Moving from Canada to US -- any tips on making the change more smooth?
August 4, 2014 11:53 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving from Vancouver BC to Seattle WA in a few months, and although the move itself is only 3 hours away it's like a whole different country! What tips can you give to make the change more smooth?

The move will be me, my two cats, and a U-Haul full of stuff. I have dual citizenship so everything has been taken care of on the legal front, and a number of friends on the ground in Seattle. I'll be going down ahead of time and to find and rent a place, and looking for a job (with enough savings and freelance work that I won't have to panic about it).

So my question is: do you have any tips for moving to another country, specifically the US? Usually an in-country move just means finding a new hairdresser, but this is way bigger. What will make the move easier? What have I forgotten? Thanks for any tips!
posted by jess to Travel & Transportation around Seattle, WA (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Health insurance!

You'll need to get some!
posted by Oktober at 12:03 PM on August 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

Is this going to be a permanent move?

If so, does Canada have similar tax rules to the US, which is to say, are Canadian citizens required to pay income tax on any money they make anywhere in the world? If so, you may want to consider relinquishing Canadian citizenship. (Further, have you paid US taxes since getting dual citizenship? If not, that may become an issue next year when you file your taxes.)
posted by tckma at 12:38 PM on August 4, 2014

Yes, health insurance. I would check with BC Health (whatever they call it in your province), to see how long you can be out of province before your insurance is cut off (my province at one time was three months). There is no point paying for US insurance until then. Though keep in mind you will need to go back to BC to get treatment.

My biggest challenge moving to the States from Canada was cultural. It seems like nothing much has changed, and everyone still speaks the same language and you can still buy your same shampoo and all, but boy oh boy, is it not. Just be prepared for that.
posted by nanook at 12:39 PM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Income taxes. Be prepared for it to be a bit confusing the first few times. I'd probably hire someone to help you, unless you're really good at that kind of thing.

Have you spent much time in the States? The cultural differences are subtle but kind of like a slow burn. It can be draining, especially if you aren't expecting it because you're on the same side of the continent and speak the same language and have grown up watching American TV. It's just...different.

You will probably be confused/overwhelmed by American politics for many different reasons. You'll be VERY surprised that people you would have thought had certain beliefs may actually be the polar opposite (in both directions) - especially on things like taxation, representation, religion, so called big vs. little government, government spending, public programs, firearms, abortion and contraception, medical care, medical insurance, poverty, women, education, foreign policy, domestic policies, immigration, subsidies, and environmental impact. It has been 1000% my experience that "middle of the road Americans" are VERY different in their beliefs, education, and reasoning than "middle of the road Canadians."

In my experience, to make a large generalization, the "general" Canadian believes in a much stronger public safety net (for programs, policies, subsidies, etc.) than mainstream US culture. Obviously there are huge exceptions, but for the most part it's a true enough generalization. This has many impacts in terms of how people think of fellow citizens, choices, cultural structures, political possibilities.

Not sure if that's the kind of thing you're looking for, but that 'slow burn of difference' can be surprising and a bit draining. Just remember that you're in a very different country and be prepared for those differences to show up in various aspects of your life for a long time. I've been in the US for more than half my adult life and it STILL feels like a new place sometimes.

Bring me some ketchup chips, wine gums and chocolate!
posted by barnone at 12:41 PM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

finding a job will be challenging without a network, so make sure the friends can help.
posted by rr at 12:51 PM on August 4, 2014

I did a Canada-to-US move a few years ago (2007), and then later moved back. What people have mentioned above about subtle cultural differences is absolutely true. One of the biggest things I experienced was that in Canada (and I've lived in a few different places in Canada), it's very rare for anyone to strike up a conversation with a stranger in a place like the grocery line, the subway, a bar or coffee shop, and so on. But it happened all the time in the USA where I lived (NYC), and my sense of social cues got all messed up.

