Must-do tasks when arriving in Nova Scotia

Top 5 must-do tasks on our Nova Scotia checklist

It’s one thing to move to Canada. It’s quite another to set yourself up to LIVE here. Here’s a look at the must-do tasks to do when you arrive.

At the border into Nova Scotia, the agents had given us strict instructions:  drive from the border directly to our place of quarantine, no side trips, no stops except for gas. If we needed food, we were only allowed to use drive-through windows.  Wearing masks was a must. The fines for breaking the rules, as I heard, could be up to $1 million — so we obeyed!

This is the third installment about our move to Nova Scotia. Check out the previous posts:
Why we moved (again!), this time to Nova Scotia
On the road again…

During isolation, we couldn’t return the U-Haul truck and trailers without breaking quarantine rules. The extra 14 days could’ve been expensive, but our North Carolina U-Haul dealer had generously waived those costs due to Covid. He quickly became our new best friend! 

Thankfully, our landlords allowed us to park the truck and trailers in their rather long driveway (although I can still see their wide-eyed expressions when we pulled in with the 20-foot truck-plus-auto-trailer and the Subaru-plus-cargo trailer). We quickly unpacked those things we needed and didn’t want exposed to the cold. The landlords had already picked up our online grocery order and put it away in our little kitchen, so we were all ready to go… er… stay.

As a remote worker, I could do my Red Hat job while in quarantine.  Our rental had an adquate internet signal for that and that kept me fairly busy for the full 14 days.

Jackie spent her time getting ready for the critical tasks we’d need to do immediately afterwards — things we had to delay because of the need to quarantine.

Our little kitties didn’t take too long to get accustomed to their new home and didn’t seem affected by their three-day ride. Even though Mango is a not-so-social cat, he travelled well and stayed quietly in his carrier. Mikey, the more gregarious of the two, squeezed himself into Mango’s carrier at the first stop and stayed there for the rest of the trip, either sleeping or watching the world go by. When we stopped for gas, we’d make sure that each one had his turn in the kitty litter. I had been worried about them lasting through the journey, but they were fine and it turned out to be much ado about nothing.

I remember when transporting a cat across a border was a big thing. Nowadays, all we needed was their medical records, a vet’s signature on the record of their rabies shot, and the lot number of the vaccine used. Easy enough…

We reported daily through the online ArriveCAN website that we were still in quarantine and that we had no symptoms.

Toward the end of our isolation, Constable Edmond from the local RCMP turned up unexpectedly to ensure we were telling the truth. And, of course, just as he arrived Jackie was outside with the landlord trying to jumpstart the Miata, which has always had an alternator/battery problem!  Fortunately they were more than six feet apart and she was wearing her mask so the constable didn’t say anything.  But, he did spend some time chatting and gave us recommendations on local restaurants and more!  Nice policeman!

It wasn’t that long until our quarantine was over — we were out! Now we could get on top of our critical to-do list. There were five key things we needed to get done quickly:

Must-do task #1: get all the U-Haul equipment returned

On our first free day (Sunday Jan 17) we off-loaded the Miata from the U-Haul vehicle trailer, drove the truck and the Subaru to the new storage unit (Jackie had booked it before we left the US), and unloaded the truck and trailer (our kind landlords helped with this too). Then we returned the truck, vehicle trailer, and cargo trailer to U-Haul.  It was a very busy day, but it felt good to get all that returned and squared up with U-Haul.

Must-do task #2: get a bank account!

Monday was bank account day. 

When planning the move, we’d been told that we couldn’t open a Canadian bank account without being physically here to sign forms. It turns out that’s not entirely true.  For example, a lady on the Facebook channel “Canadians in the US with an exit plan”, reported being told to apply for a new TD account online ( from her home in Los Angeles. After providing proof both of her Canadian citizenship and her current address, she had a Canadian account.

Here in Nova Scotia at least, the funds for your new home’s down-payment need to have been in your Canadian bank account for 30 days prior to the day of closing. And you also need proof of where the money came from so be sure to keep the wire transfer receipts — very important!

So we thought we couldn’t open an account till we were here, and we needed to get money into the account as soon as possible to start the 30-day clock ticking. It quickly became a critical path item for us — the housing market was very hot and we didn’t want any unnecessary delays in finding and securing a home (more about this in an upcoming post).

I polled a few people for advice about banks, chose one, made an appointment at the local branch, and we got our accounts set up (boy, the bank plans in Canada are complicated!). The bank’s computer systems hiccuped over the American address on our US drivers’ licenses and it took the poor bank lady quite a bit of fiddling to make it work.  But she finally got the basics in place and we had debit cards and money in the account before we left the branch. 

A return visit was going to be necessary — she would need our Nova Scotia drivers’ licenses with our Canadian address to be able to finish the exercise properly. That meant getting our NS licenses was now also on our critical list — and it would make sense to get the cars licensed at the same time.

