What to expect when you're immigrating (for love): US to Canada
December 7, 2018 7:01 AM   Subscribe

YANML and TINLA. Have you immigrated from the US to Canada specifically because you were going there to be with a romantic partner/spouse? We are already reaching out to immigration attorneys, which will take care of the legal nitty gritty, but my partner and I would like to hear about other couples' personal experiences where one person is a U.S. citizen moving to live in Canada (as a legal permanent resident and eventual citizen/dual citizen) with their partner who is a Canadian citizen. It helps paint a more human portrait of what we can expect. Success stories will make us smile, but we need and want to hear about the bumps and road blocks, too. So, have you done this, or are you close to someone who has done this? Tell us all about it!


We’re a cishet interracial couple- I’m a white woman in the US, he is a person of color in Canada. We met online but have traveled and spent time together in person; our relationship is well documented so far - we have several photographs of us together, phone call records, copious texts and emails documenting the romantic nature of our relationship; and of course copies of things like plane tickets and travel reservations. I’m meeting his family in a month and he’ll be meeting mine shortly after.

We have already decided we want to get married and, from what we’ve been told by others who have immigrated to Canada in the past, spousal sponsorship may be the easiest way to ensure I can move directly to Canada. We're waiting to get confirmation on that from an attorney, but I keep hearing it and need to understand what the deal is. ***Our primary goal is to find a way for me to live with and marry my partner as soon as possible, ideally while maintaining my ability to work legally for a US company that is right over the border from where he lives***.

As far as my ultimate immigration goals are concerned, I am looking to establish permanent residency ASAP (meaning within the next 6 months) and eventually apply for dual citizenship where I'd become a Canadian citizen but retain my US citizenship.

In the initial phases of research prior to contacting an attorney, we've ran across a lot of couples online who talk about how ultimately they had to get married to make the moving process easier and more practicable. Horror stories include things like having your LPR application "shelved" indefinitely, if you're being sponsored as a fiance or domestic partner, because Canadian immigration officials don't take it seriously until you've gotten married. Has anyone had this experience?

Additional snowflakes/additional concerns we're hoping to hear about from folks' personal experience:

** My partner lives just over the border in Canada. My current employer has a major office on the other side of the border in NY (I currently reside in a different state than NY, if that's relevant). Border crossing shenanigans aside, from his house to my employer would be well under an hour commute. This is very doable and my employer has already confirmed that a transfer is doable. We'll be talking with the attorney to determine the finer points of how this can be achieved, if at all, but did anyone else move to Canada via spousal sponsorship while still being able to work in the US? How did that work out for you? If it wasn't an option for you, why?

** If you were able to remain employed outside the U.S., were you able to maintain your U.S. health insurance if you had it already? How did that work and how difficult was it to use in Canada? Bonus points if your experience with this also includes mental health treatment/psychiatric prescriptions. (Since we're near the border- did anyone out there who was also near the border go back to the states for their doctors appointments and prescriptions? Or is this a big no no no?)

** How much money did the immigration process cost you, between legal fees, paperwork, testing (such as the language proficiency exam)?

** How did the marriage part work, for you? Did you have to file in both the US and Canada and did you do it before moving to Canada?

** What else can we do to avoid this looking like a green-card marriage to immigration officials? (My biggest worry is that we met online, which apparently catches their attention.) I know they’re going to have their questions and do their probing, but what should we plan for? What types of questions did you deal with? Note: We’re really open and communicative about getting a pre-nuptial agreement to protect both of our respective assets if this were to not work out. Did anyone do this and what was your experience dealing with the writing of a pre-nup/use of a pre-nup given US and Canadian contract laws? Did you find that getting a pre-nup “look bad” to immigration officials, as if you were already planning to get divorced? (I'm already very worried about the optics of our relationship in the eyes of immigration officials since we met online and have been together less than a year; we don't want to do a pre-nup if it's going to come across as some kind of red flag. I don't give a damn what they think, but if this has the potential to turn into a big deal that harms my ability to stay in Canada with my loved one, we'll hold off on the pre-nup and get a post-nup after I'm a citizen, if we must wait that long.)

** If Canadian immigration officials contacted or interviewed your family members about your marriage, what questions did they ask them?

** Were there any limitations on your ability to travel back and forth between Canada and the US, once your spousal sponsorship process began? This can include things like traveling over the border to occasionally visit family or friends, or traveling daily over the border to go to work.

** If you were in a situation where you couldn’t legally work while you were in Canada on a spousal sponsorship, what was the reason?

