What to Know About Moving to Canada
Planning and preparation can make your move to Canada a success.
Expect a bit chillier weather and a lot more French if you move north of the border.(Getty Images)
You want to make a move, but a new state or city just isn’t going to cut it. If your destination of choice is Canada, there are a few things you’ll want to prepare yourself for. Here’s what you should know about moving to Canada.
Should You Move to Canada?
The decision to move to a new country is a bigger decision than changing cities – from the U.S. to Canada, you have to consider the different currency, taxation, immigration process and overall cultural differences that come with relocating. But whether you’re looking at a job opportunity you can’t pass up, seeking a country that better aligns with your politics and ideals or simply considering a change of scenery, you may find that living in Canada is the right next step for you.
Initiating immigration to make yourself a permanent resident and future citizen of Canada is certainly possible, but you can also opt to live in the country knowing that you’ll return to the U.S. someday. Moving2Canada, an online resource and community for people planning a move to Canada, offers advice and provides job recruitment services for companies looking to tap international professionals moving to the Great White North. Over the last couple years, Moving2Canada Editor Hugo O’Doherty says the company’s website has seen an “uptick in people who don’t want to live in the U.S. for a few years, but they still consider the U.S. their home.”
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How to Move to Canada
Whether you’re planning to make a job transfer for a few years or seek permanent residency in Canada plays a significant role in the length of the process. You can expect an intra-company transfer to take between three and five months to finalize the paperwork for your relocation, says Manon Dumas, president and founder of Arianne Relocation Canada, a firm of relocation specialists dedicated to helping people move to Canada from another country. If you’re looking to become a permanent resident, the process is closer to a year or year and a half.
The process of finding a place to live once you’ve figured out the details of your residency takes time. Dumas recommends starting a home search in Montreal at least two months in advance of your planned move date. In Toronto, you may only need a couple weeks. The difference is based on new housing development and availability in each city. Montreal has a centuries-old tradition that the vast majority of renters move on the same day of the year: July 1. While moving into a new home in Quebec is possible at other times of the year, planning with a July 1 move-in date will likely yield more housing options.
“Planning with the support of a local expert is the key to what we call a ‘soft landing’ and a successful relocation,” Dumas wrote in an email.
While buying a home can be a solid investment, especially if you’re planning to stay in Canada long term, conduct thorough research on the total cost of living, property taxes and other costs based on the province and city you’re moving to. Renting may be the better option if you’re not familiar with the area, and it makes for an easier way to return to the U.S. if you’re only planning to stay for a few years.
Here are five things you should know as you consider or plan a move to Canada:
- The population may be small, but the country is huge.
- You’ll need to get used to the cold.
- Visas and the path to citizenship differ from the U.S.
- Cultural differences may seem small, but they can mean a lot.
- You may want to learn French.
The Population May Be Small, But the Country Is Huge
Canada’s population as of the second quarter is 2020 was about 37.9 million, according to Canadian national statistical office Statistics Canada. Its land mass covers more than 3.85 million square miles. For comparison, Canada has about 58,000 more square miles of land than the U.S., but less than 12% of the population.
The most populated provinces in Canada are Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta. Six metro areas in the country have a population over 1 million: Toronto; Montreal; Vancouver, British Columbia; Calgary, Alberta; Ottawa, Ontario (combined with Gatineau, Quebec); and Edmonton, Alberta.
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You’ll Need to Get Used to the Cold
Canada’s location north of the contiguous U.S. naturally means that you can expect a colder climate than in many of the states. Prepare for long winters and shorter summers that don’t get nearly as hot as the southern U.S.
Your period of adjustment naturally depends on where you’re moving from and where you’re moving to. A relocation over the border from Seattle to Vancouver or Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, for example, won’t reveal any climate difference because the U.S. and Canadian cities are geographically close to each other. “If you’re moving from Albuquerque (New Mexico) to Windsor, you’re going to notice a difference,” O’Doherty says.
Visas and the Path to Citizenship Differ From the U.S.
Under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a descendent of the NAFTA agreement, citizens of the three countries are able to easily live and work in these neighboring nations if they are a part of 60 career fields defined under the agreement, including accountants, hotel managers, lawyers, nurses and more.
Express Entry is one process option aimed at making it faster for skilled workers to become permanent residents. Certain trades and careers can be considered more desirable, and you’ll also need to provide the right documents to prove your eligibility to become a Canadian resident. A score is calculated based on your information, and high-scoring candidates are invited to apply for Express Entry.
While having a job lined up isn’t a requirement to become a permanent resident through Express Entry, it’s a plus. “If you do have a job offer, you do get additional points,” O’Doherty says.
One detail you should be aware of is Canada’s immigration policy on people with criminal records – you may not be allowed in the country if you’ve been convicted of a crime. Drunk driving, drug possession or theft convictions may stand in the way of easy approval. If you committed the crime long ago, can prove rehabilitation or can obtain a pardon for your crime, you may still be allowed to reside in the country and seek residency.
Cultural Differences May Seem Small, But Can Mean a Lot
While you may have visited Canada multiple times over the years, living in the country and interacting with locals on a regular basis may lead you to notice more significant differences between Canada and the U.S.
Dumas says she hears from U.S. transplants to Canada that they are surprised by how group-oriented Canadians are. “When people speak the same language, they often assume that they also share the same values, which is not always true,” Dumas says. “Canadians, and especially Quebecers, when making business and social decisions, will often ask themselves if this decision is also good for the group, as social harmony is an important Canadian value.”
You May Want to Learn French
Canada has two official languages – English and French – and you’ll find many signs throughout the country providing information in both languages.
While you can certainly get by without knowledge of the French language, learning at least a bit of French can be valuable for making conversation with anyone from co-workers to retail employees. Especially if you’ll be living in or frequenting Quebec, which is a former French colony, French is often used, and you’ll likely find yourself wanting bilingual abilities.