more advice

People email me all the time about emigration. About a year ago, I tried to gather together some advice. At that point in our process, most of what I had to offer could be summarized in two sentences: fill out forms carefully, and be patient. Now that we're here, my advice can be more concrete.

Here are some pointers I can pass along about the move itself.

1. Save more money. Calculate the amount of money you think you're going to need, double it, and make that your new goal. Even if you don't reach it, you'll be better off for having tried. Moving is always full of unexpected expenses, and with a move of this magnitude, the expenses increase accordingly.

2. Bring a big wad of cash with you. While you can withdraw Canadian currency using your US ATM card, getting the contents of your US bank account transferred to a Canadian bank account is not simple and doesn't happen instantly. We didn't do this and I wish we had. It wasn't awful to fix, but it created a few more steps, and no one needs more work at this time.

3. Apply for an Social Insurance Number right away. You can print and fill out the form in advance, then take your passport and your confirmation of landing to a local Human Resource Centre. It isn't hard to do, and you'll want to get that number as soon as possible. Unless you're self-employed or have guaranteed employment, you'll need this number in order to work.

4. You don't need an SIN to open a bank account.

5. After emigrating, you will have no credit. Zero. No matter what you've done in the US, your credit history is wiped clean and you'll be starting all over. Keep this in mind if you're thinking of applying for a mortgage, car loan, or anything like that. Your US credit record is not accessible to Canadian banks and businesses, although you can get a copy of your credit record before you leave. As soon as you have your SIN, you can apply for a Canadian credit card to begin amassing a fledgling credit history.

6. Before you leave, get a copy of your driving record. For US citizens, this is called an "abstract", and you get it from your state's Department of Motor Vehicles. You'll need it to get auto insurance, but Canadian insurance companies cannot access it. I would have missed this entirely, but for a helpful Canadian insurance agent who I was emailing with before we left. We ended up at Motor Vehicles on our last day in New York. Put this on your advance things-to-do list.

7. You'll have to clear customs at the border. Make a list of everything you're bringing with you, assign an approximate (Canadian) dollar value to each item, and total it. You don't have to itemize every single thing, but everything must be accounted for - for example, "clothing," "stereo equipment," "living room furniture". The list should be divided into two sections: what you're physically bringing with you, and what is arriving at a later date. Print out two copies and have it with your passport and other documents when you arrive.

We were fortunate to find out about this and do it in advance. While I was breezing through customs, I saw a woman struggling to fill out the form while her three little kids squirmed and squabbled. I felt so sorry for her - and it wasn't her fault, this information is not easily found.

8. Which brings me to my last point. On that wonderful day when you receive your acceptance notice - "Your processing for Permanent Residence in Canada is complete..." - the envelope will include a little green postcard. On the postcard is a website: Direction Canada. This is the place to go - it's full of essential information for your move. However, it's just a postcard thrown in your envelope. Your papers don't say, "Visit this website for essential information." There's no checklist or list of "what you should know before your move". Bookmark this site and read, read, read.

That's it for now. To Nick and Mason, Daniel and Alan, the woman in Virginia who is studying French, the witchy couple in California, and all the good people who've emailed me about their hopes and plans, I wish you all the best of luck. I wish you the kind of landing we're having.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Laura!!!!

Hopefully, we are not that far behind you

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

After emigrating, you will have no credit. Zero. No matter what you've done in the US, your credit history is wiped clean and you'll be starting all over

I was hoping that had changed now that Canada uses TransUnion and Equifax as well.... at least I warned you.

laura k said...

at least I warned you.

You did indeed, and I was glad of it. Hopefully I can pass the info on to someone else.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

So, does Toronto seem really small to you?

I mean, if you count the whole "Golden Horseshoe" region from Oshawa to Niagra that's around 7 million people, which is definitely big city. But you're coming from a place that has more people than all of Australia.

laura k said...

So, does Toronto seem really small to you?

I don't know Toronto well enough to answer that yet. I would only compare Toronto proper - not the whole area - to NYC itself. If you take in the whole Golden Horseshoe, then you'd have to compare it to the entire NYC metro area, which is a megalopolis. So I think the comparison would be Toronto to New York.

I'll let you know.

Anonymous said...

When you mention having your credit history wiped, does that happen as part of immigration or is it just that Canadian lenders don't look at US credit histories?

