It has been almost six moths since we moved to Canada, and I am happy to report that both myself and my husband are fully employed in our respective fields.
I started working as an accountant with a subsidiary of the company I worked for in the US very shortly after arriving, and my husband found a job as a forecast analyst four months after arriving.
It is worth noting that Calgary’s main industry is oil and gas, and their economy is just now finally starting to improve. But I have heard from recruiters that other cities, such as Toronto, have much better job markets right now. So depending on where you move, it may take less or more time to land a job. Our salaries are about the same if we convert them to USD; however, in real terms we are much better off here in Calgary because the cost of living is also lower. Career-wise, it was basically a lateral move for me, but for my husband it ended up being a really good move. Back in the US he was doing work that didn’t really relate to his education, but in his new role he is finally able to put his degree to good use. So you never know, you might just end up with a better job here!
All and all, I feel finding a job with an American education/experience is not that difficult, and employers are generally not biased against American degrees (I suspect that this is because a lot of Canadians have gone to school in the US). But similarly to the US, having contacts in the company you are applying to really helps, so that does put you in a bit of a disadvantage.
I also found that in my field (accounting) they care about the CPA a lot more then they did in the US. Apparently, it is basically impossible to get a controller job without the CPA, while in the US it was common for controllers not to have it. I am no too thrilled about this, but two months ago I began taking the classes I need in order to get certified. If your field requires certifications/licenses, I recommend you start looking into how to transfer your license or how to get re-certified before you move to Canada, a little leg-work may payoff big once you get here.
As far as the work culture, I find that it is very similar to the US. Canadians, however, tend to be a little more relaxed about work. Nobody really ever seems to work past 5 o’clock, and everyone is out of the office by 4 PM on Fridays–definitely a nice change of pace! All employees are entitled by law to two weeks of paid vacation, so at a minimum you will get that. An area that does differ significantly from the US is health insurance. Since all basic healthcare needs are covered by the national health plan, employers offer what are called “Cadillac plans” at a very low cost to employees. These “Cadillac” plans are just like they sound: cushy plans that cover massages, acupuncture, nutritionists, and much more. A few months ago I had my very first massage ever! It was a one hour full body massage and after insurance it cost me $10. Thank you, Canada!
I know that all sounds great, but what you are really worried about is finding a job quickly before your savings run out, especially if you are on your own. I have a suggestion for a plan B. Here in Alberta, minimum wage is $13.60, and this even applies to servers and bartenders, unlike in the US. And in addition to a high minimum wage they also get tips between 15% to 20%. Furthermore, in places like Banff, where tourism brings large crows during the summer, restaurants will basically hire anybody with a pulse. So if you are worried about finding a job quickly you could always get a part time job waiting tables while you take your time to find the right job for you. Minimum wage laws do vary from province to province as well as cost of living, but nowhere in Canada do servers make $2 per hour.
1/13/19 Update: Alberta’s minimum wage is currently $15 per hour.