How To Become A Canadian
Updated: Mar 12
Tired of the mass shootings? The smash 'n' grabs? The venomous political division? Had enough with the Ignited States? Then it’s time to break up. Here’s how.
I’m not sure if the sun is rising on a new America or setting on a soon-to-be-failed state. I leave it to you to interpret this for yourself. Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
I think the moment I realized it was over between myself and the United States was an evening in 2004 as I ate dinner. The newspaper photo of a Muslim prisoner in Abu Ghraib presented me with a man on a box, dark-robed and hooded like an obscene parody of a Klansmen, arms outstretched like Jesus with electrical cables gripping his hands.
Moral degenerates, or as George W. Bush called them, “My base,” cheered and made excuses for why it was okay to torture prisoners like we were some goddamn ‘shithole country’, as an American wag more recently put it, although he was talking about other people’s countries at the time.
I’d schlepped off my Canadian immigration application three months prior, but I don’t think I was yet all-in. Committed enough to go through the trouble and expense (I think so far it had cost me around $1,000, not a sum I’d had to pay all at once) but when I saw the now-iconic photo, I knew it was over between me and America. We had to break up. We couldn’t live with each other anymore.
The moral degenerates have multiplied, the self-infantilization of America continues, and the difference between the left’s and right’s extremism has become so blurred the only difference is in who they hate and how they express it.
No, the left isn’t as violent as the right. Yet.
So you want to become a Canadian
My focus for this article:
Americans, since others’ mother countries may vary.
Immigration, not asylum claims
The Skilled Worker program, which is how I entered
Some of my information may prove out of date, as I started the process 19 years ago. Happy to update my information if someone tells me what's new.
If you’re interested in the story behind my decision to leave America, you can read a guest blog post I wrote for a writer friend several years ago, when I had more of a sense of humor than I feel today.
Consider this your starter article on How To Become A Canadian.
Your home base will be the Canadian Immigration & Citizenship website. Bookmark it.
Immigration and citizenship Apply to travel, study, work or immigrate to Canada, apply for citizenship, a permanent resident card or refugee…www.canada.ca
There are two ways to enter Canada: Immigration and asylum, and this article doesn’t take into account COVID-19 restrictions. Applying as a refugee doesn’t apply to Americans, although never say never. America’s on the ‘safe country’ list, for now.
WARNING: Famously Canadian niceness and courtesy does NOT extend to Canada geese. They are assholes.
Two main immigration options
Quebec is a slightly different province from the rest of Canada for many political reasons I won’t get into here. The answer you care about is there’s a separate immigration process for it.
If the Canadian government rejects you, you can still apply to Quebec and if it accepts you, the federal government may still approve it unless there’s a good reason to keep you out which can include having a criminal record, medical condition, or other problematic details (like ties to terrorism). I considered Quebec my Plan B.
You don’t have to speak French to live in Quebec but if you don't you'd best live in cities like Montreal or Quebec City where you can get by with Anglais. The farther you get into the hinterlands, the more French-only it gets.
If you successfully enter Canada, you become a permanent resident and can live anywhere in the country you want, including Quebec. You have most rights as a native-born Canadian but you can’t vote or sit on a jury. You may not be eligible for provincial government-paid healthcare for a certain period after you enter (I waited a month or two in Ontario, I think).
You can’t become a citizen until you’ve lived here roughly three years, and that means your butt inside Canada. When you apply for citizenship, you have to specify how much time you spent outside the country during that time period, and then calculate how many hours you’ve been here because they look at hours. I was here eight years before I applied and I had a bitch of a time cataloging all the times I went to the States for family reasons or took vacations. And I forgot one stupid business trip to Chicago which they found stamped in my passport, but fortunately they let it pass.
The main immigration choices
Skilled worker. Canada now offers Express Entry for skilled workers which wasn’t available for the slow-ass process I went through.
Provincial nominee program. Applies to anyone who’s got special skills that would apply to a specific province. Maybe you’re an oil worker who wants to work in Alberta or a miner who can work in the northern territories (bring some heavy-duty clothing, it can get quite nippy closer to the Arctic Circle!)
Atlantic immigration pilot. A company or business who wants to hire you needs to sponsor you. It’s for jobs the business hasn’t been able to fill locally.
