Two years ago my girlfriend and I decided to leave Brooklyn and move to Toronto. On the surface, our prospects didn’t look so great:

  • Neither of us was a Canadian citizen
  • Neither of us had Canadian relatives to sponsor us
  • Neither of us had a job offer in Canada
  • Neither of us had a job that doesn’t require a visa
  • We both wanted to follow international laws

Luckily for us, Canada is eager for new immigrants and they make it easy for people to move there. In fact, one of the most confusing things about moving up to Canada is the number of options.

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Before we go any further: Quebec is different. In all things. They have their own work and immigration requirements.

In case you didn’t already catch this, I’m not a lawyer or an expert on immigration. I’m someone who obsessively researched the options and successfully immigrated to Canada without a lawyer. This is an overview of what I’ve learned, but you should always consult an actual lawyer or the CIC before forging ahead. Making a mistake on an immigration application is not something you want to deal with.

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Don’t want to read all this? Take the quiz and see what programs you might be eligible for.

Benefits of being American

Many people assume that US citizens get some special shortcut to move to Canada. A lot of people don’t even realize that Americans need to do something besides packing up the moving truck and heading North. Officially, being a US citizen doesn’t give you any special privileges.

That’s not entirely true. Canada wants new residents to be able to quickly adapt to their new home and succeed. Being an American dramatically increases the likelihood that you’ll do well in Canada.

  • You’re fluent in English
  • Canadian employers recognize US degrees and are impressed by US schools
  • US office culture is nearly identical with Canadian office culture
  • You probably have family in Canada, or at least know a few people
  • The cost of living is similar
  • Your documents are in English and doesn’t need to be translated

Immigration officials recognize that. So while you don’t get any points for being from the US, or even from the British Empire, you’re likely to meet the basic requirements and get the benefit of the doubt.

Benefits of being from an English or French speaking country

Canada doesn’t consider your nationality when determining your suitability for immigration, it considers factors that suggest how well you’d be able to adapt and succeed in Canada. Depending on where you’re from, you may benefit from

  • Speaking English and/or French
  • Holding an education or certification that Canada will recognize
  • Having cultural similarities, reducing culture shock
  • A similar cost of living
  • Family, friends, or other people you know living in Canada
  • Important documents in English or French don’t need to be translated

Regardless of where you’re from, you fill out the same profile and application and follow the same procedures. There are no shortcuts.

Other languages

There’s no reason to worry if you’re coming from a country that isn’t the US, isn’t part of the Commonwealth, and doesn’t keep official documents in English or French. You’re still going to follow the same process and meet the same requirements.

Your main concerns are knowing what your education will translate to if the education system is different and getting your documents translated into English or French.

If you’re concerned about your education being recognized, there’s a free tool to see what your degree will be the equivalent to. This is provided by WES, one of the CIC approved education assessment companies.

Getting your documents translated will add time and cost to your application process. You’ll want to get this started before you get your ITA. You can’t just use a friend who speaks French or do it yourself, you’ll need a translator approved by the CIC.

Immigration consultants

If you’re comfortable in English and good with managing paperwork, you’ll likely have no problem completing the Express Entry program on your own, without assistance from a lawyer or immigration consultant. You may want to get assistance if you don’t feel comfortable with your language skills, are worried about extenuating circumstances, or are intimidated by filling out government forms online.

Temporary Options

Extended vacation

As a US citizen, you can stay in Canada for six months. When that time is up, you can cross the border and come back again for another six months. The problem with this is figuring out how to continue to work without breaking any laws. As a US citizen, there are plenty of legal avenues for immigration.

Border agents may be concerned about the likelihood of you overstaying your visitor visa. Any documents you can provide to show that you have ties to the US, like a job or property, can make it easier to alleviate their concerns.

You’ll also want to show that you have enough money in your bank account to support yourself while in Canada. If you’re staying with someone in Canada your expenses will be lower, but you’ll need a letter from them saying that they’ll be providing you with housing and/or meals.

