Author: Christian Ternus
You’re troubled by a recurring nightmare: a face you’ve repeatedly seen on the news taking the Oath of Office of the President of the United States of America. Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. Head of the Executive Branch. Finger on the nuclear button.
Suddenly the Great White North is looking a lot more attractive. You’ve thought about it before, but what would it actually take?
A few months ago I did some serious, intensive research into the logistics of moving to Canada. Despite interviewing and receiving a job offer there, I ultimately chose to remain in the US, but kept my notes on the process just in case.
Fast-forward to January. A couple of friends were semi-seriously talking about moving to Canada if Donald Trump won the nomination. I mentioned offhand that I had some information to share if they were curious, and got a much more positive response than expected.
This is the result: a very basic overview of what might be required to move to Canada, and some things you might want to think about. If you’re serious about this, do your own research and consult an immigration lawyer. This post does not constitute legal advice and should not be taken as such. I do not guarantee that what is posted below is accurate, though to the best of my knowledge it is. This covers only a couple of the possible ways to go to Canada; if you don’t care about moving there permanently, it’s a lot easier to just go there as a tourist for a while. This won’t cover the job/apartment-hunting/stuff-moving logistics that are common to any move, just what specifically Canada requires in order to move there.
Who’s this for?
Someone like me: US citizen, young, unmarried, generally mobile, with no major health issues and no ~unbreakable ties to the US (mortgage, dependent family, etc.) with job prospects in an industry that also exists in Canada (tech being an easy example).
I’m well aware that this is a privileged position and that my experience and life position do not reflect the majority, and most people don’t have the luxury of considering a move to Canada just because the Wrong Guy gets elected (a good friend of mine, for example, is disabled and has some chronic health issues that make this a complete non-starter for him). This is not intended to e.g. argue that Canada’s immigration laws are fair or just, nor that a move to Canada would be easy.
Am I eligible for political asylum?
Anything’s possible, but a claim of political asylum because the President is a lunatic would near-certainly be rejected.
What to Consider
- The Canadian dollar. It’s hovered at about 1.4:1 to the USD. This is awesome if you’re currently employed by some US company who will allow you to transfer to their Canadian office. It’s considerably less awesome if your job pays you in CAD and you have any obligations in USD (student loans, for example) or plan to spend any significant amount of time/money back in the US.
- Salary differentials. This, in addition to the low Canadian dollar, will mean that (especially if you’re in tech) you might be making a lot less than you were in the US. Some places in Canada are a lot cheaper in terms of cost of living, but certainly not all — and if you want to live in e.g. Montreal or Toronto, don’t expect to save a huge amount on rent. I had a professional cost-of-living assessment prepared for a proposed Oakland, CA to Toronto move, which found the cost of living difference to be… 1.7%. However, my offered salary was 60% of my current salary. In other words: don’t expect to be making San Francisco/NYC/Boston salaries in Canada, even if you’re working for a US-based company.
- Paying US taxes. Almost uniquely, the US IRS requires you to continue to pay US taxes when living abroad, even on income earned entirely abroad. However, you get credit for taxes paid to foreign governments, meaning you ultimately end up paying MAX(US taxes, Canadian taxes). For most tax brackets, you’ll likely end up paying more in Canada. You’ll need to factor this in when considering your ultimate pay differential.
- Going back and forth to the US. Like any other move, if you have significant ties (family, etc.) to someplace in the US, you might need to consider the difficulty and cost involved in going back there on a regular basis. Is it somewhere far (California, Florida, etc.) where the flight is going to be expensive? Remember, it’s an international flight.
- The weather. If you do happen to be from California or Florida (or anywhere sufficiently far south) and haven’t experienced the Great White North… well, suffice it to say that it’s cold and dark. Think about whether this is OK with you, especially if you’re prone to seasonal depression (SAD) or just really don’t like the cold.
- Getting around. Will you need to bring your vehicle to Canada? I believe those on work permits can bring a vehicle in without technically “importing” it, while permanent residents with vehicles need to go through the import process. If it’s a newer vehicle, you might have to pay significant licensing and import fees. Buying a vehicle in Canada might be easier (and you may be able to save a significant amount if you buy used from the owner in US dollars, but look into the difficulty of registering.) Toronto and Montreal both have excellent public transit systems and are very walkable/bikeable, but keep in mind the previous bullet point: how much will you want to walk when it’s -20F outside?
Getting a work permit through NAFTA
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) specifies a (random-seeming) set of jobs that are “eligible for facilitated processing.” If your job is on the list, and you can get a job offer from a Canadian company, you’re golden — your job offer doesn’t require a Labor Market Impact Assessment, so it’s a lot easier for companies to employ you. If you’re under this category, I’ve been told getting a two-to-three year work permit is basically trivial (“show up at the border with your job offer and $120” trivial). After a few years in Canada, you’ll be in a much better place to apply for permanent residence if you want it through the Canadian Experience Class pool in Express Entry.
So step one would be to check the list of NAFTA jobs. It’s a random-seeming selection of jobs, not just the who’s-who of white-collar you might expect. For example, “computer programmer” isn’t on the list, but “computer systems analyst” is, and there’s a specific definition (consult an immigration lawyer or, more likely, your prospective employer).
If your job isn’t on the NAFTA list, there’s still hope: your employer will have to complete a Labor Market Impact Assessment (basically “are you taking a job from a Canadian”). This will make it harder to hire you but is still possible if you’re good at what you do.
Standard job-finding advice applies: Craigslist, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, job fairs, networking, emailing that friend you know who lives in Canada now, and so on.
Say you don’t want to get a job offer but want to get to Canada anyway, or know you want to stay in Canada indefinitely (not just for a few years). You might just be eligible through a system called Express Entry that governs who they hand out permanent resident cards (basically “green cards”) to. To go through it (specifically the Federal Skilled Worker Program stream), you need at least:
- A health exam (from a specific doctor on a list maintained by the government)
- A test of English and/or French proficiency. Yes, no matter what.
- A document certifying your degree is equivalent to a Canadian degree(also no matter what)
- A document from the FBI (really) certifying you have no criminal record
The Canadian Comprehensive Ranking System for Express Entry works on
a points scale. Approximately, you get points for:
- high English (and/or French) scores
- age (you max out in your 20s; they want to attract workers who contribute to the welfare system)
- a college degree in fields that require one
- Skill Transferability Factor (some combination of work experience in Canada, foreign work experience, and college degree/trade certification)
- Job offer (worth 600 of your total 1200 points!) or provincial
nomination, e.g. Ontario’s Human Capital Priorities Stream
Your total possible point score is 1200 points. You need ~450 to get
Invited to Apply (as of the latest round). So imagine you’re a college graduate with a bachelor’s degree, in your 20s, with excellent English skills but no Canadian job offer or experience. Using the calculator, you’d have: 110 (age) + 120 (education) + 136 (language) + 75 (education or (foreign/Canada work)) = 441, just under the amount you’d need. (If you had a Master’s degree, for example, you’d be over the 450 mark.)
But say you got a job offer in Canada, or went through the provincial
nomination process. That’d give you an extra 600 (!?!) points, enough
to guarantee you a spot in the next pool.
The pool doesn’t guarantee admittance (it’s still reviewed by humans) but AIUI you stand a very good chance of being admitted if you qualify.
Once you have your Permanent Resident status, you’re golden — at that point it’s a matter of finding a place to live and/or a job. Good luck!
Let me know if you actually end up moving to Canada (for political reasons or not) — I’d love to know how it goes.