Can US Citizens Work in Canada?

Published on: October 19th, 2023

Working in Canada is an attractive option for many Americans. It has a relatively lower cost of living and a more socialized healthcare system, and it is the closest country to immigrate from the United States.

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The Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) offers an advantageous opportunity for U.S. citizens wanting to work in Canada. 

The agreement is designed to promote and eliminate trade barriers between the U.S. and Canada. It also provides a framework for facilitating the temporary entry of individuals engaged in trade, goods or services provision, or investment activities. Therefore, U.S. citizens are able to work in Canada without the need for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) or a work permit in certain cases.

Under the CUSMA agreement, U.S. citizens can work in Canada through four distinct categories:

1. Working in Canada as a Business Visitor

A business visitor is an international visitor who comes to Canada to engage in international business activities without intending to enter the Canadian labour market. Depending on the nature of their work, certain business visitors can conduct business or trade activities in Canada without the need for a work permit.

To qualify as a Business Visitor to Canada, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Your stay in Canada will be for less than six months.
  • You do not intend to enter the Canadian labour market.
  • The primary place of business and source of income and profits is outside Canada.
  • You possess the necessary documentation to support your application.
  • You satisfy Canada’s basic entry requirements, such as holding a valid travel document like a passport, having sufficient funds for your stay and return to the U.S., planning to leave Canada upon the completion of your visit, and posing no criminal, security, or health risks to Canadians.

There are various reasons for which you may visit Canada as a business visitor, including attending business meetings, conferences, conventions, or fairs; procuring Canadian goods or services on behalf of a foreign entity; taking orders for goods or services; offering after-sales service (excluding hands-on work in construction trades); receiving training from a Canadian parent company for work outside of Canada; and providing training to employees of a Canadian subsidiary of a foreign company.

Business visitors to Canada may require either a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) or an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA), depending on their specific circumstances.

2. Working in Canada as a Professional from the US

One of the first steps on your path to working in Canada is to identify if your profession falls within the scope of the CUSMA Professionals category. Consult the full list of eligible professions on the IRCC website. 

Application Requirements

To be eligible for the CUSMA Professionals category, you must meet certain requirements:

  • You need to be a citizen of the United States.
  • Possess a degree or certification in a related educational program that matches your profession.
  • Having a job offer from a Canadian employer. This can be a signed contract or a letter of offer detailing your employment.
  • Ensure that your job responsibilities align with the profession in the CUSMA list.
  • Adhere to existing immigration requirements for temporary entry into Canada.

The Application Process

Once you’ve confirmed your eligibility, the next step is to apply for a work permit. U.S. citizens can apply at a port of entry (POE) or a visa office before departing for Canada. When applying, you’ll need to submit various documents, including proof of citizenship, confirmation of employment, details about the proposed employer, and documentation that proves you meet the minimum education requirements for your profession.

Important Note: It’s important to note that the Professionals category does not permit self-employment in Canada. To qualify, your employment must be pre-arranged with a Canadian employer. If you’re considering self-employment in Canada, you should explore other immigration categories such as Trader or Investor.


3. Intra-Company Transfers

Canada’s International Mobility Program extends provisions for highly skilled foreign U.S. citizens, to temporarily work in Canada as intra-company transferees. This opportunity allows employees of multinational companies outside Canada to obtain an LMIA-exempt work permit and transfer to one of the company’s Canadian locations. To qualify, specific requirements must be met by both the employee and the multinational company.

For the Employee:

  • Employment with a multinational company.
  • The Canadian enterprise must have a qualifying relationship (parent, subsidiary, branch, or affiliate).
  • Position at the executive level, senior managerial level, or requiring specialized knowledge.
  • At least 1 year of full-time employment with the company in the previous 3 years.

For the Multinational Company:

  • The enterprise outside Canada and the one inside must have a parent, subsidiary, branch, or affiliate relationship.
  • Both enterprises must be actively engaged in providing goods and services regularly and continuously.

Eligible applicants can submit a work permit application for an LMIA-exempt work permit, and the application process may vary based on the foreign national’s residence and citizenship. Moreover, certain countries, covered by trade agreements like NAFTA or CETA, offer additional options for Intra-Company Transfers, providing valuable opportunities for qualified individuals.

Important note:  this program promotes the temporary transfer of employees without intending to establish permanent residence in Canada.

4. Working as a Trader in Canada

To work as a trader in Canada, certain requirements must be met. Traders should possess American citizenship, work for enterprises with American nationality, engage in substantial trade activities mainly between the U.S. and Canada, hold positions of a supervisory, executive, or essential skills nature, and adhere to existing immigration requirements for temporary entry. They may apply for a work permit at a visa office, and it’s advisable to do so due to program consistency and reciprocity.

Substantial trade is determined by both the volume and monetary value of trade transactions. Over 50% of the total international trade conducted by the entity must occur between Canada and the U.S. Capacity-wise, traders must serve in a supervisory, executive, or essential skills role. Essential skills refer to qualifications vital for the effectiveness of the enterprise’s Canadian operations.

A work permit issued for traders is valid for up to one year, with extensions available for two years, provided all requirements are maintained. Traders must express a clear intention to return to the U.S. when their trader status ends.

5. Working in Canada as an US Investor

Working as an investor in Canada also involves specific criteria. Applicants must hold American citizenship, and the enterprise they’re associated with must possess American nationality. There must be a substantial investment, and the applicant should be seeking entry primarily to develop and direct the enterprise. If the applicant is an employee, they should occupy an executive, supervisory, or essential skills position.

Applicants can apply for a work permit at a visa office, ensuring program consistency and reciprocity. The investment must be significantly proportional to the total investment needed to establish the enterprise. Furthermore, the business must be a real, active, commercial, or entrepreneurial undertaking that operates to generate profit. Investors should be willing to contribute capital irrevocably, and their investment should not serve merely as a source of livelihood.

The work permit for investors is initially valid for up to one year, with two-year extensions granted if the criteria are met. Investors need to express their intention to return home upon the conclusion of their investor status. Investor status ends when the applicant takes on another job, engages in activities inconsistent with this status, or closes down the business. They do not undergo the LMIA process but need a work permit (R204) under specific exemption codes (T21 for traders and T22 for investors), for which they must apply at a visa office before departing for Canada.

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Other Work Permit options for US Citizens

US citizens applying with their Partners

You may be eligible for an Open Work Permit in Canada if your spouse or common-law partner meets one of the following criteria:

  • Your partner holds a temporary foreign work permit in Canada.
  • Your partner has international student status in Canada.
  • If your partner is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, and you have applied for the Spousal Sponsorship process, you could qualify for a spousal open work permit while waiting for a decision.

In all of these cases, you can apply and may be eligible for a spousal open work permit. Unlike specific employer-bound permits, this permit allows you to work for any employer without the need for a new work permit when changing jobs, as long as your current permit remains valid. This flexibility offers you the freedom to explore various employment opportunities without the hassle of work permit renewals.


Working in Canada as an international student coming from the US 

International students from the US who choose to study in Canada could benefit from not only high-quality education and a diverse and inclusive environment but also from work and gain practical experience during and after their studies.

The Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) allows students who have completed a program of study at a designated learning institution in Canada to apply for a work permit. Applicants need to ensure the program they complete in Canada is PGWP eligible, even if through a designated learning institute. The PGWP allows them to work in Canada for a duration equal to the length of their program, up to a maximum of three years.


To explore the potential pathways to work in Canada as a U.S. citizen, take the first step today by completing a free online assessment, and find out if you qualify for one of the pathways.


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