Should I *actually* move to Canada?
May 11, 2020 1:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm an American who has been looking into countries with better healthcare systems in the hopes of relocating. It looks like I would be a good candidate for Express Entry to Canada. But... Is it worth it?

I'm 30, unmarried, and I have a master's degree. Most work exchange programs are either closed to me, or not a great fit - but it looks like I have an above average chance of being granted permanent residency in Canada through Express Entry. The application is about $1000 USD and another $500 if my application is accepted. I could then get Canadian citizenship after having PR status for 5 years and being physically present in Canada for 3 years. My main (maybe only?) motivation for applying is future access to universal healthcare in the event that the US never overhauls our current nightmarish system. I also trust Canada's future more than I trust the US's, and it would be nice to be able to visit friends and family in the US easier than I could from, say, NZ or the UK.

1) The biggest catch is that I have to apply within the next year in order to have the highest chance of being accepted.
2) I would willingly move at the drop of a hat somewhere more "exotic" and exciting where I knew no one, but the thought of moving to another city in North America where I don't know anyone is less appealing. I've moved to places where I didn't know anyone before, but I had a reason to move to those specific cities.
3) I currently work in immigration, and - unlike in the US - I could get accredited in Canada to work as an immigration consultant or international student advisor, which I hope would give my career the boost it isn't getting in the US. I'm not sure if getting accredited would be a waste of money spent to get low-paying jobs that I could have gotten without accreditation in the US with a little more luck. But I guess I don't necessarily have to work in this field in the future, or on the flip side I could just go to law school. I just want to be sure I'll have a viable career and I won't be financially struggling for 3 years while fulfilling the physical residency requirement for citizenship.
4) I could move back to London and do a law conversion degree for cheap, but it seems like more of a struggle with a less straightforward path to residency. Plus I've heard rumors that Boris and his ilk may try to slowly dismantle NHS in the near future. Not sure how accurate those rumors are, but since the Brexit vote I don't trust that the UK is headed in a good direction.
5) Are there any drawbacks of becoming a dual citizen that I haven't thought of? I'm not in a high-paying career so I doubt the double-tax implications of making more than $104k/year would affect me.

If I could, I would wait 5-10 years to apply for Express Entry so I could see if anything changes before I put time and money into this decision, but realistically this year is the best and maybe only chance I have. I would hate to miss out on this opportunity and really regret it 5, 10 years from now.

Is it worthwhile to apply?
posted by Penguin48 to Law & Government (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Point (3) is interesting. I recently worked with US-specialized immigration agents based in another country, and they had some staff members who clearly benefited from US background. Have you looked at any Canadian immigration agencies that might have positions available?
posted by Phssthpok at 1:57 PM on May 11, 2020

Should I actually move to Canada? Yes, you should. Why? For all the reasons you stated.
Be warned, though, it is not the USA. Seriously, it is. Not. The. U.S.A.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:05 PM on May 11, 2020 [18 favorites]

It might help to research specific cities in Canada that you might want to move to, and see whether any of them appeal to you. If you want to live in a major metropolitan city, your choices are basically Toronto or Vancouver (or Montreal, but you need to go through a different immigration process to settle in Quebec). If you're interested in mid-size cities, there are more options. Keep in mind that healthcare is run at the provincial level in Canada, so the quality of the system can vary from province to province.

Aside from that, what are the cons of applying for you? The two I can think of are the (expensive) application fee, and the effort required to put together an application. Are either of those prohibitive to you? If not, and you can find at least one city in Canada where you're interested in living, it might be worth it to go ahead and apply. Given the uncertain political situation right now due to the pandemic, it's hard to predict what will make sense 6 months or a year from now. You might be happy to have the option of moving to Canada if/when your application is approved.
posted by mekily at 2:06 PM on May 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

re 5): you may not have to pay dual taxes, but you'll always have to file them in both countries. This is beyond the spec of any simple online system, so you'll have to engage a tax accountant. It costs quite a bit.

