When I lived abroad, some of the fellow global wanderers I got to know were Canadians. One sure way to get on their wrong side was to ask what part of the States they were from … which could easily happen if they hadn’t yet said “about.”

It wasn’t that they disliked the U.S. — although there was some of that, especially circa 2003 to 2004 — they were just frustrated that if you speak as we do, you must be American by default. In other words, they disliked being seen as appendages of the mighty republic to their south.

Canada has always attracted some Americans. Thousands of us served in their military from 1939 to 1942. During the Vietnam War, absconding to Canada was quite popular, as I recall. But all in all, amongst Americans, Canada is more popular as a butt of silly and inaccurate jokes and stereotypes than as a place to live.

Recently, however, Internet searches for “moving to Canada” have suddenly spiked to all-time highs in the U.S. (and the U.K.). I’m sure you can guess the push factors.

The question is: Can Americans actually get in? I set out to answer that question, and what I found wasn’t encouraging…

Oh, Canada. Land of ice hockey, geese, “eh,” plaid shirts and Bob and Doug McKenzie. What’s not to like, right?

There are plenty of Americans who spend a lot of time in Canada. U.S. citizens are allowed to stay in the country for less than six months within a one-year period without a visa or other special paperwork. Many Americans summer there and winter in the U.S. But six months each year is the maximum.

Some Americans can even work temporarily in Canada without a visa. For example, I have a friend who is a hunting guide who often takes goose-hunting parties out in Manitoba during the U.S. summer.

When it comes to permanent residence and citizenship, however, Canada isn’t so welcoming. Like Australia and New Zealand, it sets a high bar for foreigners wanting to live there permanently.

Retirement Visas

Canada has no formal retirement visa program. Your only option is to apply for an investment visa as a retired person. In this respect, the Canadian government considers your ability to work and support yourself, just like any other immigrant. If you’re well-educated and speak fluent English (even better, French), you’re more likely to qualify. Similarly, even though you’re retired, it helps if you can demonstrate that you have financial resources to take care of yourself and your family. If you have funds to invest in Canada, that’s another plus.

If you have a child or grandchild who is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, however, you may be eligible for the parent and grandparent super visa, which allows you to remain in Canada for up to two years.

Work Options

Countries like Panama or Costa Rica have visa programs that allow you to live there on the proceeds of work that you perform abroad, like an Internet-based consultancy, since it doesn’t involve competing with locals for work. Canada doesn’t have anything like this. The only way you can obtain residence as a self-employed person is to be a “cultural worker” (e.g., artist) or farmer.

Applications for Canadian employment permits are managed though the Express Entry Immigration Program (EEIP). It’s a points-based system based on age, marital status, adaptability, language proficiency, education and work experience. There are a possible 1,200 points, and you need a score of roughly 500 points to qualify. Going this route requires a confirmed job offer from a Canadian employer in a job category that has been identified as subject to skill shortages.

At the moment, some of the key categories for immigration under the EEIP are not accepting any new applications.

Investment Options

For new investors, there is the Start-up Visa. It requires written investment support for a qualifying business from a government-approved angel investor group, venture capital fund or business incubator. It also requires passing the Canadian Language Benchmarks test for either English or French, and an adequate amount of money to settle and pay your expenses before your business starts providing an income.

For Americans with an existing business looking to invest in Canada, or for skilled workers, most provinces have their own Provincial Nominee Program with different criteria. Most seek investors or workers with skills in short supply in those parts of the country. Francophone Quebec is a little different — its Immigrant Investor Program requires a minimum net worth of CA$1.6 million and an investment of CA$800,000.

Once you’re a permanent resident, if you’ve lived physically in Canada for four out of six years (183 days out of each of those four years), you may apply for citizenship.

The Verdict

I have bad news for those fearful folks who think they’re just going to pack up the minivan and the kids and head across the border if the election result in November doesn’t go their way. It ain’t gonna happen. Canada, in fact, is more restrictive than the U.S. when it comes to immigration.

In part, that’s because the country is far less populous, and has a much smaller pool of immigrants to start with. That means there are fewer potential immigrants trying to get in on the basis of family relationships with someone already there.

Of course, Canada has a strong history of welcoming refugees from situations of war, oppression and civil strife. Who knows? Perhaps Americans will qualify soon enough.

Now wouldn’t that be ironic…

Kind regards,
Canada: The Trouble With a Northern Escape Plan
Ted Bauman
Editor, The Bauman Letter