Saturday, September 25, 2010

Moving Details


In case this helps anyone, Here are details about my recent international move. This is definitely a niche topic: no worries on skipping it. I wish I had this info when I started, and want to contribute back to the hive-mind.


This is a journal of my experience, and not advice. I hope this opens eyes to topics of research, but ultimately, you are on your own.

Although the experience was a lot of research, with seemingly unending paperwork, this post is not intended as criticism toward Canada or the USA. Any comments disparaging either country will be deleted.

Executive Summary

I am a Canadian who returned after working for several years in the USA (legally, on TN Visas). I have no dependents and didn't own a house.

I found that there were three areas of concern:

  • stuff
  • finances
  • car
My stuff was straight-forward. My finances were difficult. My car was surprising.

My Stuff

I went with professional movers for my furniture and books. I packed important things (e.g. guitars) into my car and drove separately.

Following instructions from Canada Border Services, I prepared a manifest that enumerated each box / item, with an estimated value for each. Per instructions, it isn't necessary to list "each pair of socks". My approach was to generalize clothes and books per box, but to list electronic equipment and guitars separately.

The list has two sections: stuff in my car and stuff "to follow" (that is, on the moving truck).

I arrived at the border before the truck, and showed the Canadian border guards the list. I paid duty on the vehicle (see below), but IIRC, I was exempt from duty on my belongings, given (a) everything was older than 6 months and (b) I was granted credit for every year that I was away.

Despite having a delivery window of 3 weeks, the movers arrived 6 weeks later. I met them at an airport, which served as a port of entry / customs. I presented my manifest list and also the paperwork I had signed at the border.

The downside of pro movers is the expense and the high likelihood of delayed arrival. I had considered U-Haul but that approach has its own issues, which are obvious.

My Finances

I'm not going into gory details here. My main lesson is that I was wise to check with financial institutions about becoming a non-resident. First, it will be an extremely good test of a brokerage's customer service: it is an exotic question.

From what I can tell, a US resident can certainly have holdings with a financial institution, but upon leaving, there are restrictions on activity. e.g. One cannot make transactions. It was never clear to me if one could simply leave the account open, without doing further trading. Most of my moving research was spent on this question.

Another option is to liquidate. Depending on market conditions, this could be suicidal. For 401K accounts, it is definitely painful and drastic.

A final option, for residents of Canada and the USA, is a cross-border brokerage. They are typically licensed to trade in both countries. However, these brokerages have a niche, affluent market and have the leverage to charge steep fees.

Note that I haven't mentioned taxes. For me, that research lays ahead, due to the timing of my move.

My Car

First, a car is not automatically welcome in another country. e.g. Canada does not accept all US cars. I checked mine against the list at the Registrar of Imported Vehicles (RIV). Thankfully, it is welcome (as most are).

For the Canadian side, I did the following:
  • Before moving, get a letter from your local dealer that any recall work has been performed on the car, or that it is clear of recalls.
  • Estimate the value of your car in the destination of your move. This will be used to calculate duty at the border.
  • After crossing the border, within 30-45 days (check documentation), the car must undergo a federal inspection. The paperwork is faxed to the RIV. The RIV will mail a sticker that affirms the car is formally a Canadian vehicle.
  • The car must also undergo the typical provincial inspection and registration.
That's some work, but wait, there's more!

There is an American aspect to vehicles: one must contact the American border (at the point of departure), 3 days in advance, to alert them that you are leaving the country. They want VIN, title, etc, faxed to their office.

I discovered this about a week before my departure. Be sure to verify that they received the information. Vehicle titles are a challenge for a fax machine. There is no charge on the American side. (This is probably a procedure to curb theft.)


I've already blogged about my personal decision and my admiration for both countries. This post is sheer logistics, without the sentiment.

If I were to do it again, I would consider selling my car before the move, paring down my belongings to an absolute minimum, and choosing U-Haul.

I would also be very careful about investing in a country without a long-term plan (e.g. for retirement).

The ultimate lesson is to do homework, and find professionals that you can trust. Just as you need a doctor and a dentist in life, in this arena, you need a cross-border accountant, an immigration attorney, and a financial planner.