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.