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Blog>Guides>Working in Canada as an American: An Expat Guide

Working in Canada as an American: An Expat Guide

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Canada is becoming more and more attractive to Americans who are seeking jobs abroad. Whether it’s the political climate in the United States not aligning with your values, or a desire for a life change, Canada has a lot to offer. This includes a high quality of living, universal healthcare, and more affordable access to pharmaceuticals. Of course, Canada also has a reputation for being home to some of the friendliest people on the planet. Couple that with clean air quality, and well, what’s not to love?

On the work front, the country is pleased to offer a plethora of professional opportunities — particularly if you’re planning on working in Canada as an American. Read on to learn about how to put the pieces in place for making a living in the country whose reputation for being warm and welcoming precedes itself.

Why Work in Canada?

When it comes to working, the benefits of living in Canada are bountiful. The country has a strong financial network and banking system — as well as a growing tech sector. One of the biggest attractors, of course, is the legislated year of publicly-funded parental leave.

But there are also a lot of other advantages that are also important, including:

  • Mandatory employee benefits, including Canada Pension

  • Employment insurance

  • Supplementary employee benefits such as retirement and healthcare spending

  • Paid sick and mental health days

Do Americans Need a Visa to Work in Canada?

With the above benefits, we’re sure the wheels are turning in Canada’s direction. But the big question is: do Americans need a visa to work in the Great White North?

We get that the two countries have a close relationship, and some Americans might even think of Canada as an extension of the United States. Still, a work permit is almost always a prerequisite for Americans looking to work in Canada.

Unless your job happens to be exempt from the need for a work permit, the rule does apply to U.S. citizens as well as any other applicants from around the world. Some examples of exemption include self-employed entrepreneurs who plan on working in Canada temporarily, French-speaking skilled workers, academics, and religious workers.

You can apply for a work permit at a port of entry, so that can be a bit easier, but you might be better off applying before entering the country depending upon your particular case. For this reason, we strongly advise talking to an immigration professional before traveling to Canada.

If you’d like to learn more about work permits in other countries, check out our guide about exactly what a work permit is, as well as all the ins and outs of applying.

Ways Americans Can Work in Canada

Can Americans work in Canada? In a nutshell: yes, there are a multitude of ways that Americans can work in Canada. These include being a skilled worker, having family sponsorship, starting a business, and studying in the country. But the easiest, quickest, and most efficient way is through something called Express Entry.

Express Entry implies just what it says: it is an effective way of managing skilled worker applications for those who seek permanent residence in the country. The U.S. happens to be the second-leading country to immigrate to Canada via this main system. Applications are typically processed within six months. U.S. citizens often have a higher chance of being invited to apply for permanent residence through Express Entry because these applicants usually fulfill requirements such as having strong English-speaking skills, work experience, and formal education.

Express Entry is divided into three federal skilled worker immigration programs, all of which lead to permanent residency in the country. These include:

  • The Federal Skilled Worker Program for skilled workers who have foreign work experience

  • The Canadian Experience Class for skilled workers who have Canadian work experience

  • The Federal Skilled Trades Program for skilled workers who have specific qualifications in a skilled trade

Obtain a Canadian Work Visa

As mentioned earlier, in order to qualify to be a U.S. citizen working in Canada, getting a Canadian work visa — or permit as it is most often called — is essential to have a livelihood in the country.

One thing to understand is that a Canadian work visa is temporary and is not the same thing as getting an immigration visa. In most cases, work permits are available only to those people who have a job from a Canadian employer lined up. For Canada work visa requirements, the employer has to be authorized to fill the position with a foreign worker.

It’s important to note that your Canadian employer has to cooperate with you to complete this process because a document that confirms the position’s status — legally known as a positive labor market opinion — is often required to get a work permit.

Global Talent Stream

You might have a specific skill set that is lacking in Canada, and this can work to your benefit and significantly fast-track the process of obtaining a Canadian work permit.

Canadian employers may be part of Canada's Global Skills Strategy. This is an immigration program that allows Canadian employers to expedite hiring American and other foreign workers who can fill specialized work positions when Canadians aren’t available for specific jobs and roles.

Canada-US-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA)

The Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) is a free trade agreement that brings together Canada, the U.S., and Mexico into one regional trade coalition. This easily allows goods and services to move efficiently across North American borders. The agreement also allows the citizens of all three countries to easily enter Canada so as to promote fair competition and investment opportunities.

