Staying in Canada 101: Notes from an American Traveller

I came to Canada for love and ended up loving Canada too…but in the midst of an…interesting…election year for US citizens, many friends and family are jokingly (but not really) stating they’ll move to Canada. Heck, some people are just curious about the process and what I’ve been doing paperwork wise. It’s been a huge learning experience, even though it hasn’t been easy. The silver lining is that I’m able to sympathize with immigrates now…because I am one!

For those interested or just curious, I’m sharing my notes about crossing the border into Canada. Keep in mind, this is an American going to Canada. Also, I’d like to dispel a few myths I hear on both sides of the border.

Note 001 – Your Go-To Source:

Is the “CIC” or Citizenship and Immigration Canada. This site is the center of everything you’d have to deal with:

Even if you just want to visit, study, or work in Canada, even for a little bit, you have to work with the CIC.

Keep in mind, their step-by-step “are you qualified” format isn’t prefect. If it says you’re ineligible, you still might be. Just because it says you’re eligible, doesn’t mean you’ll get approved.

Note 002 – For Everything Else, There’s Forums

The wording for immigration documents is confusing, even for me – a self proclaimed super nerd that reads dictionaries for fun. I can’t imagine the confusion a non-native English speaker feels trying to understand what they want. Also, there’s questions about taxes or tips or a need for friendship with people going through the same thing…
My favorite forum has been Canada Visa Forum. It’s not an official forum or even run by the CIC, but it’s a community of people who’ve been there and done that. They’ve helped me so much!

Note 003 – When to Lawyer Up

You don’t need an attorney, unless your case is special. I recommend asking for help if you have unusual things like a criminal background, children from another marriage, advanced health complications, or other things that might make paperwork extra difficult. Keep in mind, they can be expensive. I’ve only needed one to verify certain documents.

Common Myth – Marriage Isn’t a Golden Ticket

One myth I hear everywhere is that you can just marry someone from another country and BAM! “You’re a citizen and you can work and do whatever you want!” False.
First of all, marriage isn’t a golden ticket anywhere. The country does not have to recognize the marriage. Also, some countries will allow the spouse to live in the country, but not work or study. Citizenship is also not transferred (Canada or US) automatically to anyone by marriage. You have to do paperwork!
Basically, all those fools getting married for fraud…are doing more work than necessary. There are lots of options. Plus, marriage simply for hopes of citizenship or permits…is a crime.

The awesome thing about Canada is that it acknowledges same-sex marriage and common law couples!

If you want to visit, like a vacation

If you’re a US citizen or common wealth nation, visiting is pretty easy. As an American, I was able to visit Canada for up to six months without fancy paperwork, as long as I didn’t work or go to school without a permit. However, a helpful tip if you are dating an Canadian or plan to stay there longer in the future, you can request a visitor record at the border. This creates a document trail of your visits and that you comply with the laws. If you plan to stay longer than six months, you’ll need to apply for a visitor visa.

Visiting another country is a privilege, not a right. It’s cool though, because as an American you can stay in Canada on vacation for six months. I guess if you have the money saved up that would be one heck of a vacation!

If you want to extend your stay past six months

You’ll need to apply for a visitor visa extension.
Initial Fee: $200 or more Canadian Dollars (CAD) to start and $100 to apply for further extensions.
They may ask you to provide:
1. Recent photo with certain specifications (the most awkward selfie I’ve ever taken)
2. Letter of explanation
3. Proof of financial support
4. You have to fill out two documents: forms IMM5257B and IMM5708E
5. Passport and/or visitor documents
>>> You can apply and pay online! Nice.


If you want to work in Canada

This is where things get sticky. I tried this…and it’s way harder than one might think. It’s preferred that you have a special skill, high education, be a farmer, or some other experience that’s beneficial to Canada. Bi- or Multi- lingual is a plus!
1. Job Offer
2. Job must pay fees and receive LMIA (it’s the LMIA that’s tricky, since the criteria is hard.)
 > There are exemptions to the LMIA, but they’re very specific – like actors doing a short gig in Canada…like circus performers.
3. Take the job offer and LMIA acceptance number and apply for a temporary work permit.
4. If accepted…then you work for allotted time at said job. This is not an open work permit.
Fees: Starts at $165 for the work permit.

