Moving to US from Canada

Lets assume you get offered a job in the US and you live in Canada. You are a Canadian. This was my setup. I writing this to help other avoid some of the pitfalls that I have so far learned.


Summary of the things

  1. The type of Visa will impact on your and your partners freedoms
  2. You need to prepare for the boarder crossing to get your Visa, make sure you have enough time – maybe a week
  3. You need somewhere to live – ask how its done
  4. Pay attention to the Exchange rate – learn what is about to happen
  5. You need a Bank Account – The Patriot Act in the US, means you need a residential address in the US
  6. You need a Social Security Number – You will need this for Credit Card, Internet, Electricity, Mobile
  7. To move your things or not – Get estimates on the weight and add 30%-50%
  8. Documentation from Homeland – having my Canadian Credit Score was helpful in securing that I was a respectable person looking for a new place to live
  9. Doctors Documentation – Get it all
  10. Budget – Health is about to cost you a LOT more. If you have a domestic partner a LOT LOT more – unless your new company covers this.
  11. Having no Credit Score will limit you in a lot of ways. Some rental places will not take you unless you have a Credit score and it will take a longtime for you to get a useful Credit card limit.

Things to negotiate in your employment process

One month apartment paid for by the new company.

This saves so much pain, as you immediately have a place of residency which allows you to open a bank account, it allows you to take time getting to know where you want to live and choose somewhere, rather then have to take something in a rush. It allows you transfer monies without getting completely screwed by the exchange rate. Really understand the Health care plan the company offers. I would suggest a meeting with their benefits person.

Ask for more vacation

There will be times you will need to go back to support your friends and family, some of these will not be breaks or times of rest. You could even ask for more for the first year only, and then drop down to a lower amount.

The Company pays for Immigration lawyers

Some will do this without question. But what is your path? H1BN Visa to Green Card?  If this is a place you want to really grow 3 years (e.g. TN Visa) may not be enough.

Apply for your Social Security Number

Your Social Security Number(SSN) acts as your unique identity in the US for taxes, and is also used by your employer and for most on-going services.

It can take 2-3 weeks for your SSN to be processed and this number really is needed for most things. Do it as soon as you have your visa, if you can ask for it as part of the visa process, do this.

It can take up to 10 days for the information to be transferred from Homeland security to Social Security and then 2-3 weeks after that is processing time for Social Security – so this can take upto 5 weeks.

When you go to a Social Security Office, you need your passport (for identity and proof of age) and proof of Visa (the actual right to work). You will also need a place to send the social security card (this can be work or your living place).

Give it a couple of hours of free time, Social Security Offices are busy places.

Examples of what you need your SSN for

  1. Credit card
  2. Internet
  3. Electricity
  4. Phone

For both Electricity and Internet I had to go to physical stores (show identity) and I had to pay a “security fee” as my credit score was so low (actually non-existent). Because I was  a new customer to ComEd (Electricity) I had to pay an extra $20 per month for the first 18 months, which I will presumably get back when I leave (we’ll see about that).

Open a Bank Account

Choosing a bank account, I asked my future work colleagues and local friends what they thought. Chase came up a lot and their mobile app was very good.

You need a US residence first :

  1. You need a lease
  2. a letter stating you are living in a residence with signature stating you live there
  3. Some work places will let you use their address, some will give you an apartment for the first month, maybe make a friend, or get to know your new work colleagues really well.

Sometimes you need a Social Security Number, depends on the bank. You need to get open an account as soon as possible so you have a place to deposit your US paycheques and an account to start paying bills from.

Exchange Rate

Man this sucked for the move, since I was still earning Canadian dollars and paying in US dollars. So my initial costs were really high:

7 December 2015
Foreign Currency Amount: USD 5,000.00
At a Rate of 1 CAD equals: USD 0.7361
CAD Cost Excl. Fees: CAD 6,792.56

I used Forex to transfer my money, my Bank in Canada does not do Wire Transfers. Forex gave a great exchange rate and only took 34 hours. That said it could take a lot longer.

I needed enough money for my rent, security deposit, and first two weeks living (until I got my first pay). Also for the places that wanted me to put a security deposit down due to a very low credit rating e.g. Credit Card, Electricity, Internet.

Somewhere to Live

This will depend on the market. In Chicago you get an Agent for free, who will take you around multiple apartments. They get half the first months rent from the landlord.

Exploring the neighbourhoods was a combination of asking all my friends in Chicago, book research, walking around them, looking at google maps and using the “Nearby” function.

My filters were within 45 mins walk from work, 5-10 from CTA (Train), good light, good kitchen and about 1000 sq ft.

