So you want out

The president-elect isn’t the one you want, and you’re exploring your options abroad for the next few years.

OK. Deep breath.

I can only tell you about the one country I know well outside of the United States, and that is my home country, Canada. For other countries, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Caution: I am not a lawyer, and am merely telling you where to look to get started.

First off, it isn’t all going to be bread and roses. It’s a different country that has made different choices as it’s gone along, and that includes the civic structure and a different split of responsibilities between the provinces and federal government. In part, that’s been in reaction to the American civil war experience in the 1860s. You will need a U.S. passport.

Canada uses a points system to determine your ability to easily settle and assimilate. You can work through it at the Canada Immigration and Customs website. Canada likes its immigrants young, healthy, with six months living expenses in the bank, and if at all possible, speaking one or both of its official languages on arrival. It also likes them educated or with a skilled trade. If you aren’t young anymore, but are interested in doing a tech startup, you’re also welcome.

If you plan to immigrate and aren’t involved in tech, you should investigate what is required to recognize your professional qualifications in the country, and either do the certifications in advance or have a plan to do them as soon as possible after arrival. I strongly recommend doing everything that you can in advance as job markets are tighter than within the US, especially within Quebec, where language fluency requirements may be a significant impediment. Also note – this may take a while.

For many professions (medical, law, engineering) you need to ensure that your professional certifications are recognized or that you make plans to write local certification exams as soon as possible. For teachers, the employment market is tight (teaching is well-regarded in Canada); your chances are better if you have ESL, French or mathematics certifications. For skilled and ticketed trades people, there are good opportunities but employment can be cyclical.

NAFTA work visa requirements

For many Americans, especially experienced tech people, going north on a NAFTA work visa is a faster and more practical solution. The visas are good for three years, tied to employment (but fairly easy to renew if you change employers) and you can return if the employment environment improves. If your current employer has a Canadian office and you can arrange a transfer, this is a really good choice.

There are already many Americans living and working in Canada’s major cities – and you’ll rub shoulders with many people who have immigrated from around the world.

In many ways, Canada is the ultimate post-modern country – approximately 17% of citizens live abroad. As a result, its edges are very fuzzy. This is all relatively recent – the overseas phenom is 26-27 years old, when many Canadians began re-establishing ties with Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall and in the Middle East after Lebanon stabilized in the early 1990s. There has always been a flow of Canadians south to the U.S. and at times of strife in the US, north to Canada

Around 40,000 draft dodgers went north to Canada from 1965 – 1975. There is a strong network of LGBTQ support organizations, who have a pass-along network for helping those from abroad settle in the country. There is also a strong system of private community sponsorship for refugees, most recently activated for Syrian refugees. (Community groups and individuals band together to provide a year’s worth of support and help with housing and work for incoming refugees. Relationships usually run longer to help newcomers pilot their way through re-establishing professional qualifications and set up businesses).

If you are willing to consider working in remote locations, there is a real need for all professions in the Canadian north. Yes, it’s cold, and yes, it’s a long way from anywhere, but you’re hella needed. If you like the great outdoors and hunting, this can be a good fit. In the major cities, you’ll bump into a pretty diverse population of people originating from around the world.

Overall, individual living standards and salaries are lower than in the U.S., mainly due to the difference in the exchange rates. (in local dollar terms, they are similar). Canada’s living standard is comparable with Germany, France, and Singapore. Better support for families. Real estate and rents are high in Toronto and Vancouver. Food is more expensive, mainly due to the distances that need to be covered to provide it. On the other hand, investment in common civic structure is a higher priority because the place doesn’t function without it. So, fewer gated communities, more investment in schools and public transit. Less packaged food product selection, but excellent basics – with a focus on good quality. Less spread between the wealthiest and the poorest (although the spread has been increasing in lockstep with the US), tighter banking rules, less stock market regulation (is a provincial responsibility).

Coming to study

If you are considering doing a degree or specialist diploma in Canada, be aware that you will be paying full cost (no provincial subsidies) and will need to purchase health insurance.


Banks are national in Canada (regulated at the federal level). The major ones have systems in place to recognize US credit histories on request and help you transfer them to a Canadian account and credit card. The Royal Bank and Toronto-Dominion are best positioned to handle this as they have US operations.


Canada currently has mixed resource, manufacturing and services based economy. A large portion of overseas revenue (from the US) comes from oil from the Alberta oil sands and the Grand Banks deposits of Newfoundland. Canada’s prairie and maritime economy suffers when oil prices are low; Ontario’s and Quebec’s industrial economies pick-up under the same conditions. Makes for some interesting internal politics.

The service-based portion of the economy is banking, tech, software development, health case and teaching. A good portion of the manufacturing industry is within the automotive and aircraft sectors – they are watching any proposals to open up the existing NAFTA treaty very carefully. The strongest areas of the Canadian economy are those with international sales as the country’s population base isn’t large enough to sustain strong internal companies over the long term. (the U.S. has an significant advantage in that it’s internal market is the largest single economy in the world in terms of dollars and tied with Indonesia for third place in terms of population.) Many firms in the service sector do a lot of business with U.S. companies; they are watching this extemely closely as any changes in international relations will affect their revenue flows.

Short version – the wellbeing of Canada’s economy is closely tied to that of the U.S. Since the early seventies, as the European and Asian economies came fully on stream and North American lost its post-WWII advantage, a mild recession in the United States usually translates to a full-blown recession in Canada. The economy oscillates more, with strong variations regionally. Be aware of that. It’s likely to be a bumpy ride over the next few years.

