- This post is going to be longer than usual but should give you a good idea of what it is like actually moving to Canada, logistics-wise. This post is mainly relevant to those moving from USA to Canada.
- I am not endorsing any company or brand, but simply stating my experience with them.
- Please assume US $ vs Canadian $'s depending on context
- I will keep editing this post in future for clarity, if I remember anything more, or to add screenshots of documents etc.
Let me start off by saying this: ***be on top of things from the start!***. If you’re an optimist like me, you’re gonna think “I can easily do all this in a week”, then you need atleast two.
My move started for me when I got a job offer from Mississauga (GTA) which was good enough for me to accept. It was kind of whirlwind week since there was a lot of work with my then-current employer, I had taken a week’s vacation since my wife - who was living in another country - was visiting me, and I was in the middle of preparing for and giving other interviews.
During the talks with my new employer, I negotiated - what I thought then was - a relatively comfortable gap between getting the verbal offer to the start date (3 and a half weeks), including notice period with then-current employer (2 weeks). Long story short, it gave me about a week (!) to make certain arrangements over phone, and roughly 3-4 days! to pack all my belongings, ship my car, clean my apartment, catch the flight etc. It got so busy I even forgot to book my flight till someone reminded me, and had to get an expensive one 4 days before I was due to fly!
It was non-stop work for those last 3 days with barely any sleep! Most employers expect you to join them as soon as possible, so if you get a job, expect no more than 3-4 weeks (including notice period with current employer) for moving, at the most.
There are 7 main things you have to take care of:
- Shipping your belongings (optional, but highly recommended)
- Shipping your car (optional, but highly recommended)
- Exchanging your US driving license with a Canadian license
- Getting a place to live in Canada (let’s take example of GTA for this article)
- Registering your shipped car in Canada (if you do (2) )
- Moving your money from US to Canada
- Getting the provincial health card
I. Shipping your belongings:
The toughest part is the packing. I lived alone so I didn’t have to ship much stuff; roughly enough to fill a 9-feet UHaul van. Not bad for 9 years’ worth of stuff.
However, I still ended up filling the entire dumpster outside my apartment with crap I wasn’t taking along with me! The packing was really hard, because I had to do it alone in 3 days. Trust me, keep at least a week if you have more stuff! Even if you throw away the heavy couch (like I did), and even if most of your furniture is disposable/dismantle-able IKEA, it’s the small stuff that takes up most of your time. Sell anything you absolutely don’t need, bring the rest, as stuff is generally more expensive in Canada.
I used the UPack service (shipped by ABF) for moving my packed items. They have what’s known as ReloCubes. The idea is that you pack, they ship. They place the 6 ft x 7 ft x 8 ft container near your house, you fill it up, give them the paperwork and they will ship it to the destination. They initially quoted and charged me US$ 1850 everything included. But because there wasn’t any place near my apartment to keep the ReloCube for too long, I ended up UHaul-ing the stuff to their distribution facility in SLC, and packed the cube with the help of a friend (I got a $500 discount as a result since they didn’t have to come to my place). Thus if you want a cheaper quote, start by offering to going to the Cube rather than the Cube coming to you.
Hint: Play the student card if you’re technically a student (F1, OPT etc). You’ll get a significant discount on the quote…
Other services I contacted mainly consisted of “<Insert name here> Van lines”. They are “professionals” and take cross-border moving and customs seriously. They will personally come to your house to eyeball your personal belongings to give you a quote based on estimated weight. They will even check how you packed just to be sure of what’s inside so there’s no trouble at the border. They looked at my apartment and quoted me ~ $500 for packing the container, (not your boxes; you’ve to do that), ~$4000 for the actual moving based on 3000 lbs of weight (as you will see in the document below, it wasn’t even half that)!
I asked them for car transportation quote as well; they quoted an additional $3800 which brought the total to ~$8000. So unless you are really rich, I’d suggest go with the ReloCube. In my case I didn’t even have sufficient time to shop around, but the ReloCube was really convenient.