Start-up visa. Canada actively encourages entrepreneurs and investors to build potential businesses in Canada. The Greater Toronto Area in particular is actively seeking people with startup/entrepreneurial tech skills as it aspires to become the Silicon Valley of Canada.
Rural and northern immigration pilot. Similar to the Atlantic one, this one is designed to encourage people to move to smaller, more rural, less attractive communities. Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal remain the most popular destinations for new immigrants, so the federal government is always trying to persuade people to choose different regions (which you may want to consider anyway as the major metros are getting too expensive for even the rest of us to live in).
Refugees. Doesn’t apply to Americans, but people living in those considered asylum countries can start here.
Family sponsorship. If you’ve got Canadian family members, including relatives, this is one route. Just keep in mind your sponsors are ultimately responsible for you, which will factor into whether they’re willing to cooperate with you on this.
Quebec-selected skilled workers. If Canada won’t have you, maybe the Quebecois will! Bonne chance!
Self-employed. Are you hockey-mad? Love curling? You must have ‘relevant experience in cultural activities or athletics’ and be able to contribute in some significant way to those activities or athletics here.
Agri-Food pilot. Canada needs food industry workers, but you’ll need a job offer. Several requirements are those you’ll find as for the skilled worker: Proficiency in at least one of the two languages (English or French), the funds to support yourself until you get on your feet, educational requirements and eligibility in one of the industries.
Immigrating to Canada is a big undertaking. The federal government requires an insane but not insurmountable amount of paperwork. Among the crazier information they asked for was every damn address I’ve ever lived. Literally. I wasn’t sure how good they were at checking so I was as rigorously honest as I could be, even including calling a post office in Kent, Ohio to ask the lady on the phone if she could tell me the house number directly across the street. I lived there while the post office was being built in 1986.
If you don’t drag your ass like I did you can pull the initial application together in a few months. I think it took my dithering ass something like 6–8 months. I was at maybe 90% ready to go, and asked myself, “If you don’t do this, where will you be in five years?” The answer terrified me so I did as a British friend predicted, “If I know you, you’ll just say fuck it and jump.”
The process will take longer if you have legal complications, children, and an ex-partner who may create trouble. They’ll want to know about all your exes, including any relationships you still have with them.
I schlepped the application off and reminded myself that if I stayed, in five years I’d probably be exactly where I currently was, except even crazier.
When I saw the Abu Ghraib photo, I couldn’t wait to GTFO of America.
What happens if your initial application gets accepted
For the skilled worker and other programs, you’ll need to:
Send your fingerprints to the FBI, if they don’t already have them (and if they do, maybe you shouldn’t even bother with this project). I visited my local police station and requested it. It was free at the time in Bristol, CT. Then you ship them off to the FBI and wait for the criminal check to come back.
Keep on top of the FBI with this! I had ninety days to submit my report to Canada and after two months I called the FBI to see when they’d get back to me. Not for many months, they said, as they had a new whack of paperwork submitted thanks to the recently-passed Patriot Act III. I wanted to jump through the phone and scream, “DON’T YOU DARE FUCK THIS UP FOR ME!” but I didn’t; I kept my cool and was really really really nice and polite and asked what we could do, as I needed to submit my report in the next thirty days. The lady quite kindly offered to look for my envelope and it was more of an undertaking than you’d think, but she called back an hour later, said she’d found it (I’m the only Nicole Chardenet on the planet, as far as I know) and that she’d put it at the top of the pile. “They should be getting to it very soon,” she said. And they did, in the sense that I got it back a few days after my deadline.
I schlepped it off, with a letter detailing why it was late and describing all the lady went through to find my envelope and put it at the top of the pile. I asked them to please not stop my application for this, it wasn’t my fault, as I’d gone down to the police station the day I’d gotten approval to move forward, and I mailed it the following day.
This is funny, but seriously, NEVER bring weed across the border from either direction. It’s illegal to do so in both countries even from federally weed-legal Canada to or from a weed-legal State.
The next missive informed me my next step was to:
Visit a Canadian-approved doctor in the U.S. for a medical exam at my expense to make sure I wasn’t bringing any expensive diseases or conditions into the country. One weirdness I encountered: I reported I’d been treated for depression (I was afraid to lie in the slightest) and the doctor asked if I’d been suicidal. I hadn’t, but I still had to fax him a document from my doctor certifying I hadn’t been when he treated me to get his approval.
