Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advice - Banking Issues #2

Tip - Funds transfer from Canada to the U.S.

If you've moved to Canada as a Permanent Resident there is a good chance you are doing so debt free. If you have immigrated on a temporary work permit in relatively quick fashion like myself, you may still have U.S. debt. If so, that debt still needs to be paid off each month and you may find that you have an agreement with your U.S. creditors to do so only in U.S. funds and ONLY from an account in a U.S. bank. In other words, your U.S. creditor may not accept payment using your Canadian U.S. dollars checking account. And, as mentioned in a previous post, one might wish to keep their U.S. checking account open for just such a situation.

If need be, getting money into that U.S. account from Canada might prove frustrating. Money transfers between Canadian and U.S. banks take approximately 21 days and you'd better hope nothing goes screwy. You may not make your payment due date if it does. 

We found Paypal to be a quicker, painless method for transferring money from our accounts in Canada to the U.S. Using Paypal can cut the transfer time from 21 days to as low as six or seven. The funds transfer from your Canadian account to Paypal takes approximately six days. It may be the same day to an additional couple of days to move your money from Paypal to the U.S. bank account. Paypal will do a conversion. When we checked the rate it was one penny higher than that published on the internet. Verify the bank and Paypal links by transferring an insignificant amount of money the first time.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Can You Hear Me Now?

Eric and I haven't ever had a home land line phone in the time we've lived together. It's been nine or so years since I personally have had one. There was a point in 2000 or so when I had three voice mails to keep track of; home, office and cell phone. Doing so was exhausting and costly so I opted to ditch the one at home. Work voice mail was mandatory and incredibly important and if I wished, I could forward the work calls to my cell phone and its proprietary VM system. Doing so made everything seem right in the world. K.I.S.S. ...or as simple as possible. Since then I've only been wireless.

We moved to Toronto ON four and a half months ago and traded in our U.S. cell phones for Canadian ones. I suppose we could have kept our service from San Francisco but doing so would cost an arm and a leg. We'd also have missed the opportunity to pay an equally insane amount for mobile communications here in T.O. Ah, the joy of access fees, eh?

So, new cell phone in hand I very quickly realized the number assigned me had been very recently associated with a moving company. How incredibly fortunate for me to be receiving very random calls regarding my moving services. In short time those calls stopped coming, thank the gods. All became rather normal and routine except for the odd "wrong number." Until last week. There were about ten separate calls, some seemingly with no one on the other end of the line. The number on the caller ID kept changing but all the variants were of an excessive length and a couple of them started with a "9." Perhaps out-of-country? Would caller ID register if so? Except for several, "hello, hellos" no one would speak to me. The calls finally stopped. Annoying as they were, Rogers Wireless would be no help at all. The customer rep I spoke to stated that the system hadn't even registered those calls to my phone. What? 'Tis true.

Flash forward one week to tonight. I was unavailable to take any of the numerous calls that rang my phone for ten minutes straight. Whomever it was kept calling, letting the phone ring and then hanging up and repeating the process. They didn't even try to leave a voice mail. And the caller ID was blocked. Go figure. Eric finally answered for me. The caller wouldn't identify himself or why he wanted to speak to me, only mentioning that it was "personal." He also wouldn't leave Eric his number for my call-back. Go figure. End of phone call. I was able to answer the next time it was his girlfriend. She wouldn't identify herself either but mentioned that her boyfriend was under the impression that she was having an affair with someone at my end of the line.

Please feel free to clue-in at the sound of the beep. "beep"

I politely informed her that she and her boyfriend had reached the home of two gay guys and that I had no idea what was going on at her end of the line and that they shouldn't call my number again. I then hung up.

Rogers Wireless immediately got another phone call. The experience wasn't very amusing and I figured it should at least be documented. I had hoped they could do something on their end to determine who had called. Not that I wanted to know. I just wanted it documented on my account in case the situation escalated. No. Can. Do. Great. Go figure (x3)

So, I am done with that cell number. Both the Rogers rep and I agreed that number needed to be retired. I now have a new one. I asked for a number that has been out of circulation for a lengthy time. Hopefully my new number wasn't used in the recent past by a drug dealer or escort. Cross your fingers for me. Please. LOL

If I haven't yet called, sent a text, or otherwise informed you of my "new digits," please contact me so I can do so.

"Can you hear me now?"

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thursday Morning in Toronto

My activities of late have centered around painting several rooms of our flat. To that end, I've been inside a lot and haven't taken use of the car during the day in a week or two. With my brush strokes finished for the time being, I decided to drive my partner to work and despite not really needing the car, to have use of it to distance myself from home. 


...I love the stuff. I have to give a tip o' the toque (a shake of the fist?) to my former room mate and good friend John C., who, every morning for the year he lived with me, faithfully brewed a full pot o' joe. I am now as addicted as anyone, thankyouverymuch - though I do have to say the machine gets a good amount of rest since I discovered Tea, Earl Grey, hot. A future blog posting for sure...