Here were the annoying logistical things I had to deal with:

1. Bank accounts and credit cards

Transferring money between USA and Canadian bank accounts can be difficult or expensive or both. You won't be able to pay the bill on your Canadian credit card from your American bank account, or vice versa, or do Interac transfers between the two. Wire transfer is expensive, and some other Canadians I knew had a scheme where they mailed cheques to friends in Canada. Watch out for any recurring expenses or fees that will drain your account while you're not using it.

You'll be starting from scratch with credit history, so potential landlords might need extra convincing of your creditworthiness. Also, if you have no USA credit history, getting a credit card might be a bit tricky for the first few months. They may ask you to start with a secured card, where you put up some of your own money upfront. You can keep using your Canadian credit card for some things at first, but you'll get hit with foreign currency fees (and, you'll have to pay it out of your Canadian account).

2. Taxes.

You will have to pay taxes to both countries. The way it worked for me was I filed my USA return first, then the amount I paid to the USA government was subtracted from the amount I owed to Canada. It can get really complicated, so it's a good idea to get an accountant. I didn't but I wish I had.

3. Random other stuff

For a lot of things, including opening a bank account, you'll want a SSN and social security card. Get this taken care of as soon as possible. You'll need a new telecom provider. Health insurance works very differently, as Oktober mentions above. You'll want some kind of ID card that has your American address on it.

You might not think you have a Canadian accent or mannerisms (I didn't think I did), but you probably do and people will probably tease you for it. Expect to get hassled more when crossing the border in either direction.
posted by beatrice rex at 1:06 PM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

As mentioned, cross-border banking might be an issue. RBC has a system where you can transfer money instantly between a U.S.-based and Canadian-based account. You can Google around or memail me if you want more details on that.
posted by veggieboy at 1:09 PM on August 4, 2014

One of the biggest things I experienced was that in Canada (and I've lived in a few different places in Canada), it's very rare for anyone to strike up a conversation with a stranger in a place like the grocery line, the subway, a bar or coffee shop, and so on. But it happened all the time in the USA where I lived (NYC), and my sense of social cues got all messed up.

I can totally believe this happening for a Canada -> NYC move, but Seattle is pretty reserved also. East-coasters like me who move there are kind of screwing it up (I will happily chat when chatted to), but I don't think it's anywhere as direct as NYC.

If you're moving from Vancouver BC, prepare for disappointing Dim Sum / food in general, and non-coastal Americans, e.g. people who think Seattle is "diverse."
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:15 PM on August 4, 2014

A friend who made the same move suggested that the cultural differences are minimal and he'd think an east-coast to west-coast or rural to urban transition within the US would have a much bigger cultural shock than Vancouver, BC to Seattle (Small point, be aware that there is a Vancouver, WA so you'll need to disambiguate sometimes).

Finally, he suggests that if you think the transition might be permanent, severing as many ties as possible to Canada (bank account, residence, social clubs, etc.) is important for reducing your Canadian tax burden.

Finally, a bit off topic, but no one in their right mind thinks Seattle is diverse. It's a highly white and highly segregated city, certainly more so than Vancouver.

I've lived here ten years and there's a lot I love about it, but diverse it is not.
posted by lucasks at 2:02 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm guessing you haven't lived in the US as an adult, at least not for an extended period?

If you like them, stock up on Kraft peanut butter, baked beans in just tomato sauce, and proper Cadbury's. You can get fake Cadbury's stuff in the US, but it's made by Hershey or Mars and not as good, but Kraft peanut butter isn't sold in the US and that variety of baked beans is very hard to find (you can get stuff imported from the UK at good, big supermarkets with a European section).


The horror of American healthcare if you don't have good insurance, and trying to find that good insurance, and how even that good insurance will fuck with you, and that you really will be left to die without insurance. And even with good insurance, you will almost certainly pay cash money every time you see a medical-type person, even for covered stuff.

There are exactly zero statutory holidays in the US.

Canadian banks routinely deal with US dollars, but even large American banks headquartered near the border are just mystified by transfers from Canada, including transfers ultimately drawn on US banks.

Credit cards almost never have chips, though this is supposed to change soon.

