“If Donald Trump wins, I’m moving to Canada!” You may have heard someone you know say this—or maybe you’ve even proclaimed it yourself, perhaps inserting a different candidate’s name. You’re not alone. Google searches for “move to Canada” jumped more than 350% after the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries, and now that Trump has effectively wrapped up the Republican nomination after trouncing Ted Cruz and John Kasich in Indiana’s primary, more spikes are sure to transpire.
The Nova Scotian communities of Cape Breton have even launched a website called “Cape Breton if Donald Trump Wins,” which emphasizes the island’s beauty, cultural diversity, and affordability, touting it as a haven for Americans dissatisfied with the presidential options. And with Hillary Clinton—not exactly a universally beloved political figure either—closing in on her party’s nomination, other contingents of Americans might decide to jump ship as well.
But while it might sound tempting to pack up and head north of the border, it’s not as simple as it sounds.
Determine your eligibility
You don’t need a visa or special paperwork to visit Canada, but if you intend to stay permanently there are hoops to jump through. The first thing you should do is check your eligibility for permanent resident status under Canadian law. The government has a brief online questionnaire you can use to determine your eligibility, which improves if you have good job prospects or if you have relatives in Canada. If you qualify, you may be able to apply for a visa under several different programs.
Apply for permanent residency
If you’re eligible, you need to complete an application for permanent resident status and fork over a fee of $490 Canadian. It takes about 38 days for the application to be considered. If you’re approved, you can pack up and go, but you’ll need to live in Canada for two of the next five years in order to maintain your status as a permanent resident. You can, of course, change your mind at any time and revert your residency status back to the United States.
If you do become a permanent resident of Canada, you’ll have to pay taxes there. The first step is to obtain a Social Insurance Number. You will have to file a tax return (even if you have no income in that first tax year), so that the Canada Revenue Agency can determine your eligibility for things like the goods and services tax credit, and child care credit. You will also need to get a Canadian driver’s license; you might be able to convert your American license to a Canadian one, but this varies by province.
Once you become a permanent resident of Canada, you are entitled to Canada’s free universal health care system. You apply through the province where you’re living. After you have been issued your health card (there is a three month waiting period in some provinces), your medical care is paid by the government. To understand all the rights and benefits of moving to Canada, you’ll want to read the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which spells out the political rights of Canadian citizens and the civil rights of anyone in Canada.
Apply for citizenship
If you truly intend to live permanently in Canada, you’ll likely want to become a citizen, so you can have a voice in the government. You will have to wait six years, four of which must be spent in Canada, before applying. By the way, you can hold dual citizenship in the United States and Canada—you’ll have two passports, but you’ll have to pay taxes in both countries and follow the laws of both.