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Moving to Canada From the US? Here’s What You Need to Know

How to | Costs | Timeline | Legislation | Benefits

Even though more than a million Americans live in Canada, moving to Canada from the U.S. is pretty complicated.

Canada and the U.S. share a border, but crossing that border is still an international move that requires a lot of planning. The most important step during the international moving process is determining which permit and visa you should apply for.

How to move to Canada from the U.S.:

  1. Research
  2. Determine your immigration category
  3. Apply for permits
  4. Hire an international moving company
  5. Cross the border
  6. Settle into Canada

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How to move to Canada from the US

1. Research

To move to Canada, you’ll need to nail down why you want to move to Canada and how long you want to stay. Do you want to move from the U.S. to Canada permanently? Are you moving for work or school? Make sure you have this information ready before you dive in.

If you’re overwhelmed by all the paperwork that comes with an international move, we recommend hiring a lawyer to help you prepare and submit your application.

“Immigration is a lot like filing your taxes. In theory, you can do it yourself. Obviously, one of the benefits of having an attorney or a lawyer is, this is our job,”  said Tiffany McKenzie, a lawyer with Berardi Immigration Law. “We deal with it day in and day out. We know what works, what doesn’t work, what’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable, and [we can] spot issues as well.”

“DIY is a lot cheaper, but it gets very complicated, especially if you have any kind of DUI on your record,” Jacqueline Bart, managing partner of BARTLAW Canadian Immigration Barristers and Solicitors, added. 

If you’ve had brushes with the law, like a DUI, you have to submit a certain amount of proof that you’ve changed and attempted to make restitution.

Pro tip: Each province has different immigration requirements, particularly Quebec. For example, you’ll need a Québec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ) issued by the Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration (MIFI) before applying for any permits or visas in Quebec.

2. Determine your immigration category

Before you start any applications, you need to figure out which immigration category you fall into.

The reason you’re moving will help you determine your immigration status. For example, if you’re moving for a job, you’ll apply for a work permit. And if you’re moving for school, you’ll apply for a study permit.

“You can’t just move to another country. You have to be moving with some form of status [like] permanent resident, or you have [to have] a work permit,” McKenzie said.

We divided these permits and visas by whether they’re for temporary or permanent residency.

Temporary residence

If you’re planning to move to Canada temporarily or want to enter the country while waiting for your permanent residency, you’ll need to apply for temporary residence.

You’ll need either a temporary resident visa to enter the country. But you’ll also need a permit to study or work while in the country.

Temporary resident visa
Cost (Canadian dollars)$100
Processing timeA few weeks
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Temporary resident visas (also called visitor visas) help eligible people enter the country for up to six months. You’ll need this visa to enter Canada, even if you’re approved for a study or work permit.

If you’re waiting on a permanent resident application, you can also apply for a visitor visa to have temporary residency in the meantime.

Work permit
Cost (Canadian dollars)$155
Processing timeA few weeks to several months
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If you plan to move to Canada permanently for work, you’ll need to apply for permanent residency and a visitor visa. But if you plan to temporarily move to Canada for a job for less than four years, you can apply for a work permit.

First, you’ll usually need a job in Canada with either a Canadian company or an international company that operates in Canada. The company will have to issue you an official job offer or transfer from an American location to a Canadian location. Then the employer files the appropriate paperwork, and you can apply for a work permit.

You can also apply for an open work permit, which lets you change jobs as long as you work for a Canadian employer.

Some work permit exemptions exist for people with certain professions, like athletes, military personnel, and clergy.

Once you get your work permit, you’ll need to pay attention to the expiration date to ensure you’ve either applied for permanent residency or returned to the U.S. by that date.

Study permit
Cost (Canadian dollars)$150
Processing timeUp to 3 months
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Americans who want to study at a Canadian university can apply as international students with a study permit.

First, you need to get accepted to a school in Canada. Then you can apply for a study permit and visitor visa. Your new school should help you complete and submit the paperwork.

Like a work permit, applications usually take around six weeks to process. If approved, you must regularly submit proof that you’re working toward your degree. If you don’t, you may lose your permit and have to return to the U.S.

Permanent residency

People who want to move to Canada for good have to apply for permanent residency. These applications typically include a right of permanent residence fee of $515 CAN.