…Back to ReloCube:
Whether or not you chose to bring the ReloCube to your goods, or your goods to ReloCube, you will have 3 days to fill the container and then they will ship it. You need to provide your own lock after the cube is packed (and obviously keep the keys safe with you because you’ll need them at the other end), sign the bill of lading and give the ABF employee by B4 goods accompanying/ to follow paper copies (keep the B4 originals with you, you will need it for customs clearance).
During this process the ABF shipper told me the goods will be delivered to the address in GTA that I had specified and that my personal involvement is no longer necessary till I receive the goods.
However that is incorrect. You have to personally visit a customs office in your area to clear the goods. They are placed “In Bond” (i.e. a bonded facility) till you clear them in person. I only realized this after I had landed in Toronto and a few days later the local ABF Canada agent emailed me and told me about it.
This local ABF agent gave me :
- the shipping manifest/bill of lading/”in bond” document (has details of the shipment, tracking number, addresses, port where they crossed into Canada etc.) see image below for how it looks after stamped/cleared by CBSA, and
- directions to the customs clearance office. If you are receiving your goods in GTA, most likely you clearance will happen at Toronto Pearson airport; not inside the airport, but close to the cargo area off the airport (you can drive there from the city, it’s a big CBSA building dedicated to customs clearance etc.) The address is: 2720 Britannia Rd E, Mississauga, ON L4W 2P7
When I went to this customs office in evening, I was greeted by a friendly CBSA agent. He checked my PR card, took my original B4 forms, the shipping manifest (bring 2 copies), made copies of the B4, and stamped these two documents without a question. I was out of there in 10 mins. He kept the original B4 forms and gave me the stamped manifest back.
(Keep the stamped manifest safe! It is the only piece of paper you have, to prove that customs cleared your goods.)
In my case, since I did not yet have a rental apartment, I chose to buy the $150/month
UPack storage. A few days later, even though I had found a place to live, I had no place to put the ReloCube where I was renting, so I decided to take a UHaul to the ABF service center in Brampton (where your cube will most likely be kept). I even got an additional $280 knocked off my original price because I picked up the items myself.
Tip: depending on the time of month, UHaul can be very difficult to get during the weekends, and especially for long durations, so once again, you have to be quick about it.
You will need to show the stamped manifest to ABF’s facility (in Brampton if your destination is GTA) before they let you remove the goods from the ReloCube.
Hint: The ABF facility at 12 Strathearn Ave, Brampton is officially closed on weekends, and if you call ABF/Upack, they will insist as such. However, there is a workaround if you are busy on weekdays and can only make it on weekends, so make sure you ask the ABF agent about that.
Note: Whenever you are clearing goods with customs, receiving goods with ABF, visiting ServiceCanada/ServiceOntario etc., it is expected to have photo ID, your Canadian status, other relevant paperwork. Always carry PR card/passport during these significant events.
II. Shipping your car:
I would highly recommend taking your car with you rather than buying new in Canada especially if it’s not brand new, for the following reasons:
- If you don’t ship/drive-in your car, you won’t have a car for few days - a week, and will spend money on rentals.
- Insurance is ridiculously expensive in GTA, and if you get a new car, and don’t have strong driving, license and insurance history, you’ll be screwed on insurance! (more details below)
- Depending on where in US you are shipping the car from, you could end up paying very less for shipping the car, and might be able to even drive it yourself.
Note that I had shipped my car on a truck from Utah to GTA, not driven it across. So I’m not sure what to expect if driving across.
Driving it across is probably the best option for people who live close by a US-Canada land border.
If you don’t bring your own car across, you will have to pay for rental till you buy a car, which could take at least a week or two. Not having a car will grind all your paperwork/formalities to a halt!
If you don’t have lots of cash handy for a new/used car, insignificant Canadian credit history to apply for car loan (which will be even more difficult if you don’t have a job), then you will be spending lots of money on rental cars. Buying even a half-decent used car with all the taxes, registration and insurance will easily go north of CA$10,000.
Also, if the car you are importing from the US is valued at less than $10,000, you will get an exemption while importing and will pay $0.00 import duties! It’s a no-brainer!
And on top of that…
Insurance is ridiculously expensive in Canada (especially in GTA area, and especially on new cars)! I used to pay US$66 for car + renters insurance in Utah. In Mississauga, the minimum quote I got was for CA$ 220 a month (car + renters) ! And this was with 8 years of clean driving and insurance history in the US. Insurance quotes also depend on where you’re living, where you have driving experience driving etc.