So, this morning I drove my Eric to work and then headed to the Starbuck's on Laird in Leaside to read the Toronto Star and enjoy a cup of coffee and an apple fritter. I like this particular shop because there is a small parking lot. This means I don't have to feed the parking meter.

I arrived and parked. There was a car in the next space with its hood up.  A woman was quenching her very needy vehicle's thirst for windshild wiper fluid - an activity I had recently done with my own. Have you ever driven with an insanely dirty windscreen? I remarked on my way into the coffee house how much more pleasant driving home for her would be and small talk ensued regarding my gas-electric hybrid SUV and, also, what has "lovingly" been described by my former auto mechanic as "idiot" lights -dashboard icons that illuminate after something breaks or fails on your car.

Anyway, she had very nice energy and I enjoyed the interaction. I also enjoyed the coffee and fritter that she spontaneously bought for me inside when we both reached the counter. How thoughtful. Moments later she said, "goodbye," left, and drove away. It could've happened anywhere at any time; I know. But it happened here in Toronto. And, since my partner and I moved to T.O. from California four and a half months ago, we have had many other similar interactions with random folk here in our new land. Is it all about (aboot?) a more polite, considerate Canadian culture? Hmmmmm.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Its Official!

Canadian Newcomers/Immigrants 3.0! Eric's and my new official title passed on to us by Tom and Emilio of the blog Canadian Hope. They celebrate their first full year as residents of Canada. In doing so they shed their newcomer title, given to them presumably by Nick and Mason of the Life Without Borders blog who arrived before them. ...And we all owe our thanks to L-girl from We Move to Canada - our very own "Grandam" of U.S. to CA immigration. Incredibly generous, helpful people all.

Tom and Emilio anointed Eric and I last night while attending a holiday party. The event was apparently documented this morning. I can only say that I am truly honored to receive such a title from two really great guys. 

As third (fourth?) generation in this line of immigration connection, we will continue the tradition of helping inform those who contact us regarding the nuances of Canadian immigration, meeting, greeting and welcoming, and generally using our experience to appropriately assist anyone with their immigration adventure.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Looking Toward the End of January

Good Morning! And for those of you still waiting for your coffee machine to finish it's task - good morning. I sit, laptop definitively where it is designed to be, on the couch in the living room - and yes, my coffee mug is full and steaming, placed on a forest green marble coaster on the table before me. The cat is behind, perched over my shoulder on the back of said couch and I have CNN on the TV for background noise. I even lit up two of the darker corners of the room with candles. One, a square pillar, sits atop a bookcase. The other is a tea light inside a true alabaster votive holder aside a dark leather chair on a table. Their glow is very pleasant. Eric has gone to work and before he kissed me goodbye I learned that we are attending a Martini party on this fair Friday eve.

Last Saturday I went with two new friends to a rally for the Liberal/NDP coalition at Toronto's Nathan Phillip Square to see party leaders Jack Layton (NDP) and Stephan Dion (Liberals) speak. In a most ridiculous move, a decided not to bring or wear any gloves. Hello Dorothy, you are not in California any longer. I was uncomfortable but it didn't turn into a crisis. And despite the cold and the lack of gloves, the trip downtown was completely worth it. I enjoyed hearing the two Canadian politicians speak at the rally. 

Attending the rally seemed a rare opportunity. It is technically possible to see a U.S. politician speak, though doing so usually means paying a tidy sum to receive an invitation to some event with limited space that an excessive number of the people desire. Attempt to attend such an event in San Francisco where said politicians only come to extract campaign money from the venture capitalists and Silicon Valley power players - those who have the connections to get and can afford the hefty price of a ticket. And I write only about Democrats. Republicans do not or rarely visit the S.F. bay area. Arguably the most liberal area of the U.S., there is very little money and few votes to be had for them. So they ignore it. But back to the rally...and my cold hands...

It's not every day that the sitting Canadian Prime Minister makes such egregious political mistakes while leading a minority government that the three opposing parties decide to shelve their differences, create a coalition and attempt to unseat said PM and his party from power. It was all very dramatic. Perhaps I should say it is all very dramatic because there has been no conclusion. Yet. In any case, there were rallies for the coalition in several cities across Canada and the three of us attended the one in Toronto.

Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is a bully. His leadership is more Conservative than Canadian. He seems more interested in how his decisions further his Conservative party and not how they might benefit the Canadian people, it's culture and ultimately, the country. It is disturbing that increasing his Conservative party's power seems more important to Harper than what properly used political power can achieve - a more stable and prosperous nation. During the world economic crisis he is focusing on power politics and not properly managing the Canadian nation. Harper's answer to "strengthen" Canada's economy? He declared to take away the right of civil servants to strike for three years. He attacked pay equity laws. And, just as importantly, to end governmental political subsidies. All questionable responses to an economic crisis. What was he thinking? Even some conservatives wondered. What followed was a lack of confidence with him by all those in Parliament except his Conservatives. He managed to have Parliament suspended, or Prorogued - the only way to avoid losing on a vote of confidence and, ultimately his job and government mandate. Shrewd politics to be sure. But to what end? To successfully lead a minority government through cooperation with opposing parties? To confidently lead Canada through a world crisis? NO. Parliament will resume at the end of January, when, unless something changes drastically, one assumes the vote of confidence will be taken. He will surely lose and he understands this. So instead of addressing the nation with a plan and strategy to weather the economic storm, he concerns himself with filling 18 Senate seats with Conservatives. And while this is politically understandable, the timing is amazing. While I expect these partisan antics during the best of times, during an obvious crisis I insist in strong leadership benefiting the people. That is the elected job. What do Canadians get from Harper during a crisis? Politics before Country. It's truly shameful. Again, back to the rally...

I was astounded by the diversity of those who attended. I was with a true cross section of the population. Both Jack Layton and Stephan Dion spoke well. I have no doubt that they are taking advantage of a political opportunity. Who can blame them? But they also speak to the opportunity to focus again on the Canadian people, the country and the crisis at hand. They are proactively and aggressively acknowledging the current economic situation and the concerns of the people of Canada. This I find a stark contrast with the tepid response the Conservatives give when pressed. With the time he has left, Harper will continue to play partisan power politics at the expense of the world economic crisis and the true concerns of the Canadian people.  This is why I continue to support unseating Harper and the Conservative minority government at the end of January. 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Miss Thing

Miss Thing is a post card and I believe she originally had been hung by my roommate and landlord on the door to the laundry room in our San Francisco flat. I adore her. I adore the absurdity of her. I spotted her when packing up to move across town and simply couldn't leave without her. Isn't she precious? Isn't she perfect? ...the shoes, the hat, the Capri Pants? Aren't clean towels wonderful! One has to wonder what her theme music would be. Could we expect a crescendo as she opens the door to the machine or when the fresh, fluffy, warm clean towel is placed up to hug her face? Would we then see a sparkle in her eyes? Or have we just accepted her continuous, never ending gleam of joy? Let us hope her satisfaction remains forever. 
Miss Thing

Toronto Snow

Apparently I've been neglecting my blogging duties. Many apologies. Where does the time go? Anyway... are a couple of pictures of Toronto's first hard snow fall of the year. The first two were taken last night on the front step of the house just before bed at approximately 11:00pm. The second two were taken the next morning at about 7:45am. Beautiful, eh?

If one wants to experience snow in San Francisco, one drives to it. To that extent, I am still feeling quite the Californian. What is this white stuff outside my windows? I haven't driven to Lake Tahoe or Yosemite Valley!
Aside from that which I drove to at Tahoe and Yosemite, the only other snow I've dealt with in the last six years was a flash storm in Portland, Oregon.

I will undoubtedly have to get used to this again. Luckily we have been told that our drive is professionally plowed. At least that is one chore I don't have to acclimate to again. I hope. A plow has yet to be seen. 
I am looking forward to learning how to cross country ski. Eric and I joined an outdoor activities/social club and I am hoping to connect to a group within willing to deal with a novice.

I wonder how much snowshoes cost?
Oriole Parkway, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Advice - General #3

In speaking with other immigrants I continue to glean very useful information and sometimes even expand on it. New friends of ours recently raved about their health care provider and health clinic. This thrills me because I have always relied on stellar reviews and referrals in choosing a doctor and dentist. I've relocated several times and my experience told me that my buddy's enthusiasm for his and his husband's general practitioner was such that I should collect the contact information and hope the doctor and clinic were accepting new patients. 

In every new city I've moved to I've had to wait to become a patient of my future doctor. Not unexpectedly, the situation here in Toronto (as in the U.S.) is the same. Eric and I have a five to six month wait to become patients at our chosen health clinic. We are both healthy people so this situation is not problematic. 

Now, for minor and immediate concerns there are walk-in clinics, urgent care centers and, gods forbid, the hospital emergency room. During our three month waiting period to use OHIP benefits we had the "opportunity" to experience both the clinic and UCC. All puns aside, these visits were relatively painless and pleasant and the medical attention received more than adequate. And the non-provincial health care plan out-of-pocket cost for a Toronto walk-in medical clinic visit was less than half the price of a comparable uninsured visit to a doctors office in The States. Word. ...I'm just sayin'.

So, say you are immigrating to Canada from U.S. And let's say you are moving to a province like Ontario that has a three month waiting period to use the benefits of the provincial health insurance plan. And let's say that you have an immediate need for or just want to proactively avoid any additional waiting time to establish a relationship with your own physician. If you have social connections in the area in which you will be living and those folks are comfortable referring you to their health clinic or family doctor, in order to reduce further wait time I highly recommend that you collect the pertinent information and sign up with the clinic as soon as possible. This could even mean before you leave The States. Your residential area is key because certain health clinics have catchment areas and to be treated or seen you must live within those boundaries.

