How long can an american stay in canada?
April 30, 2008 10:55 PM   Subscribe

What is the maximum amount of time a US citizen can spend in Canada at one time, with just a passport? What about over the course of a year? These would be personal and/or business visits.

Say the limit is like a month. Can I stay for a month, leave, then come back a week later for another month? Myself and the people I know are very fuzzy on how this whole thing works.
posted by zerolives to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
So US citizens do not need a visa to visit Canada. Other visa holders are usually restricted to a six-month stay which can be extended. So I would expect a six-month stay would be fine. And yes, you just have to leave for a day. usually you have to have a passport that will be valid for the duration of your stay so the only thing that could stop you from staying in Canada indefinitely would be the eventual expiration of your passport. See this page which indicates that US citizens do not need visas to visit Canada.
posted by GuyZero at 11:14 PM on April 30, 2008

@GuyZero thanks for thinking this over with me. Where did you get your information from? Is this just spitballing? it's been bugging me for a long time, I know I should probably just consult a lawyer, and I probably will, but askmefi is always good for a think.
posted by zerolives at 11:17 PM on April 30, 2008

Considering that US citizens do not require a visa there is literally no way to prevent you from settling in Canada indefinitely. Of course, you don't get any government services and you can't get a job but really there isn't anything to keep you from staying here forever. That's what visas are for. And since there are no restrictions on repeat visits... there are no restrictions. What's not prohibited is allowed in most cases.
posted by GuyZero at 11:23 PM on April 30, 2008

Oh - I got my info from the "this page" link above which is a Government of Canada website.
posted by GuyZero at 11:24 PM on April 30, 2008

Six months, is listed on the official Canadian citizenship and immigration website.

The re-entry thing is another matter.. some Google Groups thread mentions that it's what the border patrol guard believes are your intentions. So if you're making monthly business runs, I don't think it'll be a problem, but if you're consistently popping back and forth only bi-annually, they'll think something's up.

(I'm not an immigration lawyer, etc.)
posted by hobbes at 11:26 PM on April 30, 2008

Guy Zero is correct. The site to learn about all this is Citizenship and Immigration Canada, they have lots of useful stuff, including this page called Planning to Visit Canada?

The most important bit you'll be looking for is
Upon arrival in Canada, your passport or travel documents may be stamped to indicate how long you may stay in Canada. If you do not receive notice otherwise, you may remain in Canada for six months.
Please understand, a Customs or Immigration official CAN allow you to stay up to six months by stamping your passport and not indicating otherwise. If you interet them and they decide to for some reason they can grant you entry with less time, or even refuse you entry all together.

So if you show up to Canada with $500 in your pocket and no proof of means of supporting yourself don't be suprised if the official lets you in and gives you a stamp valid for 30 days, or however long they think you can actually play tourist without going broke.

If you want to WORK in Canada that's a whole different ballgame, and you'll need to start digging through CIC's website. A laywer really won't be required unless you want to come here to stay, or are in a really big rush vis a vis the working thing.
posted by tiamat at 11:28 PM on April 30, 2008

Well, some more info: I'm a freelance web developer in the US. All my work comes from US companies, legally, I don't know if that makes a difference, but as a US citizen my address and taxes would all be paid in the US. I make plenty of money, I've got a good cash surplus that can support me basically as long as I need it to, barring any catastrophe.
posted by zerolives at 11:38 PM on April 30, 2008

OK, but that's not a question. You want to move to Canada effectively? Sure, it's probably for a few months at a time. If, however, you effectively adopt residency without applying for permanent residency you may eventually get denied entry per hobbes' comment. Essentially, there is no provision for an indefinite tourist visa. But by the letter of the law there's no prohibition to coming back repeatedly - except for the provision that says you can get turned back at the border anytime by Immigration.
posted by GuyZero at 12:10 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

zerolives -- "I'm a freelance web developer in the US. All my work comes from US companies, legally, I don't know if that makes a difference, but as a US citizen my address and taxes would all be paid in the US. I make plenty of money, I've got a good cash surplus that can support me basically as long as I need it to, barring any catastrophe."

Uhhhm, watch out for taxes.

Most countries will tax income (both active and passive) if you're resident for longer than 182 days. This is certainly true of the UK, and most European nations. And don't think you can stay for 181, leave for a week, and return with the counter zeroed. Many countries have already thought of that, and will effectively run an average across a multiple year period. I'm not sure regarding specifics wrt Canada, but you really better consider the tax implications of this action before undertaken.

Even though you'd be generating income in the United States, and (fully, one would presume) paying taxes in the United States, Canada could credibly make a claim based on your enjoyment of the infrastructure, etc that other residents tax dollars support.

I'm an American who has lived in London for about eleven years, and I've known more than one of my countrymen who relocated to Europe under circumstances to what you're outlining, and complications, should they develop, are painful - not to mention unnecessary. Large, retroactive tax bills for one, and difficulty / additional expense in obtaining fully legal residence for another.

Even if at the outset of this exercise you intend to move for only six months, once, Real Life has a way of tossing curve balls that change our plans. You may wish to remain in Camada indefinitely, for a variety of reasons.

Best to sit down with a Solicitor and outline what you've got planned. They can adivse you of the ins and outs, and structure this initial move in a way that will most effectively prepare you for whatever might happen.
posted by Mutant at 2:30 AM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

...the only thing that could stop you from staying in Canada indefinitely would be the eventual expiration of your passport.