As someone who works remotely, I could have theoretically continued working as normal from Canada and simply made visa runs every six months. Since I spent a year dividing my time between the US and Canada, I sort of did this. I told border agents that I would be working remotely for US companies while in Canada. Unless I had several in-person meetings booked with Canadian companies, they classified me as a tourist.

While working remotely from Canada didn’t raise any flags at the border, I wasn’t able to find information in writing from the CIC confirming the legality of this. If you’re staying in Canada for more than six months, technically you’re a resident and would owe taxes in both countries, which might raise some red flags.

An extended vacation is great if you’re confident that you can use this time to decide where you want to live, get a job offer, or find a Canadian to settle down with, but it’s not a long-term solution on its own.

Work exchange

Work and travel and get international experience through the International Experience Canada program.

Go (back) to school

Getting a college degree in Canada isn’t the only way to get a student visa. You can also qualify by enrolling in a career or vocational school or a language school.

The biggest drawback to going to school in Canada is the cost. You’ll have to pay tuition, books and fees, housing and food costs, health insurance, and anything else that might come up. Sure, tuition in Canada is much lower than in the US and the cost of living is probably about the same or less expensive than wherever you’re living. But you can get a degree in English in various EU countries for free, which saves you $5-45k a year in tuition.

As a student you can work on- or off-campus. You’ll need to have your eligibility to work printed on your study permit when it’s issued. You can work up to 20 hours a week off-campus and full-time during breaks. Your ability to work as a student ends when you graduate or stop attending classes.

If your degree requires a co-op or internship, you’ll need a work permit, but it’s a pretty straightforward process.

If you’re married or have a common law partner, they can get an open work permit for the amount of time you’re in school. An open work permit means they don’t need a job offer or a labour market assessment.

Once you graduate, you’ll be eligible for a post-graduation work permit, which can set you up for permanent resident status later.

Engage in free trade

Thanks to NAFTA and other trade agreements between the US and Canada, Canadian employers can easily hire an American business person.

Business visitors

Most business visitors are only in Canada for a few days, but you can stay up to six months. You can spend time in Canada looking for ways to grow your business, making investments, or building business relationships. Conferences, meetings, and standard business training or support are all fine.

You don’t need a work permit, which is awesome, but you also only get six months.

When I’ve travelled to Canada on business as a visitor, I had a letter from my employer briefly explaining what I was doing and for how long. I don’t think anyone ever asked for the letter, but being overly prepared is way better than being denied entry. When crossing the border I have frequently answered basic questions about who I was meeting and when. They may ask for a business card and quiz you a bit on what it is you do. Remember that they don’t really care about your work, they’re just making sure you’re being truthful. If your job is difficult to explain, keep it simple.

Border agents want to know that you aren’t going to stay longer than six months and that your main source of income is outside of Canada. Finding a few new Canadian clients is fine. Of course, they may ask for proof that you have funds to support yourself during your stay, like pay stubs, W-2s, or bank account statements. Having a return flight booked never hurts.

Professionals

To be a professional under NAFTA, you still have to jump through some hoops. Why is it worth it? As a professional, whatever company is hiring you doesn’t need to get approval from the Employment and Social Development Canada to hire you.

In order to qualify, you need to have experience working one of the jobs mentioned in NAFTA. NAFTA states what sort of degrees or licenses you need to demonstrate your qualifications. You also need to have a written job offer.

The final step is to get a work permit. You can apply online and the CIC even walks you through the steps.

You won’t be surprised to hear that anyone working in medicine or science will probably see themselves on this list. College or seminary instructors are in the clear. Quite a few general business people are on there, including graphic designers, librarians, landscape architects, social workers, and hotel managers.

While I qualified for this, getting a written job offer from a Canadian employer wasn’t so easy. Several companies let me know during the phone interview that they were not interested in hiring someone who wasn’t a resident, even if they didn’t need to perform a Labor Market Impact Assessment. I went on a bunch of interviews, but in the end I was a permanent resident before I actually got a job offer. YMMV.