Also, if you have family you care about in the US, flying in and out of Canada is mindblowingly expensive. Canadian airlines have little competition and they quite happily stiff their customers.

Winters are really fucking long in Canada. Like only-just-getting-faint-green-fuzz-on-trees in Toronto right now long.
posted by scruss at 2:28 PM on May 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

I immigrated to Canada as an adult. At the time it felt like an endless and expensive process. But I am grateful -- deeply, profoundly, grateful -- every single day that I did it. I've been here 15 years. The healthcare system in Ontario has been a gift. I haven't always agreed with what our leadership does (Stephen Harper! The Ford Brothers!) but I am safe and happy here, and I'll live in Canada for the rest for the rest of my life.
posted by kate blank at 2:29 PM on May 11, 2020 [13 favorites]

I'm American-Canadian, my parents immigrated from the US when I was small. I'm glad they did, so there's that. My sibling chose to repatriate to the US, in part to pursue more money.

There are a few things you may want to consider.

The culture here is pretty different, and by here I mean there are huge regional differences and they are all still not American. Things have changed some but my family ran into some barriers being American when I was young.

I think immigration is a great career here and I don't think that is super likely to change, unless Current Events result in a rise in populism, which can happen. Quebec is probably not where you want to end up for that though. (And you'd have to speak French. You may anyway.)

Our standard of living at the middle class is structured differently...I would argue not worse, but different. Compared to people at my stage of career in the US, I have earned less - management/middle management salaries are lower. Insurance is way higher (car/house, not medical.) Things like having a cleaning service or eating out are in general much more expensive. (Less cheap labour.)

I would in very broad strokes define this as stability over upward mobility. This rolls out in a lot of different ways...schools teach more to the middle, etc.

My taxes and my US peers' taxes often actually work out the same but different, in that their property tax can be nuts but my income tax is higher. If you throw in medical copayments though I generally come out ahead. However, due to the coronavirus I'm expecting tax hikes for the next 10 years. We will be paying this off for a very long time.

I'll boost Canadian healthcare any day but it definitely looks different and there are tradeoffs. First, it looks like shit a lot of the time, like 80s-era chairs in cubicles. Clinics can be downright depressing. We do have world-class care in lots of our cities; the North is difficult. You will wait...and wait...and wait for certain things. When the system moves fast, it means you're in need of speed. But it's true that access for everyone is better. I've had two kids in the NICU and my own cost was...parking.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:31 PM on May 11, 2020 [12 favorites]

I memailed you.
posted by nightrecordings at 2:59 PM on May 11, 2020

I'm a dual citizen: lived in the US until I was 7, then in Canada until I was 24, and again in the US up to now, as I'm pushing 40. It's only been in the last few years, since having kids (and a wife who bore them), that I've realized how shitty the health care system is here. We are moving to Canada as soon as my wife's PR application goes through, largely because we're fed up with this shit.

I probably have a rosier view of Canada than is realistic, and I've been away for a long time, so take this for what it's worth. But my view is that the healthcare issue is a sign of a deeper difference between US and Canadian culture: in Canada, there is still a notion of a public good that benefits everybody, whereas in the US the very idea is almost laughable.
posted by number9dream at 3:20 PM on May 11, 2020 [5 favorites]

It was lightly snowing when I woke up this morning in Toronto...on May-fucking-11th. Just so you know.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:43 PM on May 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm a dual citizen, moved to Toronto not quite 15 years ago from New England. I do my own taxes for both countries, but I don't own property or work for myself or anything complicated, and I make well under the max foreign earned income exclusion. (Well, I got laid off, but in general.) I came here as the spouse of a Canadian (I'm no longer a spouse at all!). I wouldn't move back for any but the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Feel free to memail me if you have questions.
posted by wellred at 4:48 PM on May 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

in Canada, there is still a notion of a public good that benefits everybody, whereas in the US the very idea is almost laughable.