A good family doctor is an important part of one's support system. For those U.S. to Canada immigrants with health concerns, families or children, the information and suggestions above may help to reduce anxiety and transition time. 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ottawa, Thanksgiving, Autumn Colours

Eric was in Ottawa on a business trip for the last two or so weeks and we decided that his situation demanded that I join him for a long weekend holiday. Here are some pictures of the city of Ottawa, Ontario and Gatineau Park, Quebec.
Gatineau Park
Parliament Hill.

The Rideau Canal locks.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Nuit Blanche

"For one sleepless night, experience Toronto transformed by artists"
Last night Eric and I attended "Nuit Blanche", an all-night city-wide art party that "transforms" Toronto. We chose to stroll down Queen St. West on our way to a separate event called 'Chunk'. We missed all of the bigger art installations but experienced dozens of smaller open-gallery exhibits as well as hundreds of red bicycle safety lights installed throughout Trinity-Bellwoods Park. Unusual. The sidewalks were a mass of interested people and the night was full of energy. Our art walk ended at a bar called, "Beaver" to meet a couple of new friends and socialize at gathering called "Chunk." We finished our evening out with a late night feast at "Golden Griddle."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Advice - General #2

Provincial Health Care Eligibility - If you are relocating to Canada, you, and possibly your family, will need to be covered by your provincial health insurance plan. In Ontario one must be issued a work permit valid for at least six months to be eligible for OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan). The employer's intent to hire the main applicant must be for three years for an accompanying spouse and/or children to be eligible. Note the difference. The intent to hire can be stated easily in a job offer letter (signed on letterhead). An employer unfamiliar with hiring a non-Canadian may be hesitant to put such a statement in writing. You may reassure them that by doing so, they do not waive their future right to terminate a lousy employee. The advice here is that communicating all this beforehand avoids possible long delays re-writing or amending offer letters to include the appropriate statements or dates. You will need the original, signed offer letter when applying for OHIP at Service Ontario.

Health Care Benefits Waiting Period - Depending on the province, you may have a waiting period to use the health care insurance plan. In Ontario for example, the wait is three months beginning on the first day of your residence. To get an OHIP card and take advantage of the benefits you must apply with Service Ontario during that three month period. Apply earlier rather than later as it may take several weeks to receive the card(s).

Oh, and...
If you, like Eric and I, make the decision to risk not having any health insurance during the waiting period, please note that in case of an unexpected sniffle, there are walk-in health clinics where one can pay cash for services at very reasonable rates.

Legal Canadian Work Status for Families - Your spouse or children may also be eligible for Canadian work permits if yours is valid for six months or longer. Other restrictions apply but, if HRSDC has issued an LMO, chances are those requirements already are covered. Work permit applications are processed and issued at the appropriate Canadian Consulate or by Immigration at a border crossing. All can apply together initially on one application, or the family can wait and do so individually after landing. As the main applicant, your work permit will be tied to a specific employer. Your spouse (common law partner) and children may apply for an "open" permit that will allow them to work anywhere.

In our case...
Eric's employer applied for a three year LMO. HRSDC issued the LMO for two years stating that the job market was too uncertain for a longer period. We applied for our work permits with Canadian Immigration at the Queenston/Lewiston Bridge at the border crossing near Niagara Falls, NY. Eric's work permit was issued for two years. I obtained an "open" work permit as his "common law" partner. In regard to provincial health insurance, we both qualified; Eric based on the length of his work permit and I based on his employer's intent to hire him for three or more years. As mentioned above, the intent was stated on the original, signed job offer letter (on letterhead) which we submitted to Service Ontario along with our residential lease (as proof of residency) and my own two year work permit. 

Leaves Turning Already?

In Eglinton Park, just up the street from the house
With barely a hint of autumn in the air and a lovely chill in the morning, I have to admit I was not prepared to see the leaves on trees turn color this early in the season. 

Thursday, September 18, 2008

More Kensington Market

A continuation of my post on our walk through the Kensington Market area of Toronto. You can find the first post (with pictures) here.
Oh, how can one ignore the vivid colors of Kensington Market...?
...Green Culture Festival, anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?
My second thought was to look for a massive number of parking tickets. None.
A bush grows atop the car. Does anyone mow the grass?
An example of one of the blocks of colorful houses and shops.
Across from the yellow clothes shop were a group of girls singing karaoke.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Late July at the PIL

Eric waiting for everyone to arrive
A couple of friends of ours from the Bay Area were thinking of us and sent us an email today. I thought I'd post a couple of pictures of some of our clan in San Francisco having a last drink with us on the patio of one of my favorite pubs, The Pilsner Inn.
We miss you guys!

