So, you want a Canadian passport. Maybe you want to be able to sew on a Canadian flag patch. Maybe you want to travel longer than PR status allows. Maybe you want to avoid US Taxes. Maybe you want to run for office.

Regardless of your motives, here’s how to do it.

Featured image by Jeff Nelson via Flickr.

Weird citizenship scenarios

Not sure if you’re a citizen or not? It’s more common than you might think.

But I’m married to a Canadian!

There’s a common misconception that you become a citizen when you marry a Canadian. That is not the case. First, you apply to become a permanent resident. That might take a while. Then you apply to become a citizen.

But my parent is a Canadian!

You may be in luck if your parent was a Canadian citizen when you were born. Things get tricky if your parent was born outside of Canada and you were born outside of Canada.

If you were born before April 17, 2009 and your parent was a Canadian citizen at the time, you are probably already a Canadian citizen, even if your parent was born outside of Canada. You just need to apply for proof of citizenship.

If you were born outside of Canada on or after April 17, 2009 and your parent was also born outside of Canada, you are probably out of luck unless your parent was in the Canadian Armed Forces, in the federal public administration, or in the public service of a province or territory and stationed abroad when you were born.

How can you not know you’re a Canadian citizen?

Before 1947 (or before 1949 in Newfoundland and Labrador) Canadians were British subjects. For various reasons, not everyone became a Canadian citizen when they made the switch. These people became Canadian citizens in 2015 when the laws were amended.

Between 1947 and 1977, being the child of a Canadian citizen didn’t automatically make you a citizen if you were born abroad. Only children who were born in wedlock to a Canadian father or to a single Canadian mother and had their birth registered within two years were citizens. Children born to Canadian women and foreign fathers or unmarried foreign mothers had no right to citizenship. You were also out of luck if you were adopted by Canadians.

They fixed this later and people could apply for retroactive citizenship until 2004. However, the new rules still didn’t include everyone. If the new rules excluded you, you had to apply to retain citizenship before your 28th birthday in order to stay a citizen. If you didn’t apply, you lost your citizenship. In order to be eligible to retain your citizenship, you had to have a substantial connection with Canada after the age of 14 and before the age of 28 or have had lived in Canada for a year before your application. People may have not known this and continued living their lives, not realizing they no longer had the legal status to stay in Canada. If this is the case, you can apply for permanent resident status and then resume your citizenship.

You can learn more about this crazy situation on the CIC website.

The rules for adoption are also weird and complicated.

Dual citizenship

If you become a citizen of Canada, will you lose your current citizenship? Maybe.

Canada allows you to keep your existing citizenship, but not all countries allow you to retain multiple passports. Countries that allow dual or multiple citizenship include

  • Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, Finland, France, Greece, Grenada, Hungary, Iceland, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Latvia, Lebanon, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Montenegro, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Sri Lanka, St. Kitts & Nevis, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, USA, Vietnam, Western Samoa

Countries that do not allow dual or multiple citizenship include

  • Austria, Azerbaijan, Brunei, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Nepal, the Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Venezuela

Each country has specific requirements and requirements can be quite complex. You should check the specifics for your country before applying for Canadian citizenship. Some countries only allow dual citizenship if acquired at birth or under special circumstances.

If you aren’t sure if your current nationality allows you to be a dual citizen, contact your consulate or embassy.

Are you eligible to become a Canadian citizen?

In order to apply to become a citizen of Canada, you must be

  • 18 years old or older (or your parent must file for you)
  • Speak English and/or French
  • A current permanent resident of Canada
  • Have been physically present in Canada for 1,460 days during the last 6 years (unless you’re under 18) and for at least 183 days during 4 of those 6 years
  • Have filed and paid all applicable taxes as a Canadian resident
  • Plan to continue living in Canada
  • Understand the rights, responsibilities, and privileges of citizenship
  • Understand Canada’s history, values, institutions, and symbols
  • Are not currently facing charges, on trial, in prison, on parole, or on probation, nor have been for the past four years

There are some reasons why you might be ineligible, but they’re pretty unlikely if you haven’t committed immigration fraud or war crimes.

If you are a permanent resident with children who are also permanent residents, you can submit their applications for citizenship at the same time as yours or after your have become a citizen.

Counting those 1,460 days

In order for a day to count, you must have been a Canadian permanent resident at the time.

Remember, there are two parts to the requirement:

  • 1,460 days in the 6 years before your application
  • At least 183 days in each of 4 of those 6 years

If you landed in Canada as a permanent resident before July, the soonest you could apply would be in four years. If you landed in July or later, you would not have spent 6 months of each of the 4 calendar years in Canada and would have to wait slightly longer.

The days you leave and return from a trip abroad both count, since you’re physically in Canada for at least part of each day. You are still required to report any time you leave the country, even if you leave and come back the same day. If you cross the border frequently this will be an onerous task, but it’s a required part of the application.

