How to move to Canada from the U.S.

Last updated: 3 November 2020

The Peace Bridge is an international bridge between Canada and the United States

Over 10,000 people immigrate from the United States to Canada each year. This number is set to rise as Canada looks to welcome over 400,000 immigrants per year under its 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan.

Tens of thousands more will arrive as workers, business people, and students to pursue economic and educational opportunities in Canada. Canada also offers many opportunities to those looking to sponsor loved ones coming from the U.S. 

This comprehensive page covers the full range of immigration, temporary residence, and citizenship options that are open to those in the U.S. Simply click on any item in the menu below to go directly to the section that is most relevant to your particular needs. 


Table of Contents


Immigrate as a Skilled Worker


What is the easiest way to immigrate to Canada from the U.S.?

Express Entry

Express Entry is Canada's main way of managing skilled worker applications for permanent residence. The U.S. is the second-leading source country of those who immigrate to Canada through Express Entry. A major advantage with the Express Entry immigration selection system is that applications are processed within six months or less. U.S. citizens and residents typically have a strong chance of being invited to apply for Canadian permanent residence through Express Entry, thanks to their strong language skills, skilled work experience, and high levels of education.

There are three federal skilled worker immigration programs managed under the Express Entry system that lead to permanent residence in Canada:


What are my other options for moving to Canada other than Express Entry?

Provincial Nominee Program (PNP)

Like the U.S., Canada is subdivided into different jurisdictions, called provinces and territories. These provinces are, in some ways, similar to the different states that make up the United States. However, unlike American states, Canadian provinces and territories have an important role to play in determining who comes to these jurisdictions as new immigrants. The Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) can be a great starting point for U.S. citizens and residents who know which province or territory they want to settle in, as well as others who have specific skills and work experience sought by a particular province or territory. If you are eligible for Express Entry, there is another major benefit to submitting an Express Entry profile. Candidates nominated by a Canadian province or territory who have a profile in the Express Entry pool receive an additional 600 points toward their Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score, effectively guaranteeing them an Invitation to Apply for Canadian permanent residence.


Family Sponsorship


I have a spouse or common-law partner living in Canada, can he or she sponsor me?


Sponsorship of a spouse or common-law partner

Canadian citizens and permanent residents can sponsor their spouse or common-law partner to obtain Canadian permanent resident status. Since Canada recognizes same-sex marriage, same-sex partners may apply for reunification as long as they meet all of Canada's standard eligibility requirements. Both the sponsoring Canadian citizen and the sponsored person must be approved by IRCC in order for the sponsored person to be granted permanent residence. To receive a visa under this immigration program, the sponsor and the sponsored person must prove that their relationship qualifies under one of these three categories: Spouse; Common-Law Partner; Conjugal Partner. The processing standard for spousal sponsorship applications in Canada is approximately 12 months from the date the application is received.


Work in Canada


I would like to move to Canada to work, what are my options?


Obtaining a Canadian work visa (referred to as a work permit in Canada) is usually an important step towards working legally in Canada on a temporary basis. You and your prospective employer may have to obtain a document called a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) before you begin working in Canada. However, most work permit holders in Canada however do not need an LMIA. In some cases, an LMIA is needed as it serves as evidence that your employment in Canada is likely to have a neutral or positive effect on the local labour market. Once the LMIA is granted, you will be able to apply for a temporary work permit from the IRCC. There may be opportunities to speed up the process, depending on your occupation and the work you plan to do in Canada.


Global Talent Stream

The Global Talent Stream is part of Canada's Global Skills Strategy. This federal program allows Canadian employers in high growth and IT industries to streamline the hiring of skilled foreign workers when Canadians are not available for particular positions. The hiring process under this fast-track program involves meeting certain requirements, such as completing a Labour Market Assessment (LMIA), commitment to certain salary requirements, among others. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) aims to process work permit applications from the Global Talent Stream in one month or less.


Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA)

Thanks to the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), formerly known as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and also known as “USMCA”, U.S. citizens can benefit from a facilitated process when applying for a temporary work permit in Canada. Work permits issued under the provisions of the CUSMA agreement generally do not require an LMIA.


