You’ve made it through the Express Entry process and you’ve been officially invited to immigrate to the Great White North. Now what?

Most of the stuff we found on the internet about the landing process had a lot to do with coming to Canada from Asia, particularly from countries that require a visa to travel to Canada. Since we couldn’t find much information about what it’s like to move to Canada from America, we were basically flying blind and had only the sort of confusing instructions from the CIC to go by. The good news is that arriving in Canada as new immigrants is pretty easy for Americans!

To be honest, it’s probably pretty easy for everybody else as well, but we only have personal experience with being Americans. We’ve talked to some other friends in Canada that immigrated from other countries and they’ve all had similar experiences. Canada is pretty great like that. The biggest difference is that if all of your documents are in any language that isn’t English or French, you’d need to make sure they’ve all been translated into English or French. Everything else is basically exactly the same. 

The Invitation

The invitation process isn’t as formal as it sounds. You’ll know you’ve been accepted when you get a letter in the mail that let’s you know that your application for permanent residence in Canada has been approved, along with a Confirmation of Permanent Residence (CoPR) paper for yourself and any other family member(s) that you applied to immigrate with. The CoPR paper is really important, though it’s not very obvious by looking at it. It’s a single legal-sized piece of paper with your personal details and a big stamp across it that says “NOT VALID FOR TRAVEL.” It actually reminds me a lot of a temporary driver’s license. Keep this in a safe place – Canadian customs officers will not allow you to cross the border and declare that you are moving to Canada without your CoPR.

Take careful note of the “valid to” date, which will be exactly 1 year from when your panel physician submitted the results of your medical exam (which is a good reason not to schedule your exam until you are ready to submit your final application for permanent residency). You absolutely must declare landing in Canada before this date passes. The CIC is pretty clear that it  cannot be extended for any reason.

If your family situation has changed since you applied you will have to make that declaration before you immigrate. If you’ve gotten married, divorced, become a parent, or entered into a common-law relationship since you submitted your application, let the CIC know asap so that they can adjust your invitation accordingly. This will probably delay your ability to move, but at least you have options.

If you’re living outside of Canada when you receive your invitation, you can enter Canada by driving across the border or through a Canadian Port of Entry at an international airport. We decided to declare landing at Toronto Pearson Airport and paid a moving company to bring all of our stuff up later. The thought of driving a moving truck from Brooklyn to Toronto with two cats was too much for us to handle..

If you applied to immigrate with other members of your family, you can land before they do but they can’t land before you. We actually did this ourselves – I went up and declared landing on my own and my wife came up a few weeks later. Then we went back to New York to bring our cats up together. While we did this in a sort of unusual way, it means we got all sorts of different experiences under our belt.

You can declare landing even if you plan to return to America to finalize your move. When I landed and explained to the customs agent that I was on my own but planned to return to America and come back with my wife, he was totally unfazed. Apparently, that’s pretty common.

Getting Ready

Before you land you will need to get a lot of stuff together. The CIC gives you some information about what you need to have on your person when you land, but here is a more detailed overview of what I wish I knew beforehand.

What is the B4 form?

Canada requires that you declare all of your goods and their value on a B4 form. However, there’s not a lot of instruction about how to do this on a single piece of paper. I decided to conquer this with spreadsheets. I don’t want to brag or anything, but the customs agents I dealt with when I landed all applauded me for how awesomely organized by B4 form was and how easy it made things for them. Pro tip: it never hurts to impress a customs agent.

Regardless of how you decide to move, when you land for the first time you need to declare all of the things you own in the world that you plan to bring with you to Canada. This is required regardless of if you have all of those things with you on that day or if you don’t plan on bringing them to Canada until a future date. Basically, Canada has the right to tax all items brought into the country. The one exception to this rule is if you are permanently moving to Canada. In that case, you have a single opportunity to declare all of your goods when you land in order to avoid taxation on those goods.

If you have some sort of burning desire to make a long list of every single thing that you own then you’re in luck! For everybody else: this part sucks.

If you are moving up with all of your things then you only need a single B4 form for all of your accompanying goods. However, if you are landing with just a few pieces of luggage and plan to move all of your stuff up at a later date, then you will need two B4 forms:

  1. Goods Accompanying: This is a list of all the things you have with you on the day that you land. This could be a single bag, multiple pieces of checked luggage, or everything you own.
  2. Goods to Follow: This is a list of all the things you plan to bring into Canada in the future. If you’re going to bring all of your stuff into Canada a few days or weeks in the future you will need to let customs know the first time you land. If you don’t declare at this time you could be taxed on them later.