I know that if I'm able to GTFOOD, the first thing (well, aside from kissing the ground) I'd want to do would be to buy a house. That might be difficult to do without credit, even if I did have either (a) title to the now-rental house in the United States or (b) a large wad of CDN$ from selling the ex house in the United States. If I could use my US credit history before immigrating, I could at least try to buy the house before finalizing the migrant visa at the customs house.

barefoot hiker said...

I know that if I'm able to GTFOOD

I blush to confess, it took me nearly a minute to figure this one out... "go to food...? get food...? get fuc-- oh, that's kind of rude... Great White Nor-- no, that doesn't work... get the fuc-- um, rude again... oh, wait a minute, I've heard this... out of Dodge!" :)

But anyway, you guys are sure making me glad I don't have to move to Canada. I pride myself on parking three or four rows from the mall entrance and figuring I went the extra mile, never mind all this stuff.

laura k said...

When you mention having your credit history wiped, does that happen as part of immigration or is it just that Canadian lenders don't look at US credit histories?

Neither, really. Canadian institutions (not just lenders - also utilities, cable providers, etc.) have no access to your US credit history. They simply can't see it. So you are regarded as having no credit history at all. This would be the case before or after immigration.

We are renting, and we got our own Equifax report to show our prospective landlord. I don't know how one would go about buying a house, b/c we weren't in the market. But I do know (via the blogosphere) at least two other Americans who emigrated to Canada who did buy houses. They might tell you how they went about it. You can email me for their info if you like.

laura k said...

I know that if I'm able to GTFOOD

I blush to confess, it took me nearly a minute to figure this one out...

It took me a few moments, too. :)

I pride myself on parking three or four rows from the mall entrance and figuring I went the extra mile, never mind all this stuff.

LOL, that's a good one. It is an enormous amount of work. That's why (I think) more disaffected liberal Americans don't do it. It requires a shitload of motivation.

Shitload being, of course, the official measurement of disaffectation.

James Redekop said...

Apropos nothing, there's a little Canadian reference in today's Get Fuzzy comic strip.

mkk said...

Thanks for all this useful information. We may be needing it sooner than we once thought!

Anonymous said...

Oh, there's one other thing I wanted to ask about, too. You mentioned elsewhere that the immigration form wanted to know every address you've lived at before wmtc-day; that's every street address, I presume?

(This is something that fills me with dread and horror, because I've lived in about 19 different locations, and don't remember most of those addresses. "Tidy recordkeeping" is not a hallmark of my lifestyle, unless your definition of "tidy" includes "packrat in a windtunnel"

laura k said...

Yes, every street address. I also lived in a gazillion places in my late teens and through my 20s. I rummaged through my "archives" to find letters and postcards addressed to me at various places. I remembered "the big apartment on that corner" and "that dinky place with the awful roommates", and then matched the memory to the address. It sounds like yours might be more difficult to piece together.

Anonymous said...

Probably. I think I'll have to inquire if staying with friends for a month means I have to supply an address. If not, then the hardest part will probably be "the (underwater) flat in New Orleans", instead of "the mobile home park that was levelled for a subdivision"

laura k said...

I don't think staying with friends for a month needs an address. But you do have to supply something for every time period. Meaning, if you write Trailer Park A from Oct 92 to December 92, then the Friend's Basement B has to start with January 93. You might put "stayed with friends, unsure of address". I think it's better to do that than leave blank time.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing your blog with the world. My partner and I have a permanent resident application in process and have just been asked to pay the right of permanent residence fee as one of the final steps in what has been a looooong process. While we're anxious about leaving the Big Apple, we're looking even more forward to the prospect of becoming Torontonians and more importantly, Canadians.

Thanks again for sharing.


laura k said...

Why thanks, Matt! Good luck to you and your partner.

Several blogs on my blogroll are couples waiting on their application, too. Check out "Life Without Borders," "Wondrous Canadian Renewal" and "Would Be Canadians" (links on the right).

Thanks for stopping by, hope to see here you again.

Michael said...

Thanks for your blog. My partner and I got our "Your application has been placed in queue" letter Aug 2005 and have been waiting impatiently since then, trying to decide if we should try to find jobs and get a work permit while waiting for the permanent residence to come through.

Regarding your mention of not having a credit history, while that is certainly true in many instances, we found a banker who was willing to pull our US credit history and give us a loan to buy a house in Ottawa. So, if you're interested in something big, like a house, there are banks who can access the US info -- just takes a little effort to find them. Hope this helps.


laura k said...

if you're interested in something big, like a house, there are banks who can access the US info -- just takes a little effort to find them.

