Can You Work in Canada if You Are a U.S. Citizen?

Every year, hundreds of thousands of foreign skilled workers go to Canada to work temporarily. American citizens can often fast-track their applications, making their dream of moving to Canada a reality that is achieved much sooner than it is for others.

Passport Privileges

With your U.S. passport, you can travel to Canada for up to 180 days without having to get a visa. However, to work, you will need a visa or other lawful immigration status.

Employment Visa

Individuals who would like to live in Canada and work there for a prolonged period of time will need to pursue an employment visa. A Canadian employer must issue a temporary offer of employment for a foreign worker to work temporarily in the country. The NAFTA agreement allows American citizens to fast-track their visa application process.

The visa process begins with the employer. If the employer has not done so already, it applies for labour market opinion. A Labour Market Impact Assessment is conducted. This portion of the application process requires the employer to supply a transition plan that indicates how it plans to fill the position in the future that is held by a temporary foreign worker. Certain assessments are processed faster than others, such as foreign workers in skilled trades, workers who receive the top ten percent of Canadian earnings and immigrants who will be in the country for less than four months. These assessments receive a decision within 10 business days. Additionally, some immigrants can skip this step, including skilled workers covered under the NAFTA agreement.

The next step is for the Canadian employer to extend a temporary job offer to a foreign employee. The employer must send a written job offer letter that details the job title, description, dates of employment, salary and other information. Next, you apply for a Canadian Temporary Work Permit. You must provide proof of your United States citizenship and qualifications for the job in your application. This process is also fast-tracked by the NAFTA agreement. There may also be a requirement to go to a visa meeting. If you will be working in Quebec, you may also need to acquire a Certificat d’acceptation du Québec.

The Human Resources and Skills Development Canada issues temporary worker permits. If you are granted this work permit, a Canada Border Services Agency Officer will provide this document to you at the point of entry when you arrive in Canada.

If your contract is extended or you want to continue to work in Canada after the expiration date on your existing work permit, you may choose to renew your work permit or extend your current work permit before your existing one expires. This requires you to complete an application, submit payment and provide documentation of your continued eligibility.

Student Visa

If you are studying in Canada and receive a student visa, you can also work in Canada without having to apply for a work permit. You must meet the following eligibility criteria to work a maximum of hours a week:

  • You have a valid Study Permit
  • You are a full-time student studying toward a secondary level vocational qualifications or a post-secondary level qualification in Quebec in a program that leads to a degree and that lasts for a minimum of six months
  • You are studying in a Canadian University, community college or other authorized designated organization in Canada

Permanent Residence

If you would like to stay in Canada longer, you may wish to apply to become a permanent resident. If you have worked under a valid work permit for more than a year, you may be eligible to apply for permanent resident status. The Bridging Work Permit process allows you to obtain a work permit while your application is pending. This program requires you to meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • You are currently in Canada
  • You have a valid temporary Work Permit that is set to expire within 120 days
  • You have received a positive decision on your permanent resident application under an economic class, Canadian Experience Class, Federal Skilled Worker or the Federal Skilled Trades Program
  • You apply for an open work permit

Another path to permanent residency is using the Skilled Workers Program. To qualify for this program, you must have at least one year of full-time work experience in a technical, management, professional, paraprofessional or skilled trade occupation. Additionally, you must be able to show that you have work experience and education that make you qualified for the job that you have been offered. This program utilizes a point system that measures specified criteria, such as work experience, language proficiency and age.


After four years of permanent resident status, a person can apply to become a citizen of Canada. The United States and Canada both recognize dual citizenship, so you do not have to relinquish your American citizenship to also become a citizen in Canada.

Legal Assistance

Although NAFTA provides for an easier processing of applications from American citizens, immigration law can be quite complex. Additionally, employment opportunities may be time-sensitive. Having a knowledgeable immigration lawyer on your side can help you complete all necessary steps in the work permit process. He or she can also explore options to expedite your application.


For a great experience travelling to Canada, make your first call to Basiga Law Firm. Schedule a consultation from the U.S. at 517-708-7830 or contact our Ontario offices at 519-432-7780 for a consultation.

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