Moving Back to Canada? Here's a Timeline!
Originally published March 26, 2018. Updated on 8/11/2021
We're quickly coming up on the "Two Months Before We Move" date, and it's so exciting!
I have my Google Calendar all colour coded (Daily chores, appointments, events, etc), and it's thrilling to see more and more purple - move related tasks - coming up on the calendar.
This has been SO long planning, it's great to have things finally happening, you know?
I am a gigantic logistics nerd, and have had everything scheduled and on the calendar since the moment we had a vague target moving date.
Once we scheduled a firm moving date, I updated everything, and have been obsessing over it ever since.
With the mass exodus of Canadians leaving the USA right now (I'm in multiple groups specifically geared towards Canadians moving themselves and their American spouses/families home!), I figured it would be a good idea to publish a timeline to help others.
I know how overwhelming things can be, it's a HUGE undertaking - and having things laid out can really make it seem more do-able.
So, here's a list I came up with.
Most of it is based on our situation (Canadian married to an American, spousal sponsorship applied for/approved while still in the USA, have pets/no kids moving with us), but can be easily adapted for your particular situation.
Some things will vary based on province you're moving to (for instance, health insurance).
Maybe you're moving back alone and don't have to worry about immigration issues, etc.
It should be a good start, and will hopefully inspire you to think of other things more applicable to you. ("Oh, that reminds me, we should _____!").
All of these are ideal suggested timelines, for planning ahead. If you find yourself on a shorter timeline, just do anything under the timeline target dates you’ve missed ASAP.
So, here we go:
As Early as Humanly Possible:
Look into your employment / schooling situation in Canada
Will your schooling / certifications transfer over?
Will you need additional education?
Are you qualified to do your job in Canada?
If you’re currently in school, will your credits transfer? Plan accordingly!
In our case, it turned out that my husband isn’t qualified to do the career he’s been doing for 20 years in the USA, as he doesn’t have a degree. So, he’s been doing some university here in the USA, and applied for University in Canada once we move.
Look into the Immigration Process
If you are married to an American (or someone from another country), look into the immigration process for Canada, and decide whether you want to do it yourself, or hire a lawyer.
In our case, it was just my husband, we decided to go for spousal sponsorship from the USA, and it was VERY easy and straightforward, no lawyer needed. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
Consider learning / brushing up on French.
If a non-Canadian is moving up with you and is going on the points system (rather than by spousal/etc sponsorship), French competency is good for some points.
It also opens up more possibilities for employment, whether an immigrant or returning Canadian.
Contact an accountant that specializes in cross-border financial issues and find out everything you need to.
There are tax implications for EVERYTHING. Get expert advice, schedule anything you need to (tax filings, when would make the most sense to transfer assets, etc etc.
Look Into Housing
Research the logistics surrounding buying a house, as applicable to your situation.
There are tax penalties for foreign buyers and non-resident buyers. Know what you're getting into, early!
1 ½ years Before Moving
Set a Date
Decide on a firm moving date if you can. This will form the point from which you work backward on this list!
Consider Filing the Paperwork
Apply for residency for any non-Canadians, if that's the way you're going.
We found the process very easy, and we liked having everything set before we moved. If hiring a lawyer, find one now.
Gather Necessary Documentation
If you’ve had any kids in the USA and have not yet obtained Canadian birth certificates / citizneship for them, do so.
Figure Out Moving Logistics
Figure out the basic logistics for HOW you’re getting back.
Driving or flying?
Taking a moving van yourself (U-Haul, etc), or hiring a moving company?
If you have pets, how are they getting back?
Will you visit ahead of time to set up a place to move directly to, or will you rent/stay in hotels while looking for a place?
Schedule anything that needs to be scheduled.
In our case, our cats were a major deciding factor for us.
We’ve heard too many horror stories about flying pets, and we don’t want them to be stuck in a kennel somewhere - exposed to kennel diseases - while we get our situation figured out.
