What with a crazy, contentious presidential election, West Coast wildfires, and Gulf Coast hurricanes, the events of 2020 might make you want to throw in the towel on the U.S. and head north.
Americans’ interest in moving to Canada is spiking. But while the only other English-speaking North American nation may seem only slightly different from the U.S., the reality is that emigrating to Canada won’t be as easy as you might think.
“Most people assume because Canada and the U.S. share a border—and because of the general ease with which people travel back and forth—relocation is also seamless. But this isn’t the case,” says Michael Niren, an immigration consultant who frequently helps people relocate to Canada. “Immigration to Canada can be challenging. There are lots of rules and restrictions for admission.”
In fact, the land border between the two countries has been closed to nonessential travel for months during the coronavirus pandemic, and Canada is seeing a jump in COVID-19 cases, although it’s nowhere near the level of the U.S.
So before you pack up the house and build your North Face wardrobe, brace yourself for a process that might be even longer and more difficult than it was before.
But if you’re determined to trade your apple pie for poutine, we’ve got you covered.
You’ll need a good reason to move to Canada
First off, you’ll need a substantial and demonstrable reason to move, or at least one that the Canadian government recognizes and accepts. Here’s a tip: Despising President Donald Trump or politicians in general won’t cut it.
“The Canadian government does not admit political refugees from the U.S. You need more substantive reasons to move,” says Niren.
Valid reasons can include relocating for work, attending a university, getting married, or having another life change that would require you to be in Canada. But even with a valid reason, you’ll still have a lot of hoops to jump through.
So here’s Rule No. 1: If you want to move to Canada to work, don’t wait until you’re at the border to look for a job.
“Generally speaking, to qualify for a work visa to Canada, at minimum you would need a job offer in advance,” says Niren. Same goes if you’re attending a university or marrying a Canadian. Get the process in motion before you arrive, because it could take months.
Make sure your visa and immigration paperwork is shipshape
Once you have a valid reason to stay in the country long term, you’re going to have to assemble your paperwork. All of your required documentation must be complete, accurate, and verifiable—which trips up some people.
“We see cases that should have been approved but were denied for failure to properly complete forms or provide information. In some cases, we can resolve these issues. In other cases, it may be too late,” says Niren.
At a minimum, you should be prepared to provide proof of your current residence, your income and net worth, your education level, and your background.
If you’re moving for a job, you’ll need to provide proof of your work status (your future employer can help you), and you’ll have to go through a background check. It isn’t impossible to do all this yourself, but if the thought of tackling it alone makes you nervous, you can hire an immigration expert. This professional can help you work through the paperwork, filing times, and red tape.
Going for Canadian citizenship
You won’t become a Canadian citizen right away, no matter your reason for moving. The process for full citizenship typically takes years.
“It took me two years and thousands of dollars in legal bills to achieve permanent resident status. Dual citizenship is still years away,” says Heidi Lamar, owner of Spa Lamar, who moved from the U.S. to Canada after marrying a Canadian.
Adjusting to living in Canada
Once you’re settled in Canada, you’ll probably need to adjust to a stream of unfamiliar aspects of Canadian life.
For example, Canada uses the metric system, and if you’re looking at the mph on your car’s odometer, you could be exceeding the Canadian speed limit.
“In some places, if you are driving 50 kilometers (or about 30 mph) over the limit, they can actually seize your car,” says Lamar.
But there is a big upside. It turns out, there’s some truth to the welcoming, friendly stereotype of Canadians.
“I have only been pulled over once, and I thought maybe I was on some ‘Punk the American’ hidden camera show, the officer was so nice,” says Lamar. “He was like a parody of Canadian niceness. He kept apologizing, ‘Aw geez! I am so sorry I have to do this. You seem really nice, let me tell you how to beat this thing.’ I can’t imagine how bad the poor guy would have felt if he had to take my car.”