Wanting to Visit Canada for 6 months
September 18, 2016 11:23 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend lives in Canada and I live in the U.S. We've been dating for 3 years now and have only spent about a maximum of 2 weeks at a time together. Ideally we'd like to work on finding a way to move me up there but before we do that we want to spend a good amount of time together in person before doing so.

I was last there in June and since then have been planning on going to revisit in April of 2017 and staying for 6 months. I've read on a few different forums while trying to find information that an American citizen can stay in Canada for up to 180 days without a visa. However, I've also read in some forums that people can be denied this for certain reasons like not having enough money to pay for their tourism in Canada or suspicions that they might be trying to immigrant there. I'm mostly here seeking information on how I should go about this visit especially when it comes to dealing with the border control. Even if I don't have enough money for myself to stay for 6 months my boyfriend says he'd be more than happy to sponsor me while I'm there. I was wondering if sponsor ships only work for people trying to get married? Also I'm curious as to if there is any certain documents needed for this sort of visit?
posted by Crystied0 to Travel & Transportation around Canada (10 answers total)
Have you checked out Canada's website? I'm not an expert but it looks like, assuming you don't raise any red flags, you can generally stay in Canada for 6 months, and if they give you less than that at the border, you can apply for an extension. Looks like you can also contact the department of immigration there if you still have questions or your boyfriend can call them from within Canada.
posted by FireFountain at 11:34 PM on September 18, 2016

You can't be sponsored for a visit, no.

Stuff to do to try to avoid looking red-flaggy:

Make sure to fly here with a return ticket. If you can book your trip for a shorter time and change the return date for a reasonable fee, that might be very worthwhile. Or scrap the return and buy a new ticket when it's time to leave if that's not do-able. Just do not enter with no return ticket. Make sure your travel health insurance (also helpful vis-a-vis looking like a tourist) end date matches the return date on your ticket; extend it later. If you can't swing the $ involved in changing dates, definitely fork out for travel health insurance; they worry about sick people sneaking in and pretending to be Canadians. (I know it's an old article and goes on about photo ID, but I still have my old card with no photo and that's not that uncommon.)

If your boyfriend (parents maybe?) can lend you $ so you can show evidence of a bank account that can float you for six months, that might be the way to go. If you don't have (a) credit card(s) from a US bank, try to get one. And, not to cast aspersions on the BF, but, you want something to fall back on anyway -- six months is a long time to live with somebody you've only had a LDR and a few weeks with. If things go south, you need to be able to find a cheap AirBnB and a quick flight home. Canada does not really have issues with what the US sometimes likes to call "illegals," so we don't really have much by way of services for non-citizens; you'd be in the grubbiest sort of homeless shelter and queuing at soup kitchens until somebody could wire you $ for a ticket home if he up and kicked you out after you'd spent all your $.

Bring along some documentation of your ties to the US in case you are asked; much, much easier if you can whip out proof -- are you taking leave from a job or school? Own a home, or have an apt in your name? Bring evidence of that, that you have a life in the US that you have not up and abandoned. Evidence of health insurance so you're not suspected of sneaking in for that. (I would keep an apt in your name and sublet it out, ideally, or rent out your house; bring a copy of the deed, as people abandoning houses is really unlikely. Ditto car ownership.) Obviously you'd travel with a small folder of paperwork to refer to to keep your US life in order, right? You didn't just up and end your lease and have nowhere to return to in the US, right? Think like a border guard.

Roughly plan some side trips with your BF. What will you be doing in Canada? Well, you know some folks up there and you're going to be bicycling through wherever, canoeing in the X provincial park, camping at X river, etc. They don't want to hear 'living at 123 Main and boffing this dude to see if we want to make it permanent.' Think: tourist, doing tourist things.

Some of this advice applies more to adults than people in their late teens. If you are young and live with your parents, by all means, don't feel the need to pretend to be older than you are with all the paperwork that entails. Cross with a giant backpack, have a young-person's tourist itinerary, be really clear that you live with mum and dad and all your stuff is still at mum and dad's house, you're just taking a partial gap year off of school, mummy will wire you $ every month and in case of emergency -- this sounds awful, but, don't sound poor. Not that you want to pretend to be a rich kid, but, feigning a little ignorance about anything beyond "yup I know I have to be home before 180 days, which is [date], my parents will freak if I don't" will be what they expect a young person to know, maybe along with where you're going camping and the name of a music festival you're dying to check out, etc.

