Close up of pencil on immigration form

Any emigre can tell you there are always challenges, along with excitement, when moving to a new country. If you're new to Canada, establishing a household in an unfamiliar location may be less painful with the guidance of professionals experienced with international relocation.

Canada, the third-most popular destination for wealthy migrants after Australia and the United States, according to a report from New World Wealth, has experienced the fastest increase in its tony population of any major country in the world, according to Knight Frank's 2017 Wealth Report.

Smoothing the way for wealthy immigrants

“Immigration can be easier for high-net-worth individuals and families,” says Wendy Seto, a private banker with RBC Wealth Management in Toronto.

“Personal banking services for international clients include team members who speak the clients' language and understand their culture,” says Seto.

“Many of the high-net-worth individuals who come to Canada are business owners or executives, who need support for not only their personal finances, but also their businesses,” says Luis Javier Lopez, a regional vice president for the business segment and private banking with RBC Wealth Management in Toronto.

“When we talk to business owners we usually need to understand how they operate their business, their plans to open a business in Canada or to eventually sell their business overseas," says Lopez. “Often, we see part of the family move to Canada first, such as older children whom they want to educate here, and their mother. The father will then travel frequently until he has a plan to exit the business in the home country."

Lopez explains that for many high-net-worth individuals, immigration is a strategy. “First, these wealthier individuals explore a second country and think about how they feel in different locations," says Lopez. “They think about their kids and their kids' education. Eventually they have a foot in Canada and a foot in another country. That requires significant financial planning."

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Establishing a financial presence in Canada

RBC helps all immigrants, including wealthier individuals, who arrive in Canada with products and services through the Newcomers Advantage programs, which help build their Canadian credit history, says Lopez.

“We help people open a bank account and get a credit card up to a limit of $5,000," says Lopez. “We also have a mortgage program for newcomers."

Private banking services may be able to approve a mortgage before the family even moves to Canada, says Lopez, if they can document their assets and provide financial statements.

“We also have programs for newcomers to help them establish a credit history," says Seto. “For example, if someone with Chinese citizenship wants to invest in real estate or buy a place for their student to live, we can do an income and asset verification and check their credit with a Chinese credit bureau."

Seto says newcomers to Canada who want to buy a home must make a minimum down payment of 35 percent, but they may borrow the other 65 percent.

“High-net-worth individuals who are used to private banking often want personal banking services that go beyond opening an account," says Seto. “We can give them referrals to an accountant and a lawyer and offer guidance about the best schools."

Lopez says initially a high-net-worth family's livelihood is frequently tied to their previous country while they build assets in Canada.

“At first, the Canadian assets will be non-income producing, such as establishing bank accounts and buying a house, but eventually these families start or buy a business in Canada to build income-producing assets here," says Lopez.

“It's common for families to come to Canada in phases, especially if the family business is still overseas," says Seto. “Eventually these families start bringing more money into Canada, especially after they test the water to see if they can replicate their business success from China."

Cross-border challenges

Lopez says it is possible to transfer funds into Canada from the U.S. and from countries in the European Union easily; however, he says there may be limits on the amount that can be transferred by the country of origin.

“All banks have to substantiate where the money is coming from," says Lopez. “If you contact a wealth manager before transferring funds, you can have the peace of mind the documentation and discovery process can be done first so you'll have faster access to your money."

In China for example, citizens are limited to transferring a maximum of US$50,000 to Canada annually, although funds from Hong Kong are unlimited, says Seto.

“The most common way to send funds is with a wire transfer," says Lopez. “A private banker experienced with immigration can help you decide how much to bring and help you watch rates so you convert funds at the optimal time."

In addition to the initial process of establishing credit and a short-term financial plan when someone is new to Canada, personal banking representatives can assist immigrants with long-term planning.

“We always address the issue of whether the estate plan they have in place will work for their assets in Canada, as well as overseas," says Lopez. “Sometimes a trust needs to be established for the kids too. That's why an international wealth manager can be helpful; someone who is aware of laws both overseas and in Canada."

Seto says full-service private banking can provide in-house access to specialty wealth advisors with backgrounds in areas such as legal and accounting. These advisors can help immigrants understand the legal and tax implications of their decisions and also work with third-party professionals. When you're ready to establish a foothold in Canada, personal banking services may provide an easier transition for you and your family members.