So you want to move to Canada?

All you need to know about becoming a legal resident. Tip No. 1: Brush up on the prairie provinces.

By Kevin Berger
Published November 5, 2004 2:38AM (UTC)
main article image

David Cohen, partner of Cohen-Campbell, a leading Canadian immigration law firm, had barely settled into work Wednesday morning when his phone started ringing with Americans seeking legal guidance to taking up residence in the land of the maple leaf. The Bush victory did it, they told him: America's shift to the right had finally squeezed them out of their own country. Farewell Ten Commandment statues in public squares, hello single-payer healthcare.

So just how hard is it for an American to become a Canuck? A recent Harper's article suggested that bailing from Dick Cheneyville entailed a rather onerous legal dance. "It's not difficult at all," says Cohen. Basically all you need is a B.A. and a passing fluency in English and "Bingo, you're in."


Canada wants you. Turns out the populace, not too big on breeding, is not getting any younger. Our neighbors to the north need 1 percent of new immigrants every year just to keep their population of 31 million from shrinking. Bad for the economy and all that.

Interestingly, not many Americans decide to remake their lives in Canada. In 2002, only 5,288 Yankees immigrated there, compared to 14,164 folks from Pakistan. However, Cohen says his business among Americans has picked up considerably in the past year. He's received numerous calls from "parents who have lived through the Vietnam era and now have children soon to be draft age."

To put down roots in Canada, you need a permanent residence visa. First, you fill out a score card that awards you points for who you are -- you're shooting for 67. That B.A. in communications from Chico State will do the trick but so will two years as a tradesperson; Manitoba is always looking for good sheet-metal workers. If you only have a high school education but sold that software program you wrote in your bedroom one night to Oracle -- that is, you have a net worth of $200,000 -- start packing, you're Canada's kind of person. There is, however, a little bit of a Gattaca thing going. You get more points for being under 49 years old.


One warning: "Don't all of a sudden show up with a U-Haul trailer and all of your personal belongings in it," says Cohen. That's a legal offense called "centralizing your mode of living" and will quickly earn you official Canadian directions back to America. If the prospect of living one more day in Bush Land has you leaving tomorrow, better start looking for a job once you get to Canada. You can bop around for six months; after that, you need a work permit to stay longer.

Now, if you're really ambitious, and can't stand the thought of calling yourself an American while Donald Rumsfeld walks in the White House rose garden, you can apply for Canadian citizenship. Which requires passing a civics test and naming the three prairie provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta). That will earn you the right to vote and discuss Wayne Gretzky's early years with the Oilers.

Keep in mind, red tape being what it is -- and provided you don't break any major Canadian laws like littering -- it will take one year to get a permanent visa and three more years to earn citizenship. By that time, the political scene back home could look a whole lot different.


Finally, you may want to think kind thoughts about American founding father George Washington before you recite Canada's Oath of Citizenship: " I swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada."

Kevin Berger

Kevin Berger is the former features editor at Salon.

MORE FROM Kevin Berger

Related Topics ------------------------------------------