Travel

How to Move to Canada, You Know, Just in Case

Lake OHara, Yoho National Park, British Columbia
Lake OHara, Yoho National Park, British Columbia | Peter Carroll/All Canada Photos/getty images
Lake OHara, Yoho National Park, British Columbia | Peter Carroll/All Canada Photos/getty images

If you remember anything at all from election night 2016, congratulations, you handled it much better than I did. You might recall how, due to a spike in Google searches for “move to Canada,” the Canadian Citizenship and Immigration webpage crashed that night -- the first of many things that broke after Donald Trump was elected.

There are lots of jokey “welp, time to move to Canada” posts, but it’s actually not the worst idea. Moving to another country for a bit can give you a sense of perspective on your home country, what you love about it, and what’s most important to you. And there are certain countries where the process of moving isn’t nearly as headachey as you’d think.

Curious about our northern neighbor? Maybe you’ve fallen in love with Toronto, or discovered that the Canadian Rockies are in fact superior to our own Rockies. I mean, if you like hockey and are super down to hang out in some really, really cold weather then Canada and you will get along great. If you’re serious about relocating up north, here’s what exactly it’ll take to get you to there.

I do want to move to Canada! Where do I start?

First things first, you should have a rough idea of how long you want to live in Canada -- less than six months? More than six months but still on a temporary basis? Forever and ever amen? Will you be there for work, study, or marriage? Once you have an idea of the basics, take 10 minutes or so to check your eligibility via this handy online tool. If full Canadian citizenship is your endgame, you’ll still need to become a permanent resident first.

toronto
Flatiron Building, Toronto | Diego Grandi/shutterstock

How many provinces are in Canada?

Canada has 10 provinces. Depending on your intended method of entry, you might already know which one you’re going to live in, or you might have no idea whatsoever. The first thing you should probably figure out is whether or not you want to live in French Canada. Do you speak French? Do you want to speak French? If you can’t answer either of those with an enthusiastic “oui,” then you should probably live in non-French Canada. Québec is great, but it’s a big country.

What are the best places to live?

Most people end up in one of the Canada’s three largest cities: Toronto (Ontario), Montreal (Québec), or Vancouver (British Columbia). Those cities also tend to have higher costs of living. However, they’re still more affordable than their US counterparts; the average rent for a two-bedroom in the notoriously expensive (for Canada) Toronto is around $2,300, which is still way lower on average than it is in New York. Meanwhile, both Ottawa and Québec City are currently some of Canada’s most affordable cities.

What’s required to move to Canada? Do I need to have a job first?

Not necessarily, but it sure will make things easier. It boosts your odds of being granted Express Entry, and it allows you to apply to a Provincial Nominee Program if that’s what you’re after. What does any of that stuff mean? Glad you asked.

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montreal, canada | EQRoy/shutterstock

The easiest way to move to Canada (if you qualify): Express Entry

If you have more than a year of full-time work experience, there’s a good chance you’ll be eligible for Express Entry. The application takes places entirely online, and is usually processed within six months. Other methods of immigration are pretty much guaranteed to take longer than this one, so if you qualify for Express Entry, this is definitely the best route to go. The whole process costs between $1,500 and $2,000 total. Express Entry is open to skilled foreign applicants, usually younger, who have taken one of the following official language tests in either English or French:

International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP)
French Certification Exam, or Test d'Evaluation de Français (TEF)

When you apply, you’ll be assessed on a scale of points that goes up to 1,200. The first 600 come from your skills, education, work experience, and whether you have a spouse in Canada. The other 600 come from things like having Canadian degrees/diplomas/certificates (always a plus), as well as job offers, siblings with permanent Canadian residency, a nomination from a Canadian province (more on that in a sec) and being good at French. You can learn more about how to get your credentials assessed here.

And the Provincial Nominees Program?

This route is less common, but if you can demonstrate that you have the necessary education and work experience, you can try for a PNP. Certain provinces might be looking to fast-track specific “streams” of immigrants to fill specific needs, such as students or skilled workers with areas of expertise in which the province has a shortage. So if you have a full-time offer in, say, the tech industry, you might be able to snag a nomination from British Columbia, which happens to be looking to expand that sector.

To start, make sure you’ve checked your eligibility using that same handy online tool from the beginning of the article. Then -- assuming you are indeed eligible -- reach out directly to the government of the province you’re hoping will nominate you.

Self-employed? That’s cool too

If you intend to be self-employed in this next chapter of your life, you’ll need to show you have at least two years’ relevant experience  in the field in which you intend to self-employ. That experience needs to also be pretty current, from within the five years preceding the date on which you first apply. You’ll need to undergo a medical exam by a Canada-approved physician, whom you can find here; and get a police certificate, which you can learn about here.

The process in Québec is a bit different

In terms of PNPs and self-employment, Québec gets to do its own thing when it comes to selecting immigrant applicants, independent of the Canadian federal government. Rather than having a PNP, Québec uses a separate process of skilled worker-selection. You apply to the provincial government directly for what’s called a certificate of selection, or Certificat de sélection du Québec. You’ll need a medical exam conducted by a Québec-approved physician (whom you can find through the same link as the one under the “self-employed” section) and a police certificate (also same). After your application to Québec is approved (congrats!) you can then apply to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for permanent resident status.

Let’s talk about green-card marriages!

If you have family members already living in Canada, you probably don’t need us to tell you that that they can sponsor your immigration into the country, but yes, they can sponsor your immigration into the country.

Family sponsorship includes spouse sponsorship! If, hypothetically, you were to marry a Canadian citizen or permanent Canadian resident over the age of 18, they could also sponsor you as a permanent resident. You’d need to prove that you’re very much in love and aren’t just using a marriage certificate as a piece of paper that’ll get you into the country, a thing people do successfully all the time.

You prooobably aren’t aiming for a start-up visa, but … just in case

This option won’t apply to most of you, but if you can prove that you already have a qualifying business it’s worth considering. To obtain a start-up visa, you’ll need a Letter of Support confirming an investment of at least $200,000 from one of 21 venture capitalist groups OR $75,000 from one of nine angel investor groups. In addition, you’ll need to be accepted into one of 25 eligible incubator programs. You can find all those groups here, and you can take another ‘lil quiz to find out if you’re eligible for a start-up visa application in the first place here.

Oh! Is weed legal in Canada?

It will be by the time you get there.

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Kastalia Medrano is Thrillist's Travel Writer. You can send her travel tips at kmedrano@thrillist.com, and Venmo tips at @kastaliamedrano.