Intra-company transferees

Does your company have an office in Canada? If you’ve worked there for a year and can convince them to temporarily transfer you, you’re good to go.

You’ll need to be working as a manager or a specialist and you’ll still need a work permit. You can apply online and the CIC even walks you through the steps.

Traders and investors

If your company is involved in a significant amount of trade between the US and Canada, you can stay for up to six months. Your company’s attorney can advise you on the NAFTA rules you’ll need to meet and the process for getting a work permit.

Find a job

Americans have a strong advantage when looking for a job in Canada. We use the same resume format, they’re impressed by work in New York, Boston, and San Francisco, and they’re familiar with US colleges.

The impediment is the hassle of getting a Labor Market Impact Assessment. And the fees. And the time it takes to process it all. They have to prove that they need to hire a foreigner, since there’s no Canadian worker available to fill the job. Depending on what you do, this could make it impossible or be no problem at all.

There are a number of jobs that don’t require a work permit. These are mostly jobs where you want someone very specific, like athletes, performing artists, and public speakers. They also include jobs that involve being stationed around the world for short stints, like clergy and conference organizers. This is also how students can legally work on- or off-campus without a work permit.

Extending your stay

Once your visitor visa is about to expire, you can still apply to stay longer. As long as you’ve applied to extend or change your visa before it expires, you can stay while you wait for them to make a decision.

Permanent Options

Before you read any further, there are a couple reasons why you wouldn’t be able to apply for any of these programs. These include:

  • you are a security risk,
  • you have committed human or international rights violations,
  • you have been convicted of a crime, or you have committed an act outside Canada that would be a crime,
  • you have ties to organized crime,
  • you have a serious health problem,
  • you have a serious financial problem,
  • you lied in your application or in an interview,
  • you do not meet the conditions in Canada’s immigration law, or
  • one of your family members is not allowed into Canada. (CIC)

If you have a conviction, not all hope is lost. If the conviction is from before you turned 18, you’re likely still eligible for immigration. If you can get a record suspension or discharge, or convince them you’ve been rehabilitated, you might be fine.

They make it pretty clear that they aren’t a fan of anyone convicted of driving while drunk or on drugs.

Assuming you pass those requirements, you also need to show that you have enough money to support yourself and your family while you get settled. If you don’t have a job lined up when you arrive or some sort of income, you’ll burn through that CDN $12k pretty quickly.

If you don’t have CDN $12k in the bank, you’ll need to apply as a refugee or get sponsored by a family member who can support you.

Become a refugee

If you’re an American citizen, the refugee and asylum system almost certainly doesn’t apply to you.

Use family connections

Are you married to or seriously dating a Canadian? Are your parents Canadian? Then you’re good to go, probably. They don’t even need to be a citizen, only a permanent resident.

In order to sponsor someone, they have to meet certain requirements. Someone probably can’t sponsor you if they:

  • did not meet the terms of a sponsorship agreement in the past,
  • did not pay alimony or child support even though a court ordered it,
  • get social assistance for reasons other than being disabled,
  • were convicted of
    • an offense of a sexual nature,
    • a violent crime,
    • an offense against a relative that resulted in bodily harm or
    • an attempt or threat to commit any such offenses, depending on the details of the case
  • were sponsored as a spouse, common-law or conjugal partner in the past and became a permanent resident of Canada less than five years ago
  • did not pay back an immigration loan, made late payments or missed payments,
  • are in prison or
  • have declared bankruptcy which has yet to be discharged. (CIC)

They also have to demonstrate that they can provide you (and themselves) with the basic necessities and support you financially.

Common law partners

If you’ve been living in a conjugal relationship for at least one year, you’re considered a common law partner if you can prove that you’ve “combined your affairs and set up a household together.” That means joint bank accounts, joint ownership of property, signing a lease together, joint utilities, and joint purchases of household items. You also have to be over the age of 18.

If you can prove that there’s a good reason for why you can’t live together, like because of immigration barriers, discrimination, or military service, you can still meet the definition of conjugal partner and be sponsored.

