Heading to Canada because Trump won is a bad money move

Canada Eh!
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If you're thinking of fleeing the country ahead of President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration next year, well, it's not going to be that easy.

"If so-and-so wins the election, I'm moving to Canada" was a common refrain throughout the election, but as results began pouring in Tuesday pointing to a Trump win, some Americans seemed to be making a more serious assessment of their options.

Early Wednesday, searches for "canada imigration [sic]" and "canada citizenship" were up 4,800 percent and 4,550 percent, respectively, over the past 24 hours, according to Google Trends. Other popular searches included "immigrate to canada," "how to move to canada from us" and "how do i move to canada."

Canada's immigration website was down for several hours overnight, although it's unclear whether the crash stemmed from a sudden spike in traffic or another cause. Canadian officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Moving to our neighbor to the north isn't so easily — or cheaply — accomplished, however, especially if you're not heading there as a student or with a job offer in hand. Nor will it accomplish much in avoiding a new president's policies, if you want to retain American citizenship.

Consider these six financial hoops would-be expats may encounter.

— By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant
Updated 09 Nov. 2016


People wait at the Customs and Immigration plaza at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, New York.
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Considering that 66 million Americans have zero dollars saved for a rainy day, according to a recent survey, just kicking off the process of legally moving to Canada may be out of reach. Application fees for the skilled worker "Express Entry" program run $412 in U.S. dollars for the worker and a spouse, plus another $112 per dependent.

Hiring an attorney to navigate the process can add anywhere from $400 to $7,500 to the tab depending on whom you hire, the size of your family and what kind of immigration status you're seeking.

The bigger hitch, however, may be the wait time to see if the Canadian government rolls out the welcome mat. According to the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship's mid-October estimates, once a completed application is received, the average processing time for someone applying for entry as a skilled worker was six to 12 months; a live-in caregiver, 51 months; and a self-employed person, 95 months — by which point your hated candidate could have completed two full terms in office and be on his or her way out of the White House.

No wonder there's a dating site offering to match up Americans with Canadian partners. But marrying a Canadian doesn't automatically make you one. Processing times to have a spouse sponsor you as a permanent resident are a mere 14 months.


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Moving abroad won't save you from an incoming president's tax changes, and it can make filing more complex and expensive.

"The U.S. has a worldwide income approach," said Tim Gagnon, associate professor of accounting at Northeastern University. "Whatever you earn, wherever you are, we tax it."

Canada has a treaty with the U.S. to avoid double taxation, and expats have some breaks to reduce their U.S. bill, including a foreign-earned income exclusion and a credit for qualifying foreign taxes paid. But policy gaps can still generate U.S. tax bills — for example, freelancers typically owe self-employment tax, he said.

The Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts and the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act generate extra filing requirements on investments and bank accounts.

"I'd love to say these are simple forms to fill out, but they take a lot of time," Gagnon said.

The complexities can push expats' U.S. tax preparation fees above $1,000, he said.

Even renouncing your U.S. citizenship can have tax implications, in the form of an exit tax.


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A bright spot for would-be expats: In 2014, the median income for Canadian families was CA$78,870 (US$59,114 at current exchange rates). The U.S. median household income was $54,657 that year.

That is, if you can find suitable employment. Canada's unemployment rate was 7 percent in September, compared with 5 percent in the U.S.

Getting credentials takes time. Would-be employers generally must submit Labour Market Impact Assessment paperwork and receive a favorable ruling — a process the Canadian government reports is typically completed within six months. Would-be employees will need to apply for a work permit, for a fee of US$116. Processing times for such a permit are currently nine weeks, according to mid-October estimates.


A trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Whatever effect a Trump presidency has on the markets, investors are unlikely to escape it by moving abroad. Fleeing might actually generate more turmoil for your investments.

"There are some investments U.S. citizens living abroad really shouldn't invest in," said Andrea Blackwelder, a certified financial planner with Wisdom Wealth Strategies in Denver.

In particular, she said, passive foreign investment companies can create harsh tax implications. (Remember, as mentioned in the "taxes" slide, you're detailing those financial holdings with annual filings.)

"A lot of them are Canadian-based mutual funds," Blackwelder said. "You wouldn't encounter them here, but could easily there."

Expats may also need to reassess how they invest for retirement. Foreign income and housing exclusions reducing earned income may limit your ability to contribute to an IRA; assets in a Canadian retirement plan may be subject to U.S. tax unless you elect to defer taxation until receiving distributions.

Cost of Living

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A strong U.S. dollar may make Canada an affordable international vacation — US$1 currently buys CA$1.34 — but it's by no means cheap to live there (where, presumably, you'll earn and spend in local currency, shelling out exchange fees to convert U.S.-based savings.)

A 2015 Deutsche Bank analysis estimated Canada's cost of living was 1.7 percentage points cheaper. In 2014, Canadian prices were 12.8 percentage points pricier.

One of your biggest expenses: housing. Excluding the red-hot Toronto and Vancouver markets, the average home price nationwide in July was US$286,076, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association — 15.5 percent higher than the U.S. median of $247,700. Including those cities, it's 55 percent higher.

Don't expect free health care to help balance your budget. Canada's public health care is for citizens and permanent residents; temporary residents will need to obtain coverage through an employer or on their own.

"Canada does not pay for hospital or medical services for visitors," notes the government's Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. "You should get health insurance to cover any medical costs before you come to Canada."


Steve Nehf | The Denver Post | Getty Images

Getting all your worldly possessions to Canada won't be easy or cheap.

Depending on weight and distance, moving the contents of a 5,000-square-foot home to Canada could cost US$20,000 to $30,000, said Jack Griffin, president and chief operating officer of Atlas World Group, which conducts thousands of moves between the U.S. and Canada each year. (Nearly all of those are corporate-sponsored relocations where the employer pays the tab.)

Shipments of household goods must be cleared at the border, and again at the customs location nearest your destination.

"Canadian customs will want to see the visa, proof of identification, where you will reside," he said. "It's a rigorous process."

If you don't have that visa and other paperwork, it's going to be tough to find a pro mover, and a DIY move might find your stuff impounded at the border or denied entry altogether, among other possible consequences.