Kensington Market Artwork...Err, Walk

Eric and I decided to take a Sunday afternoon stroll through a neighborhood of Toronto called Kensington Market.
It's unpretentious and Bohemian-esque...including several blocks of bazaar-like shops and ethic food cafes and restaurants.
It is definitely one of the more colorful areas of town. Click on the pix for more detail.
Included here are some of the larger of the many examples of "wall art" or murals to be found on the buildings in the area. There were smaller pieces, too.
Food, cafes and restaurants are everywhere as are used clothing, produce and knickknack shops.
And crowds of people.
Incredibly casual and relaxed, Kensington Market doesn't give the impression that it is trying to remain something it once was or even trying to be something it isn't, it just is.
It was kind of cool to see so many specialty food shops and ethnic eateries. Where is there a cheese shop in the Yonge/Eglinton area where I live? I couldn't tell you.
Anyway, the murals were everywhere...
...on every building and in every alley.
Aren't the birds sthuper?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Advice - General #1

OK, in no particular order, here is some general advice for anyone considering U.S. to Canada immigration.
  • Research - It can't be stated too many times that immigration regulations and policies change constantly. Any information may be out-of-date. Or maybe not. Folks planning to move across the border should comprehensively answer all their own questions and confirm all second-hand information on official websites such as Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
  • In my opinion, Canadian immigration procedures, rules and regulations are, for the most part, presented in a straight forward manner by the CIC, HRSDC, and other agencies. Unless your particular situation is unusual or complicated you will not need an immigration lawyer. You will, however, need to be serious and thorough. Read everything - every article, document, application, instruction packet - every word. Then Read it all again. Become an expert. This takes time but is not difficult. If possible, do this before you meet the employer, get the job offer or the positive LMO. Your remaining time-line may become incredibly short once you find your dream position with an interested Canadian employer willing to apply for an LMO. The more knowledgeable you are about the immigration process prior to this moment the better.
  • Relax - If it isn't taking "too long" then it is happening too quickly. Don't rush it. This is a huge endeavor. Not having enough time to properly prepare is not the way to go. 
  • Plan - For me, it all really boils down to these three categories; pre-landing; landing/border crossing; and post-landing. Make "To-do" lists for each including tasks and required documents. 
  • Organize - We bought an inexpensive expandable multiple pocket accordion-style files folder. Each pocket was dedicated to a different aspect of the immigration process and contained the required paperwork. "Where is the (name of critical document)...?" "Well, it's in the file folder in the appropriate pocket." For example, all of our vehicle import docs and info were in one pocket and easily retrievable for the customs agent at the border during our landing. Nice. In the file folder your critical paperwork will be together, organized and will travel well. Just don't lose it. Remember, Canadian agencies almost always require original documents but make and bring copies of everything.
  • Money - Best advice given; determine how much you'll need and then double it. You simply can not have too much available cash. Expect to need more than you think and bring more than you expect to need. "Extra" money translates into reduced frustration at best and actual sanity at worst.
  • Leave your current U.S. bank checking account open indefinitely with available funds to pay any remaining U.S. bills. We know U.S. immigrants living in Canada several years who are just now closing their U.S. bank accounts. Acclimate yourself to the Canadian banking system until you are familiar with how both country's systems interact (and don't). Overdraft and return check fees add up. So does the cost of international phone calls to banks, credit card companies, and other creditors. With money in your U.S. checking account there will be no need to worry about the timely payment of bills, or the bruising or ruining of a great U.S. credit history (see below). When the time comes to close the U.S. account, any remaining funds can be transferred to Canada by simply depositing a U.S. check written to oneself into one's Canadian U.S. Dollars Account. How easy is that? More on banking in both countries, here.
  • U.S. Credit History - Your U.S. credit history will not follow you across the border. While largely irrelevant in Canada one should endeavor to remain in good standing with their U.S. creditors. A U.S. credit history can be used to obtain a Canadian mortgage. Again, more on banking, here.
  • U.S. Elections and Living "Over Seas" - Unless you are immigrating to Canada with PR status, your move is considered a temporary one. A U.S. citizen who moves "over seas" temporarily can vote in both local and Federal elections. Local elections would be in the last district in which one lived. Those who retain their citizenship and move permanently are eligible to vote only in a Federal election. To obtain an absentee ballot in either case, one simply completes and returns the U.S. Federal Post Card Application to their former voting district election board. It's easy.
  • Expat/Travel "abroad" Registration - Every expat or persons traveling abroad should register with the U.S. Dept. of State and the U.S. consulate located at their destination. There are a dozen reasons to do so. Visit the website and register. Passport information will be required

Monday, September 8, 2008

Advice - Landing/Border Crossing

There will be minimal to no stress if you are thoroughly prepared. Our landing was a relatively fast and pleasant experience.