Certain areas in GTA where people drive horribly get higher quotes. If you (and/or your spouse) don’t have significant driving history, past claims or bad driving history, or end up living in an insurance-expensive area like Brampton, you’ll be lucky to get anything under CA$300 a month (probably more for two people).
So let’s say you have decided to ship your car to Canada, here are the important steps you need to do to achieve this:
- Your car has to reach the US-Canada land border somehow (truck/drive)
- Your car has to be exported out of the US (CBP)
- Your car has to be imported into Canada (CBSA + RIV)
- Your car has to be registered in your Province. (License + Insurance + ServiceOntario)
1) Your car has to reach the US-Canada land border somehow
This is the easy part. If you’re driving it yourself, all you need to do is to be in the car with your PR card, passport, clean title, valid registration, and insurance papers. If you are shipping on a truck, you need the title, valid registration, insurance papers, and nothing else in the car (except the spare tire, jack, and car booklet). No electronics, GPS, absolutely no personal items.
The best way is to shop around, give calls to car transport companies. The one I used was called Canadiancarshipping. They will take care of all the paperwork and transport. They charged me US$ 1750 for transport + 250 for customs clearance at the border. Since I was short on time, I could not waste it negotiating, and took the first good deal I thought I was getting.
Important Note: The car shipping business is extremely competitive, but it is also highly constrained, logistically speaking. After you decide on a transport company, they will probably need at least a week to schedule a truck to pick it up from your address. The US truck and then the Canadian truck will take at least 7 days to reach the port of entry in Mississauga (in my case). Therefore keep this in mind while scheduling.
2) Your car has to be exported out of the US
This is really easy: the US customs officer simply stamps the car title as “Not a US car anymore” and the car is off into Canada. If you are shipping on a truck, make sure your car is absolutely empty, except the car title, registration papers, proof of insurance, the car booklet, and maybe the spare tire and the jack. That’s it. You absolutely cannot stuff your car with suitcases and boxes if you’re not in it with the B4 forms.
3) Your car has to be imported into Canada (important!)
If your car ships on a truck bound for GTA, it’ll most likely go into the bonded facility/port of entry on 5425 Dixie Road, Mississauga customs office (a.k.a Interport Sufferance warehouse. For warehouse information in other provinces, check out: https://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/do-rb/offices-bureaux/809-eng.html).
After your car shows up there, your car transport agent in US and/or the logistics company at that facility in Mississauga will give you a call and you’ve to show up with your PR card, passport etc to the customs office.
There they will check your documents, and ask you to fill out what’s known as Form 1. This is the form that signifies the importation of your vehicle. They will sign it, stamp it, the agent will also write down his number, the facility number etc. Make sure it is legible as this is important later on. The agent will then ask the value of your car. Mine was only $6800 USD, therefore he gave me the $10,000 exemption and I paid $0.00 in duties. If I remember correctly, I did pay something other tax/fee; cannot recall now.
Note that the car should be cleared within 24 hours of reaching this facility. Else you may be charged CA$100 per day for storage!
The Form 1 is really important and you should keep it safe. Once stamped by CBSA, you then take this stamped Form 1 and upstairs and pay the logistics company whatever they charge for handling the logistics of importation (I paid CA$160 something).
See below for how a Form 1 looks like. Note the processing agent and PoE number which wasn’t written properly so I had to guess it. There are three carbon-papers like this, pink, yellow, and white. Don’t forget to get the Canadian Tire stamp on the white one during Form 2 inspection stamp.
Note that these agents are actually CBSA agents, similar to the one’s you meet at the airport customs, so be polite as always and talk nicely to them.
You will then need to go on the RIV website https://www.riv.ca/MakeAnRIVPayment.aspx and pay the RIV importation fee (CA$310). Do this as soon as you get Form 1 cleared. The case number is the TXXXXX on your Form 1. Here the website will also ask the agent number who imported your car, transaction number, the PoE number etc. which will be given on Form 1 as mentioned earlier. Wait about 24 hours after paying this fee. After that, you can track your case and if everything is in their system , you should be able to download what is called a Form 2 (which is also pretty important), which you need to take to your Canadian Tire for inspection.
