Canada: The Trouble With a Northern Escape Plan
When I lived abroad, some of the fellow global wanderers I got to know were Canadians. One sure way to get on their wrong side was to ask what part of the States they were from… which could easily happen if they hadn’t yet said “about.”
It wasn’t that they disliked the U.S. – although there was some of that, especially circa 2003 to 2004 – they were just frustrated that if you speak as we do, you must be American by default. In other words, they disliked being seen as appendages of the mighty republic to their south.
Canada has always attracted some Americans. Thousands of us served in their military from 1939 to 1942. During the Vietnam War, absconding to Canada was quite popular, as I recall. But all in all, amongst Americans, Canada is more popular as a butt of silly and inaccurate jokes and stereotypes than as a place to live.
Recently, however, Internet searches for “moving to Canada” have suddenly spiked to all-time highs in the U.S. (and the U.K.). I’m sure you can guess the push factors.
The question is: Can Americans actually get in? I set out to answer that question, and what I found wasn’t encouraging…
Oh, Canada. Land of ice hockey, geese, “eh,” plaid shirts and Bob and Doug McKenzie. What’s not to like, right?
There are plenty of Americans who spend a lot of time in Canada. U.S. citizens are allowed to stay in the country for less than six months within a one-year period without a visa or other special paperwork. Many Americans summer there and winter in the U.S. But six months each year is the maximum.
Some Americans can even work temporarily in Canada without a visa. For example, I have a friend who is a hunting guide who often takes goose-hunting parties out in Manitoba during the U.S. summer.
When it comes to permanent residence and citizenship, however, Canada isn’t so welcoming. Like Australia and New Zealand, it sets a high bar for foreigners wanting to live there permanently.
Canada has no formal retirement visa program. Your only option is to apply for an investment visa as a retired person. In this respect, the Canadian government considers your ability to work and support yourself, just like any other immigrant. If you’re well-educated and speak fluent English (even better, French), you’re more likely to qualify. Similarly, even though you’re retired, it helps if you can demonstrate that you have financial resources to take care of yourself and your family. If you have funds to invest in Canada, that’s another plus.
If you have a child or grandchild who is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, however, you may be eligible for the parent and grandparent super visa, which allows you to remain in Canada for up to two years.
Countries like Panama or Costa Rica have visa programs that allow you to live there on the proceeds of work that you perform abroad, like an Internet-based consultancy, since it doesn’t involve competing with locals for work. Canada doesn’t have anything like this. The only way you can obtain residence as a self-employed person is to be a “cultural worker” (e.g., artist) or farmer.