Relocating to the Great White North adds up quickly
Canada is calling to some Americans like a siren song. In fact, when Trump won the presidential election last fall, Google searches for “Canada Citizenship" surged 4,550 percent, and Canada's immigration site crashed. And what's not to love with friendly folks, decent pop music (i.e., Go for Soda), free universal health care, and dreamboat Justin Trudeau as prime minister? If only I had the skills to get a Canadian company to hire me, I could, perhaps, turn the dream into a reality.
A few years ago, my friend Henry did. He was offered a job in Vancouver and made the leap across the border. He described “Hollywood North" as a bustling urbanscape surrounded by mountains and lush greenery. It had the verve of Los Angeles—art, culture, diversity—without all the gross traffic, smog, and cooler-than-thou snobs. His experience made me realize that Canada is not completely out of reach. Though, as a freelancer, I wondered whether it might be out of reach moneywise: How much would it actually cost to move to Canada?
Over the last few years, I talked to several people who moved to The Great White North about the real—and sometimes hidden—costs of moving across the border.
Skilled worker route: $650 to $1,300
The most common way to move to Canada is via a work permit. You can apply for one under specific circumstances, like if your spouse has a work/student visa and you want to move to Canada with them. If you've secured a job beforehand, you would get one that's employer-specific. Or, if you're planning on finding work once you get there, you can opt for an open work permit, which allows you to work for any employer for up to four years.
While it costs nothing to set up an account, there are a boatload of fees you'll need to pony up during the application process. To start, the fee for a work permit itself is CA$155 ($114). If you need an open work permit, which, again, means you aren't moving to work for a specific employer, the fee is CA$100 ($74) per person. You'll also need to pay for an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA), which will be CA$7 ($5.30), as well as the fee to be photographed and fingerprinted, CA$85 ($64.35) for an individual or CA$170 ($128.71) per family.
If you plan on staying in Canada for the long haul, you're going to need to prove that you're in sound health and that you're not a fugitive. You'll need to get a medical exam and provide what's called a police certificate ($18 per person), issued by the FBI, less than three months prior to your application submission date. A medical exam ($350 to $375) has to be done by a panel physician, which is a doctor that's approved by the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). It can't be done by your own doctor.
If you're Mr. or Miss Luckypants, and you have already secured a new Canadian gig, like 33-year-old David Badgerow did, your employer might connect you with an immigration company to manage the paperwork and speed up the process. At least, that's what happened for Badgerow when he joined a feature animation studio in 2015. All he had to pay for was the fee to process his work permit at the border. “Once that paperwork was processed and my work permit was approved, I just had to foot the bill for the work permit," he recalls.
But things didn't happen quickly. David accepted the job offer in late October 2014, and it took him five months to get his paperwork in order and actually make the move—and that was with the help of an immigration company. Otherwise, the process could take up to a year.
Express entry (permanent resident) track: $10,829 to $14,865
If you're hell-bent on living in Canada for a good long while, you can also apply for permanent residency through Express Entry. This takes an average of six months from application to approval. Just like immigrating by way of the skilled worker route, the application itself doesn't cost anything, though there are numerous fees you will incur and documents you will need to provide during the process, that add up quickly.
Canada ranks immigrants' eligibility on professional skills, experience, and the transferability of those skills to a Canadian lifestyle. You rack up serious points if you are: fluent in English or French; have a degree from an accredited American college or university; or if you're in your 20s. You'll also need to prove that your professional skill set and experience will improve Canada's workforce.
The odds are not in your favor. The Canadian government lets in no more than 250,000 immigrants from all over the world each year, which is only about 1 percent of its population.
Cori Carl, a 32-year-old managing director of a nonprofit, and her wife moved from Brooklyn to Toronto last spring via the Express Entry program.
“The immigration process itself is a lot like a tedious online job application," says Cori, who did it without the help of an immigration lawyer. “There's nothing difficult about it, just a lot of getting copies of the right documents and a bunch of data entry."
It cost the couple $3,500 to gather all the documents and pay all the associated fees, which included an Express Entry Fee of $790 and the Right of Permanent Resident fee $700. For each child, you'll need to tack on an application fee of CA$150 ($113.57).
And because you're going to receive permanent resident status from the get-go, which allows you to enjoy a lot of the perks of being a legit Canadian, there are more steps—and fees—involved.