We drove with our cat in our SUV from San Francisco across the U.S. to officially land at the CBSA facility at the Peace Bridge at Niagara Falls. CBSA confirmed our work permits, processed the temporary import of our vehicle and officially acknowledged/stamped/kept copies of both our mandatory declarations (Form) of personal belongings ("goods to follow" as well as those we brought with us). Our expectation was that they would also inspect our cat's required rabies certificate, our auto and accompanying belongings. All of which they opted not to do.

Immigration officials at the border can also issue Temporary Work Permits. We chose to obtain our work permits at the border during a prior week long visit to Toronto. Be advised that a CBSA agent inside the facility will not assist you if you have not received an entry slip given by the officer at the drive through booth as you cross the border. Why do I mention this? Because, during the prior week long visit to T.O., Eric and I tried accessing the facility from the Canadian side. It was a no go. We were instructed by an officer just outside the door to the building to return to our car, drive toward the U.S. border and take a specific U-turn just before we left Canada. This would allow us to re-enter the queue of cars just before the Canadian Customs booths where we would receive the required entry slip. OK. Sure. Whatever. Not the biggest hassle - but don't just think you can Waltz right in. Or maybe you can - Nah. Everyone we saw inside did have an access slip. 

Our moving company had actually arrived several days prior to our landing and the truck was being held in a GTA warehouse awaiting Canadian Customs clearance for delivery. With our landing papers in-hand, we acquired the clearance needed for delivery at the local Toronto Customs office on Front St. Once again, they opted not to inspect the truck or it's contents - our belongings.

Have all your documents ready. In our experience the more knowledgeable and comprehensively prepared you appear, the less scrutiny you will receive from the CBSA officers. If all is in order, scrutiny will be neither a concern nor a big deal anyway, but the less you get the faster you will be on your way. We were obviously very organized. Our documents were ready and in-hand almost before they were requested. We clearly knew what was expected of us and which documents would be necessary. They did not even inspect our cat's mandatory rabies certificate when we proactively presented it. And they were obviously impressed with our Declaration of Goods Lists, both of which were thoroughly detailed

All the CBSA agents we dealt with were incredibly pleasant. This was the case both at the border and also the customs office we visited on Front St. in Toronto. We had been told that they might go completely by the book inspecting everything in our car and moving truck. Or they might not. For example, having watched us from the time we parked the car, the several agents outside the border facility showed us and our vehicle neither interest nor concern. They did, however show others a great deal of attention. In my opinion, our demeanor and obvious preparedness went a long way toward an incredibly quick and painless landing experience. Food for thought.

As of June 1, 2009, a passport or similar document will be required to enter the U.S. when traveling by air, sea or land. Although currently one is not technically necessary to enter by land or sea, travelers are still required to prove citizenship. Here are the "official" details. What does it all mean? Anyone visiting you in Canada needs a valid passport. Now. Inform any family, friends, or expected house guests. More information, here. Click here for Passport Canada. And here for U.S. passports

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Advice - Banking Issues #1

Guess what? 
You are moving out of the U.S. and into another country. If you haven't yet contemplated the ramifications of that, allow me some 'splaining. It's all done a bit differently across the border. There will be different laws, rules, and expectations. Your new living situation will look and feel very similar to the one you had in the states, until you examine it up close. Ok, so back to banking...

Credit History and Rating
Neither your U.S. credit rating nor history will follow you across the border. You will be starting from scratch. This may elate you if it wasn't so good. Or, if it was stellar, cause you (like Eric and myself) to shake your head, roll your eyes to god and try not to think about it. Alas.

That being said, come prepared with several copies of your U.S. credit reports with FICO score from all three agencies (Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax). I know Equifax has a product that contains all three including one's FICO score. Canadians who are not familiar with these U.S. reports will not have to rely on your explanation of them as they contain an extremely precise explanation of the financial details. One can be purchased inexpensively on-line; hard copies easily made on a home printer.

If your history is long enough and your risk score (FICO) is high enough (sounds contradictory but that is how it works) those reports will clearly show a prospective landlord or Canadian Creditor that you are financially responsible.

We have also been told by other U.S. to Canada immigrants that their credit history/rating from The States was used to obtain a Canadian mortgage. So, it might be worth your time to continue to maintain good credit standing with your remaining U.S. creditors.

Where to Bank?
Unlike the U.S., which has hundreds, Canada basically has only five retail banks. These five dominate the Canadian Banking scene - which isn't to say there aren't other banks or Credit Unions to choose from. However, if you value an abundance of branches and ATMs, chances are you will choose one from "The Big Five." A Canadian Social Insurance Number (SIN-the equivalent of a U.S. Social Security Number) is not required to open a bank account. If you don't yet have a Canadian abode use your current U.S. address as a residence and have your statements sent temporarily to the bank. Bring your picture ID (passport/PR card) and/or your immigration documents such as a work permit.

