How Snowbirds Can Establish Residency in Florida for Tax Purposes

Snowbirds in the Sunshine State who want to avoid state income taxes in retirement must satisfy the Florida residency requirements.

toy snowbirds on a beach in Florida
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Shorter days, leafless trees, and frost on the ground are all signs that it's time for "snowbirds" to head south for the winter. And if you're one of the thousands of retirees heading to the Sunshine State for the winter, you may be wondering how to establish residency in Florida so that you can take advantage of the state's tax benefits.

It's well-known that Florida is one of only a handful of states without an income tax. So, if your summer home is in one of those high-tax states up north — New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Maryland, Illinois, Connecticut, Wisconsin and the like — you can potentially save thousands of dollars each year if you can satisfy the Florida residency requirements.

But how do you establish residency in Florida for tax purposes? You can't just say "I'm a Florida resident" and have the income tax bill from your summer state magically disappear. You need to show that Florida is your primary and permanent home — and it's your actions, not your words, that count the most. That means cutting as many ties to your warm-weather home as possible and putting down roots in Florida.

Unfortunately, though, no matter how rooted in Florida you become, don't be surprised if your summer state still wants you to pay taxes as a resident on all your income (instead of paying tax only on in-state income as a nonresident). The tax agencies in many high-tax northern states have well-earned reputations for fighting wealthier snowbirds who suddenly claim to be Florida residents. So, if you're going to make that claim, be sure you can back it up. Here are a few things you can do to show that you are, in fact, a Florida resident if your warm-weather state challenges your residency status.

Rocky Mengle
Senior Tax Editor, Kiplinger.com

Rocky is a Senior Tax Editor for Kiplinger with more than 20 years of experience covering federal and state tax developments. Before coming to Kiplinger, he worked for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting and Kleinrock Publishing, where he provided breaking news and guidance for CPAs, tax attorneys, and other tax professionals. He has also been quoted as an expert by USA Today, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Reuters, Accounting Today, and other media outlets. Rocky has a law degree from the University of Connecticut and a B.A. in History from Salisbury University.