How to move to Canada
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Each year, Canada welcomes around 300,000 new immigrants, earning it one of the world's highest immigration rates per population. If you’re considering moving to Canada, there are several factors to consider before making a decision. Our guide can help you evaluate the possibility and better understand Canadian immigration programs and eligibility requirements.
- Foreigners can buy property in Canada without being Canadian citizens.
- Most immigration programs require you to work for a Canadian employer or start your business.
- Immigration to Canada may be easier for U.S. citizens because of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
What does it take to move to Canada?
While a short visit to Canada only requires a visa or an Electronic Travel Authorization (U.S. citizens only need a U.S. passport), you’ll have to make some plans if you want to live there for an extended period of time.
If you plan to live in Canada, you need to pursue a program that grants you permanent residence in the country. These programs include Express Entry, the Startup Visa Program and the Provincial Nominee Program. Most require that you work in Canada and bring a certain set of skills to the workplace.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Determine your purpose for moving to Canada. Is it to start a business? Work for someone else?
- Reach out to immigration attorneys that have helped clients apply for permanent residence programs in Canada (this isn’t required but may be helpful).
- Complete the “Come to Canada” questionnaire on the Canadian government’s website to see what programs you may be eligible for.
Keep in mind that you may be able to buy a home in Canada without being a permanent resident or citizen, which may help you get a head start on the moving process. So, living full-time in the U.S. and buying property in Canada is possible — or you could purchase property to live in part-time.
» MORE: How to move to another country
Are you eligible to move to Canada?
Each immigration program has a different set of qualifications for eligibility. Many of those programs require work experience in a targeted industry especially in need of skilled workers. However, you don’t necessarily need to have work experience in order to move to Canada.
For the most part, to be eligible for immigration programs, you need to be in good health and have no criminal record. You also need sufficient funds to provide for yourself after you move to Canada. You're required to submit documentation to complete your application — the Canadian government provides a list of the required documents for each program on its website.
To be eligible to move to Canada, you need to have good health, no criminal record and enough money to get by once you move.
Rayne Morgan, a content marketing manager at PolicyAdvisor, moved to Canada in early 2022 and offered this insight: “I started by gathering all the required documentation so that I could submit my application all in one go without staggering it — this includes things like bank statements, pay stubs, medical records and examination results, etc.”
Another major factor to consider before you make your decision is language. French and English are the official languages in Canada, so you need to take a test to prove a level of proficiency in one of the two languages. The test assesses your reading, writing, listening and speaking skills.
Sheri Heller recently moved to Quebec, a French-speaking province. She says language hasn’t been a barrier since moving, but it has changed her career plans.
“I could not transfer my professional licensure as a psychotherapist, as the tests in Quebec province are in French. Hence, I became a certified coach, as that will allow me to render services while living here.”
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Canadian immigration programs
Canada has various government programs for potential immigrants. We break down several below.
The Express Entry program is designed to bring skilled workers to the country to live and work. Generally speaking, it’s the fastest way to immigrate to Canada, with most applications processed in six months or less.
The Express Entry process allows individuals from different countries to create a profile that showcases their work history, education and skill sets. The Canadian government then uses a system called the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) calculator to assess and rank each candidate’s scores based on factors including education, work experience and skills. For example, you earn more points for a doctorate degree than a high school diploma.
Higher scores up your chances of being invited to apply for permanent citizenship. You can estimate the number of points you may earn by visiting the CRS tool webpage on the Canadian government’s website.
There are three programs that fall within Express Entry: Canadian Experience Class, Federal Skilled Worker Program and Federal Skilled Trades Program. The specifics for each program vary depending on the type of work experience you have.
- The Canadian Experience Class is for individuals who have work experience in Canada within three years of applying for citizenship.
- The Federal Skilled Worker Program is for those with work experience in countries outside of Canada.
- The Federal Skilled Trades Program is for skilled foreign workers who have a current job offer or a qualification certification.
Startup Visa Program
The Startup visa allows immigrant entrepreneurs with unique plans to start businesses in Canada. The program targets individuals with innovative business ideas that could help create more jobs for Canadian residents.
To qualify for a Startup visa, you must have a qualifying business and adequate funds to support the endeavor. You must also obtain a support letter from a designated organization that agrees to invest in your business and support you throughout the process. Designated organizations are usually angel investors or venture capitalist firms.
There are also language requirements. You need to be proficient in both English and French and pass a language test administered by an approved agency.