You don’t need to get your history of entries from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), but you’re advised to give permission to the CIC to do so. The CIC will look at your CBSA records to verify your information. Government departments can’t share your personal information without your permission. However, this information is required for your application. If you do not give permission on your application, you’ll likely be asked to provide additional information and your application may take longer than usual.

If you or your spouse (or common-law partner) were stationed abroad with the Canadian Armed Forces, federal public administration, or public service of a province or territory, that time counts as being present in Canada.

Time spent in prison or on parole does not count toward the 1,460 days. If you were convicted of a crime, time on probation does not count either.

The CIC provides a physical presence calculator to help you figure out when you’ll be eligible. You can register for an account to keep track of your days as you go. You can then provide this information with your citizenship application, instead of filling out the calculate physical presence form (CIT 0407). The date on your readout from the physical presence calculator must match the date on your application. The CIC prefers the readout from the calculator to the paper form.

Language requirements for citizenship

Canada requires that you have an adequate knowledge of English or French in order to become a citizen if you’re between the ages of 14 and 64. You’ll need to prove that you meet a level 4 or higher on the CLB/NCLC and talk to an immigration officer during an interview.

You don’t need to be fluent in English or French to meet the language requirements, you merely need to be conversational. You can prove this by supplying results from an approved language test, a diploma from a college or university program in English or French, or proof that you completed a government-funded language program. Private language classes do not count as proof.

The CIC is very specific about the documents they’ll accept. If you took a language test for your permanent residence application (such as for Express Entry), that counts as proof of your language proficiency and does not expire.

Applying to become a citizen of Canada

There are three applications

Along with your application, you’ll need

  • PR card or Record of landing (IMM 1000) or Confirmation of PR (IMM 529 or 5688)
  • Proof you speak English or French (unless you are under 14 or over 64)
    • Results of an accepted third-party test
    • Proof of a secondary or post-secondary program in French or English
    • Proof of CLB/NCLC level 4 or higher
  • Passport pages with your name, photo, passport number, issue date, and expiration date
  • 2 pieces of personal identification
    • Canadian drivers license
    • Canadian health insurance card
    • Copy of your passport or travel document
  • 2 identical photos taken within 6 months (original required)
  • Your physical presence calculator record or CIT 0407 form: a record of the days you were or were not in Canada for the past 6 years or since you became a permanent resident (whichever is shorter) (original required)
  • Police certificates for any country, other than Canada, where you spent six months or more during the 4 years immediately before your application (original required)
  • To pay the fees online

Review the official document checklist before submitting your application. Do not submit original documents with your application unless specifically requestedotherwise noted. Clear photocopies of both sides are sufficient. You’ll need to bring the original documents with you when you take the citizenship test and attend the citizenship ceremony.

Bring along the specifications for the photos and provide them to your photographer.

If you’ve had multiple passports in the past 6 years (or since you became a PR), include photocopies of all of them. If you have a gap of time between passports or lost a passport, you’ll need to attach an explanation.

Any documents that aren’t in English or French need to be translated by an approved translator.

You may also need to provide documents to prove your name has been changed, your sex designation has changed, or if the date of your birth has been corrected.

You must write in “N/A” for any question that is not applicable. Every answer field must have a response.

Don’t forget to sign and date the application. The date on your physical presence document must match the date on your application.

You can submit your application online or on paper. If you mail paper applications in one envelope, they’ll be processed together. If you send multiple applications together and one is incomplete, they will all be returned to you.

Application updates

You’ll hear from the CIC when

  • They’ve received your application
  • They require additional information
  • Your interview is scheduled
  • Your citizenship test is scheduled
  • If you need to attend a hearing with a citizenship officer
  • Your application is approved or denied
  • Your citizenship ceremony is scheduled

First, the Case Processing Centre will check to make sure you meet the minimum requirements, included all required documents, and paid the fees. If it’s complete, you’ll get an acknowledgement of receipt and the citizenship study guide. If not, it will be returned to you.

If the CIC requests additional information and you don’t respond, your application will be closed.

Appointments

If for some reason you can’t make an appointment, you’ll need to let the local office or the call centre know within 30 days and provide a reason why. If you missed an appointment, you’ll need to let them know why. If you don’t, they may close your application and you’ll have to reapply. You’ll want a good reason (death or serious illness in the family, urgent work matter, etc) that you can document.

The interview

You may or may not be called in for an interview. At the interview, they’ll assess your ability to speak and understand English or French (whichever language you said you speak on your application, you don’t need to know both).

The citizenship test

Anyone applying for citizenship between the ages of 14 and 64 must take the citizenship test. All of the information you need to know is in the Discover Canada study guide [PDF // MP3]. They’ll mail you a paper copy after you submit your application. You can also view sample questions. Their study guide is the only official study guide and the CIC advises you against using third party materials to prepare for the citizenship test.