I can't speak to the west coast; never been. But just as a point of comparison, if you were moving from southern Ontario up through Toronto to western NY, I'd say that you should expect a cultural change that is large in absolute terms. It's only small relative to the huge cultural gap between western NY and the D/FW area or north Florida, which might as well be on the moon.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:51 PM on August 4, 2014

One more thing on the healthcare front: it will be soul-sucking, and you will find yourself wondering why any civilized country would have a for-profit healthcare industry. The answer: this is not a civilized country. Seriously, it's the law of the jungle when it comes to healthcare/insurance.

Practically, what you need to do is get used to asking healthcare providers how much things cost, and whether they take your insurance. I once went to the doctor (who did take my insurance) and he ordered a blood test at a lab in the same building. I went to the lab and they took my insurance card and photocopied it, so I assumed that they accepted my insurance and didn't ask any questions. Whoops. That was a $200 mistake; had I gone to a different lab, it would have been covered except for my $40 copay.

You have to look out for your own interests a lot more when it comes to healthcare, because the profit motive essentially pits you against health industry. It is a sick, defective, yet extraordinarily expensive system.

(I say this all as a Canadian who now lives in the US. Dear Lord I hope I can move back soon.)
posted by number9dream at 3:18 PM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

To be fair, things are a lot better now post-ACA, but you still have to be careful with your insurance (ie, make sure you know what your coinsurance for different services is).
posted by Oktober at 3:21 PM on August 4, 2014

Thanks for the responses so far folks! They have been very helpful. To answer a few questions:

I just had my dual citizenship recognized last week, so while I will have to look into income tax issues for 2014 I think I'm all square for past income. I will be living with my partner, a Seattle-ite who has excellent medical benefits, so it sounds like a big priority will be getting on his program as quickly as possible.

Ideally I'll be in the US for 5-10 years and then return back to my true home and native land, O Canada.
posted by jess at 3:36 PM on August 4, 2014

Also to ROU_Xenophobe: No Kraft peanut butter?!?! MOVE CANCELLED.
posted by jess at 3:38 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

For health insurance, I will say you will probably need to pay more attention. I once got a $500 bill for a blood test that was considered nonessential, even though benefits fully covered blood work. I also once got charged $200 because an "in-network" doctor I went to sent a biopsy to an out-of-network lab for testing. (I was able to get out of the biopsy charge. But not the blood test.) Now before I see any doctor, I am careful to check that they are "in-network" for my plan and I also call my insurance company if I have any questions about whether something will be covered.

I do want to mention that Canada and the U.S. are culturally similar. I've never lived in Canada, but I've spent plenty of time there (Toronto). I know the Canadian posters upthread mentioned differences they noticed, but to be fair, I have lived literally all around the U.S. and every part of the country has cultural quirks I notice and little things I modify to fit in. The U.S. is a very diverse country in many ways -- NY won't feel like California, which won't feel like Chicago, which won't feel like Texas. I've learned certain expressions don't exist or mean the same thing in different places. Friendliness and interactions with strangers are different. You will find that even within the U.S. and it's hardly a big deal.

Canadian food tastes different, in some cases. Your ketchup is sweeter, as I recall. Your Kit-Kits are a little different too. Not exactly earth-shattering stuff.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:39 PM on August 4, 2014

Assuming you actually care about peanut butter--maybe try Planter's Peanut Butter when you get to Seattle? It's also made by Kraft. I've never had either so I don't know if they actually taste remotely similar.

(To be honest I've never seen Planter's Peanut Butter, but I've never looked for it. I like Adams or, ahem, the store brands. I know--I'm history's greatest monster.)
posted by sevenless at 4:06 PM on August 4, 2014

I might just be fishing for that green check next to my comment, but Washington State has its own health exchange. If you go to, it'll kick you to the right place, though. Get familiar with two terms: co-pay and co-insurance. You'll also want to learn about deductibles (okay, you probably know that one), max out-of-pocket, and in-network vs. out-of-network. The thing to remember about being insured in the US is that when you're being treated, you may be the patient, but your insurance company is the customer, and the health care system services the needs of the customer.

