If (insert candidate name) is elected, I’m moving to Canada!
Not bluffing? Things you should know before you go and some fill-in-the-blank fun to blow off steam.
No doubt you’ve heard someone utter this threat before — or even proclaimed it yourself — during a presidential election. And in a campaign cycle as (adjective) as this one, where the top two candidates — (adjective) Hillary Clinton and (adjective) Donald Trump — are disliked with record-breaking fervor, it’s an especially popular sentiment. In February, the search term “Move to Canada” surged 350 percent on Google as Super Tuesday primary results rolled in, revealing a string of victories for each.
A couple of weeks before that, Rob Calabrese, a radio DJ in Cape Breton, the picturesque island on the northern tip of Nova Scotia, launched the website Cape Breton If Donald Trump Wins (cbiftrumpwins.com). “Every time there’s an election in the US — which I follow along with because it’s better than ‘Game of Thrones’ — I always hear ‘If so-and-so wins, I’m moving to Canada,’ ” Calabrese said. So he set up a tongue-in-cheek invitation for fed-up Americans to relocate to Cape Breton, to help replenish the rural area’s declining population.
Calabrese said he chose the GOP candidate because at the time “I thought, like everyone else did, that Trump didn’t have a prayer.” He says he’s since fielded more than 5,000 “contact us” submissions — 95 percent of which were serious inquiries.
Fleeing to Canada is a centuries-old concept that predates presidential politics and peaked during the Vietnam War. And while most Americans will never go through with such a move, Bostonians may be better suited for it than most.
After all, in some ways, Massachusetts has more in common with Canada than with huge swaths of America, especially the South and Southwest. For starters, think about the climate. Boston gets about 44 inches of snow per year; Toronto averages just slightly more. Average high temperatures in Boston range from 36 degrees Fahrenheit in January to 81 degrees in July. That’s a bit warmer than Toronto (33 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit) or Halifax, Nova Scotia (32 and 74), but nowhere near the snowless, scorched earth of Phoenix, where high temps average 106 in July. That doesn’t just sound like a foreign country, but another (adjective) planet altogether.
Then, of course, there’s the political climate. With universal health care, strict gun laws, and generous parental leave, Canada can come off as a liberal (noun). But Massachusetts famously leans leftward as well (we legalized same-sex marriage a year before Canada did and more than a decade before the US Supreme Court ruled it legal nationwide.) And, just like Bay Staters, Canadians are more Catholic and more educated than Americans as a whole. While Canada ranks as the most educated country in the world, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 2015 Education at a Glance report, 41.2 percent of Massachusetts adults hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 30.1 percent nationally.
So you may feel right at home among our northern neighbors. There’s just one last pesky detail: Does Canada even want you?
“We share a border, and people assume it’s just like moving to another state, and that’s far from the case,” said immigration attorney Michael Niren, founder and CEO of VisaPlace. “Canada has its own immigration rules, as America does, and it’s generally not easy to get status either as a permanent or temporary resident.”
That’s not to say it’s impossible. Canada admitted 260,404 immigrants as permanent residents from around the world in 2014 and plans to accept between 280,000 and 305,000 this year. In the first quarter of 2016, Canada issued 2,101 permanent residency visas to Americans — a 95 percent increase from a year ago.
Niren sees an uptick in interest from Americans every election cycle, but it’s been especially pronounced this year, he said, citing Trump’s (adjective) remarks on immigration. “We get a lot of Americans calling us and telling us, ‘We’re scared, and we’re considering Canada,’ ” Niren said. Meanwhile, across the aisle, many Republicans are just as concerned about Clinton winning the election.
If you’re worried about a (candidate’s name) presidency, there are a few ways you might qualify for Canadian residency.
“It’s somewhat similar to the US,” Niren said. “There’s a family program, so if you have a Canadian spouse, for example, that person can sponsor you for permanent residency. Otherwise you need a job offer or you have to be highly skilled in an in-demand industry and go through an onerous process to qualify.”
Niren is referring to Canada’s Express Entry program for skilled workers, which rewards those with advanced degrees and experience in professional roles, from architects and Web designers to teachers and (hooray) journalists. Applicants are awarded points based on criteria such as their education, years of experience, age, and language skills. Score high and you enter a pool of approved profiles, awaiting an invitation to apply for permanent residency that isn’t guaranteed. A job offer from a Canadian employer dramatically increases your chances, though. Another avenue is to bring money into Canada with you, whether as an investor or entrepreneur.
But while foreigners are allowed to purchase property in Canada without any restrictions, and Americans can visit for up to six months without a visa, ownership doesn’t entitle you to live there year-round.
The home-buying process is similar in Canada, but there are some differences. One of the biggest, said Melanie Piche, a broker with the BREL Team in Toronto, is that once any contingencies are met (such as financing and inspections), you can’t back out of a contract. “It doesn’t matter if the property appraises out or not, doesn’t matter if you lose your job, you have to close,” Piche said, or risk being sued.
Another difference: The standard mortgage term in Canada is 25 years, not 30. “Americans can qualify for a mortgage with a Canadian bank, and the process is relatively easy,” Piche said, though most lenders require a 35 percent down payment from nonresidents, and you’ll need to set up a Canadian bank account.
There are some additional taxes to be aware of, too. Land transfer taxes can be levied at both the provincial and local level and apply to residents and foreigners alike. Nonresidents also have taxes withheld by the Canadian government upon selling a home, and Piche said it’s important to look into any US taxes that may apply to foreign properties. You may also pay more for homeowners insurance if you buy a property without resident status.
And while most home buyers in the United States are fixated on interest rates, buying in Canada means you should pay more attention to currency fluctuations. “One of the biggest opportunities for Americans right now is to take advantage of the strong American dollar relative to the weaker Canadian dollar,” Piche said. “It’s a far bigger opportunity than the low interest rates.”
It’s true: As of press time, you’ll get about 21 percent more bang from your American buck than you would have two years ago. But the Economist in April called Canada’s housing market overvalued — like that of Britain and Australia — due mostly to the rampant growth in Toronto and Vancouver. There’s no doubt Toronto is a hot market; the average home price was $751,908 (Canadian dollars) in May 2016, up 15.7 percent from last year. (If you’ve ever watched “Love It or List It” on HGTV, you’re already familiar with the Toronto housing market.)
Prices elsewhere can be far more reasonable, however — particularly Cape Breton. “We have some of the lowest housing prices in North America,” Calabrese said. “The average house price is only double the average income here.” (In Greater Boston, a median-priced single-family home is 7 times the median household income; in Vancouver, it’s into the double digits.)
If you are able to move, what then?
Well, life in Canada can be remarkably similar to life at home, but it can depend on where you end up. “One thing I know Americans would find different about living in Cape Breton is the remoteness,” Calabrese said. “For example, if you want to go to IKEA, you have to drive about 20 hours.”
Lisa Virick, originally from Belfast, Maine, moved to Cape Breton in 2008 to be with her Canadian husband, whom she met in college. “Everything moves a little slower up here, from the line at the coffee shop to getting a plumber to the house. It takes a bit of adjusting,” Virick said.
It’s not American efficiency she longs for most, though. “What I miss more than anything is my family and friends in the States,” she said. “That’s the hardest.”
And perhaps that’s why most Americans who flirt with moving to Canada never follow through, despite their misgivings about living under a President (proper noun). It’s hard to leave the people and place you love, no matter what kind of (derogatory noun) is running the country.