So... we bought an RV to move them from here to there, and for us to live in while we find a place. Unorthodox, yes... but when it comes down to it, renting won’t even be an option, so we had to get creative!
1 Year Before:
Prepare to Sell Your House
If you’re selling a house, walk through and decide on everything that needs to be done in order to sell.
Room by room, come up with a list of repairs to make, etc, and schedule it.
It’s a lot easier to pick away at things well in advance, than to rush it all right at the end.
1 Year to 6 Months Before Moving
If you are moving in the summer, book your movers WAY ahead of time.
Many Canadians moving home are using U-Pack - and they tend to book up well in advance.
Even if you’re moving in the offseason, you should still contact your moving company 6 months in advance to ask about when you should book with them.
Consider the Border Crossing
If your passport(s) are not up to date or valid, renew one or both, as applicable.
If you’re moving to close to the border, consider signing up for the NEXUS preferred travel programs.
Start a "Binder of Life"
Start a zip up file folder/binder for your important paperwork for the move. Ours has pockets for:
Travel Documents: Passports, NEXUS cards, my husband’s immigration documentation and permanent resident card, etc
ID Documents: Birth and marriage certificates, SIN paperwork
Itinerary Info: Moving company paperwork, hotels you’re staying at, RV park contract (in our case)
Vehicle Paperwork: Bills of sale, vehicle registrations, importing/exporting paperwork, etc
Packing Manifests: Copies of the paperwork that will go to both the border and the moving company
Vet Papers: Vaccination records, etc
Banking Info: Bank account paperwork for Canadian accounts, any Canadian credit card paperwork, etc. Copies of past tax returns (Can be good for obtaining a bank account/loans in Canada)
Mail and Cell Phone Paperwork: Info for the Canadian cell phone account we set up, info on the two PO Boxes we set up.
Job Search: Copies of reference letters, resumes, etc.
6 Months Before Moving
Figure Out The Phone Situation
Research mobile phone providers in the area you’re moving to.
Find out if your current phone - if you’re keeping it - is compatible.
Contact your current service provider to find out what you will need to to in order to transfer it (Pay off the phone, any extra fees, if they have to unlock it, etc)
Consider an Away Mission!
Take a trip to Canada if at all possible, do to as much of the following as possible:
- Set up PO box. As we are moving relatively close to the border, we also got a PO box in New York, just in case.
- Get a cell phone with a Canadian number, set up a bank account.
- Try to get a Canadian credit card - we were approved through our new cell phone provider.
- Reactivate your SIN if it’s gone dormant (Just go to a Service Canada location, it takes only minutes!)
- Check out neighbourhoods, etc.
Be sure to email yourself your Canadian mailing address and phone number, if applicable. It’s good to have in easy reach!
Set up a Canadian based paypal account, link it to your Canadian bank account.
Contact a Real Estate Agent
Contact a local real estate agent and get an idea of the timeline you’ll want to work with for your area.
If you have a set move date, add in key dates based on this. (When you need the house completely cleared out to show, when you’ll need a dumpster for - if applicable, etc)
Check Your Benefits
Check into your benefits, see what you’re entitled to before you leave the job, and when you qualify.
Book those appointments for before you leave the job: Eye exam, dental cleaning, etc.
Plan for Health Insurance
Look into the health insurance situation in the province you’re moving to.
Some provinces offer health coverage as soon as you arrive, others - like Ontario - have a waiting period.
You may need to arrange for interim health insurance for once you arrive. You can do so well in advance!
Make a Bucket List
Make a bucket list of things you want to do/experience in your area before you move, schedule them as necessary. (Restaurants, favourite theme parks, etc)
Plan Some Fun
Look into festivals, trade shows, etc that you’d be interested in, in the new city - add them to the calendar for after the move.
If you are a vendor at conventions, or sell through trade shows (for instance, I sell my books at gluten-free shows), start researching the options in the new city, make contact.