**While you were in the process of spousal sponsorship / applying for legal permanent residency, what access if any did you have to Canadian social services? Did you still have access to any social services back in the US?

**We don't plan to have children for at least 3-5 more years (hopefully I will be a citizen by then), but if you've done this immigration and then later had kids, was there anything you wish you'd known about how you and your spouse's citizenship/residency statuses affected those of your children?

** As far as the immigration process from "start to finish"- preparing while still in the US, getting the necessary paperwork together, being able to actually legally reside in Canada and maintain employment - how long did it take you to prepare for and accomplish this? Optimistically, I’d like to move there (while keeping my job) within the next six months - with the expectation being sometime in April or May 2019. If we get the ball rolling immediately, is six months still too ambitious?

Anything else we should know?
Anything else should be asking our attorney?
Any technicalities or red tape we need to be extra careful not to trip over lest it end up with my application being rejected and me kicked out of the country?
Anything *I* need to know so that I don't screw up my ability not just to become a Canadian citizen but maintain dual citizenship in the US?

When replying, if possible, please state what immigration paths you tried to take (spousal sponsorship, student visa, Express Entry, etc) and which one you ultimately ended up entering the country on.

If you haven’t personally done this, but you have a friend or loved one who did and they would be open to chatting with us, let us know!

You can send anonymous replies to us at: anon.ustocanada.askme @ gmail . com

tl;dr: We really need to understand what this immigration process looks like in action, what has gone wrong for other couples, what has worked for other couples, what other couples wish they had known or done before they got started, what we might not be thinking about, and what questions we should have for our attorneys that we might not have already thought about. If you moved from the US to Canada for a partner, what immigration path did you take and what roadblocks did you encounter, if any? What do you wish you’d known before you started? Are there aspects you wish you could have done differently?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I did this (I am a white woman from the US who married a Canadian man of colour; I am now a dual citizen of the US and Canada)! Thirteen years ago, so things may have changed some in the interim. We got married, in a chapel in Niagara Falls (Canada side), while I was visiting, and then I started the visa process while living in the US. We had our big wedding in the planning stages so I was able to submit the fancy invitation along with our marriage certificate with my documentation. Along with photos, letters from friends, etc.

I traveled freely across the border during the time between. We chose not to get legal representation. Oh gawd there is so much you may want to know, MeMail me and we can chat.
posted by wellred at 7:07 AM on December 7, 2018

I have not done this, but I want to comment on the point of working across the border, because you said you eventually want to be a Canadian citizen. When you are eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship is based on the number of days you've spent in Canada, not the time since you became a permanent resident. So if you leave the country for 2 weeks, that moves your first possible citizenship date back two weeks. I have no idea how it works if you're in the country part of the day and out of the country part of the day, so I would definitely ask the immigration lawyer that. If you're only spending the weekends in Canada (all day) then you might have to wait a little more than 3 times as long before you can apply.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:12 AM on December 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I did this, I was the US citizen, my partner the Canadian. I'm not going to answer all your questions, just hit on the most important one: documenting your relationship.

This is absolutely critical. It is not possible to over-document. You need photographs of you and your partner at multiple public events over time. You need a significant amount of textual correspondence (email, texts, etc) showing a long-term committed relationship. Multiple letters (notarized affidavits if you want) from friends and family who don't just state that your relationship is genuine, but provide some kind of flavour of it. Wedding photos. Invitations. Bank accounts and bills and mortgages/leases in both your names. Anything that can prove that you're deadly serious to be married with this person and not fucking around just trying to hitch a ride into Canada.

Everything else you'll have to do is fill out forms, tick boxes, make payments, and be patient. There's very little that can go wrong if you just follow the directions. The documentation is the only thing that is 100% up to you.

Our packet was over an inch thick full of documents, letters, printed emails and texts, chat logs, statements from friends, and had over 80 hard-copy photos including wedding, engagement, vacations, just time being together with friends. It was nail-biting, but there was no question of the validity of our relationship.