U.S. citizens may work in Canada under CUSMA in one of the following categories:

A CUSMA professional must be qualified to work in one of the more than 60 targeted professions, including teaching, science, medicine, finance, law, and many others.

Individuals transferred from the U.S. within a CUSMA company may be temporarily transferred to Canada to work for a branch, subsidiary or affiliate of their employer. These individuals must have worked continuously for their U.S. employer for at least one of the last three years and be employed by the company at the time of their application in a position considered to be managerial, executive or involving specialized knowledge.

A U.S. CUSMA trader must demonstrate an intention to engage in substantial trade in goods or services between Canada and the U.S.. A CUSMA investor must demonstrate that he or she has made a substantial investment in a new or existing Canadian business and is seeking to enter Canada to develop and operate the Canadian business.


Intra-Company Transfer

Because Canada is the United States’ largest trading partner, and vice versa, many American businesses have affiliate offices, branches, or subsidiaries in Canada. The Intra-Company Transfer Program allows international businesses to bring key employees to Canada without the requirement to obtain a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). Employees who work in executive, managerial, or specialized knowledge roles may be eligible to come to Canada with their family and work as an intra-company transferee.


Work Without a Work Permit

A number of situations may occur when those in the U.S. can perform work in Canada without needing to secure a Temporary Work Permit. This includes individuals who engage in business or trade activities in Canada but will not enter the Canadian labour (labor) market, collectively referred to as Business Visitors.


Working Holidays

Working Holidays falls under the International Experience Canada (IEC) program and aims to facilitate international exchanges between young people from different nations. U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 to 35, may obtain an open work permit for 12 months under this program, provided that they have been enrolled in full-time post-secondary study at some point in the past twelve months. Final year students not returning to studies are also eligible.


Business Immigration


Can I move to Canada to start a business?


Starting a business in Canada 

The goal of Canada's business immigration programs is to attract investors, entrepreneurs and self-employed individuals from outside Canada with venture capital, business acumen, and entrepreneurial skills.


Provincial Business and Entrepreneur Programs

Canadian provinces and territories have an important role to play in the settlement of economic migrants in their territory, and many are looking for energetic and innovative entrepreneurs to help grow their economies. Canadian provinces and territories can nominate individuals for immigration to their province based on their own criteria. Most Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) have streams dedicated to business immigration.


Self-Employed Persons Program

Individuals who wish to settle in one of Canada's provinces or territories as a professional athlete or artisan can obtain a business immigrant visa for themselves and their immediate family. This program is designed to bring people to Canada who will work as self-employed individuals. Applicants must have either relevant experience in cultural activities or athletics.


The Start-up Visa Program

Under the  federal Start-up Visa Program, immigrant entrepreneurs can develop their business in Canada. This program, recognized as one of the most unique immigration streams in the world, grants permanent residence to immigrant entrepreneurs while helping them settle in Canada. 


Work Permit Options

For many entrepreneurs, the fastest way to enter Canada is to obtain a temporary work permit.

Under the CUSMA Investors stream, citizens of the United States who invest in new or existing businesses in Canada may be allowed to apply for an Investor Work Permit to manage their Canadian business. Entrepreneurs who intend to maintain the operation of an existing business abroad while expanding into Canada may be eligible for Intra-company Transfer Work Permits. Those who are majority owners of a business in Canada can seek to obtain an Owner-Operator Work Permit. U.S. residents and citizens also have the option to enter Canada through the Global Talent Stream. Employers working in high-growth sectors or wishing to hire highly skilled global IT professionals can apply for work permits through this stream and benefit from quick application processing times.


Study in Canada


Can I move to Canada from the US to study?

There are now some 15,000 U.S. citizens who study in Canada each year. Over 1,500 universities, colleges and other educational institutions are authorized by Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to admit international students. International students can work while studying in Canada, which helps supplement income and gain work experience. Graduates of eligible Canadian institutions can apply for an open work permit called a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). The PGWP allows recent graduates to get valuable Canadian work experience, which in turn can make them eligible for permanent residence and increase their odds of successfully obtaining immigration status.


Canadian Citizenship


How can I apply for Canadian Citizenship?

