Moving Back to Canada
Moving Back to Canada

Taxes, Accounting, and Banking


This section addresses some of the key concerns Canadians face when returning to Canada. They are serious issues and the choices made can have significant financial repercussions for the short and long term. As a result, research and careful consideration is highly recommended in the planning of your finances, taxes, and banking arrangements. Key concerns:

  1. Taxes - Do I pay taxes on my financial assets and personal belongings when I return?

  2. Accounting - What accounting do I need to do? Do I need a professional accountant to help me with my taxes before or after I return to Canada?

  3. Banking - Can I hope a bank account in Canada ahead of time? Should I? Can I move funds into it before I move without risking paying tax?

Part 1: Taxes

tax free

Let's clear up the most pressing and concerning questions Canadians have when returning to Canada:

"Do I pay taxes on my money (savings, investments, etc.) when I return to Canada"

The short answer: No.

The longer answer: If you meet the following conditions, you may send to Canada, or bring with you, as much money as you wish and it will not be subject to taxes in Canada. 

  1. You have lived outside of Canada for the required length of time to be considered non-resident in the eyes of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). This is typically 2 or more years.

  2. You do not have significant residential ties to Canada. This means you do not have a "home" in Canada where your spouse and/or dependents are living. You are not actively enrolled in a Canadian public health care plan in the province you used to reside in. There are other residential ties, but these are the big ones that clearly define if you are a resident or not. 

    Note:  Simply having a bank account or having financial investments in Canada does not make you a resident. You need to be concerned with your physical body living in Canada in some form. Similarly, if you own a condo, house, or vacation property and are renting it out, this is an investment, not your residence.

  3. Your money has been gained from legal sources. You are not bringing in "laundered" or other illegally obtained money.

In summary, if you meet the general criteria noted above, you will not be taxed on funds you bring into Canada.

Bringing money with you over a land border or through the airport into Canada

One typical concern of returning Canadians is the "CDN $10,000" limit that is clearly noted on all airline information and Canadian government web sites.

Please note that this CDN $10,000 limit is for having to report what you are bringing into Canada. Anything over CDN $10,000 in cash, gold coins/bullion, or other financial currencies or liquid assets must be reported at the time you enter Canada. You do not need to pay tax on amounts over CDN $10,000, but you must report how much you are bringing if you are over that limit. This rule is for currency controls and money laundering reasons, not specifically for tax reasons.

One of my clients brought CDN $350,000 in gold bars with them on the plane to Canada.  While this is completely fine legally and not taxed, I do not recommend bringing these amounts with you, for security reasons. There are money, bullion, and jewelry shipping companies which specialize in securely shipping such items. Please use one of these services if you are bringing large amounts of physical liquid assets. The risk of theft is too high! "But nobody will know. We will keep it a secret and hide it in our clothes!" No, just no. Please don't bring high value amounts of cash, gold, jewelry, or other liquid or easily liquidated items with you. Ship them securely.

Real estate owned abroad

One very typical concern Canadians in the U.S., UK, Australia, Hong Kong, and UAE have is the selling of their overseas property when they return. The cleanest and easiest situation is to have your overseas real estate sold before you return and the funds from the sale sitting in your bank account in that country. Simple. Then you send this money to Canada when you come back and it is clearly yours at the time of your return.

But what if you haven't sold it yet? Or you want to keep it for a while before selling, due to market conditions at the time or as an investment?

The key in this case is to have a solid third-party valuation done of your overseas property and all your investments at the time your return. This becomes your benchmark valuation point for when you start paying taxes in Canada. Any capital gains, rental income, interest income, dividends, or profits you earn from your overseas assets become taxable starting from the day you return. You pay taxes on all forms of income earned from the day you return to Canada onwards. Having a clear valuation of your overseas assets done very close to, or on the day you return to Canada, will be very useful later.

Vehicles

Bringing your vehicle into Canada from the U.S. may result in taxes. Please see the official riv.ca web site for full details on importing your American car into Canada when you return. Note: You may not bring in vehicles from countries other than the U.S. There are very special exceptions (ancient collector vehicles, for example), but normal vehicles may only be imported from the USA.

Tax Treaties

Canada has tax treaties with many countries. If you pay taxes in another country you do not pay taxes in Canada, or get a tax credit on the taxes you pay abroad. If there is a big difference between the taxes you pay abroad and the amounts you would have to pay in Canada, have care in maintaining your non-resident status in Canada so as to minimize your tax implications here.

List of countries Canada has tax treaties with: Tax Treaties in Effect .

