereas Cayman and Barbados are more expensive than Bermuda.

“Between Cayman and Barbados it often comes down to personal preference, but the ease of getting to Cayman and its natural beauty are a driving factor.”

Anthony Partridge, a partner in the Private Client and Trust Group at Ogier law firm in the Cayman Islands, believes Cayman’s position as one of the world’s leading private client jurisdictions brings other advantages to wealthy individuals looking to relocate: “The Cayman Islands are historically known to be a first-class destination for ultra-high net worth (UHNW) relocations, particularly for individuals coming from Canada, who have some familiarity with Cayman as a British Overseas Territory, which is also part of the British Commonwealth.

“Some of the world's leading financial institutions including CIBC, RBC, and Scotiabank are here, along with accounting firms such as KPMG, PwC, Deloitte, and EY and many market-leading offshore law firms and investment advisory firms are located in Cayman, making it a natural choice for UHNW families looking for a jurisdiction with a thriving financial services industry of high-calibre private client and trust professionals. Such professionals can assist these clients with all of their wealth and estate planning needs which will ensure intergenerational wealth preservation from one generation to the next. All within a safe and secure environment where UHNW individuals and their families can enjoy a sophisticated and private lifestyle.”

Sue Nickason added: “There are a number of Canadians residing in Cayman and their presence is obvious through telltale brands such as major Canadian banks through to Tim Hortons coffee in local grocery stores and Ontario craft beer at local pubs. At Provenance Properties – the exclusive Christie’s International Real Estate affiliate in the Cayman Islands – I’ll often join members of our team in extending a Caymankind welcome to Canadians considering relocation here. We look forward to sharing with them the fabulous range of high-quality residential properties we have on offer and introducing our wonderful island lifestyle.” Sue can be contacted at