Each year, thousands of people move to Canada from the United States of America (U.S.) to work, study, or settle down permanently.
In this resource, we look at some of the reasons Canada is an attractive destination, both for U.S. citizens and temporary U.S. residents on an H-1B work visa or study visa. We also explore some of the pathways you can leverage to immigrate to Canada from the U.S.A. as a permanent resident or temporarily as a foreign worker or international student.
In this article:
Why should I immigrate to Canada from the U.S.?
Over the last few years, an increasing number of American residents are choosing to move to Canada. For individuals who’ve been living in the United States temporarily, such as on a work or study permit, it can be quite difficult to qualify for U.S. citizenship and the wait time is often very long. Compared to Canada, the U.S.A. offers fewer opportunities for economic immigration and, if you’re in the U.S. on a work visa, it’s not always possible to get an extension. Faced with such uncertainty, immigrating to Canada can be an attractive option as the country offers similar quality of life and opportunities, as well as avenues to settle down permanently and get citizenship.
Many U.S. citizens are also relocating to Canada. Some of the factors that attract newcomers from the U.S. may be Canada’s publicly-funded healthcare system, better job opportunities this side of the border, and the affordability of higher education. Many people also immigrate for family reunification reasons and even political and safety reasons, like stricter gun control laws or cultural diversity in Canada.
How to move to Canada from the U.S. permanently
Canada offers many immigration programs that allow foreign nationals to get permanent residence (PR) and live, work, study, and settle here permanently. Whether you’re a U.S. citizen or have been living in the U.S. temporarily on a student visa (F-1 visa or F-2) or work permit (H-1B visa), you may be eligible to apply for Canadian PR under one of the following programs:
The Express Entry program is one of simplest, most popular ways to immigrate to Canada from the U.S. It includes three economic immigration streams:
When you apply through the Express Entry program, your profile is ranked based on a points system known as the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). Your CRS score takes into account factors like your work experience, education qualifications, age, language proficiency, and more. The highest ranked candidates are then invited to apply for PR.
Provincial Nominee Programs
Most of Canada’s provinces and territories (except Nunavut and Quebec) have their own Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), which allows each province/territory to invite newcomers with skills and work experience to meet local labour market requirements to work and settle in the province or territory permanently.
Some PNP streams are linked to the Express Entry program, so you may need to create an Express Entry profile to apply. If you secure a provincial nomination, it’ll add up to 600 points to your CRS score, making it fairly easy to qualify for permanent residence. In addition, many provinces also have PNP streams for fresh graduates and entrepreneurs, or semi-skilled workers with foreign experience.
If you have close family members who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents, you may be able to leverage Canada’s family sponsorship program to immigrate. This family reunification program allows spouses, partners, children, parents, grandparents, and, in certain cases, other relatives of Canadians to settle in Canada as permanent residents.
The family sponsorship program requires a sponsorship undertaking and sponsorship agreement which state your family member in Canada will provide for your basic needs, such as financial requirements, accommodation, and living expenses, and that you’ll make reasonable efforts to support yourself and your family.
Start Up Visa (SUV) program
Canada also offers a Start-up Visa (SUV) program, which is a business investment-related program, that allows entrepreneurs to invest in an existing business or start a business in Canada that can compete on a global scale. There are qualifying criteria for eligible businesses you’ll need to meet.
To qualify, you’ll first need a letter of support and commitment certificate from a designated organization willing to support your business idea. Next, you’ll need to get a work permit and start your business in Canada. Once you’ve set up your business, you’ll need to apply for PR under the Start-up Visa program before your commitment certificate expires.
Other pathways to immigrate to Canada
There are several other immigration programs you can explore to move to Canada as a permanent resident. Individuals interested in moving to Quebec can opt for the Quebec-selected Skilled Workers program. If you’re looking to move to one of the four Atlantic provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island), the Atlantic Immigration Program (AIP) may be a better fit for you.
The Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) is a community-based immigration program that encourages newcomers to settle in lesser-known regions of the country. Additionally, Canada offers certain industry or occupation-based PR pathways, such as the Caregivers program and the Agri-food pilot, which allow the country to meet its labour market requirements.
Moving to Canada from the U.S.A. to work or study
Getting a work permit under the USMCA/NAFTA
The United States – Mexico – Canada Agreement (USMCA), which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 2020, allows U.S. or Mexican citizens to get a temporary Canadian work permit.
