Canadian Immigration Guide

Interested in moving to Canada? Here’s what you need to know:

Canada: Quick Facts

  • Though it is second largest country in the world, Canada has an average population density of only ~3.1 people/sq. km. (~38.6 million inhabitants).
  • Canada was formed by the union of former British colonies. It is a parliamentary democracy, and the official head of state is the acting UK monarch. In practice, much of the power in the country lies with the acting Canadian Prime Minister.
  • Neighbours only one country – the United States (with which it shares a 9,000 km long border – the longest land border between two countries). 90% of Canadians live within 200 miles of the U.S. border.
  • Divided into 10 provinces (including the French-speaking province of Quebec) and three territories (Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon).
  • One of the most developed countries in the world, with a per capita GDP of ~$45,000 (top 15 in the world). Has an economy driven primarily by petroleum related industries (Canada purportedly has the third largest global oil reserves), mining, manufacturing, and services.
  • One of the most popular immigrant destinations in the world, Canada has a welcoming culture and an extensive support system for newcomers.
  • Canadians are known around the world as a friendly and polite bunch.
  • Canada’s largest city, Toronto, is considered the most ethnically diverse city in the world.

Practical Information

  • Currency: Canadian Dollar (CAD)
  • Spoken languages: English and French are the official languages (the latter is primarily spoken in the province of Quebec). According to a recent census, 20% of the population speaks a language other than English or French at home.
  • Major religions: Roman Catholic (42%), Protestant (23%), Non-religious (16%), other Christian (4.4%), Muslim (1.9%).
  • Largest cities: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa (capital), and Calgary.

Why move to Canada

  • Canada is known for its high quality of life. Major cities (Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary) consistently rank in the world Top 10 for live-ability. On the whole, Canada is a peaceful place – with clean air, well maintained infrastructure, and friendly people.
  • Economically, it is a stable country, with a solid banking system and very little corruption. Unemployment rates tend to be low (recently, however, this has not quite been the case. More below).
  • Considered by some expats to have a good mix of American lifestyle/culture and European “socialist” benefits (such as the public healthcare system, with basic care free for all citizens and permanent residents).
  • Canadian cities are some of the safest in the world, with very low crime rates.
  • It is a beautiful and colourful country, with a diverse range of climates and natural settings. Nature lovers (as well as fans of winter sports) will find themselves right at home.
  • While there are always exceptions, Canadians are respectful of each other (and of the law), polite, and welcoming to newcomers.
  • Many find that moving to Canada is actually treading a well-beaten path. There are existing communities of every major ethnic group, making assimilation into the country even easier. There is no pressure to drop one’s customs in favour of Canada’s – the immigration model is more of peaceful coexistence than of forced integration. As a consequence, one is able to find great food from all major world cuisines in the major cities (especially in the Greater Toronto Area).
  • While it only has a few major cities, they are distinct and varied. Toronto is the “big city” and the entertainment/business centre, while Montreal is more focused on the arts (and has great nightlife). Vancouver is all about nature and the outdoors, while Calgary offers a booming resource-based economy. There’s something in Canada for everyone.
  • Canada is a great place to raise a family. There are good schools, and primary/secondary education is free for everyone. At the post-secondary level, Canada has a few world-class Universities (e.g. Univ. of Toronto, McGill, Waterloo), with relatively affordable tuition (typically no more than ~10,000 CAD/year, an attractive rate when compared to similar institutions across the border in the United States).
  • Perhaps most importantly, Canadian permanent residency (and subsequently, citizenship) can be obtained relatively quickly – please see the section on Residency and Citizenship below. When it comes to making the country your new home, Canada is much more accessible than the USA.
Cityscape of Toronto, Canada
Condos and office towers are sprouting all over Toronto’s downtown core

Reasons not to move to Canada

Note: these are common expat complaints, and may not apply to you.