Washington State has no income tax, so you'll be doing federal only, and there's a very good chance you can file for free when the time comes. We do have a relatively high sales tax and like to complain about it, but it's around 8.6%, generally (varies by municipality), which pales next to BC's 12% GST+PST. Form 1040 is your federal income tax form, and you will get to know it as well as anyone can truly know a tax form. (WA does have a sales tax deduction from federal taxes.)

Chip-and-pin? some banks offer them, and Visa and Mastercard have committed to a changeover in October 2015, last I checked. Not very soon, but not far either.

Bring as much booze as you can. Our recent privatization of liquor sales came with a big tax payload: 20% sales tax plus $8.80/liter tax.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:31 PM on August 4, 2014

Note, don't bring booze. Still way cheaper in the US (even with the price hike).
posted by saradarlin at 5:40 PM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is Seattle-specific, but be prepared for apartments to charge you an additional, often not refundable 'pet deposit'. And/or monthly 'pet rent'.
posted by spinifex23 at 5:40 PM on August 4, 2014

The United States America has many fine and delicious things. Smarties are not among them.
posted by srboisvert at 6:10 PM on August 4, 2014

I've made the move just a month ago. Specifics about some of the finance stuff:

1. Your Canadian credit history will not carry over. RBC, TD, and AMEX have cross-border services that will allow you to establish With their US-based equivalent banks, credit cards based on your Canadian credit history to get you going.

2. By the same token, use HSBC, TD, RBC to setup mirror accounts - these banks allow for no/low-fee fast transfers online between CAD and USD accounts.

3. Make sure your new SSN when you get it is registered with all your new American-based accounts, if you open them before you get (your SSN).

4. Get your SSN card application as soon as possible, it's a key piece of ID for all manner of establishing accounts.

5. Online shopping is much, much cheaper, faster, and with way more variety online. Major retailers and online only like Amazon or Overstock let you get your essentials next-day without leaving the house. It's been way easier to get that boring stuff online then run around an unfamiliar place for your basics. Saved me loads of time.

posted by artificialard at 7:09 PM on August 4, 2014

I did the same exact move last year (although I happen to be from Seattle).


Cross-border banking is a big pain. As far as I know, your only option is HSBC, and their customer service is a nightmare. (TD also has a retail banking presence in the US, but not in Washington, and they won't let you open an account here.) OANDA is another option for transferring money. Either way, you're going to get ripped off unless you're dealing with $25,000 or so at a time.

If you can manage it, it's better to avoid transferring money. If you have a credit card that doesn't charge for foreign exchange (like the card), that's your best bet. Just keep in mind that you won't be able to pay your credit card bill in one country from a bank account in the other.

As some of the commenters above have said, your credit history won't carry over, so you'll either have to work with Amex or HSBC who will look at your score in the other country, or start with a low limit or secured card.


You probably need to do something for back taxes in the US. You say you just had your citizenship recognized—I imagine you've been a citizen this whole time but you've just never had the paperwork. US citizens are supposed to file yearly based on their worldwide income, even if nothing is owed. You're also supposed to disclose all foreign assets every year, in two separate formats (FBAR and FATCA). It's a complicated process, and there's a lot of sensationalism about it online (e.g. everything the Globe and Mail has written). You should probably pay somebody to figure everything out. Serbinski is the only firm I know of that actually knows what they're talking about when it comes to US citizens in Canada.

After you're here, you're still on the hook for Canadian taxes until you sever residential ties with Canada. The CRA website has a bunch of information about what this means here. If you do this at the end of the year so that you're a tax resident for one full year and not the next, it'll make the process a little easier. Until you've severed ties, you're also responsible for

Health insurance

I did my move before the Affordable Care Act kicked in, so I'm not sure if this is the same, but you may need to send your new insurer a certificate of creditable coverage so that they cover you for everything from day one. If you call BC MSP, they'll send you a letter with your dates of coverage.

It's obviously better to avoid any gaps, but if you don't, it won't cause long-term problems like it used to (due to preexisting conditions etc.).