Banking Fees
Canadian banks are fee happy. There are per transaction fees, per check fees, per branch visit fees, per Interac purchase fees, etc. You get the idea. Keeping a minimum dollar amount in an account or having multiple account types at the same bank usually eliminates or reduces Canadian Bank fees. Somewhat.

Debit Cards
Canadian debit cards do not carry the MasterCard or Visa logo as many do in the U.S. The logo you will find on the back of the card is that of Interac. Interac is the financial network associated with debit cards in Canada. Many Canadian retailers and supermarkets allow purchases with debit cards via the Interac network.

Regarding logos, displayed on the back of one's debit (and credit) card will be the symbols of the financial networks with which it is associated. If you need to obtain money from a Canadian ATM using a U.S. debit card, the challenge may (will?) be finding an ATM that displays the same symbol. Networks may include STAR, PLUS, CIRRUS, INTERAC (Canada) and others (See "Transferring money..." below).

Remember also that:
  1. there is usually a maximum daily withdrawal amount - usually between $200-$500, and
  2. for security purposes, your U.S. bank may (will?) freeze your account (and use of your card) if you don't notify them beforehand that you will be withdrawing large sums of money while traveling in a foreign country.
Bank Account Numbers
U.S. creditors and purchases must be paid with U.S. dollars. Canadian banks have a product called a Canadian U.S. Dollars Checking Account. Canadian bank account numbers, including Canadian U.S. Dollars accounts, are not compatible with U.S. on-line banking. They have a different number of digits. Your Canadian U.S. dollars checking account will be no use to you for paying your remaining U.S. bills directly on-line.

Transferring Money Across the Border
This process can take up to twenty one (21) days. If you can do this ahead of the time you might need access to the money, great. Research the process with both your U.S. and Canadian banks. Proper routing and account numbers will be required. Withdrawing money from Canadian ATMs with your U.S. debit or credit card is also possible but, in our experience, can be challenging at best and over-the-top frustrating at worst (see "Debit Cards" above).

U.S. Credit Card Bills and Other Accounts
Be aware that you may have an agreement with your U.S. creditors to pay their bills in U.S. dollars from a U.S. bank account. American Express doesn't seem to have any problems accepting U.S. Dollars from a Canadian U.S. dollars account but your MasterCard and Visa might. Check into it.

My advice is to call each U.S. creditor to confirm if they will accept payment in U.S. dollars drawn from a Canadian bank account. Don't assume anything. Also, remember that transferring money from Canada to the U.S. usually takes a minimum of 21 days. This process can be agonizingly slow and cross your fingers nothing goes awry. More on transferring funds, here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Toronto City Hike

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Last weekend, Eric and I went for a walk through High Park. We took a ride on the TTC south from Eglinton on the Yonge St. line and then west on the Bloor St. line. Starting our hike at the north end of High Park we walked south to Lake Ontario and then continued East-ish. We eventually made our way North until King St. which we then followed East to University. Coulda sworn we hit the subway on University but can't remember the name of the Station. St. Andrew? No matter. We still made it home and our legs look great!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Advice - Importing an Auto to Canada from the U.S.

Please note there are differences between importing a vehicle temporarily and permanently into Canada. Eric and I immigrated with Temporary Work Permits so I will be writing about temporary vehicle importation.

There are many agencies that must be contacted to properly import your vehicle. Be familiar with the rules and regulations of all agencies. In many cases one must complete certain tasks before moving on to and completing others. Documents
** take time to obtain. Possible modifications to your auto require appointments and more time. Auto insurance is necessary for registration and obtaining it at the lowest cost requires prior insurance records. There are also several inspections and officially stamped mandatory forms. If you have financed your auto you will need a letter of approval from the lien holder to export your auto out of the U.S.

**Make multiple copies of all documents. In most cases, Canadian agencies will only accept original documents and not copies. However, the same document may need to be given to several agencies so having multiple copies of each is in your best interest. This may seem contradictory. Several times I presented a document only to have it inspected and then returned to me. Other times, the document was taken and not returned. Try to keep your originals.

Websites of Importance:
**A note on both Service Ontario and Service Canada offices. Expect queues in both. Possibly long ones. Service Ontario has both government offices and franchised private offices. If there is any possible way to go directly to the main government office - in my case, Service Ontario on Bay St. and College St. in Toronto - DO IT. Save yourself time and go directly to the mother ship. In my experience with exchanging my California driver's license to that of Ontario, I originally went to one of the smaller franchise offices. They weren't authorized to do license exchanges (not mentioned on the website) and directed me to a second, larger franchise office which informed me that they couldn't confirm the legitimacy of the California license number I had for six years and that I needed to obtain a certified driver's record to complete the license exchange. Driving home frustrated I decided to push my luck and go to the main office of Service Ontario in downtown Toronto hoping their computer software was more up-to-date. It was. They processed my license exchange without any issues.

