Moving to a new country is more expensive than moving down the street and more complicated than moving across the country. There are lots of forms and legal obligations when it comes to importing your belongings into another country, regardless of if you’re moving yourself with a UHaul or hiring a moving company to take care of the nuts and bolts for you. Taking shortcuts might save you time, but any mistakes can result in costly penalties later down the road.

You basically have three different options:

  1. Bring all of your belongings with you when you first land
  2. Drive all of your belongings up after you settle, either in your own car or in a rented vehicle
  3. Hire professional movers to bring your stuff up after you’ve landed

Remember putting together that B4 form before you first landed in Canada as a new immigrant? Moving your stuff is where that long, itemized list comes into play. If you go with options 2 or 3, you will need to provide that stamped “goods to follow” form to customs when your stuff crosses the border from the US and enters Canada.

Doing it all at once

If you’re able and willing, you can drive all of your stuff across the border on the same day that you land for the first time. This is probably the easiest way to bring your stuff up since it would require only a single trip, one pass through customs, and only one B4 form. Having all of your worldly possessions with you when you move into another country will making the process take a bit more time, but at least afterwards you’ll be all done.

Making multiple trips

After you declare landing, you are free to return back to America whenever you want and can cross back into Canada as a new resident, bringing more stuff with you each time. If you do this, you will need to make sure that you have your stamped B4 form with you every single time you cross the border with additional belongings.

If you are bringing anything that was not included on the B4 form, you will need to declare it at the border and pay any associated taxes you may owe. You’re better off packing any items not on the B4 in one section you can access if you need to show them to a customs officer. Remember that the B4 is a way to avoid paying taxes and anything that was not already declared can be taxed. The customs officials will not be happy if they realize you’re trying to sneak additional items into the country without paying the appropriate taxes on them.

While in theory you can make as many trips as are needed, I wouldn’t suggest making more than one or two trips with belongings. Each time you bring additional things that you had declared on your unaccompanied goods list you will need to go through the entire customs process. This can take a few hours each time.

Hiring movers

You can’t hire any random guy wtih a van to move your stuff across an international border. Only certain companies are properly licensed to do this. Once you have your CoPR document and approximate moving dates, it’s time to start picking out a moving company.

Do your research! Get quotes from a few different companies, check online reviews to make sure other people have had good experiences, and talk to reps from the company to make sure they understand that you are legally immigrating and find out what sort of different options they offer for dealing with customs. If your schedule is flexible, ask if there are specific dates that would cost less (usually it’s more expensive to move at the end of or start of a month). If I had to do it again, I would also make sure that the driver has done this type of move before. You don’t want to get stuck with somebody that doesn’t have any experience when you have so much at stake.

The more organized your B4 form is, the easier it will be to hire an international moving company. You’ll be asked to provide an itemized list of all of your belongings, along with the approximate value of each. Assuming your B4 is complete, this part is already done! You will also need to provide your movers with a copy of your passport and CoPR document.

After much debate, we decided to hire a moving company since we didn’t want to spent two days driving a rented truck from NYC to Toronto. Plus, moving companies will do all the loading and unloading for you, so you can avoid the most labor intensive part about moving. Like any other moving company, an international moving company will charge more for stairs or buildings without elevators. I recommend trying to find a Canadian-based moving company rather than an American company. One of the benefits to using a Canadian company is that the loonie is often valued lower than the American dollar, which could help to lower costs.

It’s common for any move from one city or town to another will be defined as a “long distance move.” This will usually mean that you will have one set of movers that will load the truck, one or two people that will drive the truck to your new home, and another set of movers that will unload the truck. Don’t forget to tip your movers on both sides! Check with the company beforehand so that you can be prepared for how many movers will be helping you. Also be sure to find out in advance what paperwork, if any, the driver will need from you. It’s likely that you will need to provide paper copies of your passport, CoPR document, and B4 form.

Customs

Even if you hire a moving company, you will still need to present yourself to a customs agent in order to physically sign for and receive your belongings after they are brought across the border. Most companies will give you two different ways to do this:

  1. Meet the movers at the Canadian border when they first arrive in Canada
  2. Meet the movers at a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) sufferance office near you after they have arrived in Canada with your belongings. In this scenario, your goods are considered to be “in bond,” which allows them to be transported into the country without being officially cleared by customs. When this happens, the movers are only allowed to bring the goods to a sufferance office and cannot under any circumstances bring them anywhere else. You will need to pay a $130 CAD processing fee in order to have your goods cleared from bond.

Whichever way you go about this, make sure that you get very specific instructions from your moving company about where, when, and how to meet them at the sufferance office. Since government offices are not often visited by the public, they are usually difficult to find, even with a street address. We literally drove around the sufferance office in MIssissauga for about an hour before we finally asked a random person where to find it…then it turned out that we had accidentally parked in the CBSA parking lot without even realizing it! The fact that our movers gave us the wrong street address probably has something to do with our not realizing this, but there was no sign indicating that it was a customs office.

For either of the two options, you would be interviewed by a customs agent and be asked to show your passport, CoPR document, and stamped B4 form. The CBSA will stamp your B4 form and mark your goods as arrived. They will also give you a completed and stamped A8A form, also called a Customs Cargo Control Document. This verifies that your goods were allowed into the country and cleared by customs. Keep this for your records! In our case, the moving company reached out to us a few weeks after the fact and told us that  our shipment was not fully cleared in the CBSA system and I had to send them a scan of the A8A in order to complete the transaction.

The customs officers have every right to go through all of your boxes and compare it all to the itemized list on your B4 form. The best way to avoid this is to make sure your lists are as thoroughly documented and as organized as possible. Another good way to make sure this part goes smoothly is to hire an experienced company that has done a lot of cross border moves in the past so that the driver knows the tricks of the trade. That said, in the end you can’t control this part so it’s entirely possible that customs will poke around. If that happens, this might take a long time. Best case scenario: you’ll be done in about two hours.

After you sign for your goods at the customs office, the movers can continue with the move and bring everything to your new home. Make sure to ask about how much of a delay to expect between signing for your goods with customs and meeting your movers at your new home. Also verify in writing all charges that you will need to pay before, during, and after the move. We were charged an extra $200 by our movers who “forgot” to include a customs fee on the quote they originally gave us. We weren’t told about the extra fee until they arrived at our new home in Toronto and refused to unload our stuff until we paid it in full. $200 isn’t the end of the world, but it’s not the best experience to feel like everything you own in the world is being held hostage in exchange for a surprise charge.

Since the team that unloads your stuff in Canada is probably different from the ones that loaded your stuff up in America, make sure you tip everyone accordingly. This may sound obvious, but  so many people that don’t think about this part.

And now for the unpacking!

moving from the us to canada

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