Marriage

Being married to a Canadian means they can sponsor you. You’ll need to live with them for two years after you’re granted residence.

If you marry a Canadian and they turn out to be abusive, that two year requirement doesn’t apply. They’ll waive the exemption and provide you with confidential services to help you find a safe living situation.

Canada really doesn’t like green card marriages. If you’re getting married just to move, that’s illegal. Just in case that needed to be said.

Kids

If you immigrate to Canada, they won’t make you leave your kids behind. Anyone under the age of 19 who’s not married is a dependent, as is anyone who relies on you because of a physical or mental condition.

Parents and grandparents

If you’re the parent or grandparent of a citizen or permanent resident, you can get a super visa that allows you to stay for up to two years at a time for ten years or they can sponsor you to become a resident.

Here’s how to get a super visa.

Other relatives

If you have another relative in Canada who’s willing to sponsor you, you might still be okay. Details are vague, so talk to a lawyer.

Ready to get someone to sponsor you? You can start the application process.

Start a business

Running a startup? Canada is looking to hold its own against Silicon Valley, so they’re building an excellent network to nurture startups and attract top talent.

  • Up to five people can move to Canada under the startup visa.
  • You’ll need to take a language test to prove your proficiency in English or French. I had to take the test even though English is my native language. I got a perfect score, for the record.
  • You need to prove you have funds to support yourself and your family. The requirements are quite reasonable (a little more than CDN $12k for one person) and if you’re moving to a city, you’ll want to have access to more funds than that if you don’t have some sort of income coming in.

You’ll need support from a designated VC fund, angel investor, or business incubator. Each person coming on a startup visa needs to have at least 10% of the votes and collectively, the startup applicants and designated organization need to have a majority stake.

Ready? Start your startup visa application.

Invest a bunch of money

To meet the requirements for the Immigrant Investor VC Pilot Program you need to prove that your personal net worth is over CDN $10 million. You also need to commit to invest CDN $2 million in the Immigrant Investor Venture Capital (IIVC) Fund for 15 years. As with any at-risk investment, this is non-guaranteed.

You also need to prove that you are fluent in English or French and have a post-secondary degree, diploma, or certificate of at least one year. If you don’t have an associates degree, but you do have CDN $50 million, you can get an exemption.

Be awesome and self-employed

There are three categories of self-employed people who qualify:

There’s a point system for who gets selected. If you’re young and speak English or French, you almost meet the minimum. Add post-secondary education or job experience and you jump up considerably. Points are also awarded for having family in Canada, previous work or study in Canada, or your spouse’s education. They may require an interview, or they may approve you based on paperwork alone.

Become a caregiver

With a rapidly aging population, caregivers are in high demand. There are three programs for caregivers to come to Canada: Caring for Children, Caring for People with High Medical Needs, and Live-In Caregivers.

These programs require experience working in Canada.

Have skills they want

Express Entry is Canada’s skilled worker program. If you’re invited, you can become a permanent resident in about six months, even without a job offer.

You don’t need to have advanced degrees or highly specialized skills to qualify. You might be surprised by the types of experience that are in demand.

Search the National Occupation Classification system to see if your job is listed in the 0, A, or B category.

If you’re young, have a masters degree, and have three or more years of work experience, you’re in good standing.

If your job is in the C or D level, there are still other avenues available as a provincial nominee. Each province has it’s own requirements. Even with a nomination, you’ll still need to meet the Express Entry requirements and go through the process. These programs are designed to help meet local labor shortages.

The CIC has a quiz to tell you if you qualify for Express Entry. It’s a great tool to decide if it’s worth it to gather together all the paperwork and pay the application fee. Getting the paperwork took a while and all the fees to get official copies, tests, and evaluations add up.

One problem with the quiz is that it expects you to have already taken a language exam and gotten your degrees evaluated. You can complete the quiz as if you’ve already done these things or you can look at their evaluation criteria and guess.

Interested? We give the full story on Express Entry.

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