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Moving Back to Canada

Resources for Expatriate Canadians returning to Canada after living in the U.S. or further abroad

Permanent Resident status for your foreign-born spouse

Immigration: Spouse & Children

Returning to Canada with your foreign-born spouse and children

Many Canadian citizens living abroad meet someone special, get married, and have children. Years of life go by and then a time comes when many consider moving back to Canada due to economic conditions where they are living, safety, or simply to have their spouse and children experience life in Canada.

Two big questions arise at this point:

The first: "How can I bring my foreign citizen spouse to Canada?"


The second: "Are my children Canadian citizens? If not, how do I get them to be?"

Let's address both of these:

"How can I bring my non-Canadian citizen spouse to Canada?"

Sponsoring your spouse for Permanent Resident status in Canada

This is a very common question and the short answer is:

  1. You sponsor your spouse to become a Canadian "Permanent Resident" ("PR" for short) while living abroad. This is the typical sponsorship application pathway (but not the only one - more on this below).
  2. You wait until the Canadian government grants the PR status for your spouse. This takes between 6-8 months based on reports of processing times people are experiencing recently compared to what the Canadian government web site states, which still notes 12 months.
  3. You visit Canada to accept the PR and then move within a few months. Or you move and accept the PR all in the same step.
  4. A few years later your spouse can apply for Canadian citizenship if they wish to.

The Longer answer:

Well, the longer version is still pretty straightforward. The only added wrinkle is that you can also choose a second pathway: You return to Canada before applying for a PR, with your foreign citizen spouse arriving on a visitor visa in Canada. You then sponsor your spouse for PR status immediately after your arrival.

If you return to Canada first, and then apply to sponsor your spouse, they can also apply for a work permit at the same time as you submit the PR application, allowing them to work and access public health care and other benefits during the remaining waiting period for the PR application to be approved.

The following diagram may help you conceptually understand your application pathway options:

Pathways for sponsoring a spouse for PR status in Canada

The official Government of Canada "Sponsor your spouse, partner, or child.." web page and process for applying for a PR.

Frequently asked questions:

Question: "Will the application be approved for sure?"

Answer: For the vast majority of applicants, the process is long and must be followed very carefully, but does normally lead to a successful outcome. In exceptional cases, a spousal sponsorship is not approved. For Canadian citizens of good standing legally in Canada, with a long-time marriage or common-law relationship, no financial complications, and whose spouse is in relatively good health and good legal standing abroad, it works out just fine.

Question: "Do we have to be married? Or are 'common law' relationships allowed?"

Answer: If you have been in a long-term common law relationship you can sponsor your partner for PR status in Canada.

Question: "How long does the Permanent Resident sponsorship process take?"

Answer: Preparing for the application can take 1-2 months. Recent processing times reported by my clients indicate about 6-8 months, though the Canadian government's web site still shows 12 months. So expect a total of 7-10 months from the beginning of preparing your application to receiving a decision by the government.

Question: "Should I do the sponsorship application myself or hire a Canadian immigration lawyer?"

Answer: Firstly, I can state clearly that unless you have serious issues to consider as part of your situation, you do not need an immigration lawyer. They are far too expensive for a normal PR sponsorship application. However, please do hire a full immigration lawyer if you have a complicated, uncertain case!

If you find the PR application process daunting or you are simply too busy to work through it yourself, you can hire someone to help. The person you want to hire is a "Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant", or "RCIC" for short.

And you want a reputable immigration consultant! Whenever there are important legal, physical, and psychological boundaries to cross which people are eager to get through there are predators and parasites who want to prey on your desire and fear.

The literal and metaphorical border of Canada is one such important boundary. It is the place potential emigrants from around the world really want to get through to live and work here in Canada. This is where another form of predator and parasite appears: The person who tells you they can "get you into Canada and get your citizenship approved"...for a big fee. The government of Canada has been cracking down on this form of fraud, but it can still happen. While in other countries there are people who can bribe a government official to get paperwork approved, in Canada we have a pretty integral immigration system that really works. It is not really "bribable". Stay away from anyone who offers you a fast and easy PR or immigration process in Canada. There is a very good chance they are not honest.

How to choose a good immigration consultant: Like with any professional, check their credentials, find out how long they have been doing this work, ask for referrals from others who have used their services, and start a conversation with an immigration consultant yourself to be sure you feel comfortable working with them. A good RCIC can support your PR application regardless of where they are in Canada or to which province you are intending to move to in Canada.

I can recommend two great RCIC's. Both are very experienced, very good to work with, and both are of very high integrity. Many of my clients use their services: Marianne van der Meij and Paul Abraham. (Professionals page of this site) I get no commission or other benefit from recommending them, so you can trust these are good referrals.

Question: "We submitted our PR Spousal Sponsorship application 3 weeks ago. Why haven't we heard anything? Waiting and not hearing anything is making us anxious!"

Answer: This is a question I hear many times. First and most importantly: You have most likely done your paperwork correctly and send it to the right place. So, the reason you haven't heard anything is not because of something you have or haven't done. It takes about a month (or even more) to get the Canadian Government to acknowledge receipt of your PR application and tell you they have begun to process it. This can be an anxious month, I know! If you haven't heard anything after 7-8 weeks from the date you couriered your PR Spousal Sponsorship application, this is when you might engage the support of a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (RCIC) to advise you on what might be holding up the acknowledgement process for your specific application. They can review everything you submitted (assuming you kept a copy of what you submitted) and provide guidance on what to do next.

Question: "What is the phone number in the government of Canada for me to call to find out the status of my PR Spousal Sponsorship application? I sent it in 3 weeks ago!"

