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

View Larger Map

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!