U.S citizens and residents who immigrate to Canada and reside in the country for a few years may eventually apply to become citizens of their adopted country. This is a process known as naturalization, and Canada has one of the most liberal and welcoming naturalization processes in the world. A person can be a citizen of both the U.S. and Canada.

Proof of Canadian citizenship certificates can be obtained by those born abroad to Canadian citizens, by Canadian citizens living abroad who wish to work in Canada in jobs reserved for those of Canadian nationality, or for children born abroad to Canadian citizens. 


Criminal and Medical Inadmissibility


Can I move to Canada if I have a criminal conviction?

Not everyone may be aware that a prior offence, even apparently as minor as a traffic violation, can render a person inadmissible to Canada. If in doubt, it is necessary to know what steps to take before and during the process of applying for an immigration or temporary resident visa to Canada in order to be allowed to enter Canada. Examples of convictions that could make a person inadmissible to Canada include impaired driving, theft, petty theft, assault, drunkenness and disorderly conduct, obstruction of justice and possession of marijuana, cocaine or other controlled substances/drugs.

A person may also be refused entry to Canada on health grounds if their condition is likely to be a danger to public health or safety or might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on Canada's health or social services. For family sponsorship cases involving the sponsorship of a spouse/common-law partner and dependent children, this excessive demand component of refusals on medical grounds is removed.

Even if a person or family member is found to be medically or criminally inadmissible to Canada, they still have options.


Frequently Asked Questions

Yes and no. You do not require a visa to visit Canada for personal or business reasons. As a visitor, unless otherwise indicated by a Canadian immigration officer at a Canadian Port of Entry, you may remain in Canada for up to six months. However, to gain entry the immigration officer must be satisfied that you are a bona fide visitor, which means that you intend to leave Canada at the end of your visit. As a visitor you may not centralize your mode of living in Canada, and as a general rule you may not work in Canada without first securing a work permit. You may study in Canada without a study permit only if the course of study is six months or less in duration.

The move itself from the U.S. to Canada should not be particularly complicated since the two countries are neighbors and you can simply cross the border by car with all your belongings. The process of applying for a visa trough the appropriate Canadian immigration program, having to gather all the supporting documents and having to fill out a large number of forms may prove to be the most difficult part.

Yes, if you are an American citizen, you may live in Canada. If your stay exceeds 180 days, you will most likely need a visa. You will also need a visa or work permit if you intend to work in Canada. Unless you apply for Canadian citizenship, you will always be considered an American citizen, including if you become a permanent resident of Canada.

The process will depend on the reason why you are moving and the length of your stay.

If you plan to settle permanently in Canada, the easiest way is to enter the Express Entry Pool. Express Entry is an online expedited immigration application system with a processing time of approximately six months. You will be assessed based on your skills, education and work history and you will receive a score that may earn you an invitation to apply for permanent resident status.

For stays longer than six months you will need to apply for a work or study permit. The length of your stay on this type of permit will depend on the length of your academic studies or the length of your job offer in Canada.

If you are planning to stay for just a few months, you may want to consider getting a visitor visa. A visitor's visa allows you to stay in the country for up to six months, with the possibility of renewing it 30 days before it expires.

In general, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers at a Canadian Port of Entry issue entry stamps valid for a period of up to six months from the date of entry for visitors. This period may be extended from within Canada.

Canada has over 100 merit-based immigration streams for skilled workers. These programs assess candidates based on their human capital, such as age, education, language skills, work experience, family ties in Canada, among other criteria.

U.S. residents and citizens may seek to immigrate as skilled workers through Express Entry. Those who already know which province or territory they plan to immigrate to, may be able to apply under one of the Provincial Nominee Programs. The Quebec Skilled Worker Program is also an option for those planning to settle in Quebec.

Canada assesses human capital criteria such as age, education, work experience, arranged employment, language skills and adaptability.

Federal skilled workers are selected under the Express Entry immigration system. Canadian provinces select internationally trained and experienced skilled workers based on the needs of employers their province through their respective Provincial Nominee Programs.

Express Entry is an electronic management application system for immigration to Canada.