Canadian Tire is the car service center here. They are very experienced and are certified for inspecting and certifying your imported car. They will charge $0.0 for inspecting and stamping your form 2 since you have already paid it while clearing your car. Don’t forget to get the Canadian tire stamp on Form 1 as well (white copy only). Note that they are generally very busy and it’s a good idea to get the appointment in advance for inspections.
Once form 2 is stamped, your car is now officially cleared to be registered in your province. Before you do that however, you need a safety standards certificate, which can be done at the Canadian tire as well, for $129. Try to do the safety standards certificate and form 2 inspection in the same visit, to save time if you can.
In the meantime, try negotiating a good insurance offer from a Canadian insurance company. Tip: rather than just getting an online quote and buying, always call an insurance broker who can get as much information from you as possible, to give you a good deal. I was getting quote anywhere from $250-400/mo for car and renters insurance. A broker got all my prior insurance information and gave me a nice rate. You need insurance anyway, before you can register your car in the province.
Finally you will take your car title, your Canadian drivers’ license, Form 1 stamped, Form 2 stamped, safety standards certificate, and insurance proof (insured by a company local to your province) to ServiceOntario and get the provincial license plates, and a small piece of paper that serves as you car title, registration/permit, and proof of ownership all in one. It’s a good idea to make a certified true copy of it and keep the copy and/or the original in your car at all times. In general it’s a good idea to take color scans of all these important documents as and when you receive them.
You will also get a “Canadian safety standards” sticker in the mail after a few days. This sticker goes on the inside of the car door pillar - where to door locking mechanism is - where there should already be a US manufacturing certificate sticker. I just pasted my new RIV sticker on top of this sticker because there was nowhere else to put it.
III. Exchanging your US license for a Canadian license:
This was the first thing I did, the day after I moved to GTA. In my opinion this is the first thing anyone moving to Canada from the US should do. If you want to get the full license (the G license) with a simple eye exam and no tests, you will need atleast 2 years of driving history in a country that has the exchange program with Canada (countries where driving is civilized). Anything less than that and you end up with a G2 and will have to give road test.
(G is better than G2 is better than G1, remember that)
You will only need your valid US license, atleast 2 years worth of driving/license proof, your PR card and your passport. For those moving to Ontario, check out: https://www.ontario.ca/page/exchange-out-province-drivers-licence
Important note about proof of driving history: if you are ordering the history online from your local DMV, make sure you also print out the email receipt that you get that shows your name and the fees you paid; you will need to show both at the drive test center. If you have time, I would recommend even ordering the mailed version of the history.
Location: This was the confusing part for me; you can’t just walk into any ServiceOntario and expect a license exchanged, but luckily a friend guided me well. For those moving to the Mississauga area, you should go to the DriveTest center at 2370 Wyecroft Rd, Oakville, ON L6L 5L7. Make sure to take all specified documents and some more, in case they ask for it. During my exchange, they never asked me for proof of local address, but carry it if you have it just in case.
Address Tip: How to get proof of address if you haven’t yet rented an apartment? If you are living with a friend/family temporarily, or wish to give that address, change your Canadian bank address online (assuming you have already opened an account), and order statements mailed to that address. When you get a physical copy of this statement, it can be used as proof of address in some places. Once you get the license with this address printed, use that from there on.
IV. Renting a place:
Where you rent is really dependent on how far you choose to live from your workplace. Note that traffic sucks in GTA at most hours, but especially during rush hour! Anything less than 45 mins from your workplace is considered “not bad”, in GTA <insert Not Bad meme here>.
Where you live also defines the rent, as well as the car insurance you will pay (re-visit car insurance section above). In GTA, and especially in Mississauga, you have to be very quick about it. So many people are coming to settle in GTA that apartments are getting a record occupancy rate and get rented fairly quickly! If you see an apartment and like it, chances are other people like it too, and it’ll already be gone in a day or two if not sooner!
I saw many apartments and listing and whenever I called the property for the ones I liked, they always said they had multiple offers already for it. Maybe it was just bad timing since lot of people move out starting of may when colleges end and apartments become free for people moving in, or maybe it is always like this for end-of-months.