To qualify, you must fall under one of the three following categories:
- USMCA or NAFTA professional: If you’re in a profession included in the agreement’s list, such as a teacher, scientist, lawyer, accountant, engineer, architect, or medical professional, you may be eligible for a Canadian work permit under this category. Under this work permit, self-employment is not allowed and you’ll require a valid, pre-arranged job offer to qualify.
- USMCA or NAFTA intra-company transfer: Specialized or managerial level employees working for an American organization for at least one year can get a work permit if they are transferring to a Canadian branch of their firm.
- USMCA or NAFTA investor or trader: American citizens who conduct substantial trade of goods or services with Canada, or are making a significant capital investment in a business in Canada, can qualify for a work permit under this category.
Moving to Canada from the U.S. to study
Many U.S. residents come to Canada to pursue higher education. Canada is home to several of the world’s top universities and offers high quality study programs across all fields.
To study in Canada, you’ll need to apply for a study permit and enrol with a Designated Learning Institution (DLI). For many foreign nationals, including Americans, the study permit is a stepping stone to permanent residence, as you’ll get extra points for Canadian education when you apply for PR.
Compared to the U.S., it’s relatively easy to get admission into university or college programs in Canada, so you’ll have a better chance of getting into the school and program of your choice.
For temporary residents in the U.S., and for citizens who don’t qualify for in-state universities, education in Canada may also be less expensive. Another advantage of studying in Canada is that you’ll be able to get a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) as long as your study program is at least eight months long.
Working in Canada
If you plan to come to Canada from the U.S. as a Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW), you’ll require a work permit. Some PR programs give applicants additional points for Canadian work experience, so if you choose to settle in Canada after having worked here for some time, you’ll have a better chance of qualifying.
Canada offers two types of work permits:
Employer-specific or closed work permits: These work permits are job-specific and typically include the name of the employer you’re allowed to work for, your job location, and the duration of your permit. Before you apply for an employer-specific work permit, the employer must complete a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) and provide you with a copy of it along with a valid job offer.
Open work permits: These work permits allow you to work for almost any employer in Canada for a predefined period of time. Open work permits are only granted under specific conditions.
For instance, international students who’ve graduated from a Designated Learning Institution in Canada after completing a study program that’s at least eight months long are eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) that allows them to work or look for work with any employer in Canada, or even become self-employed. Individuals who’ve applied for permanent residence, their dependents, and spouses or common-law partners of temporary foreign workers and international students in Canada are also eligible for an open work permit.
While a job offer is not usually required, individuals coming to Canada from the U.S.A. on an open work permit during the COVID-19 pandemic will only be allowed to enter the country if they have a valid job offer.
Will I have to give up my U.S. citizenship if I move to Canada?
You don’t need to give up your U.S. citizenship to become a Canadian. Both Canada and the U.S. offer dual citizenship, so you can continue to hold your U.S. citizenship even after you become a Canadian citizen. In fact, neither country places a limit on how many citizenships you can hold.
If you’re a temporary U.S. resident planning to eventually apply for Canadian citizenship, you’ll need to check if your country of origin permits dual citizenship. For instance, countries like India, China, and Sri Lanka do not allow dual citizenship. You can, however, continue to hold your original citizenship along with Canadian permanent residence.
How much money do you need to move to Canada from the U.S.?
The amount of money needed to move from the U.S.A. to Canada will depend on the immigration pathway you choose. If you’re applying for PR through the Express Entry or Provincial Nominee Program, you’ll typically need between $15,500 CAD and $30,000 CAD, depending on whether you’re moving alone or with family. If you’re planning to study in Canada, tuition will likely be your biggest expense. These estimates don’t include living and moving costs, such as flight tickets, accommodation, and food, so be sure to factor those in as well. For a detailed breakdown of the expenses you’ll need to plan for, check out our article on how much does it cost to immigrate to Canada.
Canada offers many direct and indirect permanent residence pathways for U.S. citizens and temporary residents to settle in Canada. Immigrating to a new country is a big decision and it’s important that you weigh your options before embarking on this life-changing journey. If you’re unsure about which immigration stream may be right for you and your family, consult with an authorized immigration lawyer who can help guide you.