In order to advance this cooperation between the countries, workers must have access to each other’s countries so that they can sell, provide goods and services, or trade and invest — depending on their job. As such, citizens of both the U.S. and Mexico can temporarily enter Canada for work that involves investment or the trade of their goods and services.

Company Transfer

One great way to seamlessly go from working in the U.S. to working in Canada is if your company has a branch in the country and you request (or they ask you) to be transferred. Intra-company transferees who are employees by either an American or Mexican company can be transferred to a Canadian branch in an executive role so that they can provide specialized knowledge.

Business Immigration Programs

The Business Immigration Program is designed to encourage and make the admissions process of “business visitors” easier. Business visitors are classified as people who are working in a number of industries and disciplines including research, design, and manufacturing. These workers don’t require a work permit. All of the federal, provincial, and territorial governments offer services that can help business immigrants to settle and start a business in Canada.

Student Visas

On average, U.S. students looking to study in Canada must apply for a study permit, similar to applying for a work visa, except for educational purposes. Depending on your specific case, you may qualify to apply for a study permit from within Canada. Alternatively, applying when you arrive in Canada at the port of entry can also be an option. We highly suggest doing additional research before making the move so you understand which option is available to you.

You would need a letter of acceptance from a designated learning institution (DLI) as well as other documents required including:

  • proof of acceptance

  • proof of identity

  • proof of financial support

Seeking Canadian Citizenship

U.S. citizens can obtain Canadian citizenship, but just as with immigrants from other countries, they need to first become permanent residents. After five years of residing in Canada, immigrants have the ability to obtain permanent resident status. At this point, you can then go ahead and apply for Canadian citizenship.

Best Companies to Work for in Canada

Because every Canadian already enjoys universal healthcare and mandated paid parental leave, companies have to find different ways to hire and retain talent. Social responsibility and community support are one way. Also, because Canada is one of the most multicultural countries in the world, the best employers in Canada will be the ones who do everything to ensure an inclusive work environment and culture.

Some of the best companies to work for in Canada include:

  • RBC (Banking)

  • CIBC (Banking)

  • Loblaws (Food and Drug Retailer)

  • Bell Canada (Telecommunications)

  • Desjardins Group (Insurance)

There are a number of companies that have offices or headquarters in Canada that hire Americans. Some of the best jobs in Canada for Americans are with companies such as:

  • Dell Technologies

  • Google

  • Cisco

  • Shopify

  • Univar Solutions

  • Ultramar

Best Places to Live in Canada for Expats

There are a number of Canadian cities that are home to a high number of expats from the United States. These have often been rated high in safety, friendliness, and quality of life. Here are some cities you will love living in Canada as an American and the best places to move in Canada.

Toronto

Gooderham Building in downtown Toronto.

When it comes to places to live in Canada, Toronto is at the top of the list. This world-class city is the country’s largest metropolis. It’s famous for everything from the CN Tower, the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, and the world-famous harborfront skyline. Toronto is a culturally-diverse and inclusive city, and it has a huge range of restaurants and eateries for all kinds of different palettes.

Toronto’s biggest industries are the financial sector and services, real estate, as well as wholesale and retail trade.

You can experience the full effect of all four seasons in Toronto. Winters are cold but beautiful, fall foliage is glorious, spring is wet and colorful, and summers are hot and humid.

Vancouver

Vancouver False Creek at night with bridge and a boat.

This major metropolitan city on the country’s west coast is famous for its unique balance between an urban hub and a natural oasis. We’re talking majestic mountains, stunning Pacific Ocean views, and affordability.

As far as weather goes, here is another major Canadian city that boasts the beauty of all four seasons: from the gorgeous fall foliage to cold (but not too cold) winter wonderlands.

The top industries in Vancouver include tourism, agriculture, aviation, film, mining, and much more. Fast-track immigration policies make the city a prime choice for professionals and international entrepreneurs.

Vancouver is celebrated for being a vibrant and eclectic mix of ethnicities and cultural groups from all over the world, as well as Canada’s own Indigenous communities.

Montreal

Montreal in Canada during autumn with colorful trees.

This major Canadian city is known for having hosted the Summer Olympics and as the home of Cirque du Soleil and French culture. The lifestyle is urban and the inhabitants tend to enjoy a high quality of life. If you have a penchant for Europe, then Montreal is as visually close as you can get in North America.

Montreal has a dynamic career market that boasts a myriad of industries including electronic goods, pharmaceuticals, software engineering, aerospace, tourism, textile and apparel manufacturing, and more.

