This section addresses some of the key concerns Canadians face when returning to Canada. They are serious issues and the choices that are 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:
Let's clear up the most pressing and concerning questions Canadians have when returning to Canada:
"Do I pay taxes in Canada on my money (savings, investments, etc.) that I bring back with me when I return to Canada?"
The short answer: No.
The longer answer: If you meet the following conditions you may transfer to Canada as much money as you wish and these funds will not be subject to taxes in Canada when you arrive:
In summary, if you meet the general criteria noted above you will not be taxed by the Canadian government on funds you bring into Canada or send to Canada before or after you move back.
One typical concern returning Canadians have 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 physically bringing into Canada through an airport or land border crossing. Anything over CDN $10,000 in cash, gold coins/bullion, diamonds, 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 him and his family on the plane to Canada. While this is completely acceptable legally and is not taxed in Canada, 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 very high value amounts of cash, gold, jewelry, or other liquid or easily liquidated items with you. Ship them securely.
One very typical concern Canadians in the U.S., UK, Australia, Hong Kong, and UAE in particular 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 foreign bank account.
Then you transfer this money to Canada when you come back and it is clearly yours at the time of your return. No later tax issues with the government of the country you are in now or with the Canadian government after you return.
But what if you haven't sold it yet? Or you want to keep it for awhile before selling, due to market conditions at the time, or as an investment to sell much later?
If you are in the process of selling a property abroad and expect it to sell in the near future (within 3 months and within the same tax year) you are fine from the perspective of taxes in Canada. Your property is already listed for sale at a price that is clearly publicly available. There is no taxable "gain" if it sells at or around the asking price.
However, what if you plan to list the property for sale in the more distant future?
The key in this case is to have a solid third-party valuation done of your overseas real estate and of all your overseas investments at the time your return. This becomes your benchmark valuation 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 in Canada starting from the day you return.
To be clear: You pay tax in Canada only on all forms of income earned from the day you return to Canada onwards in time. 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 as a benchmark of the value at that time from which to calculate and prove the gains you earned since moving back.
Important: The guidance above is for the Canadian side of the tax equation - taxes that you do or don't pay in Canada to the Canadian government as part of your move back to Canada.
However, you must plan carefully for any tax implications in the country you are leaving! In particular, the IRS in the United States can levy huge penalties if you do not plan your move carefully and file all the appropriate paperwork before you leave and when you do your first dual-filing tax return once you are back in Canada. Other countries have their own regulations, laws, and punitive penalties that you must prepare for!
Moving back from the U.S.? See the USA Resources section of this site for more information on taxes.
Final word of caution: Please be very proactive about researching and planning your exit taxes from the country you are in. Occasionally I get an email from someone who tells me I am wrong and that they paid huge tax penalties. When I gently check in with them I immediately hear that they didn't do any tax planning and no required paperwork when exiting the country they were leaving (sigh). The world is complicated, folks! Plan for it and minimize any question, hassle, and tax penalties later!
Bringing your vehicle into Canada with you from the U.S. will usually result in taxes in the form of GST/HST and possibly import duties. Vehicle imports are detailed more fully on the "Moving Back from the USA" resource page of this site and I recommend you visit 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 normal vehicles from countries other than the U.S. There are very special exceptions (ancient collector vehicles, for example), but normal current age vehicles may only be imported from the USA.
Canada has tax treaties with many countries. If you pay taxes in another country that has a tax treaty with Canada you do not pay taxes in Canada on that same income or you get a tax credit in Canada on the taxes you pay abroad. You will never be double-taxed when there is solid tax treaty in effect. 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 Canadian non-resident status so as to minimize your tax implications until you are ready to resume residence in Canada.
List of countries Canada has tax treaties with: Tax Treaties in Effect .
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 (Form NR73). 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 really 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 desirable:
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?
An quote from a Canadian abroad who chose to ask the CRA to declare him non-resident:
"I should not have asked the CRA to declare me non-resident. They hounded me for two years afterwards, despite me proving clearly that I was living in ______. I finally got through to them and they grudgingly admitted I was clearly non-resident."
For most Canadians returning from the U.S. who have significant assets, researching tax laws carefully is really important. If you don't have the inclination to do this, engaging my support and/or engaging the support of a professional cross-border tax accountant makes sense. This is particularly important for the first year after you return, when almost all returning Canadians have to start filing tax returns in both countries (called "dual filing").
If you are returning from Hong Kong, the UK, the UAE, Australia, etc., engaging the support of a international tax accountant is usually not needed unless you have very complicated personal investments, trusts, business assets, etc.
Returning from the U.S.? Here are some areas that can cause you serious complications and have costly tax implications. Getting proactive support really makes sense in these cases!:
I have met and spoken with several tax accountants and tax lawyers across Canada who I can recommend and for whom I have received feedback from happy clients. Please note that I receive no commission or other benefit from these recommendations so you can trust that these are great people to work with.
The following link to the "Professionals" resource page on this web site:
It used to be the case that having a bank account and doing banking in Canada could trigger you being considered resident here, with resulting tax implications. This is no longer as serious a concern. Financial assets of all kinds move around the world daily in millions of different transactions. Simply having a bank account or other financial investments in Canada (such as a "parked" RRSP) will not impact your non-resident tax status.
What about a credit card? I do not recommend keeping an active Canadian credit card while living abroad. This is because a credit card, if used during your vacations here and when you 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.
Can you open a bank account from abroad?
If you do not have a bank account in Canada and wish to open one while you are physically abroad, you can now do so more easily. HSBC and The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), for example, now allow you to open a "deposit only" bank account before you come to Canada. (The process of setting up an account with RBC can only be initiated through their web site right now and is noted below.)
Some of my clients are reporting that other Canadian banks and trust companies do not allow you to set up an account unless you are physically present in Canada. One client, for example, got nowhere with ScotiaBank, who told her that they required physical presence at a branch in Canada to set up an account. I phoned CIBC myself and they were explicit that they don't have the ability to open an account for a Canadian citizen living abroad, even though I made really clear I was sending clients to RBC! "Hopefully in the future we will have this option" I was told.
That said, some returning Canadians are successful in opening accounts at banks or trust companies other than RBC before they return. And certainly you can open one while on a visit here! The lesson: Be persistent when calling a Canadian bank from abroad, as some representatives at bank call centres may not understand that you may be able to access "newcomer" packages or be able to open a new account because you are a Canadian citizen.
RBC's process for opening new bank accounts from outside Canada
Here are the steps:
I am planning on moving back to Canada from HK and I was able to go to the HSBC international center at their main branch and they assisted my setting up a Canadian bank account. It took about a month from start to finish but it is doable.
Thank you, Catherine H. for sharing your experience!
Note: I get no commission or other benefit from RBC or HSBC. They are the only two banks I know of who help returning Canadians while they are still abroad, which is why I share this information.
Opening a bank account in Canada while visiting, with a foreign address
Yes! As long as you have appropriate proof of identification, you can open a bank account in Canada while visiting, using a foreign address. In fact, this is the easiest and best way to open an "unrestricted" bank account that you can use while in Canada or while you are abroad! An experience shared with me:
I was able to open a joint account with my husband (US citizen) using our current US address. Granted, we did have to open the account in person, but we just arranged this when we were on holiday in Ottawa. There was absolutely no hesitation at all from TD Canada Trust and they knew we didn't have a Canadian address upfront. My impression was they didn't care, as long as we had the appropriate identification. I have even changed my US address, and again, no issues, I just had to call in the new address.
Please share 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!
Latest update to this page: July 2020.