Far more people talk about moving to Canada than actually make the move. This is true, despite the high likelihood that there’s a way for many Americans to legally move to Canada. If you have a US passport, you could probably be living in Canada a few weeks from now or, certainly, by the end of the year if you want to.
So why don’t more Americans move to Canada? Raise your hand if you’ve ever found yourself feeling totally overwhelmed by adulting.
People think about being able to participate in American political discussions from the safety of the other side of the border. They fantasize about mailing in their ballots using the drop box at the nearest US embassy. They house hunt online, imagining where they’d end up living. They imagine how they’d make friends and who they’d spend their days with. They worry about finding a job in Canada (and incorrectly assume it’s a requirement) and come up with plans for rebuilding their professional network. They imagine their family visiting them in Toronto or Montreal. Plenty of people get only as far as these daydreams.
The fact is, few people consider the incredible number of tedious chores required by an international move. Moving to another country involves so many of the worst parts of adulting. It’s the realization of just how much paperwork and the sheer number of chores involved that keep folks at home. They spend five minutes trying to make sense of the Canadian immigration system, realize how much an attorney would cost them, and conclude that they’re stuck.
The moving part
Moving is a huge hassle. You probably know this already. Looking at Zillow listings and watching home renovation shows is a lot of fun. Actually doing it is stressful. And expensive. And time consuming.
There’s the miserable and often impossible task of livining up the dates of getting rid of one place and finding another to minimize the need to stick everything in storage temporarily or pay for two places. There’s landlords, realtors, and mortgage lenders to deal with. If you’re moving to Canada through Express Entry, it’s much easier to buy a home than to find a landlord who will rent to you, since banks have special programs for new permanent residents.
You get to Marie Kondo your life as you pack it in boxes, trying to guess what will spark joy in your new home. Then you have to unpack it. You have to sort through your options for getting home internet installed, schedule it, deal with returning your old modem, and wait around for installers. Inevitably you end up getting rid of things you’d rather keep, keeping things for ridiculous reasons, and buying a whole bunch of new things.
An international move adds these not-so-fun steps:
- Find movers that will do an international move or a place that will rent you a van one-way
- Get the paperwork together to avoid paying import duties
- Actually get everything you own through customs
- Get your pets admitted to another country
- Get a lease without a guarantor or credit history
- Set up utilities and home insurance without a credit history
- Port your old number to Google Voice or iPlum
- Figure out what to do with your existing US bank, investment, and retirement accounts
- Realize how many stores don’t offer online shopping or shipping to Canada
Adulting all at once
Most of us don’t become independent adults all at one time and few of us do it on our own. My mom took me to the bank to set up my first account when I was in elementary school and eventually got me my first credit card. She got my library card for me before that. My dad walked me through the steps to get my drivers license, literally, since he went with me. I was on his cell phone plan until after I was married.
Things you get to do again, in a very short time span:
- Open a bank account
- Get a credit card
- Get a cell phone plan
- Transfer your driver’s license
- Get a library card
- Cancel your current gym membership and find a new one
- Updating your mailing address and phone number on at least fifty differently poorly designed websites
Obviously, this list expands considerably if you have kids.
Things in Canada are just different enough to be a little bit confusing, while being similar enough that it seems silly to not understand how it works.
Actually moving to another country
Then there’s the actual paperwork with the IRCC to make it legal for you to live in Canada. The days of simply showing up at the border, filling out a form and being ready to go are long over.
Chances are, you’ll need to:
- Get your fingerprints taken and get your FBI clearance
- Take an English test, which you should study for even though you’re a native English speaker
- Dig up the paperwork from your formal education (or get new copies) and get your education credentials assessed
- Get a medical exam by a panel physician
- List every address you’ve ever lived at and every job you’ve ever had
- Type everything into a finicky government website
- Figure out your taxes
None of this is actually difficult. It’s needlessly confusing. It’s time consuming. There are a zillion little steps that sometimes need to be done in a particular order. There might be a waiting list for getting a doctors appointment or you might have to travel to another city to take the English exam.
It’s worthwhile to join expat groups on Facebook and Reddit and other online forums. They’re full of answers to questions that are incredibly specific and feel very important when they come up. They’re also full of the only people who will understand what the heck it is that you’re whining about, because this stuff is all too boring to talk about. When it’s what you’re spending a huge amount of time doing you’ll want to talk about it.
The chores just keep coming
It’s not over once you get that PR card. You’ll need to renew it and/or apply for citizenship in five years. You might think renewal would be mostly a formality. The only real requirements for a grant of citizenship is to have been in the country for a certain amount of time and to not be in jail. But no. They both involve a lot of paperwork, which is almost identical to the original application and just different enough that you’ll have to redo it.