Final note – I’ve been away from Canada seven years – things change. If I need to update or add information to this entry, please let me know in the comments.

Post-election, November 11th, 2016

I’m not sure how useful this post is going to be. Consider it capturing a time, a place and a sentiment.

We’re five days past the US federal election of November 8th, 2016. Being a bit pedantic about including dates as you may be reading this well after the date. Donald J. Trump is the president-elect. He won the majority of electoral college votes. His opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is in the lead for the popular vote. Absentee and mail-in ballots are still being counted; she will likely finish with a clear, but narrow popular vote majority.

The president-elect won votes in a few key swing states, enough to tip the electoral college vote allocation his way. These were states that have been most heavily affected by employment loss and change as the price of coal has plummeted, manufacturing facilities have moved overseas or have automated (requiring fewer works).

I live in a pretty blue region of a very red state. 34% of the presidential vote to went to Hillary Clinton. A lot of people I know said that they were going to write in other candidates.  Locally, in the local judge races, nine African-American women were elected, out of the fourteen available positions.

This had been an anxiety-ridden election. It’s been an election in which one candidate hurl insults at people who spoke against him, threatened lawsuits, drew the support of white supremacists, and brought out the worst  I didn’t get a lot of work done in the week leading up to it, nor in the days immediately after it. I was stunned. I had _so_ been looking forward to having a female president, and some continuity in the work done under the Obama administration. And maybe, just maybe, less obstruction from the legislative houses. I didn’t vote – I’m a permanent resident, a legal alien. I could have, if I had started the application for citizenship eight months earlier

That is gone now. A lot of people are grieving. A lot of people – about half the women, LGBTQ, minority are afraid and worried. They are worried about the loss of health insurance and the potential rolling back of recently granted legal rights. In many small communities in rural Alabama, it’s about their neighbors and colleagues. These are communities where change is threatening, ugly things have been said and there are significant gaps in communication and understanding. Members of families have stopped talking to one another.

Protests have started. It’s early days.

This man has said a lot of hurtful things. He has an authoritarian bent. He’s promised a lot to his supporters in terms of overturning the existing Washington applecart. He is inexperienced with governance and he’s rapidly being surrounded by people with strong lobbying, manufacturing, and financial industry connections. This is going to be a World Wrestling Experience presidency, of show, and bluster, threats and counter threats, drama, hurling and slamming of bodies.

He, his supporters and the Republican party own this. They have control of the Senate, the House and the Presidency. Success or failure is in their hands.

With the reopening of NAFTA, Canada and it’s citizens are going to be in for time of uncertainty. The only good I see is that the country has gotten pretty good at balancing the buffeting of international trade winds. The strong international connections are going to be essential to surviving the buffeting coming forth from the United States.


The Tragically Hip

Gord Downie has sung his last concert. If everything progresses as expected, this will be the end of The Tragically Hip as a band. You don’t recover from glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).

Where to start? For Americans, The Tragically Hip are my Anglo-Canadian cohort’s Grateful Dead, our Santana, our Leonard Skynard, our Bruce Springsteen. A band with roots entwined in the experiences and ethos of scattered urban points of light in a vast northern wilderness, where we all grow up knowing that the vast roaring wilderness outside our cities and civilized places will kill you – and not even blink. Where it can be a long, isolating distance between little towns and hamlets, and for whom the technology of rail, flight, and internet has made possible the knitting together of a country.

Where we have been deliberate in cultivating our nationalism and in growing cohesiveness – not always complete! A country a hundred years younger than the US, but with deeper, longer, twisted-with-time roots in First Nations cultures, overlaid and mixed up with successive waves of first European, and later Asian & South Asian, Central American, African and Middle Eastern waves of immigration. A country that is a simmering, changing melange of a place/time/thought, for whom the never-ending cultural danger is being absorbed into the American mass.

A country that has come to the practice of cultivating national heroes relatively late. A country who is still gelling into it’s current working form. As described in the early eighties on Peter Gzowksi’s Morningside radio show as “as Canadian as possible under the circumstances“.

So how do the Hip fit in and why is everyone (Anglo-Canadian) having this big nostalgia-er-celebratory moment?

Because for many now-fifty-somethings, the Hip were the soundtrack of when we were getting established, both ourselves and as a country. In the nineties, they matured from a blues band to doing some really thoughtful music that told stories of our time and place. They reinforce who we are and where we’re going. Now, one of our own is going down and is choosing to celebrate while still alive. It’s part of that Canadian of ethos of rolling with the circumstances you are given. Gord Downie is using his illness for a greater good, that of raising awareness of brain cancers, and helping raise funds for more research on GBM. Hell of a class act.

Me? I’m going to be rolling around in the music for a while. It may not help my focus on things programming, but it will sure as hell help me hold my sense of home while in the American South.

State budget guide from ARISE Alabama

It’s taken some time for me, as a transplant, to wrap my head around the state budget process.

I understand budgets; i manage a household one, in the past I’ve managed one for a co-ownership apartment building and I currently manage one for a non-profit. However, my higher governance level understanding of budgets is within the Canadian provincial and federal contexts, not the United States. If you are as befuddled as I, you’ll find Arise Alabama‘s booklet describing the process and the effects on policy quite useful.