All the ways you can move to Canada
Everything you need to know, from two people who’ve done it.
So, you want to move to Canada
If you’re looking to immigrate to Canada, there are a number of pathways to permanent residency and citizenship.
Here’s a quick overview of how they all work, so you can make the best choice for you.
Not long ago, my wife 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.
We’re now living happily in Toronto as permanent residents. In a few years we plan on applying for Canadian citizenship.
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 Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC or CIC) before forging ahead. We link back to the IRCC website so you can verify things for yourself. Making a mistake on an immigration application is not something you want to deal with.
First, is this even an option?
Where are you from?
If you’re coming from a country that speaks English and/or French, you’re at an advantage.
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.
While you don’t get any points for being from the US or the Commonwealth, being from one of those countries makes you more likely to qualify for at least one of Canada’s immigration programs.
Depending on where you’re from, you may benefit from:
- Being fluent in English and/or French
- Holding an education or certification that Canada will recognize
- Having cultural similarities, reducing culture shock
- Being used to a similar cost of living and having required funds for relocation
- Having family, friends, or other people you know living in Canada
- Documents in English or French don’t need to be translated
Regardless of where you’re from, you fill out the same application and follow the same procedures. There are no shortcuts.
Do you need an attorney?
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. If you’ve applied for college or filed your own taxes, you’ll have no problem.
An immigration attorney or consultant cannot speed up your application. All they can do is ensure your paperwork is completed properly, with the information you provide. They can also advise you if you have to attend an in-person interview.
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. If you have any sort of criminal record or a close relative with a criminal background, you’ll want to have an immigration attorney.
Can you get across the border?
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)
Any of these things makes you inadmissible to Canada and ineligible to apply for residency or even a tourist visa.
If you have a criminal 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.
If you’re visiting Canada as a tourist, you’ll need to demonstrate that you can support yourself during your trip and have funds to leave the country. If you’re moving to Canada without a job offer, you’ll either need proof that you can support yourself while you look for a job or a family member to sponsor you.
Of course, anyone applying for refugee status doesn’t have to have cash in the bank. The requirements for refugees are different. If you’re applying to be a refugee in Canada, check out the IRCC website.
How does moving to another country work?
Sorry, you can’t just become a citizen of Canada.
If you aren’t currently a citizen of Canada, you can’t simply apply to be one.
Typically, first you apply to become a resident of Canada. Most people do this by going to university in Canada or getting a job that qualifies them for a work permit.
Sometimes being a Canadian resident can make you eligible to become a permanent resident of Canada. Permanent residents (PR) have almost all of the same rights as Canadian citizens. The main difference is that people with PR status can’t vote and they must live in the country for a certain amount of time to remain permanent residents.
Some immigration programs, like Express Entry, will allow people to become a permanent resident without having ever been a resident first. In some cases, people can live as residents of Canada for a long time and never qualify to become a permanent resident.
After having lived in Canada as a permanent resident for several years, most people are eligible to become a citizen of Canada. You don’t become a citizen automatically, you must apply for it and meet certain requirements.
Some people choose to remain permanent residents because their country of origin doesn’t allow dual citizenship and they don’t want to renounce their original nationality. Other people may simply be happy as permanent residents and don’t feel the need to apply for citizenship.
There are so many immigration pathways and scenarios, it can be confusing to figure out the best choice for you — or even what programs you qualify for.
Luckily, we have a simple quiz that will help you sort through the options.
How to move to Canada temporarily
Take an extended vacation
Many people can get an automatic six-month tourist visa. 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. There are plenty of legal avenues for immigration and working illegally will only complicate your situation.
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.
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.
Working remotely as a tourist
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.
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.
Travel and get international experience through the International Experience Canada program.
The age limit for the working holiday visa programs varies depending on your nationality. The cut-off is either 30 or 35 years old.
Some countries have specific youth work exchange agreements with Canada. If your country doesn’t have an agreement you can still get a working holiday visa by applying through an approved organization.
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.
Thanks to NAFTA and other trade agreements between the US and Canada, Canadian employers can easily hire an American business person.
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.
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.
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.
Finding a job in Canada can be a real challenge for potential immigrants. Even if you speak perfect English and have great qualifications, they’ll be reluctant to hire someone without an open work permit or permanent resident status.
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 if you’re a US citizen. 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.
Serious about moving?
Get the full story in our book. Find out everything you need to know about moving to Canada without an immigration attorney, from applying for residency, to getting across the border, and getting settled in your new life.
How to move to Canada permanently
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can also sponsor your family members to become permanent residents.
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.
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.
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:
- World-class authors, writers, actors, musicians, etc.
- World-class athletes
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.
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.
Interested? We give the full story on Express Entry.
Because different regions of Canada have different economies and cultures, this program allows Canadian provinces and territories to select potential immigrants based on their needs. This is the purpose of the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP).
How the Provincial Nominee Program works
You do not need to participate in the PNP in order to immigrate to Canada. If you meet the requirements for family sponsorship, Express Entry, or the other programs to become a permanent resident, there is no need for provincial nomination.
Getting a provincial nomination doesn’t guarantee you’ll become a permanent resident. You still have to satisfy federal requirements.
If you’re looking to move to Montreal through the PNP, you’re out of luck. Quebec has its own immigration streams which does not include a PNP program.
Provincial Nominees who are applying through Express Entry must also meet federal immigration requirements for the Federal Skilled Worker Program, Federal Skilled Trades Program, Canadian Experience Class.
If you receive a Provincial Nomination through Express Entry, you get an additional 600 points on the comprehensive ranking system.
Each province has its own procedures, but typically candidates create an Express Entry profile, get the provincial nomination, and then are invited to apply.
Provinces can also nominate candidates outside of the Express Entry system, typically for people who do not meet Express Entry requirements.
Outside of the Express Entry system, candidates must first get a provincial nomination. Once you have the nomination certificate, you can apply for immigration through the federal government. This paper based process takes much longer than Express Entry.
All provinces have entrepreneur streams that invite people with experience in owning or managing a private business and enough financial capital to become business owners in Canada. Learn more about the specifics and requirements of each provincial stream here.
Applying using the paper application
If you’re not using the PNP Express Entry stream, you need to submit a paper immigration application. You can find all the forms on the CIC site. The paper immigration application has a much longer processing time.
Exactly how Canada’s skilled worker program works, including how much it cost us and the timeline for our application.
A comprehensive list of the documents you’ll need for Express Entry, with or without a spouse.
We moved to Canada without an immigration attorney or consultant and you can, too.
Now that we’ve successfully immigrated to Canada from the US using the Express Entry program, we’ve writing the guides we wish we’d had.
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