Marrying a CanadianTL;DR: Marriage doesn’t automatically get you a Canadian passport.
The good news is you don’t even need to be legally married for a Canadian partner to sponsor you for permanent resident status, which makes you eligible to apply for citizenship in a few years.
This process was completely redesigned in December 2016, tweaked twice in 2017, and significantly updated on Valentines Day of 2018 (because the IRCC has a sense of humor). Given all the changes, there’s lots of conflicting and confusing information out there.
Before you start getting the paperwork together and planning your move, make sure you’re admissible to Canada.
Can your Canadian love sponsor you for PR status?
Not just anyone can sponsor you to become a permanent resident of Canada, even if you’re married. In order to sponsor you, your partner must:
- Be over the age of 18
- Not be receiving social assistance, other than disability
- Meet income requirements
- Not be in jail, bankrupt, or have been convicted of a violent crime
- Not have sponsored another spouse in the last three years or failed to support a spouse or child they sponsored
- Have paid their taxes and any court judgements (like child support and alimony)
If your partner is a Canadian permanent resident, they need to be living in Canada when they sponsor you. If they came to Canada through spousal sponsorship or family sponsorship themselves, they need to have been a permanent resident for at least five years.
If your partner is a Canadian citizen, they can be living anywhere in the world while they sponsor you, but you must plan to live in Canada with you once your application is approved.
No country likes sham marriages. You’ll need to be able to provide documents to prove that you’re in a bona fide relationship. If you’ve been married for a decade and have kids, great. If you’ve been living together forever and are financially entangled, great. If you just met on Maple Match, you’ll face additional scrutiny. The decision is at the discretion of immigration agents.
Previously, people who were sponsored by their partners and had been in a relationship for less than two years were required to live with their partners for two years or face having their permanent resident status revoked. This is no longer the case.
You do not need to stay in an abusive relationship in order to maintain your status in Canada and there are organizations to help you find a safe living situation.
Are you and your partner legally married? Great, that makes things easier.
Canada will recognize your marriage as long as it’s legally recognized in the country where it took place and both partners were physically present for the marriage ceremony.
Common law partnerships
If you’ve been in a committed relationship with your partner for two years, having lived together for at least 12 consecutive months, you can apply for spousal sponsorship as common law partners.
If you have children together, you still have to live together for a year before you’re eligible, but the two year requirement is waived.
This is a great option for people in same-sex relationships in a country that doesn’t recognize marriage equality. It’s also a great option for people who want to stay together badly enough to move to another country, but not badly enough to put a ring on it.
You’ll need to provide documentation showing that your love is real and that you shared a home and finances. Partners who aren’t legally married are more likely to face scrutiny.
Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances preventing you and your partner from getting married or living together. You can still apply for spousal sponsorship as conjugal partners.
You’ll need to provide documentation showing that you and your partner were unable to live together for 12 consecutive months due to immigration barriers, religious reasons, or sexual orientation. These reasons must be beyond your control.
While family responsibilities or a tough job market are a significant hurdle to living together, they wouldn’t be enough to qualify as conjugal partners. This is primarily for people coming from countries with laws against homosexuality or facing other serious legal logistical challenges.
Canada used to have a fiance visa so partners could move to Canada while planning their wedding. This is no longer an option.
If you are planning your wedding and would like your partner to move to Canada prior to the wedding, I’ll let you in on a secret: lots of people don’t get legally married on their “wedding day.” You can get married legally and hold a ceremony after your sponsorship has been approved.
Which is better: Spousal sponsorship or Express Entry?
Why would you want to use the skilled worker program, Express Entry, rather than spousal sponsorship?
- Your spouse isn’t eligible to sponsor you
- The application processing time is faster for Express Entry
- You have been married a short time, don’t have kids, and don’t have strong documentation to support that you’re in a committed relationship
- You’d rather the IRCC scrutinize your work history, rather than your love letters
How Spousal Sponsorship works in Canada
If your spouse lives in Quebec or you plan to live in Quebec once you’re granted residency, you’ll need to obtain a Québec Selection Certificate before you do any of this. Once you have PR status, you can live, work, or go to school anywhere in Canada, but it’s bad form to lie on your application.