Actually, you can get your passport renewed at an American consulate in Canada. Though doing so may look a little weird as a tourist.
posted by fermezporte at 4:10 AM on May 1, 2008

Seconding Mutant's warning about taxes. You need to establish which country you will be resident in and which country you will be domiciled in for tax purposes and you need to know how the US and Canadian tax authorities view others in your position. You then have an extra layer of complexity do to with running your business. A good tax advisor will be able to help you both avoid the pitfalls as well as exploiting any loopholes.
posted by rongorongo at 5:19 AM on May 1, 2008

You're trying to move to Canada, and do paid work in Canada, after entering the country as a tourist. It's rather plausible that you'll be found out, required to leave Canada, and won't be able to return for some time. It's also plausible that you'll get sick and face a large out-of-pocket expense because you won't have health insurance that you didn't purchase in the U.S.
posted by oaf at 6:39 AM on May 1, 2008

Yeah, the tax thing might sink you. Canada considers you a "deemed resident" if you are physically present in Canada for 183 days or more out of the year, don't have "residential ties" with Canada (a home, a spouse, or personal property), and aren't considered a resident of the U.S. under the U.S.–Canada tax treaty. As long as you have very few "personal & economic" ties with Canada and a lot with the U.S., you might be able to get away with it; but really, this is the kind of deeply consequential hair-splitting that lawyers are paid to do. Consult one if you're seriously considering this.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:42 AM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's also plausible that you'll get sick and face a large out-of-pocket expense because you won't have health insurance that you didn't purchase in the U.S.

This is what I'd worry about most. Canada's provincial health care programs only cover folks who have been residents for more than six months (i.e. nobody without a visa). All it takes is one moderate accident and you'll be looking at tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills.
posted by Nelsormensch at 7:00 AM on May 1, 2008

Note also that income you earn in Canada can be taxed by the Canadian government even if you are a U.S. resident---the country in which you earn the money gets a cut at it first. Also, the U.S. taxes its non-resident citizens, unlike most of the world's countries.

Also, about the business: depending on what you are planning to do in Canada, you may need a visa to do it legally. According to this page, in order to qualify as a "business visitor" (no visa) as opposed to a "temporary worker" (visa), you must meet these criteria:
  • you intend to stay for less than six months and do not plan to enter the Canadian labour market
  • your main place of business and source of income is located outside Canada
  • profits from your business will accrue outside Canada

posted by goingonit at 7:37 AM on May 1, 2008

I recall a case similar to this in the newspapers within the past year. Some US resident was entering Canada with his passport, staying less than the allotted time, returning to the US and then back into Canada, and spending most of the year in Canada. He was apparently always honest about being a US citizen, paying cash for medical services in Canada, and in general being a good fellow and not at all trying to scam Canada. He rented the same place for years, was a good neighbor, and really enjoyed living in Canada. He got by with this for years by flying under the radar. Then the Canadian government found out what he had done and arrested him. (I don't recall what the charge was.)

So. You could try gaming the system like he did, if you're a gambling type. Or you could consult someone who really knows the nitty gritty and learn what you'd have to do to actually stay on the legal side of the line.
posted by exphysicist345 at 3:33 PM on May 1, 2008

As other people have responded, you are legally eligible to visit for <6>
However, if you enter Canada as a visitor, you are prohibited from working(if you end up getting a visitor extension on paper, it will explicitly say that on the paperwork). I am under the understanding(having just gone through this process with my American-now-Canadian-Permanent-Resident husband), that even if you are being paid by an American firm, you are still working in Canada, and as such, you have mis-represented your reasons for coming to Canada.

I'd highly suggest checking with a lawyer, but this was the information we were given when my husband was visiting while waiting for his immigration paperwork to go through.
posted by irishkitten at 12:07 PM on May 2, 2008

Erk. First line should have been "less than" 6 months.
posted by irishkitten at 12:07 PM on May 2, 2008

Regarding taxes: In my experience moving between US and Canada, income taxes paid to one country can be deducted from the amount owed to the other. (So you file in both countries, and the total tax due will be the amount due to whichever country wants more tax from you). I am not an expert at this at all but that's what happened to us -- I don't know how common it is and even if it's "normal," I'm sure there are exceptions.
posted by winston at 3:52 PM on May 2, 2008

To follow up on winston's point, its a little more complicated than the max as illustrated.

Correct in that both regimes will tax you.

However when you work outside the United States the first $95K you earn is tax free on the US side, but will still be subject to tax on the - in this case Canadian - side.

So you're entire paycheque will be taxed in Canada, however on the US side you're be liable to pay taxes on only whatever you earned above $95K. Also, on the US side you get credits for taxes already paid on the Canadian side.

Finally, as an American working abroad, you're able to deduct certain costs associated with maintaining a foreign residence for work purposes.

Taken collectively, this tax free allowance and various credits can give rise to some interesting situations, where your effective tax rate is lower - sometimes, much, much lower - than you'd expect.

I'm an American, living in the UK. I pay taxes in both domiciles. In the UK the top tax rate is 40% and you hit that at a relatively low level of earning (about £28K) , while in the US the top tax rate is 35% and you incur that rate at earnings of $350K or more. Both systems employ progressive taxes, meaning, for example, only earnings above $350K are taxed at 35%; not your entire paycheque.

Because a portion of my earnings are tax free on the US side, and because I receive tax credits on the US side for taxes I pay in the UK, my effective rate of taxation is only about 15%.

If I lived in the United States my tax rate would be much, much higher. It's because I'm able to play off both systems against each other that I can markedly reduce my effective tax rate.

Now clearly if you're running your own business you can further leverage this situation; I know of folks doing this who pay probably two or three percent in personal taxes, all because they minimise their personal income to an extreme, using their business entity appropriately.

So, a long elaboration but I hope this leads you to one conclusion - get a professional to do your taxes.

I do.
posted by Mutant at 1:51 AM on May 6, 2008

Note that some of what Mutant said (in particular the $95k part) is specific to the US-UK tax treaty, and will certainly vary for Canada.
posted by goingonit at 8:08 PM on May 6, 2008

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