Ottawa

Autumn aerial photo of the city of Ottawa with a pedestrian bridge over the Ottawa river.

The country’s capital and political center is known for being polite, personable, and for its very pretty scenery — particularly in the fall. The semi-continental climate makes it very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter.

The major industries in Ottawa are healthcare, tourism, public service, technology, manufacturing, and construction — so there are a plethora of professions that would suit many Americans looking to relocate. You’ll get the full Canadiana experience in this city with its sense of history, diversity, and multicultural identity.

Burlington

Aerial view of downtown Burlington, Ontario.

This mid-size Canadian city is just a 40-minute drive away from Toronto and 45 minutes from Niagara Falls. The city has been voted as one of the best cities in the country to live in for safety, and its balance of urban fun and quiet family living.

Burlington boasts a range of industries such as advanced manufacturing, biomedical and life sciences, food and beverage industry, and information and communication technology.

Canadian Work Culture

Canadian employers are known for having high, but fair, standards and expectations from their workers. Of course, Canadian courtesy and cooperation are at the top of the agenda and there is often a flexible and efficient approach to the job.

As with anywhere, your career success will depend a lot on your job performance, ability to take on deadlines and any challenges that come your way, as well as being able to communicate both honestly, respectfully, and clearly.

Canadian Working Hours

If you’re a U.S. citizen working in Canada, you’ll likely be familiar with the country’s standard working hours. The usual standard for working hours in federally-regulated industries like banking, air transportation, and broadcasting is eight hours per day, totaling 40 hours per week.

In some cases, these working hours don’t apply to managers and superintendents, though. Other exclusions from the standard eight hours a day include professions like architects, doctors, lawyers, dentists, and engineers. These people work according to the tailored nature of their work as well as business needs. Similarly, regulations for working hours are different in industries such as trucking, commissioned sales, and shipping.

Holidays

Federally-regulated employees in Canada are entitled to at least two weeks of paid vacation after they have completed one year of continuous employment with the same employer. After five years with the same employer, employees can have at least three weeks of paid employment and after 10 years, employees are entitled to at least four weeks of paid holidays. The Canadian statutory holidays are:

  • New Year’s Day: January 1st

  • Family Day: Dates vary in February

  • Good Friday: Dates vary between March and April

  • Victoria Day: Dates vary in May

  • Canada Day: July 1st

  • Civic Holiday: Dates vary in August

  • Labour Day: First Monday in Septemeber

  • Canadian Thanksgiving: Second Monday in October

  • Christmas Day: December 25th

  • Boxing Day: December 26th

Maternity and Paternity Leave

Parental leave benefits in Canada depend on the benefit type you choose: for example, you may decide to share the benefits with the other parent of your child. The amount of parental leave benefits is dependent on your own insurable earnings before taxes in the past year, a.k.a. 52 weeks.

It’s important to note that insurable earnings include most of the different types of compensation that one can revive from employment other than wages. These could be tips, bonuses, and commissions. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) determines what types of earnings are insurable.

Some employers may provide additional compensation to their employees on parental leave — this is referred to as a top-up. It’s best to check with your employer to find out whether or not they offer a top-up policy.

Taxes for American Expats in Canada

Americans looking to live and work in Canada will be happy to learn that the two countries have an agreement that exempts a U.S. citizen from being taxed by the U.S. on the income that is earned and taxed in Canada. But one important thing to note is that the exemption is based on proper completion of the U.S. 1040 federal tax return.

As a U.S. citizen living and working in Canada, Americans are taxed for the money they earn in Canada — this could be from employment with a company that operates in Canada, or from investment interests such as those from Canadian stocks, bonds, or mutual funds.

One thing to keep in mind is that Canadian residence is considered a flexible definition. There are many factors that could allow a taxpayer to claim Canadian residence for tax purposes — the most basic being how much time the taxpayer spends in Canada.

Review and Plan

Of course, if you are considering a move up the career ladder to Canada, it makes good sense to have a plan in place. While your to-do list may seem daunting before finding a job in another country, we’re here to break it down for you:

  • Step 1: Research Canadian culture, overall costs, and any requirements to live and work successfully in Canada.

  • Step 2: Determine what type of work permit you need.

  • Step 3: Look into companies and roles you would like to work for. Browse through similar job descriptions or industries to see what types of skills and requirements are needed. Is there anyone in your network who may be able to help out?

  • Step 4: Once you’ve figured it all out, start applying for jobs!

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