Moving Back to Canada from the UK
Returning to Canada from the UK would seem to be a pretty straightforward move. After all, Canada is a former English colony, we share a common national language, and both countries are progressive and modern societies.
Whether you considering moving to Canada from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, or from the Republic of Ireland, there are many similarities. But there are also many differences between the UK and Canada. This resource is designed to help you understand some of the differences in order to help you decide two things:
- If the move back to Canada makes sense for you, and...
- How to make it a smooth and happy return to Canada if you do decide to move back.
Most of the questions I have received from Canadian expatriates living in the UK have come from indecision around whether it makes sense to move back given their particular situation. Unlike their American counterparts who generally want to know the "hows" of moving back, Canadians living in the UK are more focused on the "should I move back?" question.
Let's start by looking at the commonalities and differences from the context of consideration of a move back to Canada:
Some of the commonalities between Canada and the UK:
- A tax treaty between both countries that ensures no double taxation for Canadians.
- Similar systems such as telephone, internet, financial linkages, and language.
- Former Colony of the UK - Canada has many structural similarities, such as our parliamentary system, cultural traditions shared by large numbers of people in both countries, close treaty and political alliances, and more.
- A sense of mobility - people have been moving to and from Canada from the UK for literally hundreds of years.
- A strong focus on process - Americans have "the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" as their founding principles. Canada and the UK are focused more on the right to good government, as it states in the Canadian constitution.
- Expensive real estate. Perhaps this is not an admirable commonality, but Toronto and Vancouver particularly, are now "world class" cities in terms of real estate prices.
Some of the differences between Canada and the UK, in the context of a potential move back:
- Differences in mind frame - The UK is oriented towards its own internal culture and that of Europe and further abroad than it is toward Canada. Canada is a nice ex-colony, but not really where "life happens". There are few television shows in the UK that
put Canada at the centre of daily attention, for example. On the other hand, Canada's main focus is the U.S. Besides doing some 70% of our economic trade with America, we get most of our entertainment from America
and as a result focus our attention on life happening in the U.S.
This is a key difference. To many from Britain, Canada can seem like an extension of the U.S. in terms of mind frame.
- Different cultures. The UK maintains an aspirational culture, and perhaps only a mythical one at this point in history, for most people who come to live there. They want to fit in, learn the
accent, find their place in the UK cultural milieu, and thrill at the "culturedness" of life there. Canada does not have this same attraction. Canada is a place you go to be safe from persecution, experience nature, have lots of social freedom, create a life for yourself, and
raise your family in a prosperous manner. Some people who come to Canada retain more of their original culture than they embrace "Canadian" culture. Why? Because there is no centralCanadian culture that is a common to most regions! This country is a mix of dozens of sub-cultures. And because of the vast size of Canada, these dozens of sub-cultures can co-exist pretty happily.
The key, then, is to find your specific sub-culture - the one you want to be with - in Canada. The same, of course, is true of the UK. Life in London can be culturally extremely different from life Edinburgh,
depending on your cultural interests. You need to find where you belong.
One reason many Canadians living in the UK have a challenge deciding if they should return is because
they don't know how and where to fit into Canada after finding their "place" in the UK - a fit that is really neatly and comfortably workable for them. Moving back to Canada requires a significant cultural
adjustment. Canada seems so similar, but is really quite different from the UK, and very different even within regions, as noted above.
- Different geography. While the west coast of Canada can be as rainy as the UK in the winter, Canada is a country with varying landscapes, weather, and geography types. And it is a vast country.
A real quote:
Q: "How are you going to get to Vancouver for your meeting tomorrow? [from Toronto]
The sheer size of Canada gives people a different sense of scope, perhaps, than that of people living in the UK. Cities are not as close together in Canada as they are in the UK. Canada is not close to various European centres in absolute terms, too. While you can easily fly from London on a super-cheap flight to a weekend in Paris, you cannot easily do the same between Vancouver and Paris.
A: "I'm going to take the overnight train."
Instead, Canada is a vast, remote, and separated place. Life in Vancouver is quite different from life in Toronto and is 3 time zones and many thousands of km away by plane. Compare this to the distance between
London and Edinburgh, which is less than 400km. One trip between cities in the same country is an expensive flight that takes most of a day of traveling. The other is a short direct flight or relaxed train ride away.
Caveat: Canadians do travel to the U.S. for weekend trips, but for different reasons: Seattle and San Francisco for west-coast culture, border cities
for cheap food and gas, and Las Vegas for gambling and shows. Trust, however, that these places, while of interest to North Americans, are not the same experience as heading to Paris for the weekend.
Implication:I would argue that the UK is more "human scale" than Canada - it is a place where all manner of trips, experiences, and people connections feel possible because distances are not that great between places.
