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Everything You Need to Know About Moving From Canada to the US

Couple unpacking boxes with their child in their new home
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Whether you’re dreaming of moving from Canada to the United States for bigger and better work opportunities, to explore its diverse cultures and landscapes, or just for unlimited access to Trader Joe’s (relatable), there are some important things to know before getting to the border. In my experience, the process was endlessly overwhelming (so many things to keep track of!), but the payoff of starting fresh in a great new city that offered significantly higher salaries was so worth it. While everyone’s move will be different depending on factors like work, family and finances, here are all the things I wish I knew before making the big decision to move cross-border.

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Is It Cheaper to Live in Canada or the US?

Because prices can range so much in both Canada the United States, it really depends on where you’re moving from and where you’re moving to. In my experience moving from Toronto, Ontario to Austin, Texas, I’ve generally found things to be slightly more expensive with a few significant exceptions like gas. However, because salaries are typically higher in the United States (for example, the salary of Canada’s highest tax bracket is about half the salary of the United States’ highest tax bracket), it’s still possible to afford more even with things being slightly more expensive. Plus, income taxes vary significantly state by state, with some states like Texas, New Hampshire and Florida having no income tax, which can also have an impact on your quality of life.

Related: The Cheapest Places to Live in the World in 2024

Can I Live in the US as a Canadian Citizen?

The short answer is yes — but you’ll need to secure a visa first. Canadians can visit the United States as a tourist for six months in a 12 month period — anytime you cross the border you’re technically on a tourist visa. If you plan on staying longer than that or working while in the US, you’ll require a different visa, of which there are many kinds, and they all have different permissions.

What Kinds of American Visas Are There?

If you’ve been hired by an American company, their HR team will likely work with you on securing the best working visa for your job. Some of the most popular working visas for Canadians are TN, H-1B and L-1 — all of which are tied to your status as an employee at an American company. Other popular working visas for Canadians include the O-1 (AKA the extraordinary person’s visa — this is the visa that your favourite Canadian celebrities like Justin Bieber are typically on), and the E-1. If you’re planning on studying in the US or have family ties, there are many other visas to consider as well. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to American visas, so take time to research the one that might be best for you and your family.

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Related: Canada’s Sunniest Cities (and How Much It Costs to Live There)

Driving a vehicle across the border to new home
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Can I Move My Car From Canada to the US?

While you can technically move your car with you, many people choose not to because of the significant cost and effort that goes into formally importing a Canadian car to the United States. If you choose to do so, you’ll need to hire a US customs broker and ensure that your car meets all the US certifications and requirements, plus pay substantial fees, duties and taxes. While it may be worth it to import a newer car that meets the regulations, it’s generally recommended to sell a car in Canada if it’s older or of lesser value and then buy a new car in the United States.

Can I Make Big Purchases After Moving From Canada to the US?

Your Canadian credit score won’t transfer to the United States, so one of the first things to do upon arrival is set up a bank account and apply for a credit card to start building your credit. If you were recently hired at an American company, a proof of employment letter could help in securing a credit card. Unsurprisingly, the lack of credit score makes it difficult to secure loans from the bank for big purchases like cars or houses. Because of this you may need to seek alternative financing options and use your proof of employment as leverage. You’ll likely need to work up your credit over a few years before purchasing a home.

Related: 10 Things You Need to Remember Before Signing a New Lease in 2024

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Do I Need to Close My Canadian Bank Accounts Before Moving to the US?

You don’t need to close your Canadian bank accounts, but it’s recommended to liquidate your TFSA for tax purposes. While your TFSA would be exempt from Canadian tax, it wouldn’t be exempt from US tax, which can be very steep, not to mention the filing itself which is complex and costly.

Young woman hugging her dog
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Can I Move My Pet From Canada to the US?

Moving your pet across the border is actually fairly simple. Every state has different requirements, so be sure to double check based on where you’re moving to. The standard requirements are a certificate of health provided by your vet no more than 10 days before travel, proof of rabies vaccine and proof of pet ownership. Beyond that, if you’re planning on flying with the pet, know that most airlines require pets over 20 pounds to fly in the cargo, if they allow pets at all. Contact your airline to confirm space on the plane and any other requirements like crate size, breed allowances and weight restrictions. In my experience, we actually had to change our travel plans because the flight we originally planned on taking couldn’t fly with pets in the cargo during certain months of the year because of temperature. Doing research in advance can help avoid any moving day mishaps.

Related: 12 Stylish Pet Accessories Your Home Needs This Year (Ditch the Cat Tree)

Is It Worth It to Consult an Immigration Lawyer and Tax Lawyer?

In my experience, absolutely. While it may feel like everything is Googleable in this day and age, when it comes to immigration and tax laws, it’s just not the case. Although helpful articles abound (like this one!), the process of moving across the border is deeply complex and deserves expert consultation. While it’s not necessarily impossible to accomplish without expert advice, having someone in your corner who’s intricately familiar with the fine print will make the process as seamless as possible, and will also ensure you’re not unintentionally violating any costly immigration or tax laws.

Read more: Best Places for Canadians Under 35 to Live Abroad in 2024

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