You’ve heard it over and over. Perhaps you’ve even said it to yourself: “If [insert Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump] becomes president, I’m moving to Canada!” And if our actions during this nail-biter of an election night were any indication, it’s not just an idle threat. Apparently so many disgruntled voters stormed Canada’s immigration site, it crashed due to too much traffic. There’s nothing like a little postelection panic to get people packing their bags!
Still, though, you have to wonder: Will anyone actually pick up and move?
Although it’s too early to say for sure who—or how many—will flee this time around, our reaction to past presidential elections can provide some clues of what could happen. Take the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004, for instance. Many vowed to move to Canada then, and guess what? Some really did, with about 34,000 more Americans heading to Canada from 2004 to 2014 than in the decade prior.
In case you’re wondering, U.S. immigration to Canada dipped after the election of Barack Obama in 2008. And presidential elections aren’t the only events that compel Americans to stay or go, either. The 9/11 attacks also drove many Americans northward into Canadian territory, although that mass exodus was a blip compared with the throngs who cut and ran to Canada to dodge the draft during the Vietnam War (check out this nifty chart below).
All of this suggests that yes, some of those “plans” to head to Canada will materialize, but it’ll be more of a trickle than a flood.
“I’d imagine millions of people are talking about moving to Canada around kitchen tables,” says Nuri Katz, president of Apex Capital Partners, a migration and passport acquisition firm that helps Americans emigrate from the U.S. “But once those people actually check out the immigration site, they will realize that it’s hard, expensive, and slow—it takes one to two years on average.”
As a result, Katz estimates that the next couple of years may see a small bump in Americans moving to Canada, perhaps in the “tens of thousands,” he says, “but we’re not talking millions.”
Part of the holdup, aside from plain old laziness, is Canada’s immigration policy, which doesn’t just lay out the welcome mat to everyone who flocks to their borders. Instead, it tries to cap it at about 250,000 immigrants per year—about 1% of its total population—and that’s not just Americans, but worldwide. You have to make room for some Russians and Chinese, too! So those spots can fill up fast.
“The fact that Trump won will not change Canadian immigration law, and it’s become quite strict,” Katz continues. “It’s very difficult to immigrate to Canada right now if you don’t have a job offer in advance, and to get a job offer in advance is a very difficult thing if you don’t already live in Canada. It’s a Catch-22.”
Another bottleneck? Trump may enact policies that force Americans to stay put.
“If Trump really is able to terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement, there may be far fewer Americans moving to Canada, as NAFTA offers a fast-track work permit option for American and Mexican citizens,” points out Marisa Feil, an immigration attorney at FWCanada.
That is, assuming you want to move to Canada legally—and Canada doesn’t decide to build a wall to keep us out.
If anyone does ditch the U.S., Katz predicts it will be the wealthy—and odds are Canada won’t be their destination of choice, thanks to its deadly combo of high taxes and heavy snowfall. Instead, they may jet to the Caribbean, where islands such as St. Kitts offer programs that allow you to become a citizen in a couple of months. And let’s face it, sticking your toes in the sand sounds far more fun than shoveling snow from your driveway, yeah?
“Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, and other emerging Latin American countries that are invitingly catering and attracting burgeoning colonies of American retirees will realize most of the exodus,” says real estate and economic adviser Jack McCabe, of McCabe Research & Consulting. “How many it will be—in the thousands, millions, or tens of millions—no one can predict.”
Another group that may stage a quick getaway are Americans who were born in the U.S. to Canadian parents, who have an easy escape hatch: dual citizenship.
“They’re more likely to cash in that status simply because it is an easy process that gives them options,” says Feil.
But the bottom line is that once the shock and panic wear off, most Americans will sit tight.
“When we see a picture of Trump and Obama walking through the Rose Garden together, things will calm down a bit,” says Katz. “People will realize that democracy is democracy.”