There are four main steps you have to take to apply for a permanent resident visa:

  • Check your eligibility. Fill out an online form with questions about your education, experience, language ability, and other personal details.
  • Fill out your profile. Gather documents, including but not limited to your passport, educational credential assessment report, language test results, police certificate, medical exam, and proof of funds. If you plan to move with a spouse or children, you’ll also need marriage and birth certificates.
  • Get an invitation to apply. If your profile scores high enough on the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) scale, you’ll receive an invitation to apply for your permanent resident visa.
  • Apply within 60 days. You must complete your application within 60 days of beginning. If you don’t, you’ll have to redo the whole process.

Your application may take anywhere from 6 months to 3 years to be processed. You can usually apply for temporary residency while you wait for your permanent resident visa.

Here are the different categories for permanent residency:

Family class sponsorship
Cost (Canadian dollars)Around $1,080 for adults and $150 for dependent children
Processing timeAround 1 year
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Canadian citizens can sponsor certain family members to enter the country, including spouses (or long-term partners), parents, dependent children, and grandparents.

Sponsors have to be over 18 years old and live in Canada. They also have to sign a contract saying they’ll provide for the person they’re sponsoring for a certain number of years.

The sponsorship process can take over a year in most provinces and around two years in Quebec.

Work programs
Cost (Canadian dollars)$1,625
Processing timeWithin 6 months
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Several programs allow people to apply for permanent residency in Canada because of work.

Canada allows people in certain professions to apply for permanent residency through the Federal Skilled Worker Program or the Federal Skilled Trades Program. Canadian provinces can also nominate certain people with needed professional skills to immigrate to that province.

Investors, entrepreneurs, and self-employed people can also apply for permanent residency if they meet certain criteria.

3. Apply for permits and visas

We recommend applying for permits and visas well before your move. Filling out the application might take a while because you have to gather all the necessary documents. And application processing can take weeks, months, or even a year.

For example, let’s say you plan to obtain your degree in French from a Canadian university. You hope to receive your acceptance letter in April, and classes begin in September. Getting a study permit can take up to 3 months, so you should start the application process as soon as possible to avoid missing the start of the semester.

Generally, you apply for immigration documents online at the official Canadian government website.

4. Hire an international moving company

Getting goods across the border into another country can get extremely complicated. We recommend leaving it to the moving professionals. International moving companies handle customs and inspections for you, so you can focus on entering the country.

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You can find licensed and bonded international movers through the Federal Maritime Commission’s website. Look for multiple qualified movers that look promising so you can compare them.

Then do this for each one:

  • Check the Commission’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Dispute Resolution, the Better Business Bureau, and other online review sites to assess the company’s reputation and track record.
  • Contact the company to set up a visual inspection of the goods you want to move.
  • Obtain a written, itemized quote.
  • Read the terms and conditions of service and review the company’s insurance coverage. If the coverage is inadequate, consider purchasing supplemental moving insurance to protect your belongings.
  • Ask every potential mover if they can handle the customs clearance process when your goods enter Canada. 

“International moving companies like AMG International will help people prepare a list of goods that are going across the border and make sure everything is in order,” Bart said.

Make a list of everything you want the company to move. Anything you bring across the border via driving, flying, or sailing must also go through customs. So try to only take what you’ll need immediately.

The Canadian Border Services Agency determines what you can and can’t take into Canada. You can take most things into the country except for things like cannabis, certain weapons, and some plants and animals. For more information, check out Canada’s customs website.

Furniture, housewares, clothing, jewelry, and personal electronics are generally duty- and tax-free to ship into Canada. But any goods (including automobiles) you move into the country worth $10,000 or more Canadian dollars will be subject to duty and tax. Items you plan to use for business will also be subject to duty and tax.

Pro Tip: You can estimate how much duty and tax you’ll have to pay online through the Canadian Border Services Agency.

4. Cross the border

Whether you drive or fly into Canada, you have to fill out a Customs Declaration Card to declare any gifts, alcohol, tobacco, plants, animals, food, weapons, or business-related items you have with you. If you’re flying into the country, complete the card before leaving the plane.

If you’re driving, plan to cross into the country at the port of entry closest to where you’ll live. You can check port wait times on the Canadian Border Services Agency website to determine when to approach the border.

Pro tip: Have your permit, visa, passport, and list of goods you’re importing on hand until you’re cleared to enter the country.

5. Settle into Canada

To get settled in Canada, you’ll need temporary housing, a social insurance number, and health insurance.