Good luck to you; the most important skill you'll need after a critical eye for detail in filling out forms (Canada loves its forms), is patience.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:13 AM on December 7, 2018 [7 favorites]

Huh...clicking through my link, I found that your record of travel outside of Canada must include "The date you left and the date you came back to Canada, even if it’s the same day" (emphasis mine). So it looks like working in the US could delay your citizenship application.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:14 AM on December 7, 2018

I went the other way (from Canada to the US), so there are very significant differences to the process, without doubt. But here are some things that are similar:

- Staying a dual citizen means you will need to continue to file US taxes every year, no matter what. Just something to think about and make sure you get an accountant who understands how to file, there are additional requirements for US citizens who hold foreign bank/investment to be aware of.
- When I submitted documentation of marriage to the US, they were not very interested in photos or anything related to documenting the event of a marriage. What they were THRILLED with and we got an immediate green light on was having shared financial assets (bank accounts and mortgage).
posted by nanook at 7:16 AM on December 7, 2018

Huh...clicking through my link, I found that your record of travel outside of Canada must include "The date you left and the date you came back to Canada, even if it’s the same day" (emphasis mine). So it looks like working in the US could delay your citizenship application.

I think the OP will be OK (on this specific point, I mean; I can't speak to anything else). The official page on how residence/physical presence is calculated by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada for citizenship applications received on or after October 11, 2017 -- which this is of course -- indicates that:

"Absences will be calculated only for days where an applicant spent no time at all in Canada [my emphasis]. Dates where an applicant left Canada, or returned to Canada will not be counted as an absence since the applicant was physically present in Canada for a portion of both days."
posted by andrewesque at 7:32 AM on December 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hi. We did this. I am the American half of a American/Canadian couple. I hesitate to go into too many specifics because (a) my move was about six years ago and the paperwork started perhaps two years before that, so things may have changed (b) I immigrated to Quebec, which has a distinct immigration path (you don't mention Quebec so I'm assuming it's not part of your equation) and (c) I am operating on just a few hours of sleep.

A few scattered things that jump out at me, regarding cost: Are you a native of the US? Did you graduate from university there? Your diploma may be enough to prove language proficiency. (Obviously, don't take my word on this -- but look into it.) We did not use an attorney. The process was pretty straightforward, if sometimes pokey. Not saying you shouldn't use an attorney, only that it was possible for us without one.

No one ever asked us any questions. We met online. We had *copious* amounts of documentation. Years worth of chat logs, photos in the different places we had met over the course of a few years (sometimes his home, sometimes mine, sometimes neither). We submitted (short) letters/testimonials from my mother, from one of my longtime friends, and from a more recent friend of both of ours, all of whom had spent time with both of us together. I can't say which part of this was most important but I can say that it must have convinced them because they never said a word about it.

Because of the Quebec thing, I think my timeline is largely irrelevant to your situation. That said, it took about two years. My sense has been that timelines shift depending on funding for the agency/ies involved and their caseload. Your attorney should probably have a good handle on this. Some average times are available from the relevant government website.

We're two men and at the time couldn't get married in my home state, for what it's worth. We're still not married now and may never be. That's not uncommon in Quebec, for any kind of couple.

Once you have permanent residence, be assiduous about documenting your travel outside of Canada. Yes, even one-day trips. Yes even "just" to the States. Be assiduous. This is coming from a guy who was denied citizenship because he inadvertently left off a two-day trip to the States. I took the documentation part of it very seriously and still messed up. (It's frustrating, but I can apply again.)

You're more than welcome to memail me if I can be of any further help. But, yes -- it can be done.
posted by veggieboy at 8:27 AM on December 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

My experience with this stuff is several years old now, but some quick reactions as a former sponsor under the spouse/common law partner class:

- Six months seems very ambitious - it took us about three times that from application to confirmation of permanent residence, though our application was in-country which means it's not considered as pressing. CIC currently estimates 12 months for someone in your position.

- We did this without a lawyer and understand that's the norm. (In fairness, I am a lawyer, though I don't practice immigration law.) Having a lawyer might have helped things go a bit quicker but it's hard to see how the outcome could have been different otherwise. I asked lawyers for quotes and they came in around $2500 in legal fees.

- Application fees were about $1200 though it's easy to imagine that has changed.

- I would not expect any access to Canadian social services (by which I assume you mean health insurance etc) until you are a permanent resident. Indeed, your sponsor will likely have to sign a document confirming that you will not have to rely on social assistance for some period of years, even after you're a permanent resident.

- If you get married during your application (i.e. you apply as common-law and then get married before your application is complete), this may delay your application as it gets bumped to a different processing stream.

- Our submitted documentation of the relationship was similar to what seanmpuckett describes above and what you have indicated you're collecting. We were not questioned on it nor were any relatives interviewed.
posted by Clandestine Outlawry at 8:43 AM on December 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

So, health insurance: When I moved to Canada, I kept my US health insurance for a couple of months (because of reasons). I was on COBRA, and just kept making the payments. It was a huge waste of money. My US plan didn't get me good coverage with Canadian doctors -- buying private medical insurance in Canada was a much better value. And for emergency care when I went back to the states, I could just buy travel insurance (this was surprisingly affordable).