Yes. And I believe this is down specifically to the fact that we are bonded by our health-care system: we all pay in, and we try not to use it when we don't need to, so that those who really do need care go to the front of the line. Because next week it could be me, or my family. Sharing this gives us a foundational understanding of the social good, and the lack of it explains a lot about the States. The system is not perfect, and you will wait for elective surgery (but get fast tracked like whoa when necessary) but the aspiration to treat all members of society equally gives us the sense of that ideal in our bones.

I know a number of faculty at the university where I work who moved up here to Canada, and not a single one has regretted it. Even with the lower salaries... and we pay about as much in tax as your average American, but at least we get something for it.
posted by jokeefe at 6:09 PM on May 11, 2020 [11 favorites]

I was born in Cleveland, so never minded winter with a lot of snow. And I lived in New York for a decade, so I've already paid Canada-level income taxes. My spouse and I are immigrating to Alberta using Express Entry. It is expensive, and it can take a while, but we are optimistic. My spouse had a very severe bout of pneumonia in 2017 which motivated us to find a place to live where we would always have access to a baseline level of affordable healthcare, no matter what kind of work we were doing.

We hired an immigration consultant, who helped a lot as we had kind of an unusual situation due to my work history. We paid them well and it is a lucrative field due to the federal targets for bringing in more and more skilled workers and entrepreneurs. Even during the pandemic the monthly express entry draws keep coming! There are also many intelligent foreign workers in the US who are bailing on the h1B visa process and going north instead because of how much faster permanent residency is in Canada.

Please feel free to pm me if you have any questions about the process. If you want to do it, do it now, as you can never anticipate how the program could change in 5-10 years due to political changes or budget problems.
posted by zdravo at 7:36 PM on May 11, 2020

7 years ago I had the same question.

Me and my wife became citizens last year. It takes 4 years after you land provided you don't spend too long outside of the country.
posted by asharchist at 7:53 PM on May 11, 2020

Best answer: It makes professional sense for you to move to Canada, and it makes sense in terms of your long term health care, which is not an inconsiderable matter. Your sticking point seems to be that you'd rather move to somewhere else that is actually interesting and has the same health and professional benefits as Canada rather than just a boring version of your own background. Your sticking point seems to be cultural.

I'd suggest you sit down and sort out where you would like to move, assuming immigration were possible and it would result in the same sort of health benefits and figure out why. For example you might like the idea of moving to Asia because it would broaden your horizons so much, or Scandinavia because of how egalitarian they are, or Germany because you'd get to learn a new language and immerse yourself in a new culture.

Once you figure out what sounds attractive, do some in depth research on Canada to see if you can find a location that matches what you consider culturally desirable. If you crave Asia look into if moving into an Asian neighbourhood in Vancouver would work for you, especially if you worked on immigration for Asians. If you want to learn a new language and immerse yourself look into moving to Quebec. If you want community look for a neighbourhood that would have that and doesn't have weather that is too intimidating.

Research thoroughly, such as by cruising the streets on Street View and figuring out where you would get groceries and what neighbourhood would be a good place to get an apartment and what the public transit is like, and what the social scene is like for the hobbies you are interested in. Join some of the local groups. Job hunt, but don't actually send in applications. Keep in mind the financial realities. You might not be able to live in downtown Vancouver anymore than you could realistically afford to live in Manhattan or Chelsea.

If you still feel meh at the end of a few weeks' research and don't click with anyone in your target location(s) you'll have to make your decision based on how meh you feel about your current location and if feeling disconnected and bored in and by Canada is worth the expense and trouble of attempting immigration. If it is the same but with health care you might want to do it. But if you can get a good picture of what it would be like living in Nepean and taking the bus to work every day, or what it would be like to live in Halifax and deal with on-street parking during snow removal, you'll have a much better idea if you will hate it, or be okay with it, or if you could learn to love the place.