Each person you are immigrating with can bring their own B4 form. Or, if you are all moving at the same time, you could also combine everything into a single B4.

Creating your B4 forms

Looking at the B4 form,you’ll see that there are only 8 lines to list goods. Since I have more than 8 things, I decided to use this section to list categories rather than single items. I came up with 7 categories that all of my belongings fit into and used the 8th line to list the total value of everything: These are the categories I decided on, but you can come up with whatever works best for you.

Once I had the categories picked out it was time to make a list for each category that included each individual item and the approximate value in Canadian dollars. I used Google Sheets for this part. For each list, include the Category, category number from the list you made on the B4 form, your full legal name, a description of the item, quantity, and approximate value in Canadian Dollars. Also include the total of all items in that category. If applicable, you will also need to include the make, model, and serial number for each item. In my case this applied mostly to the items I included in my Electronics category. Here’s an example of how I made my category lists:

B4 spreadsheet

If you’re super savvy with spreadsheets, you can automatically calculate the exchange rate using this handy formula: =GoogleFinance(“CURRENCY:USDCAD”)

When it came to listing out smaller things from the kitchen or bathroom, I listed out boxes instead of individual items. For example:

Boxes of books: 6
Boxes of toiletries: 3
Boxes of kitchen utensils: 1
Boxes of tools: 2

Once you have all of your category lists, take the total value from each and put that number on the B4 document for each category. Then calculate the total of all items. Be very careful that your totals from the category lists match the totals you list on the B4 document.

When you finally finish this part, print out two copies of each category list along with two copies of each B4. The two copies part is extremely important, since they keep one for themselves and give the other back to you.

Jewelry

If you happen to have expensive jewelry, you’ll want to make sure it’s all documented correctly with appraiser and/or insurance forms. For these cases, make sure to have pictures of all of the items and receipts, if you have them.

When you purchase renters or homeowners insurance, you now have an official, itemized list of everything you own to file with your insurance company.

Personal papers

In addition to my CoCR and passport, I brought with me all of the documents that I submitted with my application. You probably won’t need to show any of this stuff, but it won’t do you any harm and it’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to customs, since you never know if you’ll ask you for proof of something.

Things you absolutely must have with you:

  • CoCR
  • Passport
  • Sealed letter from your medical exam
  • B4 form (two copies)

Things that aren’t required but you’ll probably want to have with you:

  • Birth certificate
  • Social Security Card
  • Language test results
  • Education assessment
  • Diplomas
  • Police certificate
  • Proof of funds
  • Verification of your work history
  • Proof of relationship status, if applicable
  • Proof of parental status, if applicable
  • Written job offer if you have one, don’t worry about it if you don’t

Pets

The CIC has a really handy overview of the different requirements for each type of animal that you might want to bring with you and the requirements for each animal. Canada does not require a quarantine period for domestic cats and dogs coming from the United States but you will need to prove that they are in good health.

Since the United States is not recognized as a rabies-free country, you will need to bring a current rabies vaccination certificate. When you cross a border with a pet, either to immigrate or just to visit, your pets will be inspected by a customs agent to make sure that the paperwork is valid and they appear to be in good health.

You might be asked to pay an inspection fee of $30 for the first animal and $5 for each additional animal. While it’s not specifically required by customs, you will probably want to have any recent paperwork from your veterinarian as well, just in case.

We brought two cats with us to Canada.

Vehicles

You can probably bring your car with you when you move. Here is a FAQ page from the CIC  that goes over some of the basics about importing a car that you personally own. And here’s a FAQ page from the Register of Imported Vehicles that has even more information. You may have to pay a tax on the car.

If you have leased or financed the car, you will first need to get in touch with the company you’ve leased or financed it from to find out if you can bring it to Canada with you. If you can, you’ll need the original Certificate of Title along with an original letter from the company that authorizes the import and that identifies the car and VIN.

When you land

Landing in Canada for the first time as a new settler and declaring yourself a new resident doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to “land” at an airport. You can just as easily drive yourself across the border or even arrive on a boat, just so long as you have all the necessary paperwork with you.