Must-do task #3: Get the cars inspected and finished importing

That meant Tuesday was car inspection day.  We needed a safety inspection for each of our two cars (to ensure safety-related systems were working) and an import inspection for the Subaru (to ensure our cars had the road features regulated by Canada, and install them if they didn’t). This was the last step in the import process.

Before leaving North Carolina, getting ready for the export/import process was a matter of making phone calls and completing the paperwork. You CAN just show up at the Canadian side and import your car, but if it’s not properly exported from the US, you could have troubles down the line when you try to sell it.

Each port of entry has their own details to worry about (and it’s best to talk to them to ensure you have the right ones), but basically you need to:

  • fill in the Automated Export System to get an internal transaction number (ITN) – cost US$35.00. We used the Simplified Trade Solutions website to get our own ITN (see previous link) instead of using a broker, which would cost more money.
  • send the ITN and the car’s VIN and/or vehicle title to the US office at the border crossing at least 72 hours before arriving there with your car. You can export the vehicles any time after the 72 hours.
  • Meet the US border folks before crossing the border and officially register the export.

For importing the cars, one key step is to make sure they are paid off (it’s very complicated to import a vehicle with an existing lien). Ours were old enough that they were already paid for. And although the Canadian border agents will generally assume that all property being imported is owned by the spouse who’s the Canadian citizen, we ensured that the title for both cars were in both our names. (The Canadian citizen can import items up to $10K without any duty. Having both names on the titles made sure there’d be no question who owned it…)

Before leaving the US, we’d completed these steps:

  • Completed their questionnaire about the cars and paid the import fee based on the value of the car (we paid CDN$325 plus tax for each car, but were refunded the fees for the Miata because it was more than 15 years old).
  • Received RIV’s four documents by email for each car (one for us, one for the border folks, one to be filed, and one to take with us to the inspections).
  • Got letters from the manufacturers confirming that there were no outstanding recalls on the car. The letter can be no more than 30 days old at the time of the border crossing.
  • Gathered evidence of the current value of the vehicles. I looked up the Kelly Blue Book pages online and printed off the ones showing current value. (As it turned out, I never showed these at the border because the agents came up with a value on their own that was less than what I had found…)

When we arrived at the border, we had the export and import documents arranged in separate folders so it was available to us at a moment’s notice. The agents applied the correct stamps to the four RIV documents, and we were officially imported and on our way.

Once you’re in the country, you have 45 days to get the inspections done. Fortunately, our 2011 Subaru was already compliant and it didn’t need any upgrades. The 2000 Miata was older than 15 years and it didn’t need an import inspection due to its age (only the safety). All the inspections took less than two hours to complete.

With all the inspections behind us, we had a convenient moment to wash away all the nasty salt and road scum accumulated over our three days of driving and 14 days sitting the apartment’s driveway. I swear I could hear our cars breathe a sigh of relief — or maybe that was us… 

Must-do task #4: Get plates for the car and licenses

Wednesday was license day and, strictly speaking, we didn’t need to get the licenses this quickly.  But as I mentioned, the bank needed our new driver license information to properly set up our bank accounts and apply for credit cards. So it was better to get them quickly.

Also, we’d heard several stories before leaving the US about hostility to American-licensed vehicles driving in Canada — supposedly because of the threat of bringing more Covid into the country.  The folks on the Facebook page “Canadians in the US with an exit plan” have a digital image they share from which you can make magnetic signs for your car (see photo below) to let people know that you’re all right and obeying the law, thank you very much.

We had a couple of the signs made up but ended up not using them. Remember that we arrived at the border late on a Sunday night and then drove through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in darkness to get to our quarantine location — there were few people on the roads to see us.

Now, 14 days later, we were out of quarantine and scooting around to get all our tasks done. I DID feel very conspicuous with our North Carolina license plates (“tags” as they’re called in the US). Even so, I didn’t see anyone who seemed to be worried about us, but Jackie said she noticed a number of people “looking at us funny”.  So, we put the signs on the Subaru on Tuesday and Wednesday until we had our new Nova Scotia plates on the cars.

To get the licensing work done, we took the Subaru and Miata to Access Nova Scotia, the branded name of the province’s motor license bureaus. We had to book an appointment as a safeguard against the spread of Covid. On arrival, we pulled into the parking lot where an efficient and personable security guard let us all into the building a few at a time where we met the license agent and got our licenses. All in all, it took about an hour and the experience was relatively quick, efficient, and the agent was very pleasant.

After enduring the North Carolina sh**-show they call the DMV, this was like Disneyland!!  The DMV could take some lessons… 

Miata in storage — see you next summer!

Next, we took the Miata directly to storage for the remainder of the winter. Our mortgage broker helped Jackie find an older couple online, Dick and Elspa, who rent their barns out to people who want to store their cars. They had one barn already full of all kinds of vehicles and were filling up the second one.  We’ll be back in the spring to pick up our golden baby.