You only have a year and travel is not easy, or I would suggest you come and take a week to visit before you make an application. Exploring virtually is the next best thing. You'll know what living in Canada is really like a bit more than you already do.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:07 PM on May 11, 2020 [5 favorites]

So a couple of things I'd like to clarify for you:

Your time before citizenship won't be any kind of a limit on your job or education prospects. With PR you'll be able to work or go to school without restriction, and you'll pay domestic tuition (not international). The only jobs you'll be ineligible for are ones that require citizenship for a security clearance, and it doesn't sound like that's something you're interested in. You should still think about whether Canada has a good career path for you, but you can start that path on day 1.

You might not need to stress that much about applying before you turn 31. It's true that the older you are the fewer points you get — but you don't lose that many points per year. If you haven't done so already, fill out the CRS calculator and compare your score to the scores required for previous rounds of Express Entry. If you have some leeway, maybe you can afford to wait a year or two.

I wouldn't wait 5 - 10 years, though. Over that timeframe, it's possible that a new government will come in and increase the requirements, or revamp Express Entry altogether.

I don't regret moving here, not even a little.
posted by Banknote of the year at 11:04 PM on May 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm going to buck the trend and at if you have no emotional or social ties to a country you have no f*ing business moving there. Is it worth it? On the balance sheet maybe. But IME people that don't have an attachment to a place end up being bitter, annoying expats with a deleterious affect on the culture of a place.

I'm saying this as someone who lived in another country for a year with no preconceptions and ended up hates the expats, the Americans especially.

I'm also saying this as someone who met Canadians through online dating who moved to the U.S. to dodge high taxes. Was it worth it for them? Sure, intellectually. But I never went out with any of them again because for me changing countries based on a balance sheet alone is sleazy.
posted by liminal_shadows at 11:15 PM on May 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Adding that I feel balance sheet alone can be a legitimate kernel for an attachment for a place, but from your question you clearly aren't there yet. You'd stick out like a sore thumb.

Canada is not just a different, better version of America. It's a different fucking country.
posted by liminal_shadows at 11:16 PM on May 11, 2020

It’s funny but reading liminal_shadows’s response makes me grin a bit, because as a Torontonian, I consider all the various immigrants here including myself as Canadian and the fact that we’re all Canadian PLUS “different fucking countries” and stick out like sore thumbs or as me and my Armenian and Sri Lankan friends might conceivably point out, opposable thumbs get the job done. It doesn’t bother me at all. Please bring your best recipes and consider selling me your seasonal delicacies and a nominal fee or swapping me for cake decorating.

I.e. yes, different fucking country, pro-immigration. Within reason.

(This would not be something my rural Alberta in-laws would necessarily agree with despite their strong ties to Sweden.)
posted by warriorqueen at 11:51 PM on May 11, 2020 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Healthcare here is *ok* for common ailments. More rare or complex concerns or things that won’t acutely kill you will likely be parked for 1-2 years (at the best of times). During which time you just live with it and/or it gets worse. You won’t go bankrupt but you might not get treated, and you wouldn’t be treated to the highest/most cutting edge US standards (because it’s all about the evidence being there for the treatment that will help the *most* people).

The weather SUCKS. It’s endurable at 30, sure. Winters get harder to take as the years go on. The lack of sun in particular can be difficult. Most of the country has a vitamin D deficiency (that you have to pay out of pocket to be tested for btw... it’s not funded because it’s assumed we all have it).

Jobs exist in 3.5 cities. Cost of living in those cities is ABSURD. I mean *totally* out of whack with salaries. Housing and food costs are outrageous. You won’t see the kind of variety in products that exists in the US.

Outside of the cities (and even within them), a kind of conservative parochialism dominates, I would say.

While I would say people in the prairies are pleasant and a bit more open (but conservative), Toronto in particular is tight-assed, neurotic and insular. I’ve travelled some and I have never seen this same phenomenon of people not feeling good in their skin *en masse*. A basic sense of comfortability, openness, warmth, and friendliness are prevalent everywhere I’ve been, except for here. We’re polite (not wanting to cause offence), not welcoming. Humour? Yeah, there are some funny people around. I want to say a lot more are pretty straight up.

