How to Move to Canada From the United States

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For some reason, the frequency of google searches for “How to move to Canada” spiked by 550% last week. Maybe Justin Trudeau must have announced a new tourist-attracting marketing campaign or something?

Below is a beginner’s guide for Americans who want to move to the Great White North, covering both legal and legally dubious methods. Before you begin, though, know this: As close as the United States is to Canada in a geopolitical sense, neither country allows its citizens to relocate at will. It’s way more complicated and costly to move to Canada than Cleveland, and the entire process of being judged by the Canadian government might make you feel extremely inadequate.

Becoming a Canadian permanent resident, or becoming a Canadian citizen?

If your parents or grandparents are Canadian citizens, this will be easier, but for everyone else, it’s likely you’ll have to become a permanent resident of Canada way before you can become a citizen. One of the biggest citizenship criterium is having lived in Canada legally for three of the last five years, which you usually can’t do unless you have some kind of recognized status within the country, like school or work visas.

As a permanent resident of Canada, you won’t be able to vote or hold office in Canada—that comes with citizenship—but you will be able to work, study, and enjoy Canada’s healthcare system.

Are you a good enough person to move to Canadian?

Canada’s government has set up an easy-to-use tool for all kinds of visitors to the country, from tourists popping over for a quick weekend visit to Montreal to wannabe ex-pats looking for a new life. The tool has you answer basic questions about who you are, what you’re about, and what exactly you want out of Canada.

Canada has over 100 immigration and visa programs, but generally, the country does not want just any old mope moving in and stinking up the joint. Like the United States, only some kinds of immigrants are welcome/allowed in Canada, so the first step toward hitting the northern escape route is checking if you’re the kind of person Canada wants.

Who is allowed to reside in Canada?

Sadly, there is no Canadian immigration program specifically aimed at people who are unhappy with the crumbling legitimacy of American institutions. Instead, Canada is mainly interested in people who have something to offer to Canada. (Selfish!)

If you have family in Canada, are a skilled worker, want to move your company to Canada, are a creative or athletic person (professionally, on a high level), are a specific kind of caregiver or agricultural worker, or belong to other specific demographics, Canada might want to talk. If you’re some Joe Lunchpail who wants to quit their job and move to Vancouver, Canada might not return your proverbial texts.

Getting into Canada through the Express Entry Program

The most popular immigration path to Canada is the Express Entry program. It’s aimed at skilled workers, and is probably the most likely path to Canada for most Americans. The skilled ones, anyway. To see if Canada considers you “skilled,” here’s the official occupation list.

There are three immigration programs under Canada’s Express Entry program:

There are a number of other criteria that could determine your eligibility for Canadian residency beyond experience at a specific profession—it helps if you speak French or English, you can’t have an extensive criminal record, you need enough money to relocate, etc. Canada uses a point-based scale to determine eligibility; here’s how the points break down. As you can see, having been offered a job by a Canadian company is worth a lot of points, and is where many people start.

If you’ve done the math and you feel your skills, background, and employment history would make you a good fit for Canada, you can create a profile for yourself and submit it to the Canadian government. If you have enough points, your name could be selected, and then you can apply to become a Canadian resident. This requires providing documentation of your education, employment, and other details. 

There are, as you can see, some pretty serious hoops to jump through. Becoming a Canadian resident takes a long time, a ton of paperwork, and it’s not cheap.

How much does it cost and how long does it take to become a permanent resident of Canada?

It can cost between $1,500 and $2,000 to become a Canadian citizen through the Express Entry program, and it usually takes around six months. But there’s no guarantee for the timeframe: A sudden glut of applications for some mysterious reason might slow the entire system down.

Entering Canada through the Provincial Nominee Program

Another potential option for American workers or students who want to become legal residents of Canada is the Provincial Nominee program. Different Canadian provinces have different needs for specific kinds of workers. They are still generally looking for skilled, educated, experienced people, so it’s probably easier relocating to Labrador as doctor than to British Columbia as a customer service representative.

If you don’t think you’d fit into any of the many immigration programs in Canada, there are other possibilities, but I don’t want to fill you with false hope here—it doesn’t look good.

Can I enter Canada as a political refugee?

American citizens would have an extremely difficult time entering Canada and claiming political refugee status. In broad strokes, Canada grants asylum to people who who have fled their home countries because of a “well-founded fear of persecution,” or because they are in need of protection from torture or other punishment if they return home.

If you think this might apply to you because current U.S. policy amounts to personal persecution, you’re going to have a steep legal hill to climb. I don’t want to say it’s impossible, but it seems extremely doubtful you’ll be granted this kind of asylum. Refugees, by definition, are people who have been forced to flee their country and who would likely be killed, imprisoned, or tortured upon their return, and, while I don’t know your life, you’re probably not being forced to flee the U.S. (At least, not yet.)

Can’t I just move to Canada illegally?

Physically crossing the border into Canada from the United States is easy—there’s an app for that, and you’ll have to prove your citizenship and vaccination status, but after you do so you can drive or fly over no problem—but you won’t legally be allowed to stay there once your Visa is up.

If you choose to stick around after the six months most Visas give, and you’re not seeking asylum, you are probably committing a crime. A variety of bad outcomes could befall you. You won’t be able to find a legitimate job in Canada. You won’t be able to buy a house, and you’d have trouble renting a place without doing so “under the table.” If you are identified by Canadian law enforcement, you will likely be jailed until you are sent back to the United States. You will probably be denied entry into Canada in the future, even for a visit, and almost definitely as any kind of resident.

The U.S. border with Canada has plenty of unenforced crossing points: remote areas where nothing is stopping you from just walking into the country. If you’re going to go this route—and you shouldn’t—make sure you dress warmly and pack enough food and water for the hike.

As easy as it would be to stroll into Canada, what would do you do after you snuck in? Lacking any legal basis for being in the country and likely to be jailed and deported if you caught, what would you really be gaining? You couldn’t work or study. You couldn’t get any of that sweet, sweet universal healthcare. You’d just be an undocumented person, a situation that is best avoided if possible.

Can I become a resident of Canada by marrying a Canadian?

You can visit Canada, fall in love, and get married on an easy-to-obtain tourist visa, but that won’t automatically make you a Canadian citizen. If you have family in Canada, they can sponsor your immigration to the country, and family does include your spouse, but there’s still an application process, a waiting period, and the possibility of rejection—especially if it appears you’re engaged in a “green card wedding.”

Marriage strictly for the sake of immigration status might see you accused of criminal fraud. In order prove their marriages are bonafide, immigrant couples are expected to provide documentation that proves their marriage is not a way to get residency, and this goes way beyond a marriage license. It can include proof of a joint bank account, a joint mortgage, and other formal documents, but it also can include photographs that support your “couplehood,” letters from friends and family saying noting how totes in love you are, and written “relationship narratives” from you and your spouse. If you are planning to get married for immigration reasons only (which, again, you shouldn’t do, because it is usually considered a crime) it’s going to take a ton of manufactured evidence.


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