Hm, interesting - and surprising. I've been told that Canadian banks actually cannot do that - not that they won't, but that they can't. It's not a big issue for us, as we're not buying a house, but it is for many readers.

August 2005 - you haven't been waiting long at all yet. I know it can be hard to be patient. Hang in there.

Thanks for posting, and for reading wmtc. Good luck with your application! Feel free to keep in touch.

Michael said...

I suppose it's possible that Canadian banks can't do mortgages for non-residents. Our loan is actually termed a home-equity loan, even though it's for purchasing the house, for reasons I never fully understood. http://www.mortgageprokingston.com/us.html mentions US residents getting financing for Canadian property (though we didn't use them.)

Thanks for the words of encouragement. It hasn't been that long since August but we worked for about 8 months before that getting all the documentation and such together so it feels like we've been waiting quite a long time. Anyone know anything about applying for a work permit while a PR application is in process? Merci bien!

laura k said...

I know what you mean. It took us many months to do our applications, too.

Also, waiting may have been easier for me because I was really into enjoying my last months as a New Yorker. :)

I don't know much about work permits, I'm afraid. I know you'd need a bona fide job offer, in writing. You probably know that yourself.

Many people have emailed me who are (or were) living in Canada, working, with a work visa, while they applied for PR status. They mostly came to Canada first, to work, then applied for Permanent Residence once they were here.

One person emailed me not long ago. Email me for his info if you want, and I'll ask him if it's ok.

dan said...


(I hope you're settling in well--we moved in August of '01, and I applied for citizenship in Nov. of last year; my partner will apply quite soon.)

Two things that it might help to have somewhat visible.

1) If you're lucky enough to live in Chicago or the northeast, it's probably a very good idea to get a bank account with Harris or BankNorth well before you leave; they are owned by BMO and TD, respectively. (I think this was easier back when we did it, because TD still owned Waterhouse.) Because my partner and I both had accounts with TD Waterhouse, opening accounts with regular TD was easy, and they were able to access our credit records. We actually closed on our house before moving to Canada, also; you just need a talented mortgage broker who's willing to work for her 1.5%.

2) Similarly, if you have a credit card with Capitol One, you can move to Canada, and call them and say, "Hey--I need a card through your Canadian subsidiary", and poof! A credit card with a Canadian bank happens. (Don't keep it too long; the rates suck, and they still don't have decent online banking...)

The point is that if you've got enough time to plan ahead, you can take advantage of the international nature of finance.

laura k said...

Thanks for your comments, Dan.

I don't know Harris or BankNorth, but we have a Capital One account with excellent credit, and there was nothing they could do for us in Canada. Perhaps regulations have changed in the intervening years.

I do know many US-to-Canada immigrants have bought homes before moving. Because we're renters, I never learned how they did it. Nick and Mason (Life Without Borders) might be interested to know.

Thanks again. We've been here six months now and are very happy.

Linda said...

Hi Laura,

You have been on my mind so much lately so I went to Google and found you. It was great to know that you moved to Canada. It must be lovely. I'm still in PA.

I also got caught up with some of your articles. Great writing!

My mother and I plan to visit some of our relatives in Canada some day ... if you meet anyone named Carnegie they are probably related to us. My third cousins were famous hockey players in Canada many years ago.

If you get a chance I've created a new blog called thirdshiftblues. It's for all the word processors out there working on the third shift in law firms around the city ... we have to do something with our downtime.

Take care and be well.

laura k said...

Linda?! My old word-processing buddy?? How totally great to hear from you! I will reply over at your blog.

lm.music said...

I keep researching how to move to Canada, and everyone keeps saying that you have to have at least $800,000 or you have to own a business. Is this true? Is every American who moves to Canada ridiculously rich? How can I move to Canada as a middle class person without a college degree?

laura k said...

lm.music, with respect, you couldn't have been doing much actual research if this is all you've come up with. Go to the CIC website, read everything that applies to you, then you can email me if you have specific questions. But "what everyone keeps saying" is not research. Best of luck to you.

honeybunni said...

I don't think that I can thank you enough for having posted all this. I have wanted for quite some time to relocate from the States, but wasn't sure of exactly where I wanted to go. Once my 19 year old daughter and I did some research and decided on Canada, we now have a very clear goal of what we need to do, but were unsure of where to begin(there are SOO many rules!). But at least now we have a loose outline to follow. Thanks so much for the detailed info!

laura k said...

honeybunni, thank you for thanking me. It means a lot. Good luck!!