HomeResourcesA guide for Canadians moving t...
June 9th 2023

A guide for Canadians moving to San Francisco

Moving from Canada to San Francisco? We've got you covered. Check out tips on everything from finding an apartment to managing your taxes and transferring your Canadian credit history

Nova Credit is a cross-border credit bureau that allows newcomers to apply for U.S. credit cards, phone plans, and loans using their foreign credit history.

Nova Credit receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but this content is not provided by them. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

Canada and the United States have the world’s longest international border between them--but you wouldn’t know from their shared cultures. As of 2016, there are around 783,000 Canadians living in the U.S. California, New York and Florida are home to the highest numbers of Canadians.

Where San Francisco is the tech capital of the U.S., Toronto is Canada’s center for all things technology. With flights from Toronto and Vancouver going as low as $358, now is a great time for Canadians to make the move to the Golden Gate City.

Feeling homesick?

Whether it’s hockey or poutine that you miss, San Francisco has a lot to offer for the homesick Canadian.

For the best bars to frequent during NFL season, there’s Columbus Cafe (562 Green Street), The Blue Light (1979 Union Street), Bus Stop Bar (1901 Union Street), Nick’s Crispy Tacos (1500 Broadway Street) and Green’s Sports Bar (2239 Polk Street).

Need a poutine fix? You can check out Umami Burger (2184 Union Street), Wayfare Tavern (558 Sacramento Street), Salt House (545 Mission Street) and Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen (401 Taylor Street).

The U.S. also has several cell phone providers that let you call your loved ones at Canada at no charge:

  • T-mobile - No charges

  • Verizon - Unlimited long distance calls to Mexico and Canada for $5 a month

  • AT&T - Included in 

  • Sprint - No charges

Finding an apartment in San Francisco

Known for Silicon Valley, its diverse population and its fog, San Francisco (aka “the Bay Area,” “the City by the Bay” and “the Foggy City”) is the 15th largest city in the U.S. Despite having a high apartment vacancy rate, however, San Francisco faces a housing crisis that can make apartment-hunting a challenge for people moving to the area.

When choosing a flat in San Francisco, you’ll also need to consider the neighborhood’s micro-climate. A study by an apartment rental website found that rental prices often vary according to how foggy an area is.

You’ll also want to consider how old the building of your apartment is, as well as how far your new residence will be from your workplace. Commuting to work in San Francisco can take up to 1.5 hours a day.

Remember to bring an employment letter that shows your job title and salary, as most landlords want proof of your financial capability. Ask the landlord if he or she uses Yardi, Intellirent, or First Advantage -- these are all companies that accept foreign credit history from selected Nova Credit-enabled countries like Australia, Canada, India, Mexico and the UK to reduce the upfront costs of your move. If you need a guarantor, you can opt for services like The Guarantors, which will guarantee your rent payments for a fee.

Before settling on an apartment, clarify what utilities and amenities your rent covers, such as parking, cable, Internet and telephone bills. Your landlord may also ask for a refundable security deposit. Security deposits can’t amount to more than two months’ rent (for unfurnished units) or three months’ rent (for furnished units).

Other fees you may need to inquire about are:

  • Broker fees, usually ranging between one month’s rent to 15% of a year’s rent

  • Move-in deposits

  • Move-in fees

For more tips on renting in the U.S., click here.

Also read: The Ultimate Guide to a Canadian Buying a House in the U.S.

As a Canadian expat in NYC, use your foreign credit history as part of your rental application

Getting around San Francisco

To travel around San Francisco, you’ll need a Clipper Card, which only costs $3 and works on both the city transit system (Muni) and the regional transit system (Bay Area Rapid Transit or BART). BART runs until midnight, while Muni runs until 1 a.m. Bus rides cost $2.50 while cable cars cost $8.

You can drive in San Francisco with your Canadian license as long as:

  • You are at least 18 years of age

  • The license was lawfully issued in your country

  • The license covers the type of vehicle you are driving

  • You are not or not yet a resident of California

Once you become a Californian resident, you need to obtain a California-issued driver’s license within 10 days of your new residency. You can get a driver’s license at San Francisco’s Department of Motor Vehicles. While you’ll need to prove that you are a California resident, you don’t have to be a U.S. citizen to get a license.

Requirements for transferring your out-of-state license are the following:

  • Debit card or cash to make $36 payment

  • Proof of your Social Security number (Social Security card or Military ID)

  • Proof of your birth date and legal presence (U.S. passport or birth certificate)

  • Any of the following proof of your California residency

  • Mortgage bill

  • Utility bill

  • Rental or lease agreement signed by your landlord

  • A valid out-of-state driver’s license

You may also want to ask your employer if they offer shuttle services (aka “Google Buses”) to and from work, a common transport solution in San Francisco because Silicon Valley is nearly 40 miles away.

Setting up your finances

Once you move abroad, there are some changes to your finances and taxes that you need to consider. For instance, leaving the U.K. requires English foreign nationals to inform their government and send their tax returns.

Taxes for Canadian citizens in the U.S.

Canadian citizens living in the U.S. don’t need to file income taxes in Canada if (a) the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) considers you a non-resident and (b) your income does not come from Canadian sources. The CRA typically considers you a non-resident on the following grounds:

  • You live in another country and are not considered a resident of Canada

  • You have no significant ties to Canada (e.g. a spouse in Canada, a Canadian driver’s license, Canadian bank accounts or properties)

  • You live outside Canada throughout the tax year or you stay in Canada less than 183 days in the tax year

  • The U.S. government views you as a U.S. resident

If your income does come from Canada despite living abroad, you will then be subject to Part XIII taxes. Canadian income includes dividends, rental and royalty payments, pension, management fees and retiring allowances. You may view the full list of taxable incomes here.

The best banks for Canadians in San Francisco

Whether you plan on traveling back and forth from Canada or if you’re planning to stay permanently in San Francisco, you might want to consider opening an account with banks that have a strong presence in both the U.S. and Canada:

  • CIBC U.S.

  • BMO Harris

  • Chase Bank

  • TD Bank

  • Toronto-Dominion Bank

  • Bank of Nova Scotia

  • HSBC

  • National Bank of Canada

  • RBC Bank

  • Royal Bank of Canada

  • Bank of Montreal

Transferring Canadian credit history to the U.S.

To successfully rent an apartment, get a credit card or take out a loan, you’ll need a U.S. credit history. In the past, you would have needed to build your credit score from scratch, but with Nova Credit, you can transfer your existing foreign credit history to the U.S.

Getting a U.S. credit card with foreign credit history, such as an American Express card, has been made easier with Nova Credit’s partner companies:

  • American Express

  • Applied Bank

  • OpenSky

  • Petal

  • Primor

Use your foreign credit history to start your U.S credit history

New to the U.S.? Check if you can use your country's credit history in the U.S. to apply for credit cards and start your U.S credit history using Nova Credit.

The takeaway

Learn more about products available for Canadian newcomers to the U.S. here. For more resources on how to navigate your new life in the U.S., you can visit Nova Credit’s resource library where you can learn about everything from renting an apartment to finding the best credit cards for noncitizens.

More from Nova Credit:

The best credit cards for no credit history

The best credit cards for international students

How to get a credit card without a social security number

The best secured credit cards in 2020

The best American Express credit cards in 2020

How to use credit cards to build credit history

How to build credit in the US

How to get a social security card

How to get an apartment with no credit history

No credit check cell phone plans

Announcing the Cash Flow Underwriting Summit: a first-of-its-kind executive summit dedicated to exploring and advancing the practice of cash flow underwriting in consumer lending.