The test may be written or oral. You’ll need to bring the original copies of any documents you submitted with your application and your passport with you when you take the test. You’ll be told right away if you’ve passed the test or not.

Assuming you’ve passed, they’ll either tell you when and where your citizenship ceremony will be right then after you’ve taken the test or they’ll mail you a letter. The citizenship test will take place within 6 months, but may be much sooner.

If you don’t pass, they’ll schedule you for a second test, usually in 4 to 8 weeks. If you don’t pass the second test, they’ll bring you in for an interview with an immigration officer. This interview will give you 30 to 90 minutes to demonstrate that you meet the citizenship requirements.

Waiting for your application to be processed

You can check your application status online.

You should contact the CIC if you change your address, are going to leave Canada for more than two weeks in a row, if you are charged with a crime, or if you don’t get confirmation that your application was received.

Traveling outside of Canada

You can leave Canada while your citizenship application is being processed. However, you still need to meet your residency obligations as a permanent resident. Make sure your PR card doesn’t expire while you’re gone and that someone will be checking your mail, since the CIC won’t mail things abroad. You will need to be in Canada for any appointments with the CIC, including your citizenship test, interview, and ceremony. If you can’t make an appointment, you’ll need to contact the CIC immediately and let them know why.

If your application is denied or your application is closed

If your application is denied, you can reapply. You can re-apply right away if it was denied because of missing paperwork, a missed appointment, etc, so long as you still meet the requirements.

If your application was denied, your application was closed, or you withdrew it after they began processing it, your fees will not be refunded.

Becoming a Canadian citizen

The final step to becoming a Canadian citizen is the citizenship ceremony. If you don’t attend the ceremony, you don’t become a citizen and your application will be closed.

You’ll take the Oath of Citizenship and get your citizenship certificate. These ceremonies are often hosted by community groups and they take place at various times throughout the year all around the country. The ceremony is presided over by a citizenship judge.

The Oath of Citizenship entails affirming your allegiance to the Queen, observing the laws of Canada, and fulfilling your duties as a citizen.

Anyone over the age of 14 must attend the ceremony. Children don’t have to go, but it’s encouraged. You must bring all of your original immigration documents with you, including your PR card and your landing papers. If you’d like to take the oath over a holy book, you’re asked to bring your book with you.

If you’d like to attend a citizenship ceremony, some are open to the public. When you attend your citizenship ceremony you can bring your family and friends to celebrate.

Your citizenship certificate is your proof that you’re a citizen. You don’t want to lose that. If you do, here’s how to get a new one. It is not, however, a travel document. You’ll still need a passport for that.

How much does it cost to apply to become a citizen?

  • Adult: C$630 ($530 grant of citizenship + $100 right of citizenship)
  • Child: C$100

If you’ve secretly been Canadian all along, it’ll be C$75 to search for your record of citizenship and another C$75 for proof of citizenship.

If you need to submit police certificates, request a university transcript, take a language test, or have documents translated, you will be responsible for those costs as well.

How long does it take to become a citizen?

You can check the current processing times for citizenship online. Right now, it takes about 12 months for new citizenship applications to be processed. The CIC is working on eliminating their application backlog and reducing application processing times.

If you do not give the CIC permission to request your CBSA records, do not pass the citizenship test, or are required to provide additional information, your application will take longer to process.

If you’ve served in the Canadian Armed Forces, you can apply through a fast-track process. You’ll be eligible to apply for citizenship after serving in the CAF, and filing your taxes, for three years.

Getting a Canadian passport

You must wait at least 2 business days between becoming a Canadian citizen and applying for a passport.

  1. Fill out the passport application form
  2. Gather your documents
    1. Proof of Canadian citizenship
    2. Proof of identity
    3. 2 passport photos
    4. Any valid Canadian travel document issued in your name
    5. Documents to prove a name change or sex designation
    6. Form if you’d like to omit your place of birth
    7. Official translations of any documents not in English or French
  3. A guarantor and 2 references
    1. A guarantor certifies that you are who you say you are. They must be an adult Canadian citizen who has known you for 2 or more years. They must hold a valid 5- or 10-year Canadian passport. They can be a family member.
    2. References must have known you for at least two years and be 18 or older. References and guarantors must be different people. References cannot be family members. The passport office may contact your reference.
  4. Mail your application and documents, along with your application fees.

If you mail your application, your new passport and original documents will be mailed back. Usually your new passport will be mailed to you separately from your original documents.

If you are traveling within a month, you’ll need to apply in person at a passport office. If you applied in person, your receipt will list your pickup date.

A 5-year passport is $120, a 10-year passport is $160. You can have your passport processed faster for an additional cost.

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