Figure Out the Vehicles
Look into importing your vehicle into Canada, and decide whether you’ll be doing that, or selling it / buying a new one.
This is a very individual decision, and will depend on things like how attached you are to your vehicle, the value/ how much it will cost you to bring it over, how much life it has left, how necessary a car is where you’re moving, etc (For instance, if we were moving to downtown Toronto, we would not bring our car over)
Start packing items that you won't be using in the next few months.
Sort out the things you’ll want to sell/donate, list items for sale.
5 Months Before Moving
Plan for Changes of Address, Cancellations
* Start compiling a list of every company and service you’ll need to do changes of address with.
Once you have a good list going, keep it updated anytime you get a reminder of something else to add.
I did it via a table in WordPerfect, but a spreadsheet will work.
I have columns for "How Far In Advance", "Company", "Where/How" (Online, phone, etc), "Which Address" (Canadian or American PO Box), "Status", and "Notes".
I have sections for "2 months in advance", "1 month in advance", etc. Some hints on who to include:
- Credit card companies
- Social groups / member organizations you belong to
- Doctor and vet offices
- Government offices: City/county taxes, DMV,
- Anyone you do business with
* Start compiling a list of the things you will need to cancel.
For each one, find out when you should cancel the service/etc, and add it to your timeline for the appropriate date. Some hints:
- Online streaming services - Netflix, Hulu, etc
- Amazon Prime
- Home security company
- Insurance companies
- Gym membership (if it’s a chain that’s also in Canada, call and ask about transferring - you may get grandfathered in on a cheaper plan!)
3 Months Before:
* Start researching the various insurance coverage needs you’ll need in place once you leave you job in the USA. Depending on your needs, you may want to consider insurance for your pets, disability insurance, eye/prescription insurance, life insurance, etc.
* Research what your pets need in order to cross into Canada, and make those arrangements. In our case, our cats just need rabies vaccinations and vet certification for those vaccinations.
* Decide on the route you'll be taking home, and what border you'll be crossing at.
* Make plans for where you’ll be staying in between selling your house in the USA (if applicable), and settling into a new place in Canada. Make reservations as needed.
* Start asking friends in the area you’re moving to for recommendations on a real estate agent there. Decide on one, make first contact.
* Plan a going-away party.
2 Months Before Moving
* Start working on paperwork to import your vehicle, if applicable. (Knowing what border you're crossing at helps!)
* Submit changes of address to any organizations that you are members of, and anything else on your "2 months before" category for address changes.
* If you are selling any of your American vehicles, discuss when you’ll list them, and schedule that. We are selling one of our 2, and listing it 2 months before.
If you are an Etsy seller, set up a Canadian Etsy account, link it to your Canadian bank account, and start setting it up.
Screencap all of your reviews, etc - none of this will transfer over, and Etsy cannot/will not transfer your established account to be able to pay into your Canadian bank account - you need to start completely from scratch.
I used screen caps of my past reviews on my old account as photos on new account listings.
Gather Info for Home Buyers
Start working on a folder to give the new owners of your house, if you’re selling.
We included paint information for every room (where we bought it, the paint brand/type, the colour name and number), any quirks of appliances, a bit of history, paperwork for appliance warranties, user manuals, etc.
See Your Doctor
Talk to your doctor about any current prescriptions you’re on, and what your plan is for once you arrive.
You likely won’t have time to decide on a new doctor right away when you arrive, and your current doctor’s prescriptions won’t be valid in Canada.
You may be able to get a prescription for several month’s worth of your prescription.
Alternatively, if you’re moving to somewhere close to a border, you may want to find an American pharmacy close to where you’re living, and have your prescriptions sent there until you’re settled.
Plan Some More Fun!
Look into the area you’re moving to, for fun things to do. Consider booking tickets, etc for an event or two, for something to look forward to.