“Why would I go to all this trouble and expense to move to Canada if I wanted to kill myself?” I asked. “I can just do it here.” He wasn’t sure either. But Canada won’t turn you down just because you got treated for depression. If they did, he said, they’d never let anyone into the country. “Ninety percent of people experience depression at one time or another in their lives,” he said. “And the other ten percent are lying about it?” I responded, and we both laughed.
Submit several original documents that will make you extremely uncomfortable including your birth certificate.
How much time did it take?
The process took a little under a year and a half from the time I mailed the initial application packet the first week of January 2004 until I got the temporary visa in the first quarter of 2005. Processing time can vary greatly, and often, so consult expected processing times regularly.
The less complicated your life is, the less time it will take. I, for example, was just moving myself and a cat. No family, no house back home to deal with, no crazy exes wielding custody disputes.
This is hilarious, written by one of Canada’s best humourists, but it’s also an excellent introduction to Canadian culture for the Canadian noob
How much did it cost, and what was involved?
I don’t recall the exact amount, but I think it was around $3,000 total to move to Canada. The breakdown, as best as I can remember:
A two-part immigration application fee. The first was non-refundable even if you got rejected. The second, paid some months later, was roughly the same amount, and refundable.
The doctor’s visit
Special mailing and shipping fees. I didn’t want either country’s postal service screwing anything up so I paid extra to mail anything to Canada. I chipped in even more to send my original documents in an armoured truck and to ensure they were returned safely.
I think I included the costs of the move like renting a U-Haul and hiring some local strong guys through a temp agency to help load the van.
Other miscellaneous expenses
What else do I need to know about moving to Canada?
DO NOT USE U-HAUL. They suck. Just Google ‘U-Haul problems complaints.’ ‘Nuff said.
Unless you’re a refugee, you will almost certainly be expected to prove you can speak one of the two main languages reasonably well. The absolute safest way to do this is to pay for a language assessment. By the time I got to this I was tired of forking out money so I took a small risk. I wrote two essays for the Canucks: One in English and one in French. In each, I detailed my experience with the language, including being born, raised, educated, and working in the U.S. for over forty years. That I spoke and wrote English better than most of my countrymen and if they didn’t believe me they could Google my unique name and find my work online. For the French one, I stated I hadn’t had help from anyone with the essay as reading it should make it immediately apparent why I gave myself fewer points for French fluency. I can get by, I said, but I can’t hold a conversation. I noted that I’d spent the previous year and a half working on my French.
The IRS is unclear on whether you have to continue paying taxes after you move to Canada. You probably don’t, but we had several conversations about it and I still moved here thinking I didn’t have to file a tax report every April as always. You do, but unless you make a certain amount of money (usually somewhere around $100,000 a year) you don’t have to pay but you still have to file a report. Unless you’re a tax genius, you WILL need a special accountant who knows how to do it because it’s far more complicated. Kiss the EZ-1040, or even the not-so-EZ-1040, goodbye.
You’ll need to show you have enough funds to support yourself for six months or so. I think at the time I had to prove I had $10,000 in the bank. That’s Canadian dollars, and at the time the exchange rate made it $7,500 American dollars.
You can’t become a citizen until you’ve lived here three years. (See: Calculating hours, under Two Main Immigration Options.)
If you’ve got a Driving Under Impairment conviction, you might be inadmissible for ‘serious criminality’, although you have options.
Do you need a visa or Electronic Travel Authorization to come to Canada? Something that may help your case that didn’t exist when I immigrated: A Nexus card for expedited cross-border travel. It means both countries already agree you don’t need to be subjected to as much scrutiny at the border as those without. If you travel across the border as much as I do (pre-Plague), the <$200 fee (today) for like five years is money well spent.
Don’t bother with an ‘immigration consultant’ or lawyer unless you’re quite sure you need one. Especially the ones who claim they can fast-track your application. The immigration authorities here move with all the haste of the IRS or any other monolithic, inefficient government agency. One reason why it might be an effective use of your money is if you’re a federally convicted well-connected psychopathic asshole who was once a citizen. (He was allowed back in.)
Good luck! Bonne chance!
Image by World Bank Photo Collection on Flickr (2.0 Generic — CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
This first appeared on Medium a few years ago, but I've updated it a little for more recent events. This was originally in response to the hotly disputed 2020 U.S. election.
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