Importing a U.S. auto into Canada
Canadian customs requires anyone importing a vehicle from the U.S. to show Title. You must also show proof of registration and insurance. Providing proof of Title might be extremely difficult if you've financed your auto. Paying off the remaining loan might be the answer to obtaining this document. You may, however, not wish to pay off the remaining loan - especially if you have 0% financing like we do. Additionally, Canadian Customs requires any lien holder, in this case the finance company, to provide a letter of approval to export the vehicle out of the U.S. Through a customer rep. our finance company, Ford Motor Credit, stated explicitly that auto export approval was not usually granted for periods longer than ninety days. Our approval was eventually granted for the length of our work permits. We also received a Disposition of Title from Ford, a document explaining why Title could not be issued. Both documents were signed on Letterhead and Canadian Customs accepted both and allowed us to import our vehicle.

Your finance company may require certain documents prior to approving your auto export. These may include:
  • Job offer letter
  • Canadian Temporary Work Permit
  • Guarantee of auto insurance coverage
Your U.S. auto insurance should continue to cover your auto for a short period of time once you move to Canada. In my case, that amount of time was approximately twenty days. A SNAFU between my U.S. insurance broker and Ford Motor Credit reduced that time to eleven days. Arrgh

At the Border
Importing your car will be part of declaring your personal goods at the border with the Canadian Border Service Agency (Customs and Immigration). For temporary immigration you will be exempt from paying any fees or taxes.

The customs agent will provide you with a completed/stamped
Vehicle Importation Form 1. This form can be stamped in three separate places. If they do not cross out a section requiring but missing a stamp, make a polite inquiry. One of our stamps was forgotten which caused a wasted trip to Service Ontario and several extra phone calls and an extra visit to Canadian Customs to correct - not to mention a delay in auto registration.

Vehicle title is required to import your vehicle. If you don't own the vehicle outright chances are you won't have the official title. We were able to obtain a "Disposition of Title" letter along with the Vehicle Export Approval Letter from Ford Motor Credit. These along with our California Registration card satisfied Canadian Customs.

Canadian Auto Inspections Required for Registration:
  • Safety Inspection
  • Emissions Inspection (Not required for Gas Electric Hybrid Vehicles)
  • RIV Inspection (not required for Temporary Import) (Done at Canadian Tire)
Auto Insurance
To obtain the lowest insurance premium you will need to provide a history of auto insurance. You should also come prepared with Certified copies of your driving history or driving abstracts. Each state calls them something different and you will need one from the DMV in each state in which you were a licensed driver. Somehow I managed to obtain auto insurance with the lowest premium and the best driver's rating without these documents. I credit my amazing insurance broker. My advice would be to come prepared with all in hand.

Approved Autos and Modifications
Not all U.S. vehicles can be imported legally to Canada. Transport Canada has a list of vehicles acceptable for import. Check it out (HTML).

Many U.S. autos do not have daytime running lights which are mandatory in Canada. Autos temporarily imported are exempt from this
federal requirement. Despite the federal exemption, the Province of Ontario still mandates all imported autos to have activated daytime running lights. This is just one example of a potentially required auto modification. In my experience, each agency is aware of only their own regulations.
Anyone importing a vehicle will need to contact both the RIV and their own Provincial Ministry of Transportation to determine necessary modifications.

Obtaining an Ontario Driver's License
Normally no actual driving or written test is required for U.S. license holders to obtain one from Ontario - simply pay a fee and complete an application for the exchange. A minimum of two years prior driving history is required to receive a Class G (full/no restrictions) Ontario license. Service Ontario will confirm your previous state license information by computer.

Wrapping up Affairs in your Former State
There always seems to be "one more thing to do" in all regards when immigrating across the border. Closure, seemingly achieved on whatever issue, may be short lived when you receive a "notice" stating something dire. This type of thing annoys me greatly because it usually involves something rather easy to do (see below) that isn't mentioned on a website-or mentioned SO deeply on an information tree that no one would ever see it. And chances are few folk need to do it and because you moved to another state/country a computer coughed up your name because it wasn't completed. It is also usually something critical that will land your name on some list in red ink that will affect EVERYTHING and cost you BILLIONS of dollars for years to come. ...OK, I am being inappropriately dramatic. Just don't be surprised if you find yourself revisiting seemingly retired issues when "Official" notices arrive demanding action yesterday.

In our case the notice in question regarded our auto registration and insurance. Two weeks after landing I sent our license plates back to the California DMV with a change of address (to T.O. Canada). Two months later the notice arrived. Apparently I had to prove new insurance AND new registration to the California DMV or be put on some list that surely would complicate obtaining the least expensive insurance and possible registration of my vehicle if I should ever return. I take these kind of things seriously because both my partner and myself have family in the "Eureka" state and one never knows what the future holds.

So, if applicable, make a copy of your new insurance card and your provincial auto registration and send it (along with the license plates?) to your former state DMV.

And then cross your fingers and hope there isn't just "one more thing."