Other Costs and Documents: Background check, medical exam, transportation, yearly renewal of work permit, and extra tax forms during tax season, living expenses, language test, up to date passport, etc.

Check out: CIC Work in Canada

The plus side of a work permit: if you have family, like a spouse, they may be to apply for a work permit as well so they can stay with you!

If you want to work anywhere in Canada

Well, you can’t really unless you meet special requirements. You’ll want an open work permit to work at different jobs. A regular work permit is only for a specific employer and job. There are also limitations to an open work permit.
You can apply for an open work permit if you have ties to Canada, such as a Canadian spouse or family that you plan to stay with, or you have refugee status, or in a special program.
Note: Just because you can apply doesn’t mean you’ll be approved!
It is possible to join a special program that let’s you work and stay in Canada for a bit. It’s great for students! Start with the International Experience Canada page!

If you are self-employed

The wait for a self-employed work permit to be accepted is an average of 99 months. Oh, wait. I just checked the site again…we’re down to 95 months.
That’s wanting to immigrant into Canada as self-employed. I stopped researching after that figuring it was too much for me!
There are multiple ways to immigrate under what they call Economic Class: Permanent Under Eco Class
If you’re still interested, the fee for permanent residency under Economic Class as self-employed is $1050 and the wait is average. I’m not sure if actually takes that long!

Immigrating To Canada: Different Paths of Immigration

These different paths include: humanitarian causes, farmers wanted to start a farm in Canada, investors, child-care/in-home care givers, and even a special start-up business path!

Yes, that’s right. You can start a business in Canada and immigrate that way! Just click on the above link and select “Start-up business class”.

If You are actually marrying, or in a serious relationship with a Canadian

Then you and your significant other (the Canadian) can apply for Permanent Residency. This means your partner applies to sponsor you, and once approved, you can apply for permanent resident status, allowing you to live and work in Canada (with limits).

They used to have fiance visas, but not anymore.

Permanent Residence is a bit more complicated. You have to pick one of two avenues: Outland or Inland.

Outland: You can live in your home, or another, country while doing the process; however you can be called into an interview at their office. For US citizens, that means you could be called into the New York, NY or Los Angeles office for an interview. The neat side of an outland application is that you are allowed to work after it’s approved. It tends to process faster, depending on the case, and allows the applicant to visit.

Inland: You can stay in Canada, but you can’t work without a permit. You have to apply for an extended visitor visa to stay, but since it takes so long, you may apply for a work permit while the process is happening (after you’ve already applied for permanent resident status).

After you choose which one works best for your case, next step is:


Your significant, Canadian other can sponsor you under: Married Spouse, Common Law Spouse, or Conjugal relationship.
Married: You have to follow the laws of wherever you get married. In some provinces you have to provide further documents if you’ve ever been married before and if you have dependent children.
Common Law Spouse: If you have lived together for over a year as a couple (Be sure to check laws of the province!)

Conjugal: Applies to couples who cannot be together because of religious, political, or other conflicts that prevent them from living together or being married. You have to prove it.

Family Member: Grandparents, children, or other dependents.

After you’ve selected the right path, you’ll need to collect documents and pay fees. This depends on the country of origin of the sponsored spouse (the not Canadian person) and if they are bringing family with them.

The fee to apply starts at about $1040, not included the medical exam, background check, and other things you might need. BUT you get to stay with your partner, working and living in Canada! There are limits, of course, but they are fair limits, like not running for political office in Canada.

Note:You don’t have to be rich. There’s no minimum income requirement for sponsorship, you just have to explain how you and your family will live. Where will you live? How will you pay for it? So on…

Permanent Residence Permits expire! Some are issued for five years or one year. You have to renew 6 months before the expiration date.

Yo, I just want to study in Canada

You have to apply for a student permit, which is a much lower fee than normal. The catch is getting funding for school and where you’ll live. If you get accepted into a Canadian school, just apply for a student visa. If approved, you can apply for a work permit so you can work while studying. After graduating you can apply for a special extension to work and live in Canada a little while after.
Fee: $150


There’s More

There’s a lot more actually, but this is just a 101 post. I’ll share more as time passes and I learn more myself…but this is your jumping off point if you are interested. All fees were listed as Canadian Dollar value.
If you have any questions, just ask! Keep in mind, I’m not an expert or an immigration lawyer. Just an American girl in love with a Canadian guy. 🙂 Let me know what other topics I should blog about!

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