Moving or Commuting to the U.S. from Canada

Moving or Commuting to the U.S. from Canada

There are many things to consider when moving or commuting to the U.S. for work. Whether you are commuting from Windsor to Detroit, Toronto to Buffalo, or Sarnia to Port Huron, there are likely many important details that haven’t crossed your mind. Similarly, Canadians who move to the U.S. often overlook small details that can create big headaches. Here are a few practical considerations for Canadians that are looking to move or commute to the United States. 


Bank Accounts

Generally speaking, you will need to open a new bank account in order to receive your pay check via direct deposit. Most Canadian bank accounts are not set up to receive foreign pay checks, and simply opening a US dollar account will not be adequate. You either need to:

Open a new bank account at a U.S. banking institution - for example, Chase or Bank of America. If you take this route, you will need to establish a means of transferring the funds to your Canadian bank account. There are several ways of doing this, but a popular method for Windsorites is to exchange currency at the Windsor train station when the exchange rate is especially favourable.

Open a cross-border bank account at a Canadian banking institution. Most of the Big Five banks in Canada offer cross-border banking services through subsidiary banks that are domiciled in the United States for this purpose. Cross-border bank accounts make banking very simple, because you can directly transfer money between your U.S. and Canadian accounts.

RBC Cross-Border Banking

TD Cross-Border Banking

CIBC Bank USA Smart Account

BMO Harris Smart Account


Social Security Number

Most U.S. employers will require you to have a U.S. social security number. Once you have work authorization, such as a TN visa, you will be able to apply for a U.S. social security number. In Detroit, the Social Security Administration is located in the federal McNamara Building at 477 Michigan Avenue. Here is the basic office contact information for residents of Ontario.


Retirement Accounts

The U.S. and Canada use different retirement vehicles by virtue of having different tax codes:

401(k) - Very similar to the Canadian RRSP. It is an investment account that allows employees to contribute a portion of their wages which are excluded from the employee’s taxable income. Visit the IRS website for more information.

403(b) - Like the 401(k), but for employees of public schools and other tax-exempt organizations. Visit the IRS website for more information.

Roth IRA - Similar to the Canadian TFSA. It is a tax-advantaged personal savings plan where contributions are not deductible but qualified distributions may be tax free. Visit the IRS website for more information.

Canada and the U.S. have tax treaties in place, but these treaties do not recognize the TFSA as being tax-free in the United States. We recommend that you seek the advice of a cross-border accounting professional with respect to your investments.

Importing your Vehicle

Canadians may temporarily import Canadian licensed cars to the U.S. for their personal use, but if the vehicle will be in the U.S. for one year or longer, you must go through the process of importing it permanently. If you do not do this, you risk having it seized for non-payment of duty. In addition, you need to consider U.S. vehicle insurance, driver’s plates and permits, and the odometer (which is likely in kilometers, not miles). Visit the Customs and Border Protection website for more details on legal requirements for vehicle imports.

Health Insurance

In Canada, health care falls within provincial jurisdiction. Canadians have health care by virtue of being resident in the province, not by virtue of holding Canadian citizenship. For that reason, Canadians who move to the United States will need to purchase private health insurance. Many U.S. employers sponsor health insurance plans for employees, but this is not always the case. Due to the high cost of healthcare in the United States, this is something you must consider before your move.

Canadians are not required to hold private U.S. health insurance when visiting or commuting across the border for work, but it is something that we highly recommend. Do not assume that OHIP or other provincial health providers will cover the cost of emergency treatment when you are out of the province.

Bringing Dogs and Cats Across the Border

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regulate the importation of cats and dogs across the border. The CDC requires that dogs and cats be healthy upon arrival and that dogs are vaccinated against rabies. Dogs and cats will be examined at the first port of entry for evidence of diseases that can be transmitted to humans. If a dog or cat appears to be sick at the port of entry, further examination by a licensed veterinarian at the owner’s expense may be required. 

Quarantine for pets is not required by most U.S. states and territories, with the exception of Hawaii and Guam. Pets excluded from entry into the United States must be sent back to the country of origin. While awaiting disposition, pets will be detained at the owner’s expense at the port of arrival.

For more information on bringing dogs across the border into the United States, see CBP guidance here.

Moving Household and Personal Items

There are a number of rules and requirements that must be followed in order to move household and personal items into the U.S. without being charged duty on them. For guidance and required forms, visit the Customs and Border Protection website.

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