It is not a new immigration program. Rather, it facilitates the selection and processing of Canada’s economic immigration programs:

Applicants submit an "expression of interest" (EOI) in immigrating to Canada and, if they are eligible for at least one of the aforementioned programs, they then enter the Express Entry pool, where they are ranking according to the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). The federal government then selects candidates from this pool, who receive an Invitation To Apply (ITA) for immigration to Canada under one of the programs. Express Entry moves Canada from a first come, first served (or supply-driven) system to an invitation to apply (or demand-driven) system. Modeled on similar systems in use in Australia and New Zealand, Express Entry aims to fast track the processing of skilled immigrants deemed most likely to succeed in Canada.

We have an entire FAQ page dedicated to Express Entry.

Canada uses a points-based system called the Comprehensive Ranking System(CRS) to score profiles in the Express Entry pool. Candidates are evaluated based on a number of factors including age, level of education, language ability, work experience, whether or not the individual has arranged employment in Canada, and certain adaptability factors.

Once the individual enters the pool by having created an Express Entry profile, he or she becomes a candidate and is ranked along with other candidates. The Express Entry pool is a competitive environment, with a points-based ranking system where candidates are awarded up to 1,200 points under the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). The government conducts periodic draws, in which the top-ranked candidates are issued an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for permanent residence.

In general, you need a visa or work permit to be allowed to work in Canada. US citizens or residents coming to Canada on business may stay in the country without a work permit for up to 6 months. There are types of jobs that may not require a work permit, they include athletes or those coming to work for Canadian charitable or religious organizations, among others.

The federal government offers streams such as the Start-Up Visa Program, the Self-Employed Program and there are various other entrepreneur immigration categories within the Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs). To learn more, review this Canada business immigration programs page.

In Canada work visas and employment authorizations are known as work permits. The work permit is a document issued by the Canadian government that authorizes a foreign national to work for a specific employer in a specific position. Most U.S. residents and citizens will require a work permit to work in Canada.

Foreign individuals wishing to obtain a work permit must meet a number of eligibility requirements depending on their location at the time of application. The type of work permit that can be obtained depends on the situation of each person. You can find more information here.

The length of a work permit is based on the nature of the employment in Canada and the work permit category under which you applied. It is possible to extend a work permit from within Canada, but some work permits have a maximum duration.

If you are applying under the Federal Skilled Worker Program and Federal Skilled Trades Program you will need to show that you have enough money to support yourself and your family for the first few months after you arrive in Canada. The required amount of settlement funds you will need depends on the size of your family unit. You will asked to provide a written proof that you can access that money if you invited to apply for permanent residence.

All immigrants who land in Canada must pay the Right of Permanent Residence Fee and cover expenses related to supporting documents, such as diplomas, certifications, photographs, credential assessment, language tests and medical examinations.

Foreign nationals may qualify for immigration to Canada without a Canadian job offer. The best option for those seeking to immigrate to Canada without a job offer is to apply for Express Entry . However, obtaining a valid Canadian job offer significantly increases your chances of being invited to apply for permanent residence in Canada.

Some of Canada's Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) and work permits do not require candidates to have a Canadian job offer in order to qualify.

The cost of living in Canada varies depending on where you decide to live. In general, the cost of living is higher in large cities than in smaller, more rural villages. Most Canadians spend 35% to 50% of their income on housing and utilities.

Like many countries, Canada adds sales taxes to many goods and services. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a tax imposed by the Canadian government that is added to the price of most goods and services. In most provinces, there is also a provincial sales tax (PST), which varies between 7% and 10%. Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Ontario combine the GST with the PST and call it the HST.

While Canada may have slightly higher taxes than the U.S. in general, health care and education costs are much lower.

Overall, your costs will depend on the lifestyle choices you will make.

Generally, your tuition and living expenses in Canada will be lower than in the U.S.

International students are also allowed to work during and after their studies in Canada so that they can earn income to support themselves and gain work experience.

Canada and the U.S. have a tax treaty which, in order to avoid double taxation and prevent tax evasion with respect to income and wealth taxes, should make moving to Canada as easy as possible. While one of the main differences between the two countries is that Canadian income tax law is based on residency (while U.S. tax law is based on citizenship), the Canada-U.S. tax treaty provides for several mechanisms known as foreign tax credits to ensure that the individual does not have to pay double taxes to both countries.