Note that most of our big insurers and hospitals are non-profit, and the quality of care is pretty good compared to most of the country. If your partner has a white-collar job, you probably don't have anything to worry about.

Other stuff
  • Don't stock up on booze unless you specifically want something from Canada that you won't find here (e.g. Phillips, Alley Kat). Overall, there's a better selection here, and it's cheaper.
  • Assuming you're still going to be spending a fair amount of time in Canada, you can get a phone plan that includes data in some other countries. T-Mobile does this. I'm not sure about other carriers.
  • Depending on exactly where you'll be living, some of the politics and culture comments may be off. There are parts of Seattle that are politically one-sided in a way that just doesn't exist in Canada. For example, 96% of my neighbors voted for Obama in 2008. When I lived in Vancouver East (one of the most left-wing ridings in Canada), the Conservatives still got about 20% of the vote.
  • Dealing with different brands at the grocery store and such is mentally taxing for a while.
  • As some of the commenters have said, Seattle isn't particularly diverse by American standards, but the bar is different when you compare the US (60% non-Hispanic white) to Canada (80% not a visible minority). Compared to Vancouver, we're whiter, less Asian (in particular, less Chinese), more black, and more hispanic. We have a bigger LGBT population and a smaller foreign-born population.
  • Houses are a lot cheaper, but rents are pretty comparable (if anything, probably slightly higher here, depending on how you do the comparison). There's no rent control here, so it is easier to find a place.
  • You may or may not be able to vote in Canadian elections after five years abroad. It hasn't been allowed in the past, but that's been found to be a Charter violation and the case is working its way through the courts.
  • The weather may not be as wet as you expect. We straddle the rain shadow of the Olympics, so we don't get as much precipitation as Vancouver.
  • Definitely get a social security number and card. You'll need the number for lots of things, like opening a bank account or starting a job.
  • If you don't have one yet, you'll want a US passport. If you're a US citizen, the US doesn't want you entering the country on a foreign passport. Canada doesn't care which passport you use. Note that Americans don't usually use passports as ID (e.g. for air travel), although you can if you want to.
  • Even if you don't think you have one, people will still notice your Canadian accent.

posted by neal at 8:36 PM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oops, didn't finish the last sentence about taxes. That should read:

Until you've severed ties, you're also responsible for disclosing foreign assets to the CRA along with your tax return (similar to FBAR/FATCA, but not quite as bad).
posted by neal at 8:58 PM on August 4, 2014

When I did the move in the opposite direction (USA to Canada), I ended up using two different banks (as opposed to using HSBC on both sides of the border). I found the simplest way of transferring money between countries was just to write myself a cheque out of my US account and deposit it in my Canadian bank. It's relatively cheap and straightforward – the downside is that the bank held the funds for 2 to 3 weeks, so I had to plan ahead.

Any time you convert Canadian dollars to American, you'll pay a foreign exchange fee of a few percent. So it's best to limit the money you convert to just what you'll need until your new paycheques come rolling in. I wouldn't convert all your savings at once.

If you know what some of your early expenses will be (e.g., first month's rent), you can have your Canadian bank issue you US dollar cheques, payable to your landlord, before you leave. That will give you some breathing room to set up your banking.

And, finally, will your job offer retirement benefits? You'll need to do some prior planning to move a US-based retirement account to an RRSP when you return to Canada. This page has some details; note that some steps need to be done while you're still a US resident.
posted by Banknote of the year at 7:14 PM on August 5, 2014

The comment above about the beans and tomato sauce being hard to find? Not true in Seattle these days. Sometime in the past 5 years or so Heinz Beanz started to appear all over the place, even in places like Fred Meyer. Sometimes they are with the "British food" but other times they are just with all the other beans.

Welcome (in advance) to Seattle!
posted by litlnemo at 12:41 AM on August 6, 2014

One other thing you may need to know depending on your financial management skills is that US banks will let you overdraw on your debit card and then hit you with overdraft fees. They also check order from largest to smallest debit on processing so you get as many overdraft charges as possible rather than FIFO processing.
posted by srboisvert at 4:00 PM on August 10, 2014

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