How might this factor affect those moving back to Canada from the UK? It might mean that Canada can impart a sense of isolation and separation that could lead to a sense of disconnection and loneliness upon return. And I would suggest that this is not a factor to take lightly if you value close connections to family, friends, and cultural variety.
- Different systems such as electricity (220v), taxes, driving (left side of the road), etc. Education systems are a central difference, too. The UK school system is much older, more sophisticated, and wider reaching than in Canada. What I mean by this is that the aspirational culture of the UK, mentioned above, is fully supported by, and integrated with, the educational system. In Canada this can be confusing to many newcomers as they expect a more consistent and culturally focused experience
than what Canadian schools actually offer.
How does this help you understand whether to move back to Canada?
Perhaps the following three questions can help you gain some clarity
on moving back, and whether it makes sense for you:
- Are you deeply embedded in the UK culture and society? If yes, removing yourself from the UK culture and trying to establish yourself in Canada will be a shock...and perhaps an unhappy shock that could take years to come to terms with.
- Canada is a vast place. It is not a "hop, skip, and a jump" away from Paris, per my example above. While the UK is more costly to live in than Canada, wages and salaries in Canada are much lower, on average. This makes it harder to live an easy-flowing international lifestyle. If you live an urban, sophisticated, European-connected life in the UK, are you willing to give up that geographic accessibility and lifestyle to live in Canada?
- How are you oriented? Toward creating your own life and culture or toward fitting into another? If you are a free thinker and love creating your own life amid tremendous physical, mental, and social freedom, Canada is for you. If you want to instantly plug into a culture that fits who you are and that gives you a sense of personal security, the
UK is perhaps a better choice (assuming the UK culture is the one you want to plug into!)
Resources for returning to Canada from the UK
Moving your belongings
Unless you plan to bring a few suitcases and boxes with you by air, a 20' or 40' container works well. The sea route between the UK and North America is direct and
well-serviced by shipping companies, making a move to eastern and central Canada (Toronto, Ottawa, etc.) a pretty standard and modestly priced move.
What to bring:
Due to shipping costs, low-value items and those that won't be of use in Canada (appliances that run on 220v) are not worth shipping.
Some general items that are worth shipping to Canada with you:
- higher value furnishings and rugs
- books, entertainment collections
- laptop computers
- kitchen dishware, cutlery, etc.
What not to bring:
- Vehicles - sorry, but non-U.S. and Canadian vehicles cannot be imported.
- Appliances (different voltage).
- very low value items that can be purchased inexpensively in Canada.
As mentioned above, Canada and the UK have a tax treaty and so you won't have major problems sorting out your taxes when you move back to Canada.
If your situation is complicated I recommend getting professional advice from a tax accountant in Canada who specializes in international taxes.
This may be a bit tricky. The UK economy is very different than Canada's and the currencies will not move in a predictable pattern between each other. Here is a 4 year graph of the GBP-CAD exchange rates, created using data courtesy of CanadianForex.ca:
As of the latest upate of this chart, the GBP has generally returned to 2013 levels vis a vis the CAD due to BREXIT impacts, indicating that this is not a particularly good time to convert your funds to CAD if you are planning on moving back soon and plan on moving your money to Canada permanently. It is anticipated that ongoing fluctuations will be the norm for some time as BREXIT negotiations impact real and perceived implications for people and organizations.
Some foreign exchange considerations:
- Will you be affected by fluctuations in the GBP/CAD exchange rate in the medium or long term? Many people have pensions that they cannot move to Canada and many also own property and/or investments in the UK that they intend to keep for 3-10+ years. This obviously makes foreign exchange rates of concern. As the graph above indicates, the ongoing economic uncertainties in the UK can have a major impact on your CAD income over time. Taking the time to think through the implications of foreign exchange rates in your situation, with the help of an advisor, perhaps, is in your interest. Moving back to Canada should come with feeling financially safe and secure for the future.
- How long are you willing to keep a large amount of money in GBP, such as what you from the sale of a home, before you wish to convert some or all of it to CAD for your new life in Canada? The short term is uncertain. And if you can wait for years because you don't need the money until quite a ways down the road, the decision gets more complicated because the future relative values between the GBP and the CAD are quite uncertain as well. Trying to "time the market" for better exchange rates is a challenge even for investment experts. One strategy that professionals use that may be of value is to convert smaller lump sums of money at regular intervals rather than one big one. On average, this is a lower risk approach than trying to time the market.
Your ideas, considerations, and experiences?
Canadians living in the UK considering moving back to Canada: Please share your ideas, thoughts, and experiences relating to returning to Canada from the UK. This is a new page and your input will really help others who are considering the move as well. 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!
This page up to date as of September 2017
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A happy client:
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
With best wishes,