11 votes

Americans who expatriated from the US to Canada--or Canadians who know them--how are you/they faring?

I'm interested in all responses, but if the answer is "well" or better and the following are factors that contributed to that sense of well-being, could you divulge your job industry, if applicable, and/or the Canadian city where you currently reside? (If privacy-minded or jealously guarding a secret utopia, province would suffice. Thank you.)

About me: besides the current political and lazy-to-anti-intellectual climate of the US, I'm pressingly concerned about global warming; after a dozen years of living in and around refreshing Seattle (compared to southern California), I had to give in and buy an air conditioner this summer. Anecdotally, it seems to be a trend.


  1. [3]
    This is not my personal experience. I found this elsewhere on the internet. As an American liberal who legally moved to Canada in 2004, here were my biggest surprises: “Canada, it’s like a whole...

    This is not my personal experience. I found this elsewhere on the internet.

    As an American liberal who legally moved to Canada in 2004, here were my biggest surprises:

    “Canada, it’s like a whole other country!” — As dumb as it sounds, and as educated and informed as I felt like I was at the time I moved, I still drastically underestimated the impacts of an international move in general:

    All the paperwork to apply for all those documents you’ve “always had” in the States, like Social Insurance Number and vehicle registration and driver’s license and brand new bank accounts and so on, in addition to the standard moving stuff like apartment hunting and setting up electricity and internet. Not to mention it’s just a lot of work reapplying for all those things all at the same time, when you had 30+ years to accumulate them the first time.

    It’s suddenly an international call to talk to friends and family in the US, and unless you want to pay crazy US roaming fees forever, you’re going to want to switch to a Canadian mobility provider ASAP, which may also mean you need to pay off your remaining device balance. A pain, when the move itself is already expensive.

    If your car isn’t paid off, most auto loans explicitly forbid you from skipping the country with it unless you settle up or sell it. This was a huge unexpected expense for me. I elected to pay it off and ship it. In retrospect, I should have just sold it. Either way, it’s a big cash investment.

    Also, all your life savings? It’s in the wrong currency now. Start coming up with a plan for that.

    Oh, and credit rating? Back to zero. It’s like you just turned 18 again. Buying a house is about the only thing lenders will check foreign credit history for; otherwise you’re starting from nothing. And until you’re at least a permanent resident, be prepared to be asked for a Canadian co-signer to be approved for home loans. You probably take your current credit cards for granted, but they’re in the wrong currency too (conversion fee to use them, and second fee to pay them), and without any credit history your first Canadian one will likely require a security deposit, and it will take at least a year before you’re trusted with an unsecured one. (By the way, find a way to keep at least one US card somehow, with a US billing address. Another mistake I made.)

    All your favourite products and services you’ve spent a lifetime in the US developing habits around? They’re all “imports” now. Unless you’re made of money you’ll have to change your buying habits to figure out the Canadian-owned department stores, clothes retailers, hardware stores, etc. Even California wine and Jack Daniels whiskey are now found in the “imports” section, too, and priced accordingly (yes, of course many people still drink them, but a lot fewer when they suddenly cost so much more than similar quality local products). The Banana Republic pants that were my default nice work wear jumped from $70USD a pair to $180CAD a pair. When I was already cash-strapped from the move, it was time to find some Canadian pants I liked, fast.

    Similarly, many online services (Pandora, Hulu, certain Youtube videos) aren’t licensed to work here at all, and many e-commerce sites (that never say “US-only” anywhere on them) don’t ship here, or at best the international shipping costs are prohibitive. Some of them you don’t even figure out until you’ve gone through the entire shopping and checkout process only to have it choke on your shipping address or postal code. You’ll learn to really love any websites that have a .ca at the end because at least you’ll know they work here.

    If you follow politics (as most Americans interested in becoming expats for political reasons do), you’ll find the parliamentary system in Canada very different. Expect to understand very little of the political news until you’ve had a chance to learn how it works.

