Even before our two-party system coughed up the most disliked presidential nominees in modern polling history, Canada had firmly established itself as America’s favorite backup plan. Air Canada is already goofing on our quadrennial “How do I move to Canada?” Google searches with a new ad campaign called “Test Drive Canada,” in which Americans are encouraged to “Make it a long weekend! Take a look around. Try your hand with the metric system.” As the Quebecois might say, ouaf ouaf.
But would-be expatriates, whether fleeing Generalissimo Trump or Hillary Peron, should be cognizant of some important complications, and not just the soul-crushing winters. A brief list:
* Revenge-minded border cops. Casually crossing our northern border with a family of four, as I attempted recently, is no longer a routine matter. Investigators I know who have worked with Canada’s Border Services Agency say that customs officials are ramping up their screening of Americans in advance of a possible November onslaught. And just maybe, after 15 years of U.S. border enforcers giving Canadians a harder time, followed by 12 months of a xenophobic presidential campaign, we might be getting some payback.
Our explanation for visiting Toronto — wife’s attending a conference, I’m playing tourist with the kids — earned our customs document a thick gash from a pink sharpie, and we were off to the immigration Loser’s Lounge for some secondary screening.
“Why would you want to come to Canada?” our not-so-friendly second border cop snorted at the end of a long wait, before grudgingly confirming the conference details and sending us on our way. Large luggage hauls, whole family units, dodgy-sounding trade-show destination: These accoutrements and more can get you the pink sharpie treatment, my Canuck friends warn.
* You better like Canadian musicians. Americans can be forgiven for losing track of who among their beloved North American entertainers might say “oot and aboot” after a few Mooseheads. But sitting at one of Toronto’s roughly 1,000 sports bars is a grueling reminder that Canada’s Broadcasting Act, which requires that at least one-third of the content at commercial radio stations emanate from musicians with maple leafs in their passports, is a make-royalties program for the Rushes of the world. If you think American classic rock stations are repetitive, get used to side 1 of “Moving Pictures.”
* Canadians are too nice to boo or jaywalk. The Toronto Blue Jays have one of the worst bullpens in baseball this year, but as I was watching another reliever light the joint on fire, about the worst I could hear from the fan base was “You didn’t do a good job!” And the only thing that produces more visible shuddering than booing a spectator who drops a foul ball is crossing a red light with a stroller. You’ll need to dial down your adrenaline to fit in, at least outside the hockey rink — or secondary screening room.
* You can run from America, but you cannot hide. Think living in Montreal or Vancouver frees you up from the long arm of the Internal Revenue Service? Think again! There are two countries on this whole planet that require federal income tax filing from its nonresident citizens. Eritrea, not particularly known for its good governance, is one of them. Uncle Sam’s the other.
It gets considerably worse from there. Because of a putrid 2010 law called the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA for short, because Washington legislators are nothing if not subtle), U.S. citizens and their spouses who hold more than $10,000 total in non-American financial institutions must file annual disclosures listing the maximum exchange-rate value of each and every such account during the previous year. If you don’t comply, you face steep fines and even jail time.
Ostensibly aimed at fat cats, this law instead has punished the majority nonrich among America’s estimated 8.7 million expatriates. Not only does FATCA impose costly paperwork on individuals, it also requires overseas financial institutions to act as Washington’s international collections muscle, mandating that they seize and transfer to the IRS 30% of deadbeat Americans’ assets. To the surprise of no one who understands basic incentives, foreign banks have been dropping American clients like sacks of flaming garbage.
The result? Each of the last four years has seen new record numbers of Americans renouncing their U.S. citizenship. Thanks, President Obama!
If history is any guide, the promised rush across the 49th parallel will once again fail to materialize in November, no matter which dreary major-party statist emerges victorious. But the future may be darker yet: After a long campaign season of trade-bashing and nationalism, there is little Democratic or Republican enthusiasm left for the kind of liberal international order that helped make so much of the world more prosperous and free. As we go down the drain, we may well take our neighbors with us.
So test-drive Canada, Americans, while it’s still worth visiting.
Matt Welch is editor at large of Reason and a contributing writer to Opinion.
MORE FROM OPINION