Asking the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to declare you "non-resident"

Before they go overseas, or during their time living abroad, many Canadians wonder if they should seek a CRA declaration stating they are non-resident. I do not normally recommend doing so. Why not? Well, for one thing, you are now opening a "case file" in their system where a file does not need to be opened. If you cut all reasonable residential ties to Canada, and have proof of living and working outside of Canada, you are non-resident. Why bring CRA attention to your tax situation unnecessarily? While I am not claiming anything bad will happen by doing so, does it make intuitive sense that no "case file" is better than having one? I hope so.

Here is an analogy to help make clear why CRA "approval" of your non-resident status is perhaps not wise:

tax free

The CRA is a hungry lion. A real lion is biologically designed to hunt and consume food when it is hungry. Similarly, the CRA is designed to capture taxes. And as all governments in the world are hungry for tax revenues, the CRA is hungry for any tax revenue it can find.

You are a gazelle.

When you ask the CRA to not tax you, you are in effect a gazelle going up to a hungry lion, sitting down in front of it, and asking it: "Please Mrs. Lion (female lions do all the hard work), I would like you to not eat me. In fact, I would like you to declare to the whole savanna that you agree not to eat me."

Well, the lion is not designed to "not eat you". It is not thinking about "not eating you". It is hungry and thinking about eating you!

Similarly, asking the CRA to do something that is literally against its mission, purpose, and DNA may get you what you want, but it will not be happy doing so.

In summary, can you imagine how a hungry female lion feels having to "not eat you" and watch you walking away? At the very least, it might feel mildly annoyed. At worst, seriously annoyed. If it ever sees you on the savanna again, it will remember you as the one who got away and irritated it with a silly request to not eat you, when you really would have tasted rather yummy and filled the hole in its stomach. Is that what a gazelle wants a lion to feel about it?

Is that what you want the CRA to feel about you?

Part 2: Accounting

For most Canadians returning from the U.S., engaging the support of a professional cross-border tax accountant makes sense, particularly for the first year, when almost all returning Canadians have to file both countries' tax returns. If you are returning from other countries, having a tax accountant is usually not needed, unless you have very complicated personal investments.

Here are some areas that can cause you serious complication and potentially negative financial implications, for which a professional tax accountant who specializes in both Canadian and U.S. taxes can help:


Tax Accountants - Recommendations?

There are many good cross-border tax accountants in every province. One challenge, however, is that most accountants like to deal with clients they can charge over and over again every year. This makes it a challenge for returning Canadians who simply need a one-time consultation and tax filing support for their one-time return to Canada.

I have arranged support for your one-time or continuing tax support needs at clear and reasonable costs with a trusted tax partnership called Armstrong & Glen. They are located in Alberta but can help Canadians returning to any province.  Note: I do not receive any compensation or commission from this recommendation, so you can trust that it is an unbiased referral.

Armstrong & Glen - Tax Support Packages for Returning Canadians

If you choose to use Armstrong & Glen, please let me know your experience of doing so.

Part 3: Banking

It used to be the case that having a bank account and doing banking in Canada could trigger you being considered resident here, with tax implications. This is no longer as serious a concern. Financial assets move around the world daily. Simply having a bank account or other financial investments in Canada (such as an RRSP) will not impact your tax status.

What about a credit card? I do not suggest having a Canadian credit card. This is because a credit card, if used during your vacations here and when are overseas, starts to look like you have more than an "arms-length" tie to Canada. In other words, using a Canadian credit card starts to make you look like a resident of Canada. Not recommended.

Can you open a bank account from abroad? If you do not have a bank account in Canada and wish to open one, you can now do so more easily. The Royal Bank, for example, has special customer service representatives who can assist Canadians abroad in opening bank accounts in Canada. Likely this is because of their desire to attract "flight capital" from Canadians and non-Canadians living in China who have been buying real estate in Canada (New Chinese money rules threaten tide of foreign buyers in Canada"), but this service is of value to all Canadians living abroad. Simply phone RBC or another major Canadian bank from wherever you are in the world. Help with opening a bank account in Canada is just a phone call away...

Your ideas, considerations, and experiences?

Please share with me your ideas, considerations, and experiences relating to taxes, accounting, and banking. I will post them here as help for others. Along with a credit to you will be a big "THANK YOU!" on behalf of the many people you will be helping!

Thank you!

Paul Kurucz

Canada

Latest update to this page: September 2017


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Paul Kurucz - Canada


A happy client:

Hi Paul,

Just to update you - we landed and sailed through customs! So thank you so much for all of your advice...It was a thoroughly pleasant experience...

... this is to say thank you for everything. Your advisory has been so incredibly helpful and saved us considerable time and removed room for error.

With best wishes,

Caroline

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