Moving to Canada

There are plenty of sites offering information on how to apply for a Canadian Immigration Visa and many more offering services (paid of course) to help you do it. One of the major issues I had during the immigration process was the actual move itself and what happens when you arrive. I have received plenty of emails through my information website,, asking for additional help and advice about what forms are required, what to expect at the Canadian customs and what to do when they first arrive in Canada.

I won’t pretend this article will answer all questions for everybody, but I’ll be giving as much background as I can with more, detailed information backing it up from the website in the text or by links to the appropriate authority. I’ll start with one of the biggest headaches – the house sale (if you own) and packing up for the move.

Packing Up

When it comes to moving house there are several theories as when to put the house up for sale. Basically, we were told to wait until called for medicals as at least then you are over half way through the process. We were lucky in that we had somewhere to go, so we put the house on the market as we just wanted to have it sold and out of our hair! Even then, as “Our Story” shows, we had trouble. If you own your house you need to asses the local housing market and though its always a gamble, plan your house sale and know at what stage in the immigration process you will put it up for sale.

Everyone’s circumstances are different, but once the visa is issued, you only have 12 months from the date of your MEDICALS to physically land in Canada. One big worry I had was that we wouldn’t be able to sell the house quickly which in turn would delay our landing. If you miss the 12 month deadline, you will probably have to redo the medicals at a fair cost and then resubmit form there. Or you could land in Canada with your house unsold back in your native country with all the problems that entails. With many people’s houses being their main source of settling funds, you’ll need to have that money in the bank as soon as you can after landing.

If there is anyway you can find temporary accommodation then to have the house sold is one less headache you need when you are moving countries. You may pay rent for a while but at least you know what is in the bank when you arrive in Canada and this allows you to budget properly for your new life.

If you have Kids make sure you keep them involved. One big mistake we made was thinking that our 3 year old didn’t need to know at an early stage of the proceedings – we were amazed when a very sad and angry boy told us what the “For Sale” sign meant in the front garden as we had forgotten to tell him before it went up! All kids will be unsettled and I think the older the child, the harder the move may be for them – especially if they are in their teens.

Only YOU know what you will take with you so it may be easy or it may be a serious project to plan what to take sell or throw out! Put kids into the equation and it starts to become complicated.

We used the whole exercise to get rid of all our old or unwanted things and start again. It comes down to economics if it costs more to insure, store and ship something than its worth. The decision on whether to insure or not is a personal choice and depends upon the value of the items you are shipping and don’t forget to take into account any excess fees you have to pay in the event of damage or losses. You will need to build a list of all the items you are bringing into Canada and give their values in Canadian dollars.

This is probably easiest to take it from the inventory drawn up by the packing company – give as accurate assessment of value as you can but don’t spend weeks on it. If you have a box of kids toys for example – put your best guess at the value on the list as follows:

1. Box of assorted used kids toys C$100.00

2. Box of photographs No commercial value

3. Queen size bed C$850.00

And so on. You will be expected to have several copies of your packing list and a form B4 (Goods to follow) with it upon your arrival so make sure you have at least 3 copies in your hand luggage. Its OK to have too many but a pain if you don’t have enough!!

You will also need a similar list for any items you bring with you on the day of arrival and also any other subsequent shipments (we had an extra large box of things couriered in a totally separate shipment just before we left).

Don’t forget that Canada, as with the rest of North America, has an electrical system that runs on 115v different from both Europe and the UK. There is a good chance non North American electrical goods will require a transformer or simply won’t work over here so this may be a good time to dispose of your old goods and buy new once you arrive and are settled.

The chances are you will be using a specialist international moving company to move your possessions to Canada. Depending upon where you are moving from, you may have a long wait for your things to arrive at their final destination. You may also decide to store the property in your home country while you find the home of your dreams so make sure you allow for storage charges and extra insurance. These charges soon mount up and can give you a nasty surprise.

One thing I’ll say about the moving companies is that you are paying them for a service, if they are a good company they will be able to advise on the correct paperwork etc and formalities that will ensure a smooth arrival and customs clearance in Canada. You don’t need your shipment to be turned away from the port of entry (very expensive when they order its return to the original port of departure) or you end up liable for extra taxes etc. because of incorrect paperwork. You may well be able to have it repaid once you prove it is legitimate but you will still be out of pocket in the short term.

Most shipping agencies charge by the cubic foot and have several schemes offering different rates – “share a container” or “Full container”. The Full container service will have the container packed and sealed at your residence. The shared container service will see your possessions packed at your residence and then transported to the companies’ depot. Once there it is packed with other items to complete a container.