(For reference, I was born here, have family in Eastern Europe and the US, and have spent time in the UK and Western Europe. I’d probably pick almost any of those over Canada, given a choice/if my family weren’t here.)

Living in another country is tough when your parents get older and need support, that’s something to think about (if your parents are around and you like them etc). Like it’s painful to be away from them and powerless to help them as they age.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:30 AM on May 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I was born in Canada, have lived here (in different cities in Ontario, visited Vancouver a bunch, have family in Vancouver and Edmonton) and in the US for about 3 years. A few random thoughts:

The border is real and getting money back and forth is a hassle, even if you have a "cross-border" banking account.

The little ways of dealing with the government (e.g. getting drivers licenses, going to the post office) are more pleasant in Canada. You don't actually need an accountant to do cross border taxes unless you're running a business or doing something complicated, but it will make you realize how much more painful dealing with the IRS than the CRA is. If you have any retirement savings, moving them here might be complicated.

We like to feel superior to the US. If you move here and tell people that you immigrated because you supported universal healthcare people will probably react well.

Depending on where you live in the US, Canada might be very white in comparison. Racism in Canada is different (not nonexistent as many people would like it to be).

Shopping for stuff in Canada is worse. Fewer products are available and prices are higher. If you're used to solving the "what X should I buy" problem by going to the Wirecutter and buying whatever they recommend, it mostly won't work here. Prices are often way steeper here for no apparent reason. For example, I want to buy a Google Pixel 3a. In the US the price of it dropped to US$250 about a month ago. In Canada it's CAD$550 (about US$390). Food is more expensive, and it used to be the case that it was a little better quality at the cheapest end, but that's no longer the case (IMO). Oh, and shipping is pricey here. Actually going to the post office might be more pleasant, but paying for it isn't.

Healthcare: In a lot of cities, especially if you live downtown, getting a family doctor/GP is a matter of sitting on waitlists for years, calling around until you find a practice accepting new clients (and unfortunately my experience has been that there's a reason they have openings), or having a friend or family member whose doctor is accepting new clients. I mostly visit walk-in clinics for day to day stuff, which are fine. For the most part you can't just seek out another doctor for a "second opinion". Stuff that isn't covered by most (all?) provincial health care plans: dentistry, optometry, mental health, most drugs (but the drugs are much cheaper here). Many people have supplemental health insurance through their jobs to cover those things. The bleeding edge of medications that cost $100k a dose or whatever just aren't available. Universal pharmacare might be coming, or maybe not any more given the current state of the government's finances.

The failure mode of government/society in Canada is a tendency towards paternalism. On the other hand, most people trust the government most of the time.

Buying a house is expensive in a lot of cities in Canada. The housing market here didn't experience much of a drop in 2008, and prices have continued to climb since then. Toronto and Vancouver are unaffordable, and smaller cities like Ottawa are doing their best to catch up.
posted by quaking fajita at 2:53 PM on May 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

I recently went through the Express Entry process successfully -- happy to share my experience more over MeMail if useful. You may be underestimating the costs; my total expenses were substantially more than your estimate, though much of that was because I took both language tests and had to fly to another city (twice) for one of them.

Once you get permanent residency, you only have to be physically present in Canada for two years out of every five-year period to keep your status. So you could potentially go through the process now, get your PR, then sit on the final decision for 2-3 years before you'd have to use it or lose it.

As Banknote of the year says, you can use the online calculator to try to figure out how much practical difference it would make to wait another year or two. But be aware that they do sometimes make changes to the points formula, and that things being what they are at the moment it wouldn't be too surprising if they decided to make the conditions more stringent.

Btw as far as I can make out it's only three years until you can apply for citizenship, not five.
posted by hoist with his own pet aardvark at 5:59 PM on May 12, 2020

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