How to Move to Canada

Will they take us in?

The Canadian flag flies over the Canadian Rockies.
Going North? Don Emmert/Getty Images

After President George W. Bush was re-elected this week, some despairing U.S. residents began talking about moving to Canada. Just how easy is it to relocate to our neighbor to the north?

Historically, Canada has been a relatively welcoming destination for immigrants. Nearly 20 percent of the Canadian population is foreign born. (Just 11.5 percent of the U.S. population can say the same.) The country boasts one of the world’s only permanent immigration programs, and the minister of citizenship and immigration recently announced that she hopes Canada will welcome 220,000 to 245,000 immigrants and refugees in 2005. *


A relatively small number of those immigrants are expected to come from the United States. In 2003, emigrants from the United States constituted only 2.7 percent of the total number of immigrants to Canada, a figure that has held steady over recent years—even in 2001, after the hotly contested 2000 presidential election. (By contrast, more than half of the immigrant population comes from Asia and the Pacific region.)


Nevertheless, Canada has long been a refuge for Americans fleeing the states for political reasons. During the Vietnam War, tens of thousands of draft dodgers jumped the border—many of them illegally (according to the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, there were about 23,000 legal American residents in Canada in 1970). Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau accepted most with open arms, and one Canadian town even recently planned a memorial to the draft dodgers until strong opposition from veterans groups blocked the effort.


Today, permanent residence—and the universal health care and clean air that come with it—is a little harder to obtain. Immigrants must obtain a visa from the Canadian Visa Office and fill out an application for permanent residence from the Consulate General of Canada. Applications take an average of 25 months to process. Bush dodgers arriving in Canada must also provide a valid passport, two copies of a detailed list of all personal items brought into the country and two copies of a list of all items on the way, and proof of enough funds to cover expenses for the first six months. For more information, visit the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website.

Next question?

Explainer thanks Maria Iadinardi, deputy spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Correction, Nov. 5, 2004: This article originally referred to the minister of citizenship and immigration as a man. The minister, Judy Sgro, is a woman. Return to the corrected sentence.