Welcome back blog readers,
Here is the continuation from yesterday’s blog post. I left off just having received my Visa that was permanently affixed to my passport and I was getting all of my ducks in a row before making the big move across the border.
I feel like I have to make this point again, you can’t just show up at the border with your belongings and expect entry and start your life in Canada without having gone through the proper process.
Here’s the link that I shared in the previous post, it’s the link I highly recommend that you use as your main resource for information.
There is so much to consider when you now have the OK to move to another country.
- Finding a place to live, establishing a permanent address.
- Updating your address with the government, IRS, Banking, Social Security, Credit Card companies.
- Having your mail delivery put on hold for a couple of weeks while you get settled/established.
- PAY OFF YOUR DEBTS! I chose to consolidate all of my debts into one easy monthly payment. Back in 2008-2009 online banking and e-transferring was not as popular. I had to figure out how I was going to pay my debts in US funds while in Canada. I ended up creating two PayPal accounts, one attached to my US bank account and one in Canada attached to my new bank account. I was then able to transfer myself money back/forth until I no longer needed my US bank account (about 2 years later). I had to keep it open for pending tax returns and making automatic monthly payments to pay off my credit card debt in the USA.
- Make sure you have enough money to cover you for a few months as you look for work and wait 2 weeks for your first paycheck. Most jobs pay bi-weekly in Canada, something to keep in mind. My first job up here paid on the 1st and the 15th, that took a bit to get used to after being paid every Friday. You’ll also have to show proof of the funds in your bank account(s), so have a print out of your last statement handy.
- Downsize, sell or donate items that you can live without. If money is no object, then rent a U-haul or POD. In any case you will have to figure out which is the best way to move your belongings across the border. As for me, I was on a super tight budget and chose to sell the bigger furnature items. Actually, my husband was down with me helping me pack during this process. While I was at work, he was at my apartment wheeling and dealing selling just about everything that wasn’t nailed down. In fact, I came home on day from work and found that he had sold my bed, curtains for the bedroom window, my microwave and the cart, my TV and my couch. While the extra money was needed, I still had 2 weeks left before I was ready to move. We ended up sleeping on a twin air mattress and a pile of folded bath towels on the floor.
- Schedule to cancel your utility services, Internet/cable/phone and make sure you pay your last bill.
- Cell Phone: While I didn’t own one at this time, I suspect that you may want to look into an International Plan or buying a new SIM card once you get into Canada. Roaming charges will add up quickly unless you’re using skype, magic jack or a messenger app.
- Tax Returns: Make sure that you have a copy of your tax returns (going back at least 7 years). I didn’t have the luxury of having them saved onto a USB drive as they were paper copies from H&R Block. In any case, make sure you can access them as you will be asked for that information when you apply for any line of credit in Canada.
- Important paperwork: Birth cerificate(s), Social Security card(s), Marriage Certificate(s), Adoption Certificate(s), Divorce or other court documents of proof, Driver’s Ed proof of completion, Diploma(s), A copy of your medical history and refill your prescription(s), Vaccination record(s).
- Pets: If you’re bringing your pet(s) they also need to go through the Import/Export process. Have their Vet/Medical history, make sure they are up to date on their vaccinations and refill their medication(s).
- Vehicle insurance: Get a copy of your driving record as proof of your driving experience as you will need to have vehicle insurance in Canada. If you have a Drivers Education certificate, make a copy of that as well as that will be handy when applying for your new Canadian drivers license. Inform your insurance company of your intention to move and coordinate with them as far as making your last payment, returning your plates and cancelling your policy once you’ve established yourself in Canada, especially if you plan on driving your vehicle across the border.
- Import/Export: While I did my best to research this before I packed up my car, there is a lot of misleading information as well as information that was not clear at the time. Learn from my experience and take from it what you will. You will need a complete itemized list of everything you are bringing across the border. Keep a copy for yourself and you will turn in a copy to the Customs agent. I chose to pack small boxes and with each box, I numbered the outside. I wrote down the contents, on the outside of each box I attached a copy of the contents, the second copy I kept together with the rest to hand over to Customs. The same thing with any backpacks or luggage, I attached a copy of the contents to the bag for my records and another copy of the contents was placed in the packet of the other lists of contents to be handed in to Customs.
- Import/Export of your vehicle: Please keep in mind that this took place in November 2009, so it’s possible laws may have changed since then. I was able to find information about having to IMPORT my car into Canada, but I didn’t find anything solid about EXPORTING my car from the USA. I learned quickly once I arrived at the border. Canada did not require that I EXPORT my car from the USA before IMPORTING it. I was warned that the USA prefers that I do EXPORT my car and the issue that may come up from not EXPORTING my car from the USA is that if I cross the border (driving) into the USA and happen to get an agent that specializes in the IMPORT/EXPORT of vehicles after they notice my US passport with Canadian plates on my car, I may get fined and may be denied entry into the USA until I follow the EXPORT process. So, I simply didn’t cross the border in that car, crisis averted.
Here is the website I was directed to use from the Canadian Border agent to properly IMPORT my car.
You may have more things to consider, especially if you have to sell your house, have other real estate or own your own business that you may have to dissolve. I can’t offer any advice on those concerns.