Provincial Nominee Program
This program is province- or territory-specific, which means each province targets specific groups of individuals based on its economic needs. These programs may aim for skilled workers in certain industries, for example. The province can then nominate you for permanent residence if your skill sets match their needs.
Each program has different requirements; however, you need to pass a medical exam and receive a police check for any Provincial Nominee Program you apply for. You can apply for Express Entry or Non-Express Entry — with Express Entry, you apply for a nomination directly with a specific province or territory of your choosing. With Non-Express Entry, you need to create an Express Entry profile and designate the territories you may want to live and work in.
You may be able to move to Canada if you have a spouse or partner who’s already a citizen or permanent resident. They must be willing to sponsor you (pledge financial support) for the duration of the citizenship process.
Once you have Canadian citizenship or permanent residence, you may be able to sponsor other family members, like parents, grandparents or dependent children.
If you’re going to work in Canada, you need a work visa (also called a work permit). To apply for a work permit, your prospective employer will need to complete a Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). If the LMIA is accepted, you can apply for a temporary work permit, which has an expiration date depending on the job offer and the LMIA.
If you’re a U.S. citizen, your potential employer may not be required to submit an LMIA. The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) makes it easier for U.S. citizens to obtain temporary work permits in Canada. There are some stipulations, however — one being that you must be considered a CUSMA professional, which is a qualified worker in one of 60 dedicated professions. These include education, science and medicine.
What if I’m not sure I want to move to a new country?
Some travel agencies offer travel for working holidays, au pair trips, volunteer time and similar opportunities in other countries so you can learn the lay of the land if the logistics of moving to a new country are overwhelming.
A reviewer on our site, for instance, successfully used Global Work & Travel to visit Canada for ski season: “After my experience I would recommend Global to anyone that wants to travel but is a bit unsure about a lot of the logistics. Everything that is available and the people helping you out definitely made the experience a whole lot better.”
How hard is it to move to Canada from the U.S.?
Any international move has its own set of challenges. However, moving to Canada from the U.S. may be slightly easier because of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. U.S. citizens and residents have a good chance of being invited to apply for permanent residence because of their language and employment skills, in addition to their high levels of education.
I want to move to Canada. Where do I start?
You could start by contacting an immigration lawyer familiar with Canadian policies. A reputable lawyer can lead you through the process and offer guidance (keep in mind that this may be a costly option).
The Canadian government does not require an immigration representative, so you could also apply for an immigration program directly through its website. You can also complete a questionnaire to help you determine what programs you may be eligible for.
What is dual citizenship?
Both the United States and Canada recognize dual citizenship status, which means if you’re a U.S. citizen, you can also apply for citizenship in Canada. You won’t need to relinquish one for the other, though you can choose to do so.
Can I retire in Canada?
It may be tough to retire full-time in Canada, unless you plan on having a second career or your spouse/partner already lives there. Most of the ways to get permanent residency center on bringing your work skills to a Canadian employer or starting a new business in the country. However, you may be able to live in the country part-time as a visitor.
- Article sources
- ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
- Statista, “Immigration in Canada: Statistics & facts.” Accessed Oct. 20, 2022.
Government of Canada, “I am an American citizen. What do I need to enter Canada?” Accessed Oct. 20, 2022.
Government of Canada, “Do you want to come to Canada, or extend your stay?” Accessed Oct. 20, 2022.
Government of Canada, “Documents for Express Entry.” Accessed Oct. 18, 2022.
Government of Canada, “Language requirements — Skilled immigrants (Express Entry).” Accessed Oct. 18, 2022.
Government of Canada, “How Express Entry works.” Accessed Oct. 18, 2022.
Government of Canada, “Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) tool: skilled immigrants (Express Entry).” Accessed Oct. 18, 2022.
Government of Canada, “Immigrate with a start-up visa: About the process.” Accessed Oct. 18, 2022.
Government of Canada, “How the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) works.” Accessed Oct. 19, 2022.
Government of Canada, “Sponsor your spouse, partner or child: about the process.” Accessed Oct. 19, 2022.
Government of Canada, “How long can I work in Canada as a temporary worker?” Accessed Oct. 19, 2022.
Government of Canada, “Do I need a representative to help me apply?” Accessed Oct. 19, 2022.
U.S. Department of State, “Dual Nationality.” Accessed Oct. 20, 2022.
Government of Canada, “What is dual citizenship?” Accessed Oct. 20, 2022.
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