We just moved our family from Utah, USA, to Montréal, Québec, Canada. I entered Canada on August 18, 2021 by car, and my wife and daughter entered a few days later by air. The process actually began on April 27 when I got my acceptance letter to the Université de Montréal as a master’s student in the Département d’informatique et de recherche opérationelle. After a few days of scrambling to find out if I would be able to study there without knowing French (turns out you can as a grad student at DIRO!), I started the process of applying to enter Canada and live in Québec as a student.
The Canadian government’s travel website is really quite good, and kept well up-to-date during COVID-19. Unfortunately, UdeM’s international student office (BEI) was not a great resource. Their phone number connects you to a recording telling you to email them, and their email response time is anywhere from one day to four weeks. That’s fine for most students, but we met just enough edge cases that there was a lot we had to figure out on our own.
Certificat d’Acceptation du Quebec (CAQ) and Canadian visas
As soon as we were sure I’d be able to study at UdeM, I submitted my application for the CAQ. This is a requirement for all students and temporary workers looking to enter Québec, in addition to the visa issued by the Canadian federal government. Normally, you are required to receive your CAQ before applying for the Canadian study permit, but due to COVID-19 I was allowed to apply as long as I submitted proof that I had applied for the CAQ. Both of these processes worked out for me without any issues.
This isn’t very clear on the Canadian immigration website, but as a US citizen the study permit is the only documentation you need to enter Canada (apart from your passport of course). You do not need an electronic travel authorization (eTA) or visitor visa.
If my wife had wanted a work visa, she would have applied for the CAQ and submitted her Canadian work permit application with mine. My wife and daughter did not need to apply for any visa beforehand, because they qualified as “reuniting with family”. I’ll explain more about that in the next section.
crossing the border
We looked into other ways to get our stuff to Montréal, but shipping a small container was >$5000 and even a U-Haul was going to cost ~$3000. We decided to buy a cargo carrier for the car instead, and we managed to fit everything except large items (desks, sofas, chairs). Then we could use the money we saved on shipping to buy new stuff here.
I drove our car across the border through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel:
They tell you online to bring all sorts of documents: proof of vaccinations, marriage certificates, bank statements, inventory of the items I’m bringing, etc. But they didn’t ask me for any of these at the immigration office. If I remember right they only asked for the study permit acceptance letter with the barcode, my passport, and my ArriveCan confirmation code. They came back ten minutes later with an official study permit document stapled into my passport, and I was good to go.
The rest of the family flew from SLC to YUL. At the time of writing you still need a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours before arrival to Canada, and they check for this when you board your first plane. So it’s not enough to get a test that promises results within 72 hours; to be safe you probably want one that promises results within 24 hours.
In order to enter Canada to reunite with family, my wife needed the marriage certificate, the birth certificate for our daughter, and a copy of my study permit (which I sent her after getting it at the border).
The process at the Montréal airport was a bit stressful because it wasn’t immediately clear to the immigration officer what kind of visa they needed, since neither of them were going to be working or studying. He eventually gave each of them a visitor visa valid for the same period as my study permit. We’ll need to renew their visas when I renew my permit.
As a student your home driver’s license is good for the duration of your stay in Québec, but otherwise it needs to be exchanged for a Québec license within 6 months of arrival (see the SAAQ website). Luckily as Americans there is a straightforward process for exchanging our licenses for Québec ones, and we won’t even need to take a test. Be sure to schedule that quickly though because those types of appointments will be booked out like a month in advance.
Originally we planned to keep our car, and we learned too late that this meant we should have exported the car at a customs office in Detroit before crossing, and then applied for a temporary import at the Canadian border. Since we’d already entered Canada with the car, that was going to mean driving back to the US, getting the car inspected and exported, re-entering Canada, applying for a temporary import into Canada, and registering the vehicle and getting auto insurance in Québec. All of this extra effort and cost (plus some convincing from Not Just Bikes and 5kids1condo) led us to decide to sell our car and sign up for a car share service instead. I’ve actually lost 15 pounds in the last two months just by biking to school. 👍🚴🚆
Because the United States has no public health insurance and thus no social security agreement with Québec’s RAMQ, we had to get private insurance for our time in Canada. UdeM requires all international students to get health insurance through their student plan unless
- you are covered by such a social security agreement,
- you get health insurance from a scholarship, or
- you are here with your family and have a family coverage plan through one of the listed providers.
That last one applies to us!
Unfortunately, we still ended up paying for the student health insurance this semester (CA$300) because we found out too late that the insurance we got doesn’t cover enough to count for the exemption. BEI didn’t have these requirements on their website, so I’ll list what I’ve found so far in my emails with them:
- The total reimbursable amount of the policy must be at least equivalent to the UdeM medical insurance which is CA$700,000.
- The insurance must reimburse 100% of reasonable and customary health care including hospitalization fees.
We’re still working on getting our policy upgraded, so I’ll update here when this is resolved.
Before coming to Canada we made sure we had a couple of credit cards with no foreign transaction fees. We still had trouble a few times with our cards being declined, but Visa’s fraud detection models seem to have gotten used to our new location now. We still needed a Canadian bank account to pay for things that require an Interac transfer (tuition, rent, and utilities), and we’ve discovered several instances where we can’t use our American cards because the system doesn’t like our American cards having a Canadian billing address.
To get a bank account, you need a Social Insurance Number (SIN) from the government of Canada. You can fill out a form online to start the process, but the response time is several weeks. You can also go in person to a ServiceCanada office and get it the same day, which is what I tried to do. For me there was some kind of problem on the immigration office side, and I ended up needing to submit for it the regular way there in the ServiceCanada office. So it was a while before I got that in the mail, and then I was finally able to schedule an appointment with Scotiabank to open an account.
There are a lot of options for getting our money transferred from our American account to our Canadian account, each with their own fees and rules. So far the lowest-cost option seems to be a transfer with Wise (direct debit, not a wire because our bank charges $30 for wires). If you do a transfer there you should contact me so I can refer you (we’ll both get discounts!).