    And generally, stuff just feels different, and the general sense of alienation you feel at first is palpable. No one thing is hugely different, but a relentless flood of thousands of things are at least a little bit different all the time, giving you a constant Twilight Zone feeling for the first year or so. If you moved to China the differences would be no surprise, but for some reason Americans moving to Canada assume that things will be way more the same than they are.

    You’re an immigrant now. People will point out your American-looking clothes (you don’t believe me, but I’m serious), your funny figures of speech, your strange proclivity for imperial / US customary instead of metric units. Government processes will point out at every opportunity that you’re a newcomer here, and until you obtain permanent residence and citizenship, remind you not to get too comfortable since you’re only a visitor. You know all those Americans constantly asking “I don’t know why those people don’t just go back where they came from…” and “They’re taking our jobs…” and so on? At least many of “those people” were fleeing poverty and famine and war. Now you’re one of those people, and don’t really have a compelling life-and-death reason for being here. The vast majority of people are nice about it, but a few aren’t, especially if they’re unemployed or have an axe to grind, and all it takes is one of those comments every few days (even if it wasn’t even aimed at you specifically) to make you wonder if you’re really welcome here. Some Canadians seem to be bitter at Americans in general, so you have to have a thick skin and realize it’s not personal, and a lot of the time they’re just criticizing Americans in general for the same things you already criticize right-wing Americans for.

    “Once you’re here, you’re here.” Every visit to the States is an international trip, and your initial immigration status (especially if it’s a work permit visa) may place limitations on when and how you can cross the border, and your income taxes definitely place a limitation on how many days you can spend out of the country and/or specifically in the US. Prepare to feel a little bit trapped at first. At some points of the immigration process, you’re not allowed to leave the country at all for several weeks or months at a time. I always feared Murphy’s Law would mean a family crisis would choose exactly one of those times to happen. Oh, also, the US is one of only two countries in the world that requires you to file income taxes for life, in addition to FBAR financial reporting requirements for practically every dollar you own outside the US — you’ll come to resent this quickly, but it’s a good horror story to tell Canadians thinking about US citizenship.

    Others mentioned the metric system, and it wasn’t that per se (the adjustment from Fahrenheit to Celsius for weather reports and thermostats being the hardest, but otherwise most Americans know some metric from school), but the approach for some measurements in general is really different. Like how car mileage is measured in L/100Km instead of miles per gallon, so it’s totally upside down, with good fuel economy being a LOWER number like 10 and bad economy being 20, rather than the other way around. Gas prices in $CAD/Litre also take some getting used to, especially since the prices are much higher too — you basically just have to learn what’s good again (“$1.25/Litre? I need to remember that place!”) EDIT: It’s been pointed out to me that 10L/100Km is still pretty bad. See? I’m still struggling with this one.

    If you’re a gun aficionado, frankly, just forget it. When Americans rail on about gun ownership being a right, many Canadians view that almost as barbaric and backward as saying slave ownership is a “right” or forcing your daughter to marry the person of your choice is a “right.” Yes, there’s a well-defined process for legally owning a firearm, and a not insignificant number of Canadians do, but gun ownership is just talked about differently here; if anything, it’s a more of a practical necessity (like if you live in the Yukon and have to fend off bears), and therefore the Canadians who do own guns mostly view it as a dangerous and special privilege. And from a practical consideration, getting licensed to own and handle a gun in Canada is something that happens before you’re allowed to own your first gun, not after, so it’s no big deal for anyone who grew up here, but a total reset for someone who’s a new arrival: you’d have to sell most or all of your collection until you got your paperwork in order and could buy a gun again, would feel really uncomfortable with all the sudden regulatory hoops, and even after that constantly feel like you had a hobby that a lot of Canadians considered sort of “dirty.” I really can’t imagine any dedicated American gun fan feeling happy with the consequences to them of moving to Canada, and it’s the one American demographic for whom I think it’s a non-starter.