Canada has a public health care system that makes critical care accessible to all Canadian citizens and permanent residents, as well as some temporary residents. Canada's provinces and territories all have public health insurance plans to cover basic medical needs. It may take up to three months after arrival before health insurance begins in some provinces.

If you are not covered, make sure that you make it a priority to seek health care for you and your family as soon as you arrive. Also, it may be a good idea to get some form of private health insurance from an insurance company to cover you in case of an emergency until your provincial health insurance plan begins.

Yes, if you have a health issue it is possible that you are medically inadmissible to Canada. Medical inadmissibility comes about in one of two contexts:

  • The less common of these is medical inadmissibility that results from being assessed as a threat to the health of Canadians. This would be case for those afflicted with a communicable disease that poses a risk of proliferation within Canada. This is relatively rare as there are not many contagious illnesses or conditions that permanently affect one’s state of health. HIV and AIDS are examples of such a situation, and can be grounds for a determination of medical inadmissibility.
  • More often than not, medical inadmissibility is determined by assessing how large a strain a particular individual would put on the Canadian healthcare system. If one’s state of health requires significant and frequent medical intervention, that individual can be found medically inadmissible. There are no strict criteria or guidelines as to what constitutes medical inadmissibility in this context as this determination is made on a case by case basis. However, the cost of any medication required and the frequency with which one must see a medical specialist are among the factors that are considered.

You can bring your spouse or common-law partner and dependent children with you when you decide to immigrate to Canada.

Your spouse may be able to join you in Canada on an open work permit, which allows him or her to work for any employer in Canada without having to make a confirmed job offer. Also, if you have accompanying dependent children, they do not need a study permit to study at Canadian educational institutions.

Canada recognizes the inherent rights of same-sex couples before the law, and this extends to immigration.

Yes, but proof of the permission of the non-accompanying parent will be required in most cases. You will need to provide a notarized form.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) can refuse entry to any animal that does not meet its entry requirements. If you would like to know more about these requirements, click here.

Canada continues to process immigration applications during COVID-19. Canada has travel restrictions in place but those in the U.S. can still enter Canada during the pandemic as long as they fall under the list of exempted individuals.

Yes, this is possible. At any one time, many Americans are working in Canada with valid legal status but without permanent resident status.

Yes, in fact, obtaining a temporary work permit in Canada is often seen as a step towards permanent residence in Canada. People who already have an active temporary work permit in Canada have several ways to move from temporary work permit to permanent residence, including applying under Express Entry Programs.

The Express Entry Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) assigns points for human capital factors including work experience.

To be eligible for the Canadian Experience Class, you must have at least one year of skilled work experience in Canada and have gained your work experience by working in Canada while you were under temporary resident status.

If you are employed in Canada on a temporary work permit and the employer has made you an offer of employment for at least one year, you may also earn points under the Federal Skilled Worker Program.

Candidates may also choose to apply to one of the Provincial Nominee Programs. Provincial skilled worker programs usually require an employer to sponsor the candidate for admission to Canada. As a first step, candidates may receive temporary work permits to enter Canada while their permanent residence application is being processed.

Quebec is a unique place in the Canadian landscape. As Canada's only predominantly French-speaking province. Under the 1991 Canada-Quebec Accord, the Quebec government is responsible for selecting economic immigrants to the province, including skilled workers and entrepreneurs. This selection process is managed by the Quebec Ministry of Immigration, Francization and Integration (MIFI).

Foreign nationals who wish to settle in Quebec may do so under economic immigration programs such as:

Whether an individual or family may be given asylum or refugee status is not determined by nationality. What matters is how people are being treated and protected by the state that they are in. That being said, only a minuscule share of American refugee claimants are approved in Canada, and it is unlikely that an application for asylum or refugee status in Canada made by a U.S. citizen would be approved.

Under its 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan, Canada will aim to welcome over 400,000 immigrants a year. Canada will admit most of its newcomers in the economic class, the majority of whom (around 60%) arrive through programs such as Express Entry, the Provincial Nominee Program, and other federal programs such as the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program (AIP). Canada continues to increase immigration levels to maintain a strong economy.