My Home and Native Land
OK, it’s not my native land but it was my home for seven years and it’s the place I feel most comfortable in, despite my New York City roots and over 15 years spent in California. Hearing a lot about all the Americans from Miley Cyrus to the guy next door claiming they’ll all leave and head to Canada with a Trump victory, I thought I’d shed some real insight on the topic since for me it’s “been there, done that“. First, my post-Super Tuesday commentary.
Obviously having zero effect on the outcome, my comments on the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election went unnoticed as America came one step closer to electing Drumpf as the nominee, setting up an almost inevitable march to the White House. Knowing most voters in the conservative and rural states that voted on Super Tuesday probably don’t know the meaning of “expatriate”, this no surprise. Hypocritical world reaction from the European world leaders went from shock to disbelief despite the disturbingly high number of similar xenophobic racists that dominate the political circles all across the continent. With many nations having already enacted anti-Muslim immigration legislation and other isolationist policies designed to increase nationalism and foster racist attitudes among the masses, Bloomberg’s on-line app recently commented how Drumpf actually fits right in with the new 21st century attitude of hatred, fear and racial segregation.
While saddened by the current state of world affairs, it’s no surprise that America appears headed on the same path despite being the most powerful and influential nation on earth. With trillions of dollars wasted on military actions disguised as anti-terrorism acts, perhaps the money would’ve been better used on education. Statistically speaking, America scores dead last in almost every class of scholastic achievement making it possibly the world’s most ignorant developed nation. Intentionally designed to keep an uninformed nation in the dark, the Republican party covets the citizens least likely to ever benefit from Republican pro-elite policies favorable to business and Wall Street by standing on morals and not issues. Every country has right and left-wing types and under normal circumstances, there’s always been enough sanity (and educated citizens) to prevent sociopaths from taking the reigns of the world’s most powerful job.
But somewhere along the way, the ignorant grew weary of their trailer homes, unpaid mortgages and overtaxed beer and decided it’s obviously the fault of Mexicans and Muslims. Blinded by power, the GOP failed to understand the power of the masses and an obsolete democratic system written for the 1820’s that ignores the popular vote. Allowing about seven states to decide the fate of the presidency, all it will take is enough white voters in the so-called “swing states” to garner 270 electoral votes and bring America right back to the age of burning crosses. Advocating a nation that shuns its closest and second most important trading partner as well as prohibiting two billion citizens from “The American Dream”, the failed system called American democracy deserves what it gets. And that’s mostly represented by the intelligent social media comment you see above.
Speaking of America’s closest neighbors, let’s shift our focus back to expats. Once again there’s talk of Americans fleeing to Canada should Drumpf become president. Now that’s something I know a lot about. Followers of the blog may know that Diane is a Canadian citizen and that we lived in Calgary, Alberta for 6 years during the second Bush presidency. Simply put, the easiest way to actually accomplish this is an “immigration through family class visa” which really just means applying for permanent residency on the basis of being married to a Canadian. Some of you may actually consider this. Canadians are a good catch; generally well-educated, well-traveled and usually acutely aware of all things American thanks to a pathetically sad “Americanization” of Canada (mostly through corporate takeover but also precipitated by a real media that educates instead of preaching). In the interest of those unwilling or unable to seek out a Canadian spouse, let me offer some insight into the realities of moving to Canada
Canada has its own problems
Before the presidential election dominated the headlines, Canadians went to the polls last year and elected a new Prime Minister. Some of you may remember the innocent ribbing offered up by American media outlets that lambasted the seemingly silly procedures and nuances of a Parliamentary Democracy.
Sidebar: The main difference between parliamentary democracy and America is that Canadians vote for a party, not a candidate. Possibly the most important difference, let me reiterate the importance. Forcing voters to base their decisions on party platforms instead of bullshit rhetoric and false promises, the party decides the leader. Ironically, Americans don’t vote for their president either. If they did, Al Gore would have been president. But I digress, having probably confused every Drumpf supporter.