Answer: Sorry. Trying to talk to someone about the status of your PR application before it is acknowledged (before you receive a processing number) is like trying to break into Fort Knox (If you are too young to know what that means, it is the place the U.S. used to keep their gold). Please let me know if you can find a way to get an update over the phone of a PR application before it is acknowledged as "in the system" and before you have an application number.

Note: Once the government has acknowledged your application and given you an application processing number, you can check the status online and can use this information to speak to a real, live person about it.

Another Note: You can only call from within Canada to Immigration Canada. Otherwise you can use the web form on their site to contact them once you have a application number. If you have a family member or friend in Canada who can call on your behalf using your application number for a question you can't find an answer to, this may work, too.

Question: "If we apply from within Canada, may we travel during the PR application processing period?"

Answer: Generally, yes, you can travel outside of Canada for a short business trip or vacation - 1 to 2 weeks total at a time for the whole PR processing period. My clients and others who applied to sponsor a spouse find that it works just fine for a short trip or two. However, you want to be living in Canada during the whole processing period and indicate this by actually being in Canada. Much travelling or being outside of Canada makes it appear you do not actually want to live here.

However, once the PR is approved, it is not recommended to travel by plane until you have the physical PR card in-hand. Some of my clients are experiencing travel complications in the gap of time between when they have accepted their PR and when they receive their physical PR card. Clients are reporting recently that it takes several weeks for the physical PR card to arrive.

Question: "We are applying from outside of Canada. Once the PR is approved, how much time do we have to accept the PR? In other words, we might not be ready to move. How long do we have before we lose the PR offer?"

Answer: There are different reports coming in about this, but you generally have 1 year to accept the PR and 1 year to move after that. In other reports I am hearing that you simply have 12 months to accept the PR based on the date of the medical exam. My suggestion: Whether you are ready to move shortly after receiving notification that your PR is approved or not, do accept it promptly. Either visit Canada and have the PR accepted at the airport or land border or move back and accept the PR as part of the move within a few months of receiving the approval. This avoids any question by Immigration Canada as to whether you really want to live in Canada or not.

Are you planning on completing your PR application yourself and need some general contextual help?

I support clients with general questions on applying to sponsor a spouse for PR status. The most common areas I advise on are on pathway decisions, the timing of applications in the context of your overall move back to Canada, dual-citizenship concerns, separate moves (one spouse comes first), working remotely, and meeting residency requirements. These questions are part of the full professional support services that I offer.

Note: I am not a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant and may not legally provide full consulting and immigration representation services.

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"Are my children Canadian citizens? If not, how do I get them to be?"

Your foreign-born children are likely already Canadian citizens!

The great news:

If one or both biological parents were born in Canada then their children are automatically Canadian citizens!

The not so good news:

If both of you, the parents, were not born in Canada, but one or both of you received a Canadian citizenship either from your Canadian parent or from being naturalized as a Canadian, your children may not automatically be Canadian citizens. When you move back you may have to sponsor them to bring them to Canada with you.

The slightly more complicated news:

If one or both biological parents *were* born in Canada, which most returning Canadians have as their reality, you need to get the government of Canada to confirm that your children really are citizens. And to do so, you must apply for proof of citizenship. I also recommend getting Canadian passports for your children at this time (more below on this).

Note: This only applies when a Canadian-born parent is a Canadian citizen in good standing. If you have a complicated legal status in Canada your children may not be automatically deemed Canadian citizens.

The official Government of Canada "Get proof of citizenship" web page and application process.

Frequently asked questions:

Question: "How long does it take for the government of Canada to confirm my children's Canadian citizenship?

Answer: It depends. Some people are finding that they can get it done in a matter of weeks using the "rush" order system. Others are finding it takes many months or closer to a year. If you know you are moving back to Canada in the coming year, get your application submitted at least 9 months in advance of your move.

If you are in a really urgent and time-sensitive situation, there is an option to apply for rush processing, which can take 2-3 weeks. However the criteria are pretty clear: It must be a real need for this priority processing.

Question: "Should I get my children Canadian passports as well as proof of Canadian citizenship?"

Answer: An emphatic "YES!" A Canadian passport will mean they don't need U.S. or Canadian travel authorizations, they will be allowed to enter Canada from all countries in world (dual citizens MUST have a Canadian passport), and they will have a form of Canadian primary photo identification when they arrive in Canada. I suggest applying for your children's Canadian passports at the same time as you apply for their proof of citizenship.

Question: "Does the fact that my children have proof of Canadian citizenship and Canadian passports impact my application to sponsor my spouse for PR status?"

Answer: Great question! I suspect it does in an informal way. After all, if they are moving to Canada with one parent who is a Canadian citizen, it makes a good case for their other, foreign-born parent, to be allowed to live legally in Canada, doesn't it?

But to be clear, I don't know if there is a direct link between the two and if Immigration Canada includes the status of children when it decides on a PR spousal application approval or not.

Further Help

Spousal sponsorships and moving your children "back" to Canada when they were born and have lived abroad does raise a lot of questions.

Please take the time to fully research and consider all your options and take prompt action on important first steps such as having the Government of Canada issue proof of citizenship and passports for your children.

If I can be of support for your move to Canada, and for general questions on bringing your foreign-born spouse and children as part of your move, please engage my professional support services.

Your idea? Your thoughts? Your experiences?

Contributions & Feedback, please!

Please share your learning and experiences, and suggest improvements, so that other Canadians moving back to Canada, and those moving here for the first time, may benefit from your wisdom.

Thank you!

Paul Kurucz

Latest update to this resource: March 2020.

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Your questions about when to move back, taxes, investments and finances, bringing back your household belongings, health care, and more will be answered promptly and professionally, with resources to back up what you need. My 17 years of supporting over 1,000 clients gives me a depth of expertise across all aspects of planning and returning to Canada.

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,


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