Don't overpack! Better to bring some durable versatile travel-friendly clothes and hit some thrift stores here than to have luggage that suggests 'long stay.' Bring only things a regular tourist would bring, no massive presents for the sweetie, no household goods like your favourite crêpe pan so you can make your awesome crêpes suzette -- tourist stuff only. Having a number of places lined up to crash at (ask BF for friends' names and addresses) with you wouldn't hurt -- romantic relationships sometimes make them skittish.

All that said, outright lies are not good ideas; it will get complicated. "He's an old friend and we think there might be more to it so we're going to hang to see if maybe he'd like to come visit me in the US," good. "He's my serious boyfriend and we might want to marry so I can move to Canada," not so good. He wants to live in the States as far as you know. You have a home and your school in the US! Etc.

(IANAimmigrationL -- advice based on having done this in the opposite direction, and somebody I know who was a Cdn and 'illegal' in the US for a stint but came back to Canada regularly. In those days she'd sometimes buy me a new address book, copy the names of all my friends and their addresses, etc, to cross with an address book that made her look like a person with extensive ties to Canada but none to the US despite living there...)
posted by kmennie at 12:59 AM on September 19, 2016 [9 favorites]

If you're thinking of eventually immigrating to Canada, don't overstay your visa (or whatever they call the stamp when it's a visa-waiver situation), and don't do anything that would get you deported. That would be serious negative points if you're applying for permanent residency later.

Be honest with the border guards. There's nothing wrong with visiting for up to six months as a tourist. Make it clear that you know the rules and intend to follow them.

Make sure your U.S. passport is good for at least six months after your return date.

And have a financial back-up plan that does not make you reliant on your boyfriend. You will not be legally allowed to work in Canada on a tourist visa. (And again, don't break the law.)

Seconding the health insurance. Oh, and don't try to bring drugs, weapons, food, or parts of endangered animals across the border. :)
posted by heatherlogan at 5:03 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

You can't be sponsored for a visit, no.

You can't...but you sort of can. I mean the problem is that you don't need a visa. However, people who DO need visitors visas for tourism often get them by having someone vouch for the willingess to provide for you while you're there. This "vouching" is an invitation letter. I suggest you draft an invitation letter and have it and various proofs of your boyfriend's current financial and legal stutus (i.e. passport paystub) notarized and take it with you when you cross the border.

I've frequently written such letters for relatives coming to visit. You basically say "I am so and so and have such and such relationship with this person. I would like them to come and visit and will allow them to stay in my home and provide for their meals and necessities while they are here." Add some evidence that you are able to do so (I own a house, I rent a condo with enough room, whatever), I am currently employed earning $XXXX or I have $XXXX savings in the bank etc.

I would also think about how you can show that you won't overstay your visa -- Do you have something waiting for you after 6 months when you get back? A new job? A signed lease? Demonstrating something like that would be good too.

Yeah a tourist can stay in Canada for 6 months without a visa, but anyone (except a Canadian citizen) can still be denied entry for any reason, including the immigration officer's belief that you may overstay your visa, that you may do something illegal while in Canada (like work), or that you may be a poor risk for someone to have around (like if you've been convicted of a serious criminal offense). So you still need to persuade the officer that you are none of these things. The letter of invitation goes a long way towards showing you will not (need to) work.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:44 AM on September 19, 2016

Seconding be sure you know the rules and abide by them. In particular I'll mention this: they'll ask you "what are you going to do with your time while you're in Canada?". You might have the impulse to say something that makes you seem like a good honest hardworking young person -- so you might say "oh, I'll take some classes" or "I'll get a job to pay my share" or whatever. Don't do it! Both of those are huge no-nos that can get you barred. You can't take classes/go to school (or anything similar) if you're not on a student visa, you can't work at all if your visa status doesn't allow it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:17 AM on September 19, 2016

I don't really have direct experience with this situation, but I'm in an ldr with someone who used to live where I do in the US and moved back to Canada, and I still live and work in the US, so I cross the border a lot, sometimes during the summer for longer stretches of time (never more than about 5 weeks). I don't have advice on how to accomplish your goals, but I can tell you at least that you could have quite a lot of trouble. In the initial interview, they don't always ask the same questions, but in any conversation where the details come up, the fact that I am employed in the US with a job that allows me a lot of flexibility to travel some times of the year has been a major, major factor in smoothing entry. Driving, stays of longer than a few weeks are a flag for a secondary inspection, which if it happens can be pretty intense. They are also clearly on the lookout for people who are de facto living in Canada by re-entering every 6 months, part of the secondary inspection I had seemed to be them assessing whether I was such a person (I came prepared on that particular stay, which was 1 month, with documentation of employment). But it can also be quite random -- I'm not even always asked how long I'll stay!

