Every four years, anxious Americans vow to leave their country if a certain candidate gets elected. This year, though, the prospect of a President Trump seems to have created more would-be exiles than usual.
But where would they go? The place you hear most often is Canada, a country that shares the same language as the U.S. and has a long (if boring) tradition of good government and social cohesion. And this month, the country became a more attractive pick after an Economist cover depicted Canada as the new land of liberty.
Alas, it turns out becoming a Canuck isn’t so simple. While it’s easy for Americans to pay a visit to their neighbor (aka neighbour) to the north, they can’t just throw some hockey sticks in a bag and move there for good.
According to Michael Huynh, a Toronto immigration lawyer with the firm Orange LLP, there are three main avenues to becoming a Canadian: having a special skill or profession; joining immediate family members who are in Canada already; claiming political asylum as a “protected person.”
The family process is typically the easiest way to emigrate, says Huynh, but Americans without kin in Canada may also be able to come in through the skills category—but it depends what you do.
“If someone is a professional, we have categories for them that are easy to meet. Anything from doctor to lawyer to scientist to teacher. If you’re a grocer, it’s harder,” he said, adding that occupation is just a component of a larger points system (see this calculator) that Canada uses to admit skilled workers.
And under the points system, if you speak French, that gives you a big boost if you want to move to the province of Quebec.
As for the “protected persons” or refugee class, that’s not something Americans could legitimately claim (even though thousands sought refuge and obtained citizenship in Canada during the Vietnam War).
Also note that even for Americans who are able to check the right boxes, there are other big hurdles to becoming Canadian—namely, the process is slow and expensive. According to Huynh, even a simple application to join a spouse in Canada can cost between $5,000 and $15,000, and the waiting period can take years. That means an American may have to ride out the full term of a Trump (or Clinton) presidency before finally getting a Canadian passport.
Finally, American arrivals to Canada must make other adjustments such as getting used to having a queen again. Oh, and the winters are cold, and there is a smattering of new vocabulary to learn— including important words like toque, mickey, and brown toast.
For those who want to see what Canada is like before making, Americans can typically visit for months at a time without special visa arrangements. (Unless, that is, Canada decides to build a wall across its 4,000 mile southern border and asks the U.S. to pay for it.)