It all depends on how much you intend to ship on which service is the best for you. All the companies we contacted offered to send an estimator to the house to size up the load, go through your options and give a rough estimate to cost. Whatever you decide, ensure you give yourselves plenty of time to contact the shippers as we almost left it too late – 6 to 8 weeks would be reasonable. There will be plenty of advice on offer from qualified professionals – moving continents is a huge undertaking so any advice or extra information may help you out or save you money!

Upon the arrival in Canada, the agent contacted us with all the information and forms required. Once Customs had released it, the shipment arrived at our house 2 days later and was unpacked for us. A true door to door service! We suffered one breakage – a glass – so we were happy.


As with everything, your circumstances depend on whether you’ll bring any pets over with you. There are strict rules to be adhered to for the Importation Of Animals – as with most countries – so please ensure you fully understand what is required.

There are a few things to consider – if you are going into rented accommodation on your arrival having a pet will seriously restrict your choice of home. The local bylaws concerning pets are fairly strictly enforced leading to large fines if broken so make sure you understand them!

Make sure any inoculations are in date and you have the records. Also, it isn’t cheap to transport animals so bear that in mind too. Its worth delaying the arrival of your pet if possible to give you time to settle in and complete all the arriving formalities with one less thing to worry about. After a long and stressful journey do you really need to stay at the airport for several hours while the vet inspects your pet and completes all the necessary paperwork? Then you have to organise the transport to your accommodation (if they take pets) with a stressed out animal!

At the end of the day, moving countries is enough of an upheaval without leaving the family pet behind. That was the case for us so we brought our 3 year old Golden Retriever “Boris” over about 2 weeks after us. Boris was in kennels for 2 weeks prior to his departure during which time he had a custom travel kennel made for him and time to get used to it. All the necessary paperwork and vets examinations were handled by the shipper and he was booked on a scheduled flight. On the day of the flight he wasn’t put in the kennel until the last minute before loading which kept the time in the kennel restricted.

When we collected him all the paperwork was in order and all we had to do was go to the customs hall in the Calgary Terminal (pay a C$30.00 import duty) and then return to the cargo terminal with the release paperwork to collect one seriously excited dog! He was stressed though and took a few weeks to really settle in so be careful with them around children or strangers as even the most friendly pet may be on a short fuse and it will save any unwanted injuries or incidents.

Arrival Day

We were a sad sight on our arrival day at Calgary. It had been an emotional, 19 hour day when we struggled through the arrivals halls with arms full of hand luggage, car seats and 2 exhausted, distraught kids! The passport control officer was pleasant but efficient and we were soon through to the main customs point that handled new immigrants.

I guess it would be the worst nightmare if you landed without the correct documentation so hopefully we can help avoid that! It is essential that these items are carried in your HAND LUGGAGE and not packed away in a suitcase. All the Immigration processing takes place before you reclaim your baggage.

Your Canadian Immigrant visa and confirmation of Permanent Residence for each family member with you.

A valid Passport or other official travel document for each family member (normally must have a minimum of 6 months left before expiry).

Sufficient funds to cover your living expenses for 6 months.

Two copies of a detailed list of ALL the personal or Household items you are bringing with you. These lists must state how much the items are worth in Canadian Dollars.

Two copies of a list of items to follow – if you are shipping things later. Again, the values in Canadian Dollars must be shown.

With the 2003 regulations regarding ID cards for all immigrants, you may be required to bring correctly sized photographs with you – this requirement will be detailed in the detailed instructions for arrival you receive with your visa and may have changed since I arrived.

For the goods to follow we used the insurance values we had stated to make it easier (as described above) and had made detailed lists of everything to come and in what shipment they were in. The Canadian Customs and Border Crossing Agency (CBSA) are responsible for enforcing the laws and provide the form B4 for personal effects accounting. You should receive a checklist and detailed instruction on what is required for your arrival in Canada when you receive your immigration visa’s I know when we had our visa’s issued they were accompanied by a checklist of documents.

If you have any questions please contact your nearest High Commission or the CBSA BEFORE you leave your home country – one good tip is to ensure any important documents or transcripts are translated into English or French as required (if they aren’t already) before you arrive . For a more detailed overview go to our Customs and Immigration page.

It may be advisable to carry any other personal documents in your hand luggage as well. The Citizenship and Immigration Canada E-Book “A Newcomers Introduction to Canada” gives excellent advice on this matter.

Personally, I wouldn’t trust any of my important documents to be left in a suitcase. No matter where you are travelling from, it is unfortunate that items go missing and/or are stolen. It would be terrible for such an exciting day to be ruined by the loss of some irreplaceable items.

We have always been met by friendly and polite Customs and Immigration officials when we have travelled to Canada. This is in keeping with their fundamental commitment to provide such a service. The one thing I’ll add is that no matter how bad a journey/day you have had ALWAYS be nice back!