Canadians voted out the Political Conservative (PC) party after almost twelve years under the leadership of Stephen Harper. In a parliamentary democracy, stable nations can avoid the enormously wasteful and mostly media driven “race for the presidency” every four years although the party can remove the Prime Minister. An example of the opposite extreme is Australia, who’s replaced their leader so many times in recent years it’s become a joke to most political pundits. Unlike America, individual wealth and prosperity of most Canadians depends on each province’s resources. Even Drumpf supporters know that oil prices hovered in the stratosphere until last year’s shockingly fast collapse. Driving most of the Canadian economy, Alberta is home to the oil sands and has more oil than Saudi Arabia, albeit in the messy form known as bitumen. Needing to be highly refined, the oil sands have fueled prosperity for the bulk of Stephen Harper’s reign as Prime Minister.
Unfortunately, not even the smartest financial guru created a worse case scenario for $30 a barrel oil and having committed billions to oil sands in an irresponsible manner similar to GOP military spending, Canada now finds itself in serious financial straits. Recently my brother-in-law was laid off from his otherwise stable job as a financial analyst at a profitable oil and gas firm. Following through on his party’s platform, newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just announced his plan to take the Canadian budget into deficit after years of surplus to stimulate the economy. Practically assuring tough times ahead with an eventual goal of restoring the surplus, Canadians are too mired in their own worries to care about Americans dissatisfied with their own political failures. Those thinking the Canadian government is apt to open its doors like it did for Vietnam draft dodgers is in for a rude awakening.
Why Cape Breton Island Wants unhappy Americans to move there
You may have heard about a pitch from an island in Nova Scotia that’s actively encouraging any Americans unable to live under a Drumpf presidency to come move there. Neglecting to mention why any town would make such an offer, they tout rugged landscape, scenic beauty and relaxing lifestyles. All of these are true except for one very important fact. Having lost most of their major industries over the last few decades to overseas consolidation, over-fishing and new technologies that eliminated a large degree of blue-collar factory workers, the Maritime Provinces are dirt poor.
Barely scraping by, the per capita income lags the wealthier provinces by so much that almost everyone with an opportunity bolted out of there awhile ago. With an aging population, declining infrastructure and little financial opportunities, the area is literally becoming a ghost town. Hoping to infuse their province with a huge infusion of American expats, the local pitch forgot to add a sentence that says “Please inject a couple of million dollars into our dying economy”. While some Americans from New England might be willing to swap Vermont or Maine for Nova Scotia due to proximity and similar living conditions, I hardly think people from California, New York or Missouri are willing to trade their comfortable American lifestyles for a rural Canadian town mired in severe recession.
If, however, the idea holds appeal, let’s discuss the nuts and bolts of Canadian emigration. Possibly requiring your patience, your first stop on the internet is the Citizen and Immigration Canada website. Having been forced out of service for a while thanks to a few hundred thousand Americans watching Super Tuesday results, it may take a while for the geeks to restore normal service. (Mostly because the skillful tech workers in Canada all work in Silicon Valley thanks to the NAFTA through a medium known as the TN Visa.)
Steps to Canadian Immigration
Way back in the age of innocence (before 9/11), Diane and I decided to leave the San Francisco Bay Area and live in Calgary, Alberta. Having moved to California a few years earlier, Diane qualified as a returning resident and I was eligible for permanent residency under the Family Class Visa program which affords special privileges to American citizens married to Canadian citizens and wishing to emigrate to Canada. Automatically qualifying without being placed on any type of special waiting list or lottery, the process involves a lengthy mound of paperwork almost as long as the reciprocal process for Canadians married to Americans wishing to live in the USA. Diane did that process and became naturalized as an American citizen in 2014. Eligible for citizenship after only three years of permanent residency, it’s a good deal. Failing to get my Canadian citizenship because I simply didn’t have the foresight to visualize being laid off thanks to a Great Recession, I regret that move but hope to rectify it later in life since I’ll never step foot in a Drumpf-run America.