Luckily I found a place on Kijiji, came to view it same day, and paid a deposit as a promissory note that I will sign the lease the next day. In Mississauga Square one area (which is a desirable place to live in Mississauga), rent is upwards of $2000-2200, in most cases! Add in utilities, parking per month etc. and you’re looking at at least $2300+ on average. In Toronto-proper it might be even more.
You may find cheaper places to live in Brampton should that fit into your desired commute time; however Brampton is infamous for bad driving and it affects their algorithm while determining your insurance quote. Therefore your $200 Mississauga quote would’ve easily gone $250 or higher had you rented a place in Brampton, everything else remaining same.
Important note: Landlords/owners will usually expect proof of employment and/or bank statement proving you can pay the rent, credit history, and two months’ rent upfront. Therefore, I highly recommend keeping at least CA $5000 aside in liquid funds to cover this. 1 - year lease is pretty standard here. After the one year is over, it is usually month to month. Also note that unlike the US, the tenancy laws here heavily favor tenants. Therefore, if you have to, say break the lease under extenuating circumstances, it probably won’t have a negative effect on you, even if it goes to small claims court (which it usually doesn’t).
- “We will get back to you tomorrow to finalize the place” will probably be too late, as I experienced. If you really like, or are unsure about the place, make a firm decision either way sooner.
- Talk to a good real estate agent who is willing to view a lot of apartments with you, even on weekdays, as well as privately keep checking Kijiji (it’s like the craigslist of Canada, but better).
- When renting a place, make sure you are getting a spot for parking, even if paid. Parking can be a nightmare if you don’t have assigned spot, especially near densely populated neighborhoods such as Square One Mississauga.
- When dealing with individual homeowners (i.e. not property management companies), see if you can get some better terms and conditions on the lease agreements; it is possible.
- GTA in general is very safe according to everyone I spoke to. I know people who have lived in Mississauga, Brampton, Oakville, Etobicoke, Toronto proper, and they all concur.
V. Moving your money:
If you are coming in with a job, you won’t have that much need or urgency to bring over your money into Canada. If so, following could be your options (Note that if you are bringing CA$10,000+ in monetary instruments (cash, travelers checks etc.), you have to declare it at the port of entry.)
If you chose not to bring more than 10k due to this, or safety reasons, the simplest way is to wire money from your US account to Canadian bank account. Will cost you anywhere between USD 20-50 wire fees + the exchange rate difference depending on your bank. Usually banks will give anywhere between 1.20-1.31 exchange rate (true rate was 1.35 at the time of this writing).
If you are bringing cashiers checks (also known as bank drafts), it will take 15 days for them to clear! No exceptions. Checks have to go through the clearing house and every time I have deposited them there was the excruciating 15 day wait before I could access those funds. Also note that they are effectively cash, and will have to be declared during re-entry if more than $10,000.
Someone on this forum earlier mentioned about Norbert’s Gambit (https://www.millennial-revolution.com/invest/norberts-gambit-how-to-exchange-money-without-paying-fees/). This essentially means you buy ETFs (in USD in the US) that are traded on both US and Canadian stock markets, and then sell them after you are in Canada, and get CAD back for it. Catch is, the stocks should not drop in value too much, you must already have trading accounts in both places, and you really should know what you are doing.
Open a US checking account (cross-border banking) in a Canadian bank (e.g. RBC offers the US daily checking account in addition to Canadian chequing and savings account). Transfer funds from your former US bank account to your new, say, RBC-US checking account, and then move money to RBC-Canada checking account. However, do not confuse the new US checking account with a new US daily interest checking account which is really a Canadian account where you can store money in USD. The Canada-US account should have a regular routing number and account number similar to what you would have in the US.
Withdraw cash daily using your US debit card at a Canadian bank ATM machine and deposit the money. However, this can be expensive since you will get charged around $5 per withdrawal as transaction fee.