So after only four days out of quarantine, all the transportation equipment was returned and paid for, we had bank accounts, we had completed the import process for our cars and got safety inspections, we had NS drivers licenses and plates on both cars, and the Miata was tucked away carefully in storage.

Not bad for a quick start — but I think we slept for the next three days..!!

Must-do task #5: Register for the health care system

Remember that, contrary to what many non-Canadians think, health care in Canada is a provincial responsibility, not a federal one, so the processes are different from province-to-province.

I originally called the Nova Scotia health insurance people before we left the US to understand how it all worked.  The agent told me that, as a Canadian citizen, I could apply for my Nova Scotia Health card/ Medical Services Insurance (MSI) as soon as I was here and could show a Nova Scotia address on my application.  As the American in the family, Jackie could apply as soon as her Permanent Residency (PR) application had been filed and paid for. 

For most, getting health coverage is important and it would normally be a priority to get done. We were in the fortunate situation of having three months of health coverage paid for by Red Hat, my employer, so it was important to get done, but not urgent.

Another call to the NS health people now that I was in Nova Scotia, and we had it completed before long. We are currently waiting for the cards to turn up in the mail.

Oh, and two more things… 

These weren’t so much on the critical path and didn’t need to be done in the first week:  Jackie’s permanent residency (PR) application and re-activating my social insurance number.

Jackie needs to file the PR with me (the Canadian citizen) as the sponsor to stay in the country permanently. It can be filed before you enter the country or after. We chose to file after we arrived because that would allow us to file for a separate work permit along with her PR.  If you filed from outside the country, a separate work permit was not an option. 

It was extremely busy as we prepared to move and that consumed all our focus. We were afraid we’d miss something critical on the application and it would be sent back, which can result in delays of up to a year!  In the end we opted to hire an immigration lawyer to do the applications for us.  Jackie used her quarantine time to assemble all the information required and got her passport-like photograph and fingerprints for the background check as soon the 14 days were up. With all that complete, the application went in about mid-February. 

We hear they’ve been taking up to a year to be approved so we’ll have to wait and see what happens.  For now, she has a year-long visitors permit and hopefully the approval will come through before then.  But if it doesn’t, the permit can be extended.

Social insurance (and the number that goes along with it) is the Canadian equivalent of the Social Security program in the US. 

I got my number and card way back in Grade 9 when I lived in Ontario. When I moved to the US 25 years ago all contributions and activity on the account stopped, so they put the account and my number into a dormant state — basically they made it inactive without deleting the account and number.  I called last October and they confirmed it was just dormant and told me what to do to re-activate it.  I did all those things and several weeks later a form letter arrived explaining that I needed to send them a bunch of official documentation to complete the process.  

It was too close to move time so I didn’t do it.  There was no dependency on getting this done, so I didn’t worry about it too much.  Once everything else was done, I called them again from our new digs here in NS and got it underway. At the time of writing, I’m still waiting to hear back from them.  

BONUS Must-do task: sample the local single malt! 

Finally, if you’ve managed to get through all these jobs, show yourself a little appreciation. 

We bought ourselves a bottle of the local single malt — a 12 year old Glen Breton.  I had to put water in it; apparently heart surgery and straight whisky don’t seem to go together… 

Also, we went out on my birthday to the Crow’s Nest restaurant (also called Shore Road Seafood) that the RCMP Constable fella recommended. Obviously there’s no strict lockdown here but everyone is still very careful, keeping masks on when not eating, staying far enough away from others, and leaving names and phone numbers for contact tracing, if necessary. It was great birthday seafood.. yummm.

Oh, and Timmy’s. Must have Timbits… 🙂

Next up, our first Nova Scotia lighthouse mis-adventure


  1. Great info thank you so much. We are returning to Canada moving to BC. We hope to fly over as soon as border restrictions are relaxed to House Hunt. We will not set up permanent residence until Feb 22. Due to taxes. We have a large lump sum of deferred income arriving in Jan 22. If we were PR in Canada at the time of receipt we would have to pay a portion of CDN taxes as well as the IRS. Our plan is to have a house and have it all set up. I may reach out to you down the road.

  2. You must have been a technical writer at one time. Time for you to package up all this information into a short non-fiction book: FROM Y’ALL TO EH!

    1. Thanks Barry. Right now we are close to Annapolis Royal, but will be moving to a new house soon near Bridgewater. I’ll be doing a post soon entitled “Finding a home in a hot market”, with contributions from our realtor and mortgage broker. I’ll be telling more about our house hunting adventure…

      1. Hello Derek! I moved in October from Massachusetts to . . . Bridgewater, NS! Maybe we can meet sometime after vaccinations are more common here and restrictions are relaxed. I’ve enjoyed reading the journal of your move.

        1. Hey Anne, sounds good. Bridgewater looks like it will be a good place to live and we can’t wait to get settled. Yes! — lets meet up and trade move stories…!!

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