Given an article in today’s Yahoo Finance about how little the average American family has stashed for retirement (about $95,000 but the median number or 50th percentile is a scary $5,000 and more than half reported having zero), I’m here to warn you it takes a few thousand dollars to file the paperwork so you may want to think twice. Assuming you’re lucky enough to have the cash, you’ll need to gather all the usual forms of identification like marriage certificates, passports and tax statements for the past several years and then you’ll be asked to write an essay stating how you intend contributing to the Canadian economy.
And that’s in addition to signing a waiver stating you’re ineligible for all Canadian benefits (Sorry, no “free healthcare”) for a long period. (On a family class visa your spouse agrees to be financially responsible for your welfare for ten long years). Crossing into Canada will be enormously long and tedious when you state your intended purpose for entering Canada and they’ll send you to a little room where you’ll take a number and spend the bulk of your day.
Thinking about bringing your American made vehicle over the border for legal importation? Grab another pen copy down the website of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website. Recently enacted changes to the system require all Americans to use an electronic customs importation system so complicated, most people shell over a few hundred bucks and hire a customs broker in Canada to help. Should you choose to tackle it yourself, first you need to apply for an Employee identification or Tax ID number with the IRS (social security numbers are not accepted) and then take an online course ensuring you understand how to use the system.
Giving you exactly a few days from the time you finally get the necessary numbers and stamps, the car needs to cross at specific borders designed to handle importation of goods. Usually a truck border, the line can be a few miles long and nobody gives you much help once you get there. After finally releasing the vehicle, you’ll cross the street to the Canadian Customs office, stand on another line, find someone who understands the procedure, pay a duty tax and the Goods and Services Tax known as “GST” (Yup, you pay for the “free healthcare” with taxes).
You made it and you’re ready to start your new American life in Canada where people are tolerant, guns are not much of a problem and everyone is happy and harmonious. All you need now are some Canadian ties so you head over to the local ScotiaBank branch. Sounds easy enough, right?
There’s something called FATCA that’s basically a new set of complicated tax and compliance rules that almost every bank on earth needs to abide by before they can open a bank account for Americans. Practically giving your third born child with 800 other forms and pieces of identification, no banker wants to come near American citizens because it means reporting every penny of your finances to the IRS despite your wish to leave the homeland. Being Canadians, they’ve adapted better than most of the world but it’s advisable to bring some extra cash. But not more than $9,999.99 or you’ll have to fill out another special IRS form.
Your county loves you and wouldn’t want you to ever abandon the U.S. Treasury so you’ll file U.S. taxes forever despite your simple little lifestyle in Cape Breton. Carry your foreign currency converter app because they won’t give you a Canadian credit card when you get there even though your credit rating is stellar AND the ironic fact that Canada uses the same credit agencies as America. Instead, you’ll have to set up credit by doing something tedious like opening as line of credit, borrowing from it and paying yourself back for about a year. And wait until you learn how Canadian mortgage lenders offer about one tenth of what you think you’d be entitled to and they need an actual down payment, not zero down and some special government insurance policy.
Summarizing, moving to Canada is possible but not really practical for most Americans. Wages are lower, taxes are higher, winters are brutal and your national newscasts report real news. From the entire world. imagine that. Even with all that, I love Canada and ultimately plan on setting in for permanent retirement down the road assuming the financial markets don’t totally collapse. Happy to answer any questions you may have, feel free to comment, email us or even phone. Living 7,000 miles away tucked into my moderate Muslim nation, it’s amazing that events so far away have such powerful ramifications in a globally connected world.
Although sanity may prevail this time, angry white America stands poised to send another lunatic to the stand in 2020 as the most likely result of this year’s mess is a split of the GOP into an “Establishment GOP” and an “Authoritative GOP“. For those interested in the political science behind the great revolt, this article entitled “The Rise of American Authoritarianism” masterfully explains how we got here.