In our case, I signed up for a local discount thing similar to Groupon, and bought vouchers for a museum event, a tall ship cruise, etc that expire several months after we move.
It gives my husband - who is terrified of moving - something to look forward to.
* Decide when you’ll be resigning from work, schedule it.
1 Month Before Moving to Canada
* File change of address with: Employers, the IRS, the Social Security administration, voter registration, USCIS (if applicable), city/county tax assessor, DMV, insurance companies, store/discount memberships (IKEA, CVS, etc), website hosting company, and anything else you scheduled under "1 month before".
* Contact credit reporting agencies (Equifax, etc). Place a credit hold on your accounts, file change of address.
* Arrange for mail forwarding with the post office.
* If any of your American credit or bank cards are expiring in the next year or so, arrange to have them all replaced now.
* Arrange for any permits you may need for your moving day (parking permits, etc)
* Get reference letters / claims history statements from your home and auto insurance companies. Get reference letters from utility companies, etc. While you may not need the utility company reference letters, it’s better to be over prepared, than under.
3 Weeks Before Your Move to Canada
* Send an email to the Canadian border office you’ll be crossing at, if applicable. In our case, the border wants an email with a scan of our vehicle title, with the VIN and ITN numbers as the email subject. They will send an auto response email, which we are to print and bring as proof of submission when we cross the border. This MAY vary between different border crossings.
* Contact auto manufacturers for fresh recall clearance letters. In our case, I contacted Ford through their website and had an email version within a couple days, and the printed copy a couple days later. File this in your binder for the border.
2 Weeks Before Moving to Canada
* Renew all prescriptions. (2 weeks gives leeway in case of any issues)
* Get proof of driving experience from your state. File this in your documents binder.
* Wire transfer money to your Canadian bank account, if applicable.
* Get reference letters from banks and credit reporting agencies.
* Fill out your customs forms.
* Back up all of your computer files onto disks that you will keep separate from the move. IE: if you are shipping your computers, keep the backups with you.
Just Before Moving:
* File change of address with: all bank accounts, all credit cards, any online payment processors/income sources you may have (for instance: Shopify, Etsy, Paypal, vet, your doctor/eye doctor/dentist/etc.
* Print out current credit report, file in your documents binder.
Immediately After Arriving in Canada:
* Apply for provincial health insurance.
* Register for a Canadian driver’s license. Do this AFTER you do anything that needs your ID (bank account, health insurance, etc), as at least some provinces take your existing license when you apply for a Canadian one.
Very Soon After Arriving in Canada:
* Check in with an immigrants organization in your area. (www.Settlement.org has details for Ontario, for instance.).
* Arrange for your RIV vehicle inspection, if you haven’t already. In our case, we scheduled it for the morning we crossed, at the location closest to that border crossing.
* Buy a vehicle, if applicable
* Register & insure your vehicle(s)
Once You’ve Purchased a House / Rented an Apartment:
* Set up with utilities: water, sewer, garbage/recycling, electric/gas, cable/satellite TV, internet, phone.
Once You Have Settled into a House or Apartment:
* File changes of address with everything that you don’t want going to your PO box. Add in your new accounts: Canadian Driver’s license/vehicle registration, provincial health insurance, bank account, Canadian credit cards, mobile phone, etc. If keeping your PO Box, give them your new address as well.
* Find a doctor, eye doctor, dentist, vet, pharmacy etc as needed. Contact your former providers to have records transferred to.
Hope this helps you prepare for your Voyage Home!
In the meantime, if you need some comfort foods from back home, check out "More Than Poutine: Favourite Foods From My Home and Native Land". It was written by an expat, specifically for expats!
"More than Poutine" is a Canadian cookbook like no other - written by a Canadian living away, it includes both traditional home cooking recipes, as well as accurate homemade versions of many of the snacks, sauces, convenience foods, and other food items that are hard to come by outside of Canada! Order your copy here on this site, through Amazon, or through any major bookseller!
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