Use your US credit card in Canada, and pay it off using your US online transfers: Depending on whether you credit card company charges foreign transaction feeds, this is a good option. I have been doing this frequently with my Amex card since there are no additional fees. You will be using your card daily anyway paying for stuff, why spend your Canadian cash on it. Make sure you inform your credit card company that you are traveling, otherwise they may think someone stole your card and may lock it. Also, note that Amex is not accepted everywhere in Canada, so might be a good idea to also bring along your VISA or MasterCard.
Transferring your retirement funds: I have written about this in some previous threads. There is no convenient mechanism to transfer your 401k or IRA to RSP/RRSP in Canada. To do that you will have to do an early withdrawal, pay penalty and taxes and then wire the money to Canada. Almost everyone I spoke to who moved from US to Canada just parked their funds in 401k/IRA and let It grow there. In the long run, the taxes you pay while withdrawing later (vs withdrawing now), might be measly compared to how much the funds + the penalty would grow over time if you let it stay there. Note that you can always transfer your 401k directly to your IRA (or through a bank), if you do this within a 60-day span. That way you don’t have to declare it in taxes (i.e.it won’t be a distribution), nor will you have to pay penalty.
Do not forget to call your 401k provider to get your account address, email etc updated before you leave.
VI. Applying for the health card:
Note that you will not have provincial health insurance for 3 months after you move permanently to Ontario (probably true for other provinces). Doesn’t matter when you became a PR or how many times you visited in between. The day you move permanently to Ontario + 90 days is when you will be eligible for Health Card.
However, it doesn’t hurt to apply for a health card soon after you move permanently and get that out of the way. They will need the usual PR card, Passport, address proof, proof of residency etc. (https://www.ontario.ca/page/documents-needed-get-health-card).
Note that if you are doing a soft landing, you should not apply for health card since you probably won’t have proof of residency anyway. And even if you are able to provide some proof (e.g bank statement etc.), since you are not strictly moving, it could potentially come under exploiting/defrauding the govt. So don’t even try.
You will need to purchase private medical insurance for these 3 months. SunLife is a very reputed company in Ontario and they offer basic, enhanced, etc categories of insurance. Usually rates vary by company and can be anywhere from $70-200 per month depending on coverage. Note that a lot of companies will absolutely not offer insurance to you if you already don’t have the health card (this is supplemental insurance and not what you are looking for). You may also opt for Travelers Insurance, but technically you are not a “traveler” or a “tourist” so I’m not sure if the companies can use that as a loophole to deny coverage or not. I bought travelers insurance before moving out of the US but bought private insurance soon after just to be safe.
Changing address in ServiceOntario: Once you have your license (temporary paper copy or the plastic card), and/or your now-Canadian registered car, and if you want to change the address on it, you have to change the address on license, car registration/permit/ownership document, and the health card at the same time!
Getting to ServiceOntario early: usually doesn’t help as there’s always a line even before it opens. Best time is to go between 11-12 and after lunch.
Driving: Driving in Mississauga is very similar to driving in New York or Los Angeles. Here in Missussauga at least, speed limit is more of a suggestion. You are more likely to hit someone if you follow the limit, than otherwise.
Crowd: GTA in general is becoming very crowded. Therefore, expect lots of people/queues in most public places such as malls, restaurants etc. Try to be early whenever possible. you will likely hit a lot of traffic anytime except early morning so factor that in while leaving for work etc.
Retirement savings account (RSSP): Note that to open an RRSP account with an employer, you need the T4 tax document (similar to W-2 in the US). You won’t get that till the next tax season. Therefore, as far as I know, no RRSP for you for one year. If anyone has a different experience feel free to share.
Buying a house: Some things you gotta know beforehand: the house prices in Mississauga, and any desirable suburbs are high. I’d say they’re on par with SF as far as I can tell. In general, expect to pay no less than CDN $600,000 for a small 4 bedroom house (not detached, but a townhouse) in Mississauga area. Prices will vary based on closeness to the GTA area. E.g., Kitchener, Waterloo etc might have better prices but are farther from town. If you pay 20% of the house price down, you might get a 30 year mortgage (else it’s usually 25). Calculate the monthly mortgage accordingly. If you are serious about buying a house sooner, you might wanna bring over your savings. If you had applied for a credit card when you landed, it’s also possible you have a decent credit score, although short credit history.
Feel free to leave comments, questions etc.