Types of spousal sponsorship
In Canada Class
If you and your Canadian partner are already living in Canada, you’re eligible to apply as Spouse in Canada. This is the case if you have a valid visa as a visitor, student, or worker.
This allows you to apply for an open work permit while you wait for your application to go through. You cannot work legally until your open work permit application has been approved. It is a bad idea to work under the table while the government is digging into your personal life.
Once you have an open work permit, you’ll likely be eligible to register for provincial medical insurance.
While you’re in Canada on a visa, make sure it doesn’t expire before your application is approved. You can apply to extend your current visa while your application is processed.
If you leave Canada while your application is being processed, there is no guarantee that you will be allowed back into the country. Is it likely that border agents won’t let you back in? Not terribly, but be sure to decide if it’s worth the risk before you leave Canada.
If you’re living outside of Canada, you’ll need to be sponsored under Family Class. Your application will be processed by the visa office in whatever country you’re currently living in.
If you’re planning on living outside of Canada while your application is being processed or the processing times for your country are faster than in Canada, you may want to apply through Family Class, even if you qualify for In Canada processing.
While waiting, you should be able to visit Canada under a regular visitor visa with dual intent. Dual intent is when you’re entering Canada on one visa (a tourist visa) while also applying for another type of visa (permanent resident status). You may face additional questions at the port of entry, but in most cases it just adds a few minutes to your travel time.
If you’re feeling particularly brave, you can even see if you can move to Canada to live with your spouse while waiting for your application to process. This is totally up to the border agent on duty, so be prepared to be turned away. You’d have to demonstrate that:
- Your partner has submitted your sponsorship application
- You totally qualify and understand how the process works
- You’ll leave Canada if your application is denied
- You won’t work illegally while you wait for your application to process
- You can support yourself (or your partner will support you) while you wait
- You have private medical insurance coverage
The border agent will decide how long your visa will be valid for and you’ll need to make sure you don’t overstay.
If you show up with a truck full of all of your belongings, you may be required to pay duty, since legally you’re not moving to Canada as a resident. Once you’re given landing papers for PR, you can bring everything you own without having to pay duty.
If your sponsor is living in Quebec or you plan on living in Quebec when your application is approved, the IRCC will direct you to apply for a CSQ from MIDI once they’ve completed processing your federal application. See the section on Quebec for more information on this process.
Serious about moving?
Get the full story in my book, with 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.
Documents to prove your relationship is real
- Proof of cohabitation if you are currently living together. Or, as much proof as possible to demonstrate the reasons why you have not been able to share a household and/or finances
- If you are not living together:
- 10 pages of printed media to demonstrate ongoing communication (letters, text messages, social media posts, and/or emails)
- Proof of visitation (plane tickets or boarding passes and passport pages)
- If you are married: marriage certificate and 20 photographs from your wedding
- If you are in a common-law or conjugal relationship: as much information as possible to demonstrate that you share a home and finances such as:
- Statements for joint bank accounts or credit cards
- Mortgage documents signed by both parties
- Property lease signed by both of you
- Property ownership documents in both of your names
- Declarations from people verifying your relationship
- Pictures from your lives demonstrating that your relationship is genuine such as from vacations, family events, holidays, etc.
- Birth certificates of any children that you have together
- Proof of three of the things below (not needed if you have been together for more than 2 years, currently live together, have children together, and have only been married to each other):
- Joint ownership or lease of a home
- Joint responsibility of utilities
- Government issued identification documents showing the same address
- Evidence of financial support between you and your spouse
- Proof that your relationship is recognized by your friends and family (for example, social media posts showing that your relationship is public)
Documents your spouse needs to provide to sponsor you
- Proof of citizenship (Canadian birth certificate, certificate of citizenship, or Canadian passport) or permanent residency (permanent resident card, record of landing, or confirmation of permanent residence (CoPR)
- Proof of income:
- Tax returns and income slips for most recent tax year OR explanation for why you cannot provide these
- Letter from your employer stating length of employment, salary, and hours per week (if applicable)
- Welfare receipts and/or receipts from government payouts (if applicable)
- Required only if you will be immigrating with your children:
- Sponsorship evaluation
- Evidence of income for the previous 12 months
- Evidence of savings that show they meet the financial requirements
- Financial evaluation if you are the parent to a dependent child with a child of their own
- Required only if they have been married to another person: divorce, annulment, separation, or death certificate
- Application to sponsor, sponsorship agreement and undertaking
- Sponsorship evaluation and relationship questionnaire form
Pledge of financial support
Your partner will have to sign a contract promising to financially support you for three years. This includes food, shelter, clothing, household supplies, personal items, and any healthcare costs not required by provincial health insurance. They must also meet minimum income requirements. Your income does not count toward the income requirement.
