Repost with Permission from Matt Musselman, Originally Published on Quora:
I find that many of the answers here are helpful, but I’m not sure they address the issues that are really going to matter most to Americans moving here. I’ll do my best.
Some background: I moved from the US to Canada in late 2004. I chose to move mostly because I’d recently been laid off from my job, and my best job offer was in Vancouver, and anywhere on the coast looked like a nice change of scenery from Dallas. But the fact that I’d also become increasingly disillusioned with how post-9/11 America was shaping up, and that this job was in Canada and a chance to try out life on the other side — that certainly contributed and gave it an edge over another offer based in Chicago.
The pros about moving to Canada
For me individually, moving to Canada has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. There are a number of things I really love about Canada, some of which I didn’t even fully appreciate until after I was here. A sampling:
- Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and many other places in Canada are world-class cities in their own right, and great places to live regardless of what nation they’re in.
- Diversity and multiculturalism. Particularly, women, LGBT, and non-white people are treated way more like equals in Canada than they are in the US. It’s not perfect, but definitely better. And when you have a population where multiculturalism and acceptance already the norm, racial tensions and sexism and homophobia have far less of a foothold.
- MUCH less violence and violent crime than the US. I regularly walk on foot through objectively the “worst” neighbourhood in Canada, whereas there were plenty of places in in the US that I wouldn’t even drive through in a car, let alone walk around on foot.
- Healthcare, parental leave, general health benefits, higher minimum wage – Just about everyone you meet is happier, healthier, and more productive. Doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but it’s better, and I also suspect this is a huge reason behind the lower crime rate. When people are healthy and have the right support structures to get and keep a good job, there’s less reason for them to rob you (among other things), and the economy in general is stronger.
- Better community resources. The libraries, community centres, public programs, festivals, etc, are really terrific here. More than in the US, people’s lives happen outside, in public places, with each other.
- More rational political climate. I think the 4+ party system helps with this, but maybe it’s cultural, too. Canadians as a rule are far less polarised, less angry, and less dogmatic than Americans tend to be. It’s refreshing.
- Not a militaristic nation except for peacekeeping and defence. The world sees Canada as a country that swoops in and saves the day (WW1, WW2), promotes the peace otherwise, and is never a big bully that other nations need to fear, hate, or retaliate against. Canada is a respected nation almost everywhere in the world, and Canadians are proud of that.
Now the more tricky considerations:
- Most importantly, you can’t just up and move to Canada. There’s a process. You may not even be approved at all. It’s easier than immigrating to the US, I think, but not negligible. It’s hard. For all the thousands of Americans who TALK of moving to Canada for political reasons from time to time, the reality is that in the past twelve years I’ve met 1) a couple dozen 1970s Vietnam-era draft dodgers (BC seems to be full of them), and 2) only one (ONE!) couple who moved specifically because of politics. And they’re the same couple who are also regularly interviewed by CBC, The Guardian, and so on about packing up and moving to Canada, which really reinforces the idea that they really are the only couple most other people have ever met, too. I do know rumours of a few others, friends of friends, but only a few. So that tells you something about the cost and difficulty of actually following through on this plan rather than just talking about it.
- Most people in general immigrate to Canada because they already have a job here. Very few (other than refugees) move first for some other reason (politics, you say?) and then job-hunt later. And the ones that do it that way really struggle. There’s a reason for that….
- Immigration is expensive. You know how some landlords expect a huge deposit + first two months rent? Imagine that, for basically every aspect of your life (housing, car, telephone deposit, electric company deposit, new driver’s license, fees for new government IDs, 90 day healthcare premium period, new job expenses, etc). It takes a tremendous amount of cash, which you also need to convert into the new currency, which incurs a penalty. Also, still paying for your car? Prepare to pay it off or sell it; you can’t take that US loan with you. That 2 or 3 year cell phone plan that seemed like such a great deal at the time? Using it in Canada now means $2/minute or more in roaming fees — set aside some money to pay off that device subsidy balance or early cancellation fees. And if that weren’t enough, like any other move, you may also need new clothes. And housewares. Especially if you’re moving in wintertime.
- But I can just rack up some debt at first, right? Surprise, no. You have no credit rating here, and you may even be considered an international default risk when applying for new lines of credit. Mortgage lenders are usually willing to check international credit ratings, but literally no one else is (credit cards, auto loan lenders, banks, phone company, electric company). They literally have no idea who you are, as if you were born yesterday. So strengthening the point above, 1) be prepared to pay a cash deposit for EVERYTHING, 2) including locking some much needed cash behind a cash-secured credit card, because it’s the only kind you’re allowed to get and you’re going to need one for certain kinds of purchases, and 3) okay, you can keep your US credit cards for a while to carry some debt, but remember that every time you use them there’s one currency conversion to convert the CAD purchase into USD for your card, a second currency conversion the other direction to change your CAD earnings to USD to pay the card balance (unless you stashed even more cash away in a USD savings account), and then further international purchase fees on top of that — a $100CAD purchase can end up costing you $140CAD or more after all those fees and currency conversions.