Also be aware that showing up at the border with a moving truck (probably a terrible idea in your situation) beyond just the basic border control issues has potentially a lot of complicated customs implications that requires extensive advanced preparation. I'd plan on storing or leaving most of your stuff and traveling extremely lightly. Though they're also on the lookout for people who are gradually moving their possessions across the border trip by trip, and traveling too lightly with longer stays is a flag for that line of questioning! (As long as you aren't doing that, it shouldn't be a problem, but it's yet another tick on their suspicion meter.)

I was wondering if sponsor ships only work for people trying to get married?

Fiance situations are a much more complicated category and I don't really understand the state of things for Canada but suffice to say if you are considering this you probably want legal advice. (There isn't a fiance category, and from what I understand the word is a huge red flag for most forms of entry to Canada. So from what I understand, which is pretty limited, the situation is almost the opposite of the text from your question that I quoted.)
posted by advil at 8:08 AM on September 19, 2016

Response by poster: @ kmennie @ LobsterMitten @ If only I had a penguin...

Although you recommend that I try and persuade them of my tourist activities, where my boyfriend lives in Canada isn't very populated. He lives all the way up in the Northwest Territories. Also, I wasn't planning on buying a return ticket because he wanted to drive me back home to the States after the 6 months were over, I guess if it came down to it that could be mentioned. I don't currently have my "own" living situation and when I do return home from the 6 months plan on moving in with my dad, so, unfortunately I don't have anything really "tying" me down over here.

One of you guys mentioned you cannot do any type of schooling while there? I am currently finishing what remains of my online courses which is something I wanted to do while I was up there as well. After the 6 months are over is when my courses would officially be over as well which is when I'd return home and move in with my dad and start attending classes at another school.

Of course I wouldn't lie to the border control because I wouldn't want to be denied entry, however, some other people from different forums have recommended that I say I'm staying for a shorter amount of time than I actually am so my passport doesn't get stamped. I don't think I want to that though.

Also about the letter of Invitation. I was reviewing what it is that needs to be put on the letter but I am confused on how exactly it works. Would my boyfriend be the one getting it notarized and then sending it to me?
posted by Crystied0 at 5:09 PM on September 20, 2016

Visiting someone is a perfectly acceptable tourist thing to do. And no schooling means you can't enroll in a Canadian school (i.e. don't take a class at the local college). Completing online courses is fine.

The letter of invitation is something that a person applying for a tourist visa (i.e a person from a country whose residents are required to have a visa to travel to canada) can optionally submit with their visa application. It basically reassures the visa-granting officers that the person applying has a reason to go to Canada, will have their needs met while in Canada, and can (depending on the content) provide reason to think the person will go back to their home country at a particular time*. So the way it works is that the inviter writes up the letter and gets it notarized and then sends the letter to the person applying for a visa. The person applying for a visa submits the letter with their visa application.

Obviously you don't need a visa and won't have a visa application. I was suggesting you get one anyway to have with you when you cross the border. It's a thing your boyfriend can just write and notarizing it would probably cost him less than $25. He would notarize the letter (the notary basically attests that he saw your boyfriend sign it), and he could notarize copies of any documentation of his ability to provide you with a place to stay/provide for your needs etc. while you're there (paystubs etc). In that case the notary is attesting that the copies are true copies (i.e. you didn't alter the income on the paystub to photocopy it or something.)

*e.g. a letter I wrote up for my parents to send for my aunt's visa application I wrote that my parents wanted to bring her to canada for X weeks in the summer to give her a vacation and in gratitude for the years she spent doing eldercare for my grandparents. Since my grandmother had recently died, my aunt was grieving and a change of scenery would be good for her. We wanted her to come in the summer because her daughter is a teacher, so she (my aunt) needed to be back home during the school year to take care of her grandchildren while her daughter works. (i.e. hint, hint, don't worry, she's going back. she has strong ties in her home country and has specific tasks she needs to return to even though she's retired.)
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:23 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I wasn't planning on buying a return ticket because he wanted to drive me back home to the States after the 6 months were over, I guess if it came down to it that could be mentioned.

This is a pretty bad idea if you want to communicate that you're not planning on staying on in Canada illegally. I've known plenty of people who've been turned away at the border because of suspicions around a one way ticket. I'd be surprised if they don't ask you about your return plans when you tell them you're staying for 6 months, and raise an eyebrow when you say you're going to drive back to the US from NWT.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:02 PM on September 20, 2016

Oh and of you're going t9 be going to school where your dad lives, enroll/apply or whatver before you cross the border and bring proof that you've done so.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:26 PM on September 20, 2016

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