Cori and her wife had to pay for medical exams ($700), police certificate/FBI record check ($36) and fingerprinting ($50). For the required educational requirements, the couple paid for the International English Language Testing System test ($550), the Educational Credential Assessment ($410), and another $150 for college transcripts and diplomas.The couple also had to get passport photos ($40) and photos ($40) for their permanent resident cards. (If it had been just one of the them immigrating to Canada, the costs would pretty much have been slashed in half, around $1,700.)
For some, it's far easier to connect with an immigration attorney to make sure everything is covered. Cori and her partner handled all the paperwork on their own, without the help of a lawyer. Depending on the situation, the amount of paperwork involved, and whether its an individual or an entire family moving up north, an immigration attorney can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000, and sometimes even more.
If you're immigrating to Canada as a permanent resident, you'll also need to show settlement funds, which is a fancy way of saying you have enough cash on hand to move and find a place to live. For a single person, it's $9,129.06; if you're trekking up north with a spouse, it's $11,364.57.
Premove expenses: $1,125 to $2,000
Of course, most people don't just show up in Canada and find a job and a home on the spot. You'll probably need to spend some cash prior to the move and spend time there, hunting for a place to live and interviewing for jobs, among other odds and ends.
David did the job interview entirely over Skype and flew to Vancouver for a week to open a bank account, get the keys to his new apartment, and process his work permit. His new employer wouldn't foot the bill for any of this, so he tried to do it as cheaply as possible.
He spent $350 on a plane ticket from Los Angeles to Vancouver and $325 for five nights at a cheap hotel, plus food and other travel expenses, which totaled about $75 a day. The total expenses to travel to Vancouver for a week came out to about $1,125. If you plan to make more than one visit, that number will likely multiply.
Moving costs: $1,625 to $7,000
The actual cost of moving your stuff can vary big time; it primarily depends on the distance between your current home and your new Canadian one, but it also on how much stuff you're lugging with you and whether you're hiring movers or making a go of it on your own.
“If you're working with movers, it can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000," says Ian Wright, founder of the movers comparison site MoverDB.com. Wright points out it could cost more if you are moving during a peak time (i.e., end of the month, college moving season) or if you're moving to or from a remote location versus an urban center.
David made the entire move from Los Angeles to Vancouver himself, and he did it as inexpensively as possible. He rented a modest U-Haul to carry all of his worldly belongings from his one-bedroom apartment. The truck rental cost nearly $1,000 for three days, and he paid about $200 for hotel rooms over the course of his trip—as well as the cost of gas to travel the 1,300 miles ($225) and food and other travel expenses (around $200). The total was $1,625.
Cori and her wife paid $1,800 for movers to help them relocate from Brooklyn to Toronto. The moving company took all their belongings from their 1,000-square-foot apartment. There was an additional $50 air fee for their two cats to make the trip.
If you're relocating with a family and taking more of your belongings, it will definitely cost more. In checking to see how much it would cost for movers to haul the contents of a three-bedroom apartment from Los Angeles to Vancouver in the middle of August, I was quoted a price of $6,240 ($40 weigh scale charge and $200 customs fee included). And to hire movers to transport the belongings from a three-bedroom apartment from Brooklyn to Toronto, it would cost roughly $6,000 (including a $40 weigh scale charge, a $200 customs fee, and a $150 Brooklyn area origin charge).
If you're concerned about moving costs, you can always downsize before you uproot, which is probably what I would do.
Duty fees and customs: $230 to $400
Yes, you will get taxed on certain things you lug up north, and it ain't cheap. You'll need to have an itemized inventory of your belongings ready when you cross the border. Be ready to pay a duty fee or import tax (an average of 8.56 percent) for unused items you've brought with you or purchased on your way to Canada.
For example, if you bought a new laptop that cost $1,200 on your way up to British Columbia, you'll be forced to pay an import tax of CA$194.28 ($147.09) on your wares. I've heard stories of people taking out their brand new laptops and using them before moving to avoid paying any import taxes or duty fees. Not a bad idea.
You also may need to pay a small fee to clear customs. Cori and her wife met with the movers in Mississauga, Ontario, and paid a total of $230 to clear customs at the customs warehouse. If you are hiring movers, this is usually included in the cost. “The import process adds a layer of hassle and some other fees, but it wasn't bad," says Cori.
Car: $3,000 (varies significantly)
Don't forget about those bigger belongings that won't easily fit into the moving truck, such as your ride.