Housing

As a new Canadian resident, you may not be able to buy property right away. In that case, you must have an apartment, long-term hotel room, or other temporary housing lined up.

Social insurance number

You have a social security number (SSN) in the United States. Canada’s equivalent is the social insurance number (SIN). You need it to work, file taxes, and receive Canadian benefits. You can apply for your SIN for free online or in person at a Service Canada office.

Health insurance

Canada offers free public healthcare to citizens and permanent residents. If you’re entering the country as a permanent resident, you should apply for your health card in your province to get coverage.

Depending on your province, there may be a waiting period before benefits kick in. For example, McKenzie reports a 90-day waiting period in Ontario. 

If you’ll be subject to a waiting period or aren’t eligible for benefits, you may want to purchase private health insurance to maintain continuous coverage. Your new employer may offer these policies.

Pro tip: Set up calendar reminders on your phone for when it’s time to renew your permit or visa. That way, you’re not scrambling to get your application processed at the last minute — or forced to leave the country.

How much does it cost to move from the U.S. to Canada?

The cost of moving from the U.S. to Canada varies widely from a few hundred dollars for an application to $3,000 or more for legal services, plus the variable cost of physically moving your stuff.

Immigration costs

You can save a lot of money by handling your immigration on your own, but the immigration process is complicated. Hiring an immigration lawyer might be worth it. Either way, you’ll have to pay application fees ranging from $150 to $1,365.

You’re not required to hire a lawyer, but it’s a good idea in the following circumstances:

  • You don’t want to navigate the complex legal system yourself.
  • You have a complicated immigration history.
  • You have a criminal history, like a DUI.

Tiffany McKenzie, an immigration lawyer with Berardi Immigration Law, compared hiring an immigration lawyer to hiring an accountant to do your taxes. You can do it yourself, but it will take time and effort. And if you get it wrong, there might be consequences.

Jacqueline Bart, managing partner of BARTLAW: Canadian Immigration Barristers and Solicitors, estimated that using an immigration lawyer to move from the U.S. to Canada would probably cost $3,000 CAN or more.

You can book a legal consultation to get a custom quote, but you’ll have to pay for the consultation even if you don’t use the legal services. McKenzie’s firm charges around $250 (U.S. dollars) for a consultation.

How long does it take to move from the U.S. to Canada?

Moving from the U.S. to Canada can take several weeks to a few years. Your timeline depends on how long it takes to:

  • Get your application ready
  • Process the application
  • Travel to Canada
  • Cross the border
  • Move your belongings

If you plan to move to Canada, you should start as soon as possible because it’s hard to predict how long it will take.

Latest legislation that affects immigration from the U.S. to Canada

On January 1, 2023, the Canadian government passed the Prohibition on the Purchase of Residential Property by Non-Canadians Act. This legislation prevents non-Canadians from purchasing residential property within the country for two years. (Permanent residents are considered Canadians.)

On March 27, 2023, the government passed an amendment with exceptions and exemptions to the law. For example, you can buy a home if you have a valid work permit with 183 or more days left on it. If you’re on a study permit, you may be able to purchase a property if you meet certain requirements.

Benefits of living in Canada

There are many benefits of living in Canada, including:

  • High-quality schools at all levels
  • Free public health care for citizens and permanent residents
  • Subsidized higher education for citizens and permanent residents
  • Lower crime rate than most other countries
  • Beautiful natural scenery

Pro tip: Make your transition to your new country easier by learning about Canadian culture and climate before your move.

Next steps

Get quotes from movers. Clever Move can help you get fair quotes from the best international movers. Get started now.

Talk to a Canadian lawyer. We recommend speaking to an expert for legal advice and support before you start your move to Canada. Bestlawyers.com is a great place to start.

Why trust us?

Before creating this guide, we did dozens of hours of research and interviewed immigration experts, including:

Jacqueline Bart: Jacqueline is a managing partner of BARTLAW Canadian Immigration Barristers and Solicitors with over 30 years of experience in Canadian immigration law. She has also written, co-written, and edited over 25 books on immigration law.

Tiffany McKenzie, Canadian immigration counsel with Berardi Immigration Law, who has successfully helped many clients immigrate to Canada. McKenzie specializes in criminal rehabilitation applications.

We interviewed each of them to learn about Canadian visa processing times, immigration costs, and other legal challenges of moving to Canada from the U.S. Based on our research and the advice they gave us, we were able to write this practical guide that covers the most important parts of this complex international move.

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