Perhaps the most frustrating part is knowing that Canada has one of the easiest, most user-friendly immigration systems in the world! This is the good version.
If you want to hear what the bad version is like, talk to anyone who’s been living in the US for decades and still doesn’t have a greencard.
You don’t need an attorney to move to Canada
Okay, this is where I feel required to mention that I’ve got a guide book that will take you through this whole process. All this information is all online. I’m taking a lot of freely available information, combining it with my personal experience moving from NYC to Toronto and becoming a Canadian citizen, and making it far more coherent than the circular IRCC website or reading 10,000 Facebook posts. You don’t need to hire an attorney and you don’t need to buy the book, because you can make sense of the IRCC website just like I did.
If you do buy the book (thanks!) please don’t buy the 2017 edition that got a shout out on the United Shades of America and thus will forever be the top search result on Amazon. Laws change. I’ve rewritten it as I’ve moved through the process, as the laws have changed, and as I’ve become a better writer. Benefit from those updates and buy the latest version.
Is it worth it to move from the US to Canada?
I don’t know what’s going to be worth it for you. It was worth the hassles for me, even if there were moments where I wanted to burn all my paperwork and spend the rest of my life in the wilderness.
My life has changed so much since I left Brooklyn, even if I do have the same job and many of the same friends. I still spend a considerable amount of time in New York (thanks to house sitting and friends who always make space for me). I love the city more now that I don’t live there. It’s impossible to know how much of my increased life satisfaction is me simply growing up and how much is thanks to the fact that I spent the past few years in Canada.
As someone who is curiously incapable of getting myself a job with employer-sponsored medical insurance, knowing that I will have access to basic medical insurance no matter what makes it worth it to me. Thanks to my job (and riding the bus) I hear a lot of worst case scenarios and trust me that the Canadian versions are preferable if I have to choose. And, indeed, I have the priviledge of making that choice. You probably do, too.
Moving to Toronto means I can afford to live in the city center and walk everywhere. As someone who lived deep in Brooklyn and felt like I spent my life on the subway (and never got to actually enjoy my apartment) that means a lot to me. The Toronto subway smells better. If something goes wrong, it’s way less of a hassle to hop on a bus, take a cab, or just walk home than it was in NYC.
Toronto, like New York, is full of people who were born in other countries. Like New York, there’s a lot of churn as people come for school and to start their career, and then move on to wherever they view as their “real” home. For what it’s worth, I’ve found it easier to build stable friendships in Toronto than New York. Canada’s immigration policy is geared towards immigration, not using foreign talent in their prime and kicking them out before they retire. This makes it easier to meet people who are looking for chosen family, rather than drinking buddies.
I lied when I said I don’t know if it’s going to be worth it for you. If you qualified for the DREAM Act or wish you did, you should move to Canada. Your status in the US is irrelevant when it comes to whether or not you qualify to get permanent resident status in Canada. Having PR status would be nice, eh? It makes the paperwork extra complicated…and then it stops being complicated, because you’re no longer out of status. Just imagine that feeling of relief and hold onto it as you’re filling out all those annoying online forms.
Pros of Canada
- Everything is just a little bit easier
- I haven’t filed a medical insurance claim or disputed a medical bill since I left the US
- Customer support reps are much less likely to yell at you for needing their help
- Buses actually come on time and the network is surprisingly large, even if service is infrequent
- There are malls in the downtown of every Canadian city, which means there are way more public bathrooms and indoor public spaces
- Canadians hate “resale” apartments and thus there’s a used car effect to condo pricing that benefits those of us who think a 15 year old apartment is a perfectly nice place to live
- Free French classes, thanks to government funded settlement services
- I really love Bulk Barn, which has greatly increased the variety of grains I eat
- It’s still relatively easy to visit your friends and family in the US
- Access to essential medical care, even if you’re a freelancer or unemployed and not married
- Much lower likelihood of being a victim of violence than in the US
- Once you become a Canadian citizen you can vacation in Cuba
Cons of Canada
- Everyone who doesn’t live in Canada will earnestly believe you live in the arctic, even if you live on Vancouver Island and they live in Minnesota
- You will discover how many Americans think Canada is a territory, like Puerto Rico and Guam, including USPS employees
- Canadians who have never been in the US for more than a few days of vacation will insist that Canada is more homophobic, more racist, more expensive, more everything bad, than in the US
- Cheese is expensive
- Booze is expensive
- The cities are very far apart and there’s no national bus service
- Canadians don’t commiserate and will instead interpret your small talk grumbling as an actual complaint
- You have to work to find bank accounts without fees and credit cards that offer decent perks
- You still have to file US taxes
- Netflix and online shopping are much more limited than in the US