Move to Canada? It's Not That Easy

Despite threats to move to Canada during each election season, the reality is more complicated than many think.

Every election season, Americans threaten to move to Canada if their candidates lose. This year is no different. The day after Election Day "Immigration to Canada" was the lead trending topic on Facebook.

But setting up life in another country is more complicated than many people think, experts say. And although many Americans happily relocate - often for reasons unrelated to politics - their new reality is not necessarily as idyllic as some may hope. Canada, after all, has problems, too.

Ultimately, threats to move northward end up falling flat as Americans confront the hoops they need to jump through to get in, said David Cohen, senior partner at Campbell Cohen, a Canadian immigration law firm in Montreal. Statistically, numbers of immigrants don't actually peak every four years.

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"We're a large-sized immigration law firm and we get calls with regularity, but certainly the intensity of the callers changes after the election and the volume of calls increase as well," Cohen said. "In the final analysis, when push comes to shove, Americans are reluctant to give up what they have. I believe, from my experience, that Americans feel strongly at the end of the day that the United States is their country. The vast majority return to the homeland."

With a valid passport, just about any American can visit Canada for up to six months. But showing up at the border with a U-Haul full of belongings is a sure way to get turned back at the border.

In order to move in, Americans need to start by working toward a permanent residency card, the equivalent of the American green card. There are more than 60 programs that allow people to qualify for permanent residency.

Most immigrants come because of a job offer or because they're marrying a Canadian, Cohen said. Other routes to permanent residency include proving your economic worth to the country, investing a significant amount of money, starting a business, or completing a graduate degree at a Canadian university.

Newly granted permanent residents must spend two out of the next five years in Canada. After three years of residency, they can apply for citizenship, which requires taking a citizenship test and proving proficiency in English or French.

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Because Canada has a national healthcare system potential immigrants must also undergo health screening. The Canadian government rejects candidates with health conditions that it deems too expensive to take on. That can include cancer that has been in remission for less than five years or communicable diseases like tuberculosis.

"My wife had high blood pressure and needed additional tests," said Stephen Saideman, a political scientist at Carleton University in Ottawa, who moved to Canada from the U.S. in 2002 - not to escape the Bush administration, though that's what many people assumed, but to take a job at McGill University in Montreal. "It's not a matter of just walking across the border and saying, "I'm in Canada. Now, treat me like everyone else.'"

Among the headaches and hassles that Saideman faced during relocation was the discovery that an immigrant's credit score starts near zero. That made it impossible for him to get a car loan for the first few months, and his credit card applications were repeatedly rejected.

It took Saideman and his family a couple of years and lots of forms to transition from a temporary work visa to permanent residency status.

They are happy in Canada now, the schools are good, and people are friendly. But, he pointed out, his taxes are higher than they were in the States and his new health insurance is not as good as what he received from the American university system.

Then there are the little inconveniences he's had to get used to - like colder weather, lots of hockey on TV and not being able to access clips from the Daily Show through the Canadian Internet.

Politically, until permanent residents earn citizenship, they can't vote or run for office in Canada.

"Anyone who wanted to flee...would need to figure this stuff out," Saideman said. "And then they'd probably say never mind, it's not worth it."

An earlier version of this article appeared during the 2012 presidential elections.

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