The downturn of the U.S. housing market in recent years has allowed an unprecedented number of Canadians to purchase real estate in the United States. A large number of them have gravitated towards the Palm Springs, California area. Different people have different reasons for purchasing real estate in the United States. Some are simply looking to for an investment property that they can rent out for passive income. Others may be “snowbirds” looking to stay in sunny California for a few months of the year to avoid the cold Canadian winters. Still others may be Canadians moving to the United States in order to start a new business, job or family. This article will answer questions to some of the more common scenarios presented by Canadians who have purchased real estate in the United States.
Do I need to be a citizen or resident to buy property in the United States?
No, you do not need to have a green card or be a U.S. citizen to purchase real property in the United States. There are no restrictions on the eligibility of foreign nationals to purchase real property in the United States from an immigration standpoint.
How long can I stay in the United States as a visitor?
Canadians may enter the United States as a visitor in B-1/B-2 status for up to six months a year. Canada is part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which means that Canadians do not have to apply for a visa in order to visit the United States. Upon presenting your passport at U.S. customs, you will either be in B-1 (business visitor) or B-2 (visitor) status for up to six months unless stated otherwise. The customs officer has discretion to authorize a period of stay that is less than six months. If so, you will be issued a Form I-94, which will specify the date that you must depart the United States.
Do I need to provide any documents at the border?
Generally the customs officer will only need to see a passport. In instances where the officer does not believe you will return to Canada within six months, you may be required to provide other documents showing your ties to Canada. These may include a copy of your mortgage/lease, bank account/credit card statements, utility bills, pay stubs, and any other documents to show that you do not intend to abandon such ties.
What if I want to stay longer than six months?
If you want to stay in the United States as a visitor beyond six months, you will have to file an application to extend the stay with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You must submit the appropriate paperwork and filing fee to the appropriate office prior to the expiration of your status and then wait for the USCIS to adjudicate the application (usually 1-2 months). If the application is approved, you are permitted to remain in the United States until the expiration stated on the extension approval. The USCIS usually does not permit extensions beyond six months.
What if I stay in the United States as a visitor beyond six months?
If you fail to depart the United States within six months of entering, and you failed to file an application for extension, or if the extension is denied, then you have overstayed the visa and become “out of status.” Once you are out of status, you start accumulating “unlawful presence” in the United States. If you are unlawfully present for more than 180 days (but less than 1 year), you will be banned from re-entering the United States for three (3) years. If you are unlawfully present for more than 1 year, you will be banned from re-entering the United States for ten (10) years.
Is there a way to re-enter the United States earlier if I am banned?
You can file an application for re-admission into the United States if you have been banned but wish to re-enter prior to the expiration of the ban. However, you must be able to demonstrate good cause and, furthermore, the decision to waive the ban is discretionary.
Can I start a business in the United States?
You may be able to start a company and hire others to oversee the operation so long as you do not oversee the day-to-day operations or draw a salary. If you draw a salary or oversee the operations, then you should consider applying for an E-2 investment visa or an EB-5 investment-based green card.
Can I work while I am in the United States?
Canadians in B-1/B-2 status may not engage in any employment for a U.S. employer. Nor does purchasing real estate in the United States entitle you to seek employment for a U.S. employer. If you want to work in the United States, you will have to obtain proper work authorization. There are several ways to do so. You may be sponsored for a work visa by a U.S. employer (e.g.- H-1B or TN visa), you may be married to a U.S. citizen, you may be on a student visa, or you may apply for an investment-based immigration category (E-2 or EB-5).
Can I attend school in the United States?
Generally, Canadians in B-1/B-2 status are not permitted to attend school in the United States. However, minors in any status (or even no status) cannot be denied access to public schools. So the answer is ‘yes’ with an asterisk. While a minor child in B-2 status is not permitted to attend school, he/she would not be denied if he/she did. However, doing so would severely jeopardize the minor child (and the parents’) B-2 status, resulting in potential deportation or a ban on re-entering.
To properly attend school in the United States, you must be in proper student visa status (F-1 visa). The F-1 visa is issued by the USCIS once an educational institution has accepted you, and you can provide documentation demonstrating your ability to pay the tuition and to sustain yourself for at least a year.
What if I get married to a U.S. citizen?
Canadians engaged to, or married to, a United States citizen are immediately eligible for a green card. There are a few ways to apply for the green card, depending on several factors (i.e.- where the Canadian is currently living, whether the couple is married or engaged, where the marriage will take place, etc.). The logistics of how and when to apply will vary on a case-by-case basis.
Canadians entering the United States as a visitor must be careful about changing their status shortly after entering. Examples include entering as a visitor and then applying for a green card through your spouse, or entering as a visitor and then applying for a student visa after enrolling in a U.S. school. These actions may indicate that, at the time of entering the United States, the visitor did not have a bona fide intent to return to Canada. If preconceived intent is found, you may be denied the application and forced to return to Canada.
About the author
Cedric M. Shen is a Canadian-born, U.S. immigration attorney specializing in helping Canadians move to the United States. His law firm, Maximilian Law Inc., has offices in Los Angeles and Vancouver. Mr. Shen can be reached at (310) 591-8200 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Canadians in the United States, please visit www.CanadiansInUSA.com.