I worked with two very different agents. Travis Smith from Homescout Realty and Warren Smith from Chicago Apartment Finders. Both were amazing and very different, this reflected in the places I saw. I saw 19 in all. It helped to get a sense of the areas in Chicago, and the prices.

Advice is to find out who which utilities. In Chicago heating and air conditioning is a big cost (it has cold winters and hot humid summers) so watch who pays for that. I was clear I only wanted buildings that paid for that.

The biggest problem I encountered here was getting the money to them. They wanted Cashiers cheques, now! I nearly lost a place because I did not realize how long it could take to wire money.

Transfer money from Canada to US


As soon as you are considering moving to the US, make sure you have home insurance for current address that covers your property during a move. Movers charge a ridiculous rate to insure your property. I found it very difficult to find a good third party moving insurance.

What does it cost to relocate?

  • Getting rid of things you will not take
  • Storage
  • Flights to explore and find a place
  • Accommodation whilst exploring
  • Extra weight baggage costs for the flight to move
  • Large number of deposits (because you have no credit score)
  • Moving Cost (See below)
  • Packing takes much longer then ever expected
  • Getting rid of things you can not take and replacing those things
  • Replacing thinks that get damaged in the move

Losing your stuff

You cannot ship a number of things to the US:

  • Alcohol – I gave it to friends. That was about $400.
  • Food – I had a lot of food which I gave away to friends. That was about $500 right there (I packed my spices and some tea into my luggage and that was it)
  • Any flammable things e.g. camping fuel

Movers will under estimate your weight

I got quotes from nine companies, three visited and estimated I had between 5,000 to 6,000 lbs. They gave me quotes based on this weight. You then end up signing a contract that basically the Movers are not responsible for anything. When my stuff was weighed it came out at 8,300 lbs. It felt like the movers deliberately underplay the weight to get you onboard and then sting you.

The Con of Shuttle Service

Shuttle Service is the biggest con from Movers. They cannot get the biggest truck to your front door so then they have to use a smaller one, and they charge you for this privilege (e.g. $1,000). They want to use the larger one so they can transport multiple houses and make more money at your expense.

Scrapping things

In hindsight I would rent a car for a couple days, so that I could get rid of things my friends would want. I used a combination of Facebook and Craigslist to get rid of a bunch of things. I had a lot of old electric things that I had to get to the right recycling place, a propane tank, plant pots, patio chairs, furniture that would not survive another long trip, books it was time to let go off. All of these places were really only accessible by car and the services that pickup up scrap end up being expensive and all the charities we could have donated to were either full up or had strict schedules for pickups which you needed to book weeks in advance.

Renters Insurance

Some places e.g. Chicago require it. I went with All State as they cover your property during moves. State Farm did not.

Bring things early

As soon as you know you are going to move, each time you fly out, bring things and pay for the extra case.  My work let me store a bunch of my RucSacs before I started.  I brought the things I knew I would need for my first month and other things that I did not want to trust to the Movers.

Prepare for a month

Of not having your things. No bed, no chairs, no table.. After sleeping on the floor for three weeks, we had a vacation at a Hotel.


Buy Health Insurance

Do not mess around with this. Make sure you have enough travel insurance to cover you for at least 45-60 days while you get settled. Once you arrive, if you are in charge of purchasing your own health insurance within 2 months of moving there (otherwise the window closes and you have to wait until the following January). So make sure you get on this right away. At the same time you may want to bundle it up with your car, life, contents and personal umbrella liability insurance.

To note that most US Health Insurance plans will “charge” you for every use e.g. visiting the doctor, prescriptions.This is called co-pay. Different plans cover different things and have different percentages of co-pay. The more you pay per month, the lower your co-pay. But not matter how much your plan costs, the deductible is going to really high, usually in the thousands of dollars. So even if you get health insurance, make sure you have US dollars saved up to pay up to the deductible amount in case of a health emergency. Most US health policies are heavily reactive, they fix you when something goes wrong, and only cover a few preventative things, such as 1 annual check-up.  There will be no massages 😦

If you (or your family/domestic partner) can’t get health insurance through your work, and you don’t qualify for The Affordable Care Act (for as long as it will be around…), the best option seems to be Blue Cross Blue Shield. Give them a call rather than using the marketplace, and let them know what you’re looking for. They will explain to you what all the plans mean and are patient with people unfamiliar with the system. Be prepared to pay hundreds per month. My domestic partner’s insurance costs me $360/month (includes dental and 20% copay).