David considered importing his car to Canada, which would have cost him anywhere from $2,500 to $3,000, but he ultimately decided against it. (That's the price you can expect to pay if your car is valued at $20,000.) If you're certain that you'll be in Canada longer than a year and are planning on using your car, it's best to get the registration and import fees straightened out sooner rather than later. Otherwise, your car will end up going unused and your plates will expire.
Badgerow recommends selling the car while you're in the states. “If you're going to be living in a very public transport-friendly city like Vancouver, selling your vehicle before you move might be the easiest solution," he says.
Those fees David refers to also include: a Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV) fee CA$295 ($223.34); a goods and services tax (GST) at the border, which is calculated based on the current GST of 5 percent plus the value of your car; and an air conditioning excise tax CA$100 ($75.71), if you're bringing an air-conditioned vehicle from the United States.
Then there are costs for the license, registration, and insurance, which all really depend on the province you live in. For instance, in Ontario it's CA$32 ($23.23) for a vehicle permit, CA$57 ($43.15) for a license plate, and CA$60 ($45.43) for a sticker. As for an emissions test, it will be free if you do it when you renewing your registration, otherwise the cost is CA$30 ($22.26). Insurance costs also vary depending on your driving record, the type of car, and the province you're living in.
Cost of Living in Canada
Once you jumped through the proper hoops and gone through the rigamarole of uprooting from your current digs and moving up to Canada, you'll need to adjust to how much things cost and see just how far your money will go.
Here's the good news: Today's current conversion rate is $1.35 in Canadian dollars for every one U.S. dollar, which feels like a total win. But it turns out you'll generally be paying more for food, gas, and consumer goods. I checked the cost on Gas Buddy, and prices in Canada are about a $1.11 a liter, whereas it's $2.318 a gallon in the United States. The metric system may throw you off; just note a gallon equals 3.78 liters.
According to the Expatistan cost of living index, Vancouver's cost of living is about a fifth higher than it is in Los Angeles, with food being roughly 6 percent higher in Vancouver than in LA. For instance, for basic fast food fare, a Big Mac combo at McDonald's in Vancouver is CA$9 ($7.42) versus the $5.94 you will spend in the States. And as for getting around, transportation is about 19 percent more expensive in Van City than in LA.
When it comes to housing, if you're moving from LA to Vancouver, you can expect to pay about a third less for an average, 480-square-foot apartment ($877 U.S. dollars in Vancouver versus $1,364 U.S. dollars in LA). If you're moving from New York City to Toronto, it's quite a bit less expensive to rent the same size apartment ($1,996 U.S dollars in New York City versus $1,384 U.S. dollars in Toronto).
While, ideally, I would like to move to Vancouver, from what I've gathered from researching a bit and talking to folks who live in Vancouver and Toronto, you get more bang for your buck in Toronto.
Taxes are a headache no matter where you live, but as a newcomer to Canada (and a dual citizen), there are a few things to keep in mind. According to the Fraser Institute, the average Canadian household earned an income of CAN$80,593 ($61,017) and paid CAN$34,154 (or $25,858) in taxes in 2015. That's 42 percent of their income, which is more than the 38 percent they spent on necessities.
If you're a dual citizen, while you'll need to file taxes in both the United States and Canada, you may not have to pay on the first $102,100 of your foreign earnings in the United States, and may only need to pay taxes in Canada. While it's not as bad on your pocketbook as you might suspect, filing taxes in both countries does complicate things.
Total (work permit track): $5,005 to $6,700
Total (permanent residency track) $17,809 to $32,265
I knew there was a lot involved, but really? Canada seems so freakin' close (and lovely, too).
While the costs can vary depending on whether you have a job offer waiting for you in Canada or whether you have a professional skill set that could bolster their workforce, getting the approval to move is a long and tedious process.
I looked into how much it would cost just to hire movers to schlep my belongings from LA to Brooklyn (a one-bedroom apartment), and it was $2,600. If you want to move your belongings from a three-bedroom place, the price tag is $3,573. While moving your stuff to Canada may be comparable to moving across the country, let's not forget all the other costs, such as settlement fees and the potential to have to hire an immigration lawyer.
While it seems like a great place to live for the most part, the process to immigrate to Canada can be long, tedious, and expensive. If you can get a job offer in Canada, then it's definitely worth it. Your employer will most likely speed up the process to immigrate, pay for the fees, and foot some—if not all—the costs of relocating. But you'll have to get approved to move there first, and there's a chance that you'll be denied. If I were making a go of it on my own, because of all costs and time involved, I don't think such a move would be worth it.