For your situation: You may be eligible for provincial health care, after a waiting period. In BC, I got on provincial health care after 3 months (this was before I had PR). Other provinces have different rules, so you should check. Provincial health care is free in most provinces, so there's no downside to signing up once you're eligible.

When I've needed medical care back in the US, travel insurance has been fine. I pay the clinic and get reimbursed later. Reimbursement has always been straightforward and painless (but I've also never had any major illnesses, ER visits, etc.).

But because you're going to be working in the states, it might make sense to keep your US insurance (assuming your insurance company allows that). Here are some things to consider:
  • Do you want your routine health care to be in the states? Seeing Canadian doctors will be far less expensive, but you can't really pop out to see a Canadian doctor during the workday if you have to cross the border twice to do so.
  • Prescription drugs, vision, dental, and physical therapy won't be covered by your Canadian health care. Maybe you can arrange to get those services through your US-based employer?

posted by Banknote of the year at 10:28 AM on December 7, 2018

And something to bring up with your lawyer: Since you won't be working in Canada, you might be able to enter Canada as a visitor. This could let you move in with your partner immediately, while your PR paperwork goes through.

US citizens can stay for something like 6 months as a visitor, without needing any visas or other paperwork. But they can't work, can't go to school, and have a few other restrictions.
posted by Banknote of the year at 10:33 AM on December 7, 2018

I did this (sponsor, Canadian) with my husband (American). We started our serious research April 2017. By Mid-May, we had all of our documents ready and sent it off. Ours was an out-of-country application (we'd been living outside of US & Canada for the 5 yrs prior to the application). Mid-June they emailed to confirm they finally opened the application. The security clearance from FBI took forever and probably delayed us 1-2 months (I'd recommend shelling out for one of the approved channelers to speed it up significantly). Medical exam happened a month or so after that. My husband got his PR end of November and he officially landed as a PR in December 2017. We spent January wrapping up at our previous country of residence, and then moved all of our stuff in January 2018.

Our friends also did this, but within the Canada. He (American) first arrived here under a tourist visa and eventually found a company who would sponsor his work visa, which allowed him to stay indefinitely (as long as he was working for that company). They applied for spousal sponsorship within Canada. As part of the spousal sponsorship application, he also applied for an open work visa, so he could work for any other company (not just the one who gave him the initial work visa sponsorship). I think it took about 1 full year for PR to be granted.

We both did it ourselves, no lawyers required. But I think both our situations were pretty easy compared to yours, as both couples were legally married, had been living together for the past X years, and had lots of financial assets comingled, which demonstrated proof the relationship was genuine (bank accounts together, utility bills, mortgage/lease, etc.). IIRC, there were three general categories that could prove the relationship is legit: You are legally married/lived together for at least 1 yr (aka common-law married), you have comingled finances, and you have a kid together! :) If you have kids, you can skip one part of the application that asked for further proof of relationship status, hah!

The challenge for you is that you don't seem to have any of the 3 categories (I'm assuming you don't have a joint lease/mortgage/bank account etc since you are not in the same location). Here's a tip: A lot of folks keep their lives pretty separate pre-immigration because what if Canada won't let you into the country, how can you be in a LDR forever? But immigration officers actually want to see people who have gone all in before they go through the process. So if there are things you are thinking of doing at some point but are holding back because what if the application is denied, do them now. (Note, not sure how this applies to pre-nups!) You said: Our primary goal is to find a way for me to live with and marry my partner as soon as possible, ideally while maintaining my ability to work legally for a US company that is right over the border from where he lives. Based on that, I would also say get married and try to get as legally/financially entangled as possible before you file. Once you are a PR, Canada doesn't care whom you work for, so legally they won't put restrictions on whether you work with a Canadian or foreign company. But, I would consult others on whether continuing to work in the US might look like perpetual "one-foot-out-the-door" to an immigration official...

RE: amount of documentation for the relationship, the rules have changed in the past 2 yrs. Friends who applied under the Harper era compiled big binders of docs; the new streamlined rules gave us a hard limit of 20 photos. I don't think you have to worry very much about meeting online, as that's a very normal way of meeting people these days! Just tell your story in the application in make sure you include the humor and humanity in it!

Memail me if you want to chat further.
posted by tinydancer at 2:50 PM on December 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

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