Now that we’ve successfully crossed the border and are ready to start our life in Canada, we’re not done yet. We still have to apply for a Permanent Resident Card which is mandatory to carry with you and have to show with your passport anytime you reenter Canada should you leave for any reason. This form of identification expires in 5 years and you will need to reapply/renew before it expires.
Being a permanent resident grants you all of the same rights as any Canadian citizen, with the exception that you can’t vote or be summoned to serve jury duty. You also can’t serve in the Canadian military and there are some government-funded benefits that you may not qualify for.
You also have to apply for your Social Insurance Number (SIN) which is the equivalent to the US Social Security card. You’ll need your SIN card to apply for jobs, open a bank account, apply for credit just as you needed your social security card for similar things. Keep your social security card as you will also need that, or at least the number to file your tax returns.
There is another important piece of information about filing taxes that needs to be clarified. Many Americans living abroad are under the misconception that they don’t have to file a tax return to the USA. This is only true if you renounce your American Citizenship and by renounce I mean you have to follow the process, file the paperwork pay the USA a hefty fee (close to $2,000 last I checked), and receive confirmation. Then and only then will you be exempt from filing a US tax return.
Now it’s not to say that you actually OWE anything. If you are like me (most of us, middle class income) and you don’t own property, you don’t work in the USA, you don’t live in the USA, you don’t conduct business that results in income in the USA, then all you have to do is file a ZERO return. Filing basically states just what I mentioned above, you made nothing, you claim nothing, you owe nothing. This MUST be done when you file your Canadian (T4) taxes as a means of keeping the IRS informed, keeping them off of your back and remain in good standing with the USA because you are still a US citizen.
You are still a US citizen even if you apply to become a Canadian and obtain a Canadian passport. You will still have to file a zero return for the USA and file your regular taxes for Canada. You are now considered a DUAL citizen and hold 2 passports. You can stop renewing your permanent resident card at this point, but as long as you hold on to your US citizenship, you will be expected to file a tax return each and every year and yes, it’s still due April 15th even though you have until the end of April to file with Canada.
Renouncing your citizenship is a lengthly process as the USA wants to retain as many tax paying citizens as possible, even those living abroad. So they make the process long, costly and brutal. It’s just easier to file a few extra papers along with your Canadian taxes just to keep the peace.
As for me, I have thought about applying to become a Canadian Citizen as it makes sense to me. I don’t have any ties to the USA (besides a few family that I can visit whenever), I don’t own property, I don’t have financial ties (besides filing a zero return). Yes, I can still cast my vote for US Presidential candidates, but otherwise considering the state of the USA under its currant leader, I don’t see the point in maintaining my US citizenship. On the other hand, I don’t see the point of paying $2,000 (more like $2,600 if you consider the conversion from CAD to USD at today’s rates) just to get out from filing a few pieces of paper once a year. Even the cost of renewing my 10 year US passport is cheaper ($110 USD) considering that I might renew it 4 more times before I die or stop traveling to the USA. I’d rather pay the lesser fee and become a Canadian citizen, but that is my choice and not one that you have to make for yourself.
If you are a US citizen living abroad and would like more information about renouncing your citizenship, what it means, what are the pros and cons for your situation, if you are behind on filing your US tax returns then I encourage you to click the link below and contact a representive there.
Since November of 2009, I have had to renew my Permanent Resident card once and renew my 10 year US Passport once. I am allowed to travel outside of Canada as long as I follow the same rules as Canadian citizens, we have to remain in Canada at least 6 months each year to maintain our status. I have to carry my permanent resident card with me along with my passport when I travel or when I expect to show proof of my status.
Now I have 2 US passports, both of which I have to carry as the first has my VISA and immigration landing document and the new passport, well it hasn’t expired as I just renewed it a few months ago. I will have to continue to carry both until I become a Canadian citizen; at which point I’ll only have to carry that one passport going forward.
That about sums up the immigration process if your going from the USA to Canada. I had no idea what I was getting into, what the process entailed or how long it would take. Knowing all of what I shared would have been super helpful because the not knowing was more frustrating than the waiting.
I’m happy to answer any questions or clarify if something I mentioned didn’t make sense. The link for the Canadian government website is truly a great resource to help you find work, answer questions about living in Canada and reassure you that not all Canadians live in igloos. That was a running joke from my former co-workers before I moved.
Actually most of the people live close to the border up to 2 hours away. Unless you live further North, then you better like the colder weather year round. Research the different Provinces, what the climate is like, what jobs are available, what the tax rate is (Ontario has a 13% sales tax while Alberta has a 5% sales tax) before you decide on which Province to settle in. Canada has so much to offer and if you have the means of coming up for a visit or a few visits, you should.
With that said, that has sparked another topic for a blog post… I won’t spoil it, you’ll have to come back to find out.
I hope that my experience has helped you to make your choice on whether immigrating to Canada is for you. At the very leas,t I hope that you have learned what the process is like for those of us that go through it legally and you know it’s an on going process to maintain our status. Please feel free to share, like, comment especially if you know someone that may be considering such a big move as they will have a better idea as to what to expect before going into this blind, like I did.
Have a great weekend!
Hannah, the international traveller.