As with most countries around the world, Canada takes its security extremely seriously and will not bend the rules for anybody. The guidelines are quite straight forward and to ensure a problem free arrival its imperative you stick to them. There are two main pamphlets available to assist you depending upon your circumstances.

RC4151 – Settling in Canada is the document to guide you if you are settling in Canada for the first time or after being abroad for over 3 years (For Canadians).

Also, for those who are moving to Canada to study or work temporarily the pamphlet RC4220 Entering Canada to Study or to Work will be your guide.

Ensure all your possessions you bring with you are listed with values in Canadian Dollar have two copies ready – one to keep and one for the officials. To speed things up when you land you can download and print the forms B4 and B4A from the CBSA website. It’s best to have all your lists typed out to make life easier for the officials. Also, you will need the same forms for the goods to follow (if any). No import tax or duties are payable on settlers personal and household effects as long as you have owned, possessed and used them prior to arrival in Canada. If possible try and find any receipts and/or registration documents to support this.

Part of the “landing” process involves sorting out the paperwork for the “Goods to follow” and items you have brought with you. We had to report in person with our lists within 5 days at the Canada Customs District Office. All our paperwork was checked and that was it. We had to present the paperwork to claim the box we had couriered over and then send it off to the shipping agents in Vancouver to clear customs at the port of entry. Due to the fluid nature of legislation always contact the CBSA for the latest rules!

There is also a scheme for wedding gifts if you are newly married or about to be married within 3 months of your arrival in Canada. It is worth noting that any items you will be using for commercial purposes will be subject to regular duties at the current rates.

With the recent international clamp downs on terrorism and money laundering it is essential that if you physically carry on your person, over C$10,000 or foreign equivalent in cash, bonds or securities you report it to the customs official. There isn’t any limit on settler’s funds but failure to follow the rules may result in the seizure of the cash and/or big fines. See the pamphlet RC 4321. Vehicles can also be imported as personal effects but they must meet the strict Transport Canada Requirements and tested within 45 days. These requirements apply to vehicles less than 15 years old and buses that were manufactured on or after January 1st 1971. For all the information go to pamphlet RC4140 Importing a Vehicle into Canada. Firearms are restricted in Canada and it is advisable to contact the CBSA directly regarding this should you wish to import any.

Due to the extensive regulations associated with the import of meat, dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables it is recommended that you just don’t bother. It will delay your arrival if you have them with you – especially if not declared!

The same goes for house and garden plants. They contribute to the spread of disease and insects and are subject to rigid regulations. Contact the Canadian Food Inspection Agency through the links above for more details.

Depending upon your schedule and knowledge of the area you move to, it may be worth taking it easy for the first couple of days. The chances are you will have had a long and stressful departure and journey so enjoy your new surroundings, be a tourist and relax.

It is definitely worth applying for your health card as soon as possible – Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Quebec all have a 3 month qualifying period so you will need private insurance – we will have links to the best providers soon. Our Provincial pages have links to the detailed healthcare information for each Province. Also, register with a family doctor and dentist as there may well be a waiting list and they aren’t obliged to take you on! You will have to pay for medical services until your card is issued so make sure you keep any receipts as you can claim it back (apart from Ontario, BC, New Brunswick and Quebec).

You will need a Social Insurance Number (SIN) before you can legally work or be entitled to any benefits. You can apply online, or at one of the Local Offices. You will receive the card through the post but will have a receipt in the mean time to prove you have applied.

Once you have your SIN you can apply for the Child tax credit – if you have kids!

Each Provincial page on the website contains information on housing, vehicle and driver licensing, education, healthcare, welfare and loads of other great information to assist you in your settlement.

Rights And Obligations

The rights of a Canadian are found in the Human Rights Code and also the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As a Permanent Resident you will enjoy most of the rights a Canadian Citizen does though you cannot vote in Federal elections or run for Political Office.

You will be entitled to the basic freedoms of association, expression, peaceful assembly, religion and thought. Additionally, you will have some democratic rights, equality, language, legal, mobility and minority language education rights. All of these are covered in greater detail in the Government Newcomers Guide.

You also have several obligations to fulfill in order to maintain your status as a Permanent Resident.

You MUST accumulate 2 years presence in Canada in every 5 year period and be able to provide evidence of this if requested.

Committing a serious criminal offence may also be considered enough to end the residency and for deportation.

If it comes to light that false information was submitted during the application process can be cause for cancellation.

There is an appeals process to follow in the unlikely event of a mistake or in mitigating circumstances. The Immigration Appeal Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board will handle these.

Dave Lympany emigrated to Canada with his family in 2003 and has developed – the free information resource for Canada and Canadian Immigration. With over 150 pages of great content, the site is continually expanding and regularly updated and is an excellent resource for Immigration, Relocation, Research and Travel.