USA or Canada? Which Country is Better for Expats?

They are the great North American rivals, friendly neighbours who tease each other over everything from hockey to foreign policy. But is one superior to the other? Should you be moving to Canada or the USA? Which nation would suit you best?

To help you make your decision, we have put together a comparison of the Great White North and the Land of the Free, looking at all the most important aspects you should take into account, from visas and lifestyle to education and healthcare.

How easy is it to get a visa?

One great thing both countries have in common is very helpful websites to guide you through the visa process and see if you fit the necessary criteria. The US Department of State has a handy Visa Wizard on its website, while the Canadian government has a specialist immigration and citizenship site outlining different pathways to residency.

Both countries like to attract skilled workers, but employers may need to show the role cannot be filled locally first. Canada works on the Express Entry points-based system, looking at assets such as your experience, English and French fluency and your education. It is also worth keeping in mind that Francophone Quebec has its own separate points-based system with different requirements.

In the USA, they use an employer sponsorship system for speciality occupations. The L-1 visa is used to transfer staff who have already worked for a company for more than a year outside the USA, while the H1-B visa is for companies that require theoretical or technical expertise, but it is capped so there is a strict limit each year which is often reached in April.

Neither country offers a specific retirement visa. If you want to end up in Canada you will need a family member there to sponsor you, while the easiest way to spend significant time in the USA is with the B-2 visa, which lets you live in the country for six months of the year.

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What is the lifestyle like?

Once again, there are a lot of similarities between both North American countries, however there are also some significant differences. Canada is often seen as a more open society, more accepting of immigration, with much lower levels of gun crime, it is also a country with two official languages – English and French – and a political system more like that of the UK, after all, the Queen is still head of state.

When it comes to working, Canada’s hours and holiday time are more generous and similar to Europe, while the USA tends to offer less holiday days. In fact, according to statistics, Canadian air is less polluted, Canadians live on average two years longer than their southern counterparts and more Canadians own passports to travel the world.

However, life isn’t always rosier in the Great White North. It suffers long, cold winters almost across the board, its e-commerce culture is not as developed as in the USA and there is a higher unemployment rate.

Of course, beyond that the countries have many similarities, they both offer spectacular natural beauty and amazing travel opportunities, as well as plenty of adventure sports as well as team sports that differ significantly from those offered in the UK. They each have a strong car culture – in part because they are both vast countries – and of course, both countries are generally welcoming to British expats.

Further reading:

  • Canada 101 – Culture, Cuisine and Costs

What are the living costs?

When it comes to the cost of living, both Canada and the USA can be expensive when you are living in the main cities, as is the case anywhere in the world. But on the whole, the USA has a higher cost of living than its northern neighbour when it comes to groceries, rents and restaurant prices.

However, the USA is cheaper when it comes to clothing and in general wages are higher, while Canada has higher taxation. So when it comes down to it, the USA can actually work out cheaper.

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How does healthcare compare?

Perhaps one of the biggest differences expats should consider about living in Canada and the USA is access to healthcare. The USA is notorious for the spiralling cost of its private healthcare, making it essential you have robust health insurance, which will most likely be offered through your employer, but should be checked in case you need supplementary cover.

In contrast, the Canadian universal healthcare system (Medicare) is publically funded, giving everyone access to low-cost public health insurance. However, you are only eligible if you are a permanent resident and it can take about three months for your health insurance card to come through. The system doesn’t cover absolutely everything either, so some expats still take out private health insurance on top.

What about the education systems?

The school system in the USA and Canada is very similar, they follow the same stages and in both countries the majority of pupils are state educated. Neither country has a nationwide standard, which can often mean standards vary between states and provinces.

However, things change when it gets to university level. The Canadian education system is much more similar to the UK, with substantially lower tuition fees than in the USA. Universities set their own fees, but even as a foreign student, the cost shouldn’t be too dissimilar to university in the UK.

However, in the USA there are significant numbers of private universities – including all the prestigious Ivy Leagues universities – and students can often graduate heavily in debt. But there are plenty of scholarship opportunities that are worth investigating to keep costs down and there is a reason why the USA has five universities included in the top 10 institutions in the world.

How about the happiness rating?

According to the latest World Happiness Report, Canada is the eighth happiest country in the world while the USA is in 18th place. However, both countries have dropped in the rating in recent years. Of course, despite the rivalry about which country has the better standard of living, the truth is that both the USA and Canada are exceptional countries for expats, offering exciting opportunities, rich cultures and some amazing travel opportunities as you enjoy your time living abroad. It all makes for a tough decision when choosing where to emigrate to…

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