As any Canadian who has visited the US will know, there are a surprising amount of differences between the two countries. It’s not just the culture, it’s the way business is done. When your plans for the future include a reasonably long sojourn in the USA, there are a few things to take on board to prepare you for your stay. From the fairly obvious but easy to forget to the less apparent, here are the top 5 on our list of adaptations you should be ready to make.
Taking care of your health tops the list of things to do before you make your move. With the US’s healthcare system often in the news, you’re probably aware that you can’t rely on free universal medical care while you are in the US. You might also know that medicine is big business in the USA and that the charges are extremely high.
US health insurance for Canadians is, therefore, a must-have before you set out on your US adventure. As with all types of insurance, don’t compare costs without taking the level of coverage into account. Exclusions and copayments can mount up to a hefty bill, especially if you have to go to the hospital. Don’t get caught napping on this one! It can be a costly mistake.
This might be stating the obvious, but in case you didn’t realize it, you must have the right type of visa or a green card in order to work legally in the USA. For Canadians, it’s usually a fairly simple process, but as with all government-related business, there will be lots of paperwork.
Expect a waiting time of around three months to get a work visa. A Green Card takes much longer: seven months to a year. Choose the latter if you’re planning to settle in the US and the former if you’re just working on a contract and plan to return to Canada when it is finished.
As a professional, you might be surprised to find that life in the USA is much more driven and stressful than it is in Canada. You’ll earn more and pay less tax, but you’ll also be under much greater pressure to perform. Business dress codes are more rigid (in general) than they are in Canada, although to a certain extent, that depends on the company you choose. All the same, you’re likely to be expected to dress more smartly for work in the USA.
If this sounds like a downside, don’t forget that all this rather frightening efficiency also benefits you. It doesn’t take as long to get things done, for example, because people in the USA have a greater sense of urgency. They’re more stressed out, it’s true, but a bit of stress can be a good thing too!
Better economic opportunities are the primary driver for Canadians moving to the US for long stays. But there’s no gain without some pain, and in this case, it takes the form of higher expectations from employers and a need for greater competitiveness.
Movements to and from assets like your Canadian Tax Free Savings Account and retirement plan can affect your taxation in Canada or the USA. Your individual circumstances and the regulations in the US state you have chosen to live in will all play into this. It’s wise to appoint an accountant who is familiar with US and Canadian tax laws to help you navigate these complexities.
If you’re contemplating a permanent move, it may be best to liquidate your Canadian assets before moving to the US. Once again, professional advice will be helpful. Choose an accountant in much the same way as you would if you had a small business, with the added criterion that they should be familiar with both US and Canadian tax laws.
Although the US and Canada have similar cultures in many ways, you may still struggle with some of the cultural differences between the two. Canadians are often struck by the US’s higher crime rates, are shocked by US gun culture and lack of social care for the disadvantaged, and find the political system difficult to reconcile with that which they were accustomed to in Canada.
If these things trouble you, be careful of airing your views in the wrong quarters. Just as nobody likes strangers telling them how to manage their households, no citizen likes foreigners telling them how things ought to be done – unless they happen to agree with you!
While some Canadians are very happy living in the USA, others miss Canada’s more liberal ways, security, and laid-back atmosphere. If you’re thinking of relocating, testing the waters as a Canadian with a US work visa makes the most sense. Once you’ve experienced living in the US, as compared to just going there for a visit, you’ll be better able to decide whether you’d like to emigrate from Canada.