Canadians abroad: most have travelled beyond the US, but how many would leave Canada for good?

by Angus Reid | July 21, 2015 10:30 pm

One-in-four say they would move away – including one-third of young Canadians

July 22, 2015 – If you could live anywhere in the world, would you choose Canada? Roughly one-in-four Canadians wouldn’t, according to a new survey by the Angus Reid Institute.

As Canadians decamp to their favourite summer vacation destinations, a pair of ARI public opinion polls deconstruct exactly who is travelling abroad, who would like to live abroad, and where they would like to live. The results are intriguing.

Key Findings:

How many are travelling?

In 2013, an estimated 23 million Canadians – roughly 70 per cent of the population – had a passport, according to Passport Canada[1]. Perhaps unsurprising, given that roughly three-quarters of Canadians live within 160 kilometres of the U.S. border[2].

What is perhaps more surprising is that most Canadians report using their passports to travel outside Canada or the U.S. in the last five years. Almost half (47%) have taken a short trip abroad and one-in-ten (10%) have taken a longer trip of a month or more. A total of 44 per cent have not traveled outside the two countries at all.

These numbers were roughly the same when respondents were asked whether someone else in their household had traveled outside Canada or the U.S. in the last five years.

Where are they going?

The most recent Statistics Canada data[3] available shows that the U.S. is, by far, the most common destination for Canadian passport holders. In 2012, Canadians made more than 22 million visits to the states, spending an aggregate total of 194 million nights there. travel poll canada

The numbers for other countries are more modest. Mexico was the next most common destination, with more than 1.5 million Canadian visits in 2012. Cuba, the United Kingdom, the Dominican Republic, France, Italy, Germany, Mainland China, and Spain rounded out the top poll canada

Who is travelling?

The number of Canadians travelling outside Canada or the U.S. in the last five years varies significantly depending on household income, individual education, and even province of residence.

Household income

Predictably, wealthier Canadians report having travelled abroad more than other income groups. Fully three-quarters (76%) of those whose household income was $100,000 or more choose one or both of the two travel options. Only 24 per cent have not been outside Canada or the U.S. in the last five years.


More than half (59%) of those with household income between $50,000 and $100,000 have travelled outside the U.S. and Canada in the last five years, while four-in-ten (40%) of those with income less than $50,000 have. While wealthy Canadians are much more likely than other groups to travel to someplace other than the U.S., they’re not necessarily doing so for more than a month at a time. Indeed, roughly one-in-ten Canadians from each household income group report taking a longer trip abroad in the last five years (13% of those with $100,000 or more; 10% of those between $50,000 and $100,000; and 8% of those in households with incomes less than $50,000).


There is also a correlation between higher levels of education and travel. Those with a university education are more likely to report both short-term (60%) and long-term (17%) travel outside Canada and the U.S. than other groups. Overall, 76 per cent of this group has travelled abroad, while 24 per cent report staying close to home for the past five years.

Among those with some college or technical school education, 58 per cent choose one or both of the two travel options, compared to just 41 per cent among those with a high school diploma or less. The relatively equal rate of long-term travel seen across income groups is not replicated across education levels. Canadians with a university education are more than twice as likely as other education groups to say they’ve travelled to a country other than the U.S. or Canada for more than a month in the last five years: travel poll canadaGeography

British Columbians and Albertans are more likely to report long-term travel to a country other than the U.S. Some 15 per cent of respondents in these two provinces report leaving for more than a month, more than any other region in Canada. Atlantic Canadians are least likely to take a long trip. Just four per cent report leaving Canada and the U.S. for more than a month in the last five years. Saskatchewan (55%), Quebec (53%), and the Atlantic provinces (52%) have the highest percentages of residents who report not travelling outside Canada or the U.S. at all. These are the only regions in which a majority of the population reports staying close to home.

And where would they like to live?

Another recent Angus Reid Institute survey asked Canadians if – given the choice to live anywhere they wanted – they would choose Canada or another country. Nearly three-quarters (72%) opt for staying in Canada, but more than one-in-four (28%) say they would prefer to live in another country.


The preference for Canada is strongest among those age 55 or older, 82 per cent of whom say they would stay in Canada. Younger people are more interested in moving to another country.

Roughly two-thirds of Canadians ages 18 to 34 (65%) and those ages 35 to 54 (67%) say they would stay in Canada, while significant minorities of 35 per cent and 33 per cent, respectively, would emigrate. Asked which country they would pick if they had to move, Canadians prefer the United States (36%) and “Australia or New Zealand” (32%) to all other choices. Substantial numbers also choose the United Kingdom (21%), France (14%), and countries other than these two in Western Europe (19%). No other destination receives more than 10 per cent support. One-in-ten (11%) are unsure where they would go.

These top destinations are the same for both those who say they would emigrate and those who would prefer to stay in Canada, though some are more popular among one group than the other. Specifically:


Predictably, residents of Quebec are much more likely than other Canadians to choose France (31% do so). Younger Canadians (those aged 18 to 34) are also more attracted to France (19%), the U.K. (28%) and the rest of Western Europe (27%) than older age groups.

On the other end of the age spectrum, those over 55 are more likely to choose the United States. Fully two-in-five (41%) do so, compared to a third of those ages 18-34 and 35-54 (34% for each group).

Interestingly, the U.S. is the preference of a significant number of Canadians who voted for the Conservative Party in the last federal election. Nearly half (47%) of these voters choose the United States, compared to just three-in-ten of those who voted for the Liberals (30%) or New Democrats (31%).

Click here for the full report including full tables and methodology[4]

Shachi Kurl, Senior Vice President: 604.908.1693[5]

Image Credit – Nick Harris/Flickr

  1. according to Passport Canada:
  2. live within 160 kilometres of the U.S. border:
  3. Statistics Canada data:
  4. Click here for the full report including full tables and methodology:

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