If you are immigrating to Canada with dependent children who are not related to your Canadian partner, your partner will need to pledge support for ten years or until the child is 22 years old (whichever happens first).
If you or your children (not related to your Canadian partner) apply for social assistance during those years, your spouse will need to repay that amount to the Canadian government, even if you are separated or divorced.
While you don’t have to meet any financial requirements, you’ll need to sign a pledge promising you will make all reasonable efforts to support yourself and your children.
Documents you’ll need to provide
- Your Identification:
- Valid passport
- Birth certificates for you and
- 2 photographs for permanent resident card
- Police certificate(s) from any country that you have lived in for 6+ months since turning 18
- Required only if you have been married to another person: divorce, annulment, separation, or death certificate
- Required only if you are applying through the Spouse or Common-Law Partner in Canada Class: visa or permit confirming that you are currently allowed to legally live in Canada
- Required only if you have dependent children (even if they will not be immigrating with you): birth certificates, certificates of adoption, or custody papers
- Relationship information and sponsorship evaluation form
- Generic application for Canada
- Additional Dependants/Declaration form
- Additional family information form
- Background declaration form
- There may be additional documents specific to whichever country you live in
Waiting for your PR application to be processed
Your partner will get a confirmation of receipt once they’ve submitted the complete application. You can sign up for notifications about the status of your application, as well as check online. The IRCC aims to process applications within a year. If your application is incomplete or requires extra scrutiny, it can take much longer.
First, the IRCC will review your eligibility to become a permanent resident of Canada.
Next, they will evaluate your partner’s eligibility to sponsor you.
You will be notified when it’s time to get your medical exam and your biometrics.
The IRCC may ask for additional documents or even require an interview. If they require an interview, you can request the visa office this is done at. Even though they try to accommodate your requests, because there are not a ton of visa offices, this will likely still require traveling.
Getting the IRCC’s decision
Your spousal sponsorship is approved
Once your application is approved, you’ll get a Confirmation of Permanent Residence (CoPR). This document will have an expiration date. You have to go to a Canadian port of entry and declare yourself a landed immigrant before this expiration date.
If you don’t declare landing before it expires, you’d have to start the whole process over again.
Once you’ve landed, you’ll get your permanent resident card in the mail within a few weeks. You’ll be eligible to apply for provincial health insurance, if you aren’t already covered.
Your application is rejected
If your partner is found ineligible to be a sponsor, the IRCC will return your application and refund your fees. You can appeal this decision or resolve the issue and reapply.
Moving to Canada
You get your visa to move to Canada.
What comes next?
- Declaring yourself a landed immigrant
- Getting pets across the border
- Moving your things through customs without owing duties
- Getting new IDs, enrolling in health insurance, and getting your SIN
Living in Toronto
Welcome to Toronto
Toronto is Canada's largest city, it's financial capital, and a place where over 50% of residents were born abroad.
- Toronto neighborhood guide for new residents from a New York perspective
- How to rent an apartment in Toronto without a credit history and without getting scammed
- Buying a condo in Toronto as a newcomer without standard documentation
- Setting up your first home in Canada Hydro, metered internet, and how to furnish your apartment.
- How to survive your first Canadian winter It's really not that bad.
There’s more to being Canadian than watching hockey and saying ‘eh.’
Canada isn’t just a colder US, it’s got a culture and history of it’s own. They’re just too modest to brag about it.
- Becoming a Canadian citizen How long it takes, whether or not you have to give up your US citizenship, and other things you should know before making a decision.
I moved to Canada without an immigration attorney or consultant and you can, too.
Now that I’ve successfully immigrated to Canada from the US using the Express Entry program, I'm writing the guides I wish I’d had.
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A lot of the other books about moving to Canada talk about what it’s like to live in Canada, whereas this book talks about how to actually get there. A must have for anybody thinking about immigrating.
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