- Temporary worker status. Until you become a permanent resident (like a US “green card”), and eventually a citizen, each of which can take several years, you will likely be living in Canada on a temporary work visa. That means all that money you paid to move your stuff up here? Well, if you lose your job, commit the wrong legal infraction, etc, etc, etc, you could be paying that same money all over again to move right back to the US where you started. It’s like a Damocles Sword that hangs over your head every single day. “I hate this job, but if I quit, I could be deported. If I don’t do well enough and get fired, I could be deported.” Think about it. Also listen to the news in the US with this in mind: Every time you hear people talking about wanting to reduce the number of temporary foreign workers, about someone being deported for whatever reason, about immigrants stealing Americans’ jobs . . . imagine that’s now you, and imagine how you’ll feel hearing those kinds of stories from the opposite perspective. You need to be ready for that.
- One more thing on worker status. There’s a significant chance your spouse won’t be approved to work at all. Say goodbye to that dual income for a while. Exactly when you need it most.
- Travel. Another thing new immigrants to Canada fail to fully account for is that now any trip to the US is an international flight. At international flight costs. With international border-crossing restrictions. And related to work visas, permanent residence applications, and so on, there will even be large blocks of time (a month or two at a time) during these processes where you’re not allowed to leave the country, or if you do, you may not be let back in. Ageing parents back in the States? Other emergencies that could pop up and demand immediate travel? You’ll have to make some tough choices from time to time. Even a phone call is an expensive international call now, unless you can teach them how to use Skype or Facetime. You’re a lot farther away.
- Professional considerations. The US has better standing than some other countries when it comes to professional certifications and experience, but it’s not perfect. Don’t expect all your “credits” to transfer. Add to this the context that the Canadian hiring culture puts a huge premium on specifically Canadian work experience, even for English-speaking white American male applicants who unknowingly take for granted the special edge they get back home. Now you’re just another of those immigrants “stealing people’s jobs” so to speak, and official government policy supports employers in legally discriminating against you in favour of Canadian citizens. Expect that you’ll likely have to take a lower-paying, lower-title job when you arrive, and that may last for a while. Or, if your chosen field already suffers high unemployment numbers, your immigration application may be rejected entirely.
- General culture shock. Canada is a lot like the US, but just different enough that you’re guaranteed to feel homesick about SOMETHING: missing your favourite foods or your favourite places, already knowing the processes for renewing license plates and driver’s licenses rather than constantly having to figure out new bureacracy, missing your family as you work through US Thanksgiving and other mismatched holidays, not having to deal with the constant reminder of being an outsider when people joke about your accent and spelling and pronunciation (I personally focused on quickly assimilating in that regard, because otherwise people’s comments, even when well-meaning, were a constant painful reminder that I didn’t fit in here — you’ll feel it, too), general differences in social habits, and generally just a lot of little things that feel foreign or a little weird. It’s like those parallel universe sci-fi shows where the guy thinks he’s home but keeps having an odd feeling, and sooner or later goes outside and realises the sky is green instead of blue. For the first week, the little differences are fun, but then they really start to wear you down until you finally learn them and accept them. Navigating from day to day in even a marginally different environment takes far more work than you think.
- And generally, you’re really starting from scratch: no friends, no family other than those you bring with you, not even a favourite place you like to go eat or hang out when you’re at the end of your rope. It sounds silly, but most people are totally unaware of how many safety nets they have in their current life until they lose them.
In conclusion, I’ll reiterate that in the long term, moving here turned out to be one of the best choices I ever made for my own life. But I can’t emphasise enough how hard it is, and that it may not be the right thing for many people. My company was hiring a bunch of people all at once for a major project, and of the Americans who moved for the job, roughly 70–80% couldn’t hack it and moved back within 3 years or so. What Americans forget is that moving to Canada makes you an immigrant, just like the immigrants coming to you. Look how hard their lives are. Ask yourself honestly if that’s the life you’re willing to sign up for in order to get the benefits you’re hoping to find in Canada. The benefits are here, but they don’t come to the weak of heart.
But I do guarantee: if you do it, you will totally rethink the way you see immigrants and refugees, foreigners and minorities, outsiders in general, all around the world. You’ll realise they’re not the villains in this story; they’re the lonely voyagers, the fearless adventurers, the faithful mothers and fathers, the loyal friends, the people who sacrificed everything for themselves for a better life for their families. That’s one of the things I value most about my move here. It’s a gift that can be earned few other ways than by becoming an outsider yourself. Decide well, and good luck. If you make it here, I’d love to meet you.
A Word About the Writer:
Matt Musselman is Texan-Canadian who writes about Canada, The United States of America, Air Travel, Resumes and CVs, Enterprise Architecture, and other topics.