    Winters are long and dark. Coming from many places in the US, the latitude difference is significant. I never even realized I suffered from SAD until I moved here. Now it’s a challenge that haunts me 3–4 months out of every year. Especially in Vancouver, it’s not the winter cold that gets you — it’s the only 8 hours a day of daylight, most of those even being covered by relentless thick clouds for days or weeks at a time. It’s worth visiting in the winter first to see how the weather and the darkness affect you, because it’s hard (and costly) to change your mind after you’ve moved.

    No matter what you think, you ARE a racist and sexist, and Canada will prove it to you. You may be the nicest, most open-minded American you know, but immediately after you arrive in Canada it will strike you as “odd” that so many public leaders and people running for office in Canada or even faces on realtor signs are women, people of colour, recent immigrants, or people whose clothes make it clear they’re members of non-Christian religions. And you’ll wonder why. And then you’ll realize that even in urban, liberal constituencies in the US, the huge majority of people in power are old white Protestant Christian males, and your whole life you’d accepted that as what people in power simply look like. But that’s part of why you’re here: It will make you a better person, and readjust your assumptions about what makes an “average” person. But learning this about yourself can feel shameful and depressing initially, especially if you pride yourself on being open-minded. It happened to me.

    But on the flip side, Canada really gets it right — the things that many American liberals dream of. There are some “honeymoon is over” moments when you realize paperwork is always annoying no matter what country you live in, but in general, things here are good. After the first little while of fighting through the healthcare registration process, for example, you’ll find the actual experience pretty nice (especially emergency room visits — no paperwork at all other than your health card, and no bill at the end), and you’ll be genuinely baffled by conservative Canadians who claim they’d like it better the American way. Those are often fun conversations (“And then in the US your private insurance company gives you a book or website with the list of the 30% or so doctors in town that are eligible for you to go to under their specific plan, and even then, your insurance may just decide it doesn’t want to pay them half the time and there’s almost nothing you can do about it….”) Same goes for government, schools, labyrinthine American income taxes versus the simpler Canadian ones, and so on. It’s not black and white, but on the average, things up here are definitely better. Just definitely different.

    Best of luck.


    10 votes
    1. 39hp
      Link Parent
      I’ve been thinking of looking for a PostDoc in Canada, this wa super helpful to read!

      I’ve been thinking of looking for a PostDoc in Canada, this wa super helpful to read!

      2 votes
    2. nic
      Link Parent
      Excellent summary. After about ten years, you will go home, and realize it isn't really home anymore. You've changed. Home has changed. Congratulations. You are now more Canadian than American.

      Excellent summary.

      After about ten years, you will go home, and realize it isn't really home anymore. You've changed. Home has changed. Congratulations. You are now more Canadian than American.

      1 vote
  2. patience_limited
    I've got an "in" for immigration since one parent was Canadian, and it's been much on my mind. Growing up in the Detroit area (all those easy cross-border trips, and more than a few...

    I've got an "in" for immigration since one parent was Canadian, and it's been much on my mind.

    Growing up in the Detroit area (all those easy cross-border trips, and more than a few Canadian/Quebecois relatives), the culture and weather are familiar. The province of Quebec is worth a whole chapter in itself. I had a few visits while the separatists were agitating particularly hard; one schoolteacher cousin was in danger of dismissal for letting her students hear her speak in English.

    A number of years ago, one of the slightly perturbing oddities was much tighter regulation of certain kinds of pornography. Consensual BDSM material, however mild or even non-sexual, was essentially banned, even in comic book form, as "violent and degrading". I don't know if this is still the case.

    A trans friend emigrated to Canada so she could get married legally, and is a very, very loyal citizen of the country now.

    However, the immigration points system is not at all friendly if you're past 40 or so - Canada doesn't want our unmitigated healthcare burden.

    2 votes