  • Many believe that Canadian real estate is significantly overvalued and that the property market (especially in the major metropolitan areas) is a bubble waiting to pop. Years of lax lending and interest from foreign investors have turned Canadian residential real estate into a high-stakes game of speculation – a game not every new immigrant is interested in playing.
  • All the benefits of living in Canada (e.g. healthcare, great public schools) come at a price – be prepared to pay high income taxes (for an estimate, see the WealthSimple calculator).
  • There’s just no getting around it – Canada is cold. Winters are long, and blizzards are common. While British Columbia has a milder climate (the average January temperature is 4 C in Vancouver, compared to -5 C in Toronto), it is not immune to snowstorms. Many immigrants find it hard to get used to short winter days (and early sunsets), and come to dislike the drudgery of gearing up in foul weather clothing daily. The Canadian winter is not to be underestimated.
  • While the economy is good (and skilled labourers are always in short supply), many young Canadians end up leaving the country in search of areas of greater opportunity (e.g. professionals moving to the USA for tech/finance/biotech jobs).
  • Things move slowly in Canada, and those with a thirst for adventure realize they must look elsewhere. The safety and stability of Canada is not for everyone (some go so far as to call the country “boring”).
  • The country is severely behind in terms of cellular and internet services – plans are expensive, and data transfer is typically capped at a certain number of GB/month (with penalties for going over). A few companies dominate the market, and new entrants find it difficult to compete.
  • While there’s healthcare, Canada is not entirely a European-style socialist utopia. Working hours are similar to that of the USA, and vacation policy follows a similar trend (typically just two weeks paid holiday for most workers).
  • Even if you live on the coasts (e.g. in Vancouver or Toronto), Canadian cities are far from most popular holiday destinations (with the exception of the USA and the Caribbean). Additionally, airfare is expensive (even for domestic flights).
  • With the exception of prescription medicine, everything is more expensive than in the USA. Goods and services are not as readily available. Many make the mistake of coming to Canada under the impression that they will get all the benefits of living in the States (and none of the downsides) – this is simply not the case.

Getting a Visa and Finding Work

The following are the most common paths to living and working in Canada. As a general rule, both temporary and permanent work seekers are advised to check the CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) website for the latest information on various work permits and details about eligibility and application procedures.

  • To enter as a Temporary Foreign Worker, you must first receive a job offer from a Canadian employer and a LMO (Labour Market Opinion) from ESDC (Employment and Social Development Canada) to verify that it is indeed a legitimate job and your skills are relevant. Those typically on TFW status include: caregivers (nannies), agricultural workers, and low-skilled labourers.
  • The Federal Skilled Worker program is a fast-track to Canadian permanent residency for those who meet the eligibility criteria (based on work experience, competency in English and/or French, education credentials, age, proof of funds, and whether you have already secured an offer from a Canadian employer). Foreign PhD students studying at a Canadian University typically apply for this status. In general, candidates are evaluated on a point-system, with a pass mark of 67/100 (please see point chart here). Note: the province of Quebec has its own policies for determining eligibility.
  • The International Experience Canada program (formerly the Working Holiday Visa) is a way for youth (18-35 years of age) of select countries to live and work in Canada for up to one year. To see the full list of eligible countries, please see the official IEC website.
  • Canada has a specific program for Live-in Caregivers – those who care for the children, the elderly, and the disabled. Caregivers admitted under this program must live in the home where they work.
  • Students: it is possible to work in Canada as a student (generally called “work-study”).

Permanent Residency and Citizenship

  • Becoming a Permanent Resident: one does this by either applying for a change of status from temporary resident (CEC program) to permanent resident, or by applying directly for PR status. The CEC (Canadian Experience Class) program is for those who are already temporarily residing in Canada (e.g. a foreign student with the appropriate work experience). Otherwise, the categories of people eligible for Canadian PR status include: Federal skilled workers/trades, start-up founders, live-in caregivers, those with family sponsorship in Canada, provincial nominees, and refugees (Note: Canada is not currently accepting new investor and “federal entrepreneur” applications). Please see the official PR Processing times page for estimated wait times most relevant to your status in Canada. One risks losing Canadian PR status if out of the country for more than three years in a five-year period.
  • Becoming a Canadian citizen: to apply for citizenship, one must have resided in Canada for at least three years in the past four-year period prior to application, hold a valid PR card, have adequate knowledge of English and/or French, be able to demonstrate knowledge of Canadian geography and politics by passing a Citizenship test, and be deemed a resident in good standing.

Starting a Business in Canada

With a large and experienced pool of employees, strong focus on R&D, various government incentives, economic freedom, Canada is an attractive choice for entrepreneurs. There are four programs designed to bring experienced businesspeople to Canada: the Start-up visa, Self-employment program, Immigrant Investor program, and Federal Entrepreneur program.

  • Start-up visa: to qualify, one must obtain a Letter of Support from a designated angel investor group, participating venture capital fund, or a business incubator. Knowledge of English or French is required, as well as proof of completion of at least one-year of post-secondary education. Most importantly, an investment of at least CAD $200,000 is required if applying through a VC fund (or $75,000 from a registered angel investor). See the official Start-up visa webpage for more information.
  • Self-employed program: for those who have taken part in “cultural activities or athletics at the world class level” or with farm management experience. See official site.
  • Immigrant Investor Program (IIP): for those willing to invest at least CAD $800,000 in the Canadian economy (to be returned, without interest, ~5 years after payment). To be eligible, one must have a net worth of at least CAD $1.6M (with proof that it was gained through legal means).
    UPDATE: the IIP is now CLOSED, but you may still be able to apply through the Quebec investor program (see official website for more information). To participate, you must make a 5-year investment of C$1,200,000.
  • Federal Entrepreneur Program: closed as of 2011.

Links & Resources

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