If work pays for your medical, health and dental – ask LOTS of questions on how much coverage, co-pay and liability you have. We found that our liability on our car insurance was super low, so we topped up and bought an additional umbrella policy. If you have wedding rings or major jewellery – bring your appraisal forms or else you need to get everything re-appraised again for insurance purposes.

Building a Credit Score

Nations do not share this information as where would be the profit in it for businesses if they did? You are legally in the US able to obtain your score once a year for free (there may be an admin charge 😉 ), but businesses are likely to make this “difficult” and slow. The fastest way to push up your credit score in the US is to get a “secured” Credit Card, spend often on it and pay off each spend ASAP.

How does a low credit score affect you? Essentially no organization will trust you:

  1. You will have to pay deposits on most services
  2. Some services are limited to people with good credit ratings
  3. Some services will charge you more
  4. You will have to physically visit stores to prove who you are
  5. Some apartments that you will want to rent will ask for a range of a credit score, so you may not be able to get them

Get a US Credit Card

Apply for a prepaid credit card where you would leave a upto $1000 deposit for a $1000 limit on a credit card. Use this to slowly build credit score over the next 3-6 months and then you can eventually ask for your deposit back. This is essentially to build a Credit Score. You will miss your old one.

You will need a SSN before, this is a requirement from the PATRIOT Act


If you’re a resident of Canada but work in the United States, the Canada-US Tax Treaty provides special rules to determine how you are taxed.

If you work full-time in the US on an income over $10,000 – You must pay US federal and, if applicable, state income tax in the United States on your US-source wages (income is sourced to the jurisdiction where the services are performed, not where you’re paid from). You will also have to report this income on your Canadian tax return. To avoid double taxation, you will generally be allowed to claim a foreign tax credit on your Canadian return for any tax you pay to the United States. You should note that the individual US states are not bound by the treaty. Therefore, even though you may be subject to an exemption from US federal tax under the treaty, there is no guarantee that you will not be subject to a state’s income tax.

You will have to sign a W8 form for every Financial Organization that you work with. The details from the Canada Revenue Agency are here.

Dual Status Alien- First Year Choice

If you are a Nonresident Alien who will become a Resident Alien under the Substantial Presence test in the year following this taxable year, you may elect to be treated as a Dual Status Alien for this taxable year and a Resident Alien for the next taxable year if you meet certain tests. Refer to the First Year Choice area, under Dual-Status Aliens, of Chapter 1 in Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens.


I applied and got a TN Visa (part of the NAFTA Trade Agreement), for three years. This is not difficult to get if you are in the right job category, you have a degree and a job offer. Still use a lawyer.

Check the law and political environment i.e. anti immigration or pro immigration.  Understand it.

Your Partner on Visa

If you have a partner (married or domestic partner) you can get them an extended B2 Visa. A B2 Visa is a holiday visa which you automatically get when you visit the US. However, you are usually restricted to 6 months per year on the B2 visa. You can get it extended for   up to 1 year at a time (make sure you have print outs of all the documentation). Under the B2 Visa, your partner cannot study, work or volunteer. Once you arrive, you can begin the process of applying for an H1BN (where you are entered into a lottery). If you were to get it, it would make no difference from your perspective, but your spouse (doesn’t apply to domestic partners) could then work and study. A partner on B2 Visa cannot get a SSN, which limits what they can do e.g. phone, health insurance, utilities, credit cards, etc.  In some cases a TIN can be an alternative.

Emotional journey of leaving friends

Watching the emotional journey of your friends who actually like to spend time with you is sometimes painful. Some are excited for the new place to visit, some tell every reason why you should not go, some are just pissed off at you, some just shut you out. A lot of emotions like grieving. I love you too and will miss you much.

We do not free ourselves to move on to new adventures by cutting our ties with where we are now. Instead strengthen those roots and drag them through the deep earth with you to wherever you go. In your new place these roots will help you thrive and grow, creating and attracting the same wonderful things from where they came and this will sustain you and them.


You may notice that you miss your friends, the banter, the calling you out, the hugs.  You will feel it unless you are a sociopath.  This combined with your new colleagues think and feel slightly different, your colleagues will have a lot more culture references to bond over – these will make you feel the outsider more than once. Work to make real friends, find your tribe inside and outside of work, do not let yourself become isolated.  The first year will be exhausting, so take good breaks, refresh your soul in whatever manner that serves you.


  1. Have a house warming party and invite the people you like from work
  2. Have multiple dinner parties (even if you order take out)
  3. Boardgames Nights

Working in the US

Here are some other things I noticed that are different but have yet to process them. Some of them maybe related to where I work.

  • Style of communications
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Negotiation
  • Office Politics
  • How Race is talked about
  • How Gender is talked about
  • How Religion is talked about



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