You’ve made it to a Canadian border but you’re not home free just yet. If you’re arriving at a land border then you’ll be asked to drive your vehicle to a second checkpoint where you will be interviewed by a customs agent who will go over all of your documentation.

At the airport, the first customs agent you talk to will ask you what your current status is in Canada. This is when you explain that you are a new Permanent Resident landing for the first time in Canada. You will need to show your completed customs declaration card, passport and CoPR document at this initial stage. Then, you’ll be directed to a second customs clearing area where you’ll have a longer interview with another customs agent.

Customs declaration card

If you’ve ever flown into Canada you’ll have filled out a customs declaration card on the airplane on which you’ll identify yourself as a visitor or resident. There’s no “new immigrant” option, so I wasn’t sure how to fill this out at all and ended up doing it all wrong. The customs agent told me I did it wrong but wasn’t too upset about it and didn’t make me fill out a new one. He explained that since I wasn’t yet living in Canada I should have entered my US address and mark myself as a Canadian resident. Don’t worry, you’ll probably do this wrong no matter how hard you try.

Customs

The secondary customs area is where you will speak to a border patrol agent about your plans to immigrate to Canada. They will review your CoPR and passport, verify you in their system as being a valid Permanent Resident , and ask you some questions about your life like why you decided to immigrate, where you’ll be living, and what you do for a living. The customs agent will fill out your CoPR form with your landing information. Your official Permanent Resident card will arrive in the mail at the address you list on the CoPR form in about 6-8 weeks. Until then, the CoPR form will now serve as both your temporary proof of permanent resident status as well as a record of your landing in Canada. This piece of paper is very important! If you decide later on to apply for Canadian citizenship you will need to submit the CoPR document as proof of when you landed in Canada, so keep it in a safe place.

Depending on what time you arrive at the airport, the secondary customs area might be empty or crowded. When I arrived on my own, I flew in around 9 am thinking that would be the best time to avoid a long line. I was right, it was empty, but I ended up wishing I had flown in in at a busier time because nobody I talked to seemed to have much experience in dealing with a new immigrant. Later, when my wife arrived around 8 pm on a Friday, she waited a long time but didn’t run into the same problems that I did. In the end, I’d rather wait in line and get all the correct information than skip the line and miss out on important information.

SIN

The customs agent might not tell you that you can get your new Social Insurance Number (the Canadian equivalent to a Social Security Number) right there at the airport. If they don’t mention the SIN, be sure to ask if you can get one there at the airport. This is the number you will need to access government benefits and programs like health insurance, so it’s better to get this out of the way now instead of later. At Toronto Pearson they do this right in the customs area within a few minutes and will provide you with a new immigrant folder that goes over some of the basics about living in Canada.

If you aren’t able to sign up for a SIN at the airport, you can do it later at your local Service Canada location. If you end up doing it this way, be sure to take your passport and CoCR document with you.

Declaring Goods

The final step of landing is declaring your goods. There is no obvious way to do this at the airport. After you finish up at the secondary customs clearing area and get your SIN you’ll be let out at the luggage area of the airport. When you go to exit and hand your customs declaration card to the final customs agent, let that person know that you are a new immigrant with a B4 form and need to declare goods to follow you. They should then direct you to a final clearance area where you will declare your goods and get your B4 document stamped.

Do not exit the security area without getting your B4 stamped or  you will not be able to import your goods later without owing taxes on them.

When I landed, the customs agent did not direct me to the final clearance area and so I ended up outside the airport without a stamp on my B4. Since I had done a lot of research beforehand, I knew that I absolutely needed to get my B4 stamped on the day that I landed, otherwise I would likely be taxed for all of the stuff I planned to move up later. So I tracked down a customs office outside of the security area, explained my situation, and managed to get somebody to help me. While this worked as a last resort, trying to accomplish something that has an official process outside of the official process makes everything needlessly difficult and more time consuming.

The customs agent will review your list of goods and enter it all into their database. This is so that later they’ll be able to cross reference the goods that you actually import with the goods that you declare when you land. They’ll stamp your B4 and every category list you printed out and give you one of the copies back. Hold on to this. If you’re importing goods at a later date you will need to show this document when you bring your goods across the border.

Now you can finally go to your new home (or temporary home) and relax. Welcome to Canada!

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