Why Are So Many Americans Moving to Canada?

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Each year I help over 500 clients file their Canadian and US tax returns as well as plan for both their Canadian and US investment accounts. I also regularly help new US clients plan for their move to Canada.

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According to a YouGov survey on June 23, 31 per cent of Americans are either very interested (15 percent) or somewhat interested (16 percent) in moving to Canada if the candidate they vote for is not elected in November. (Interestingly, 6 percent reported having no intention to vote at all.) The geographic distribution of the 31 percent was almost by geography, gender, and age, with the smallest number of people in the 55+ age group. Even the income level of the respondents was surprisingly well balanced: under $40k (15 percent), $40-80k (13 percent), and $8ok+ (16 percent).

A similar trend appeared but never really materialized in the run-up to President Trump’s victory in 2016, with Canada seeing only a small bump in the number of Americans applying for citizenship in the four months following the election. Nonetheless, over 250 Americans apply to move north of the border every month, down from a historic high of over 550 per month in 2011.

Still, the question remains: why are so many Americans moving to Canada? Here are some of the most common reasons that ex-patriate Americans cite when explaining their moves to the Great White North.

Quieter Politics

Generally speaking, Canadians engage in political discussions that are quieter and more respectful than in the U.S. This pattern is not to say that character assassination, fear-mongering, and partisan hostilities do not occur every four years. Still, they certainly do so with less intensity and ferocity than south of the border.

There are several likely reasons for this. The pre-election cycles are significantly shorter than in the U.S., and there are five parties with representatives in the current federal parliament:

  • The Liberal Party, which currently forms the government
  • The Conservative party, which are the Official Opposition
  • The New Democratic Party
  • The Bloc Quebecois, which historically finds traction only in the province of Quebec
  • The Green Party of Canada, which functions as a fourth national party.

Open Borders and Diverse Culture

As more countries are closing their borders as part of nationalist agendas, Canada remains committed to doing what it can to support refugees and immigrants from around the world. In general, U.S. immigration policies tend to be employment-based, which means that the quickest and easiest route into the country is via a work permit. Unless sponsored by a close relative, people rarely immigrate to the U.S. directly.

Canada has almost the opposite approach. It is not as easy to immigrate as a worker but much easier if you qualify as a refugee, for instance. Yes, the bureaucratic hoops are substantial (no one can deny that). Still, the reality remains that since the 1980s Canada has consistently been a high-immigration country compared to the U.S. As Derek Thompson noted in The Atlantic in 2018:

“The United States considers itself a nation of immigrants. But, proportionally speaking, it’s got nothing on Canada. Foreign-born Canadians have always accounted for between 15 and 20 percent of the country’s total population since the country’s founding. In the U.S., immigrants have never exceeded 15 percent of the total population since the 1850s. So, with immigrant share—as with national borders—America’s ceiling is Canada’s floor.”

In fact, Canada was the most inclusive country in the world in its attitudes toward immigrants, religion, and sexuality, according to a 2018 survey by the polling company Ipsos. So you can see why almost every Canadian city is a vibrant mosaic of different cultures, music, foods, and religions living under a sizeable metaphoric roof.

Universal Healthcare

As I discussed in a previous blog, Canada’s universal healthcare and robust pharmacare programs might appeal to Americans considering a trek northward. Contrary to some common misrepresentations by American critics, it is not a free system but is funded through a historic combination of personal and corporate taxes. That said, all you have to do is show your government-issued health insurance card to a hospital or medical clinic to get the treatment you need. And if you have an accident or unforeseen medical issue, all provinces and territories will provide free emergency services even without a government card.

These policies stand in stark contrast to research that shows that over 137 million Americans face financial hardships annually due to medical costs. High healthcare bills are also the number one reason that Americans consider taking money out of their retirement accounts or, in worse cases, filing for personal bankruptcy.

The Gun Problem

Canadians do love their guns. There are over 20 million of them in the country based on police records, domestic firearm manufacturing data, and import-export statistics. Canada also has at least 24 federal laws and regulations governing firearms in addition to the many provincial and local restrictions that apply. According to the World Population Review, Canada ranks 8th on the world list of civilian gun ownership per capita, with 34.7 guns per 100 people.

In contrast, the U.S. ranks first on this list, with 120.5 guns per 100 people. In other words, there are more guns than people in the U.S. and the trends for firearm-related injuries and deaths has been trending upwards in recent years. Canada has mostly avoided an NRA-style politicization of gun laws as well, which relates directly, some might suggest, to the quieter political climate noted earlier.

Marijuana is Legal

Whatever your feelings on marijuana are, the fact is that Canada legalized recreational and medicinal marijuana in October 2018. This legislation made it the first G7 country (and only the second country in the world) to legalize sales and personal use nationwide. The legal age of purchase is set provincially but has been set in mos places at 18, the same age as legal drinking. Business analysts project that there will be almost 4 million recreational users by 2021. However, the federal government is more aggressive, with its projections of over 5 million.

The legalization issue is a hodgepodge of state regulations across the U.S.  Some states have made both recreational and medicinal use legal, while others have approved personal use for medicinal purposes. Still others still consider possession for personal use a misdemeanour with a fine.

Many Other Reasons

There are many other reasons that people to choose to relocate to Canada, from its colorful currency and passion for hockey to its relatively inexpensive real estate and stable banking system. And though the country is far from being a utopia, it does offer a richly diverse and welcoming option for Americans looking to relocate.

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Tony Michael Economou
Tony Michael Economou
4 days ago

The question is: Will Americans be welcome in Canada after the last 4 years? I can’t blame Canadians for growing anti-American attitudes, but half of us do align ourselves with Canadian values.

Last edited 4 days ago by Tony Michael Economou