I recently received two questions about my still relatively new Canadian citizenship. One reader asked me if there were any drawbacks to applying for Canadian citizenship and another asked me why I decided to become Canadian.
Since applying for Canadian citizenship is usually the ultimate goal for most permanent residents, I’m going to try to answer both questions.
I already explained that to me, becoming Canadian was mostly an emotional choice: I chose to live in Canada and wanted to fully belong here. I became Canadian because I felt Canadian. So while this article mostly deals with the practical aspects of Canadian citizenship, don’t forget that it is a major decision and that it should not be made just because the Canadian passport is pretty. As you will likely hear when you take the oath of citizenship, being Canadian is much more than carrying a Canadian passport.
So what are the practical advantages of getting Canadian citizenship?
No more renewing your Permanent Resident card: once you become a permanent citizen, you receive a very high-tech permanent resident card. The first one is free (well, the cost are part of applying for permanent resident) and is valid for 5 years. Renewing a card cost $50, and the current processing time is—gasp!— 228 days. These long processing times can be a real problem is you must travel abroad as you will need a travel document to prove your status upon re-entering Canada. On the other side, a Canadian passport costs $87, is valid for 5 years and the processing time is only about 10 days.
Avoiding deportation and loss of status: permanent residents in Canada may lose their status if they don’t meet the residency obligations, stating that you must be physically present in Canada for at least two years within a five-year period. Permanent residents can also be deported if they are convicted of a serious crime. Canadian citizens don’t have any residency requirements and citizenship cannot be revoked for any crime committed after naturalisation.
Traveling to the U.S.A easily: our Southern neighbours, the U.S.A, are notoriously picky at the border. Even if you are a permanent resident in Canada, you are still consider a citizen of your home country. Citizens of a lot of countries require a visa to go to the U.S.A as tourists. Citizens of most Western Europe countries don’t need a visa because they are part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) but still need to apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) which costs $14, have an electronic passport, must have a return ticket, must pay land border fees, must stay in the U.S.A a maximum of 90 days etc. Note that a lot of flights from Canada to South America, Asia or even Europe have a stop-over in the U.S.A and visa rules apply even if you are in U.S soil for only 20 minutes. On the other side, a Canadian passport allow you to enter the U.S.A easily as a tourist, you don’t even have to fill out any forms. You will likely be less questioned as well and can stay in the U.S.A for up to 180 days. You may even be able to work in the U.S.A if you meet the NAFTA provisions.
Hassle-free travel worldwide: this depends on your country of citizenship. As a French citizen, I had it easy and could travel visa-free to most countries. But if you are a Chinese citizen for instance, you will need a visa to go pretty much anywhere except Hong Kong and Macau. With a Canadian passport, you can enter 157 countries visa-free. Pretty cool, isn’t it?
Participating to Canada’s political life: as a permanent resident, you can’t vote nor you can run for political office. As a Canadian citizen, you can participate in shaping the country’s future.
Better job prospects: most federal government jobs are notoriously impossible to get as a permanent resident because preference is given to Canadian citizens. While not impossible, getting a high security clearance might be more difficult if you are not a Canadian citizen.
And what are the drawback of Canadian citizenship and dual citizenship?
Potentiality losing your first citizenship: not all countries allow dual citizenship. France does so to me it was a no-brainer, I just have two passports. But for instance, China doesn’t and Feng lost his Chinese citizenship when he became a Canadian citizen many years go. Losing your first citizenship can be emotional for some people and it can and bring bureaucratic troubles, such as needing a visa to visit your family back home.
Jury duty: I wouldn’t call it a disadvantage, but as you know, citizenship comes with rights and duties. Once of them is jury duty and as a Canadian citizen, you have to serve on a jury if called upon.
Potential legal problems: let’s say you are a citizen of Canada and Brazil. If you run into legal problems in Brazil, the Canadian government won’t be able to do much for you since foreign interference is rarely welcome. On the other side, if you are a Canadian citizen visiting Brazil and run into legal difficulties, Canadian diplomatic can try to help. Similarly, if the countries of which you are a citizen are involved in political upheavals or military conflicts it could become tricky.
Fulfilling your obligations as a citizen of a foreign country: because I’m still a French citizen, I still have duties. For instance, I was picked for jury duty a couple of years ago. Fortunately, French citizens who live abroad can be excused quite easily, otherwise, I would have had to go back to France to serve on a jury. France also has national service duty. I completed it when I turned 18 and it was very short anyway, but countries like Israel have much longer national service duty and citizens must comply.