Notes and Tips for Moving to Canada

Hey everyone, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. As many of you know we’ve moved up to BC, Canada. Some of you might ask why, and discussing that is worth many blogs in itself. I’d like to keep this post focused on tips for moving up here, aimed towards those moving from the US or similar places – especially as it relates to cars, immigration and other topics. Some of it is BC-focused but most of it should apply to Canada in general. We’re doing fine - as fine as can be expected in a pandemic - but I’ll just say for fun that I’m still getting used to living here in a temperate rainforest (lots of grey skies, but tons of wildlife, very green, and almost all the electric power here comes from water), and that I’ve never had so much Korean fried chicken in my life before. :)

I also acknowledge the privilege that I have to be able to immigrate here relatively rapidly, and I acknowledge that I’m living on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Coast Salish, xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and other Nations. I’m also deeply troubled by and keep in mind the many refugees and folks living in unsafe conditions around the world, folks seeking asylum – in particular, the many thousands who come to the southern border of the US seeking to improve their lives, but are turned away and face terrible conditions waiting their turn in Mexico, or are detained by ICE in also terrible conditions, sometimes separated from family.

The Immigration Process

If your goal is to immigrate permanently to Canada, and you are in some occupations, then the Express Entry system is definitely the fastest way to gain Permanent Residency and enter the country for good. It’s a points-based system, and once you get enough points (the younger you are, the more Canadian work or education you have, and if you speak French), they invite you to apply and then you’re in the process and wait about a year. (A year seems much faster than the green card process in the US). Hints:

  • You can use the CRS tool to calculate your points, and view the points needed for a PR invitation in previous rounds.
  • Your spouse can give you up to 30 additional points, if they have great English/French scores and ideally a PhD.
  • If you can’t get enough points, you can go for a provincial nomination which pretty much guarantees your place in line.
  • At the time I applied, it was easier to get nominated for Alberta and the Eastern seaboard provinces. Of course you have to be willing to live there.
  • Local companies can help you get the provincial nomination.

Normally, even with express entry, you have to wait for the PR clearance to be able to enter the country. We were able to cross though in the middle of COVID when the border was closed. I took the expedient route of having a local BC company sponsor me for a work permit. US citizens and PRs are able to cross the border, even during COVID, by applying for a NAFTA/CUSMA work permit at the border, with the proper paperwork. Coming here first with a work permit and then applying for PR in Canada is definitely the easiest: things like English tests, medical exams, etc are all easier to find and do here in Canada, especially in a pandemic.

That said, COVID just makes everything harder. We had to quarantine for two weeks, and could not apply for and get our SIN (Social Insurance Number), which is needed for bank accounts, until after the two weeks. (You could apply for SIN online, but it takes much longer than just getting an appointment and going in person to a Service Canada location). Many processes changed and documentation was not clear. Some things, such as open work permits that normally you could apply for at the border, were not available and we had to apply via mail/online etc.

Dealing with your Car

If you are coming from the US, you are likely wanting to bring your car. We had just been in process of buying and outfitting a campervan before moving up, so we weren’t going to leave it behind. Figuring out how to get our cars imported/registered/insured is a HUGE pain. I had lots of questions and conflicting info:

  • Do we need to fully import it?
  • Do we need to get all recalls done?
  • Where do we take it to get inspected, and what inspections are needed?
  • When do we need to switch to local insurance?
  • What about title? etc.?

OK, so for coming to BC/Canada with a car from the US, with a work permit, this is what I’ve finally figured out after several months of often long waits, talking to diff people, and long phone calls often with conflicting info:

  • You DO want to have the car paid off before crossing the border. Banks won’t like cars not paid off to cross the border, and the CBSA needs to see the car title to give you an import form.
  • Also REALLY important: get your full driving history from DMV before coming (for insurance)
  • NOTE: one sucky thing is that California only keeps the last 10 years of your driving history. This causes one to lose driving history with ICBC. :/
  • ICBC, the insurance co in BC, and others will keep telling you to abide by the RIV process to import a vehicle, but this is a huge pain which involves making sure your vehicle has done all recalls in the US, and paying huge fees for export and import (US$1000 for my Volvo!), and probably changes and customizations to the vehicle.
  • Also, you have to pay 15-20% import duty taxes (!!!) on the vehicle if you are not PR/citizen.

Thus, it is MUCH cheaper and easier to get an RIV exemption for being a temporary worker/having a work permit. The CBSA can stamp your vehicle import form with an RIV exemption, which lets you get insurance/plates. This means your vehicle can get local plates and be treated as local, but is not fully imported (basically means it can’t be sold locally, and you promise to bring it back to US when your work permit expires). Only a provincial inspection is needed, per the CBSA, for an exempted import.

Once you have your PR, you can get the vehicle fully imported (if you want to have it sold). This will require crossing back into the US to have the vehicle properly exported at a border facility as well, and involve lots of . Having the PR means that import duties can be skipped, as a one-time exemption to import duties are granted.

Is all of the importing expense really worth the hassle? If you have an older vehicle, paying your car company tons of money, the RIV process, exporting (and needing a license to do the export), plus conversion work in Canada, all might end up costing as much as the value of the vehicle!

Most of the following other tips are mostly for BC:

  • Canadian Tire does most of the needed conversions to make your American car Canadian. Mostly having to do with daytime running lights.
  • In BC, the only insurance company is ICBC. They are pretty expensive, though they just lowered rates somewhat. Insurance is sold by “autoplan dealers”, who mostly also sell life and other insurances.
  • Note: not all autoplan dealers handle out of province licenses/plates. Also brokers will be really confused about this as they don’t do many of them.

Other Random tips

  • First thing to do after quarantine is to go get a SIN at Service Canada office. Get it in person - it’s much faster, you get it right during the appointment. You can also apply online but then you need to wait for the mail.
  • Getting a local bank account is the next thing. Get a local credit card - it’s needed for many Canada online purchases from many websites (they often only take credit card with Canada postal code)
  • does ship to Canada, often for free, but you need a local account. Your account does not work and will charge you for shipping to Canada. If you have a prime membership, sorry you’ll need to get the Canadian one and stop the American one.
  • Costco can transfer your American membership to the Canadian one. Beware though that membership reward checks are stuck in US dollar.
  • American cell phones do work here! Keep it if possible cuz plans are better. Canadian plans which offer calls to US are pretty pricey.
  • For US Citizens - you can get your ballot emailed to you. It can then be scanned and faxed or mailed back, but there might be an even faster way.
  • You might need a US mailing address for a while to accept things like tax documents, to keep your US bank accounts around, etc. You can use a service like US Global Mail, which accepts your US mail and packages and will forward your stuff to you anywhere in the world.
  • E-Transfer » US jungle of payment options. Everyone has it and accepts it - it’s the way to pay people. However no ACH. :(

Buying property is slightly different. Brokerage fees are much smaller. Also the seller pays all the fees. You can’t just refi or close mortgages whenever you want. There are “terms” like 4/5 year, most people do not switch until the end of terms. :/

By the way, if you’ve made it all the way to the end here, thank you for reading. If you are in tech, especially software and data, and would like to move up here and at the same time work on cool tech and help use data and ML for good - to help improve traffic, urban planning, etc in cities and communities, come talk to me – that’s what my startup UrbanLogiq does!


Written on June 12, 2021