VFX in Vancouver: NAFTA Work Permits Explained

USA/Canada Flag

When I first was looking to move up north to Vancouver, I found it difficult to find information on the requirements needed to work there as an animator. The CIC website has all the information you need about immigration, visas, and work permits, but it isn’t presented in the simplest format nor does it speak directly about people in the animation industry - animators. I’ve tried to explain the process in a simple, easy to understand format for those of you curious about making the shift from the States to “Hollywood North”. The majority of this post will pertain to animators or people within the anim/vfx industry, but it can also be helpful for those of you in different fields.

Altogether, coming up to Vancouver as an American is quite streamlined thanks to NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) which is an agreement made between Canada, the United States, and Mexico that allows for workers and goods to be easily traded between countries. This is an extreme oversimplification but it get’s the concept across. This agreement has recently been in the news with Trump and his nationalism mindset but that’s a topic for another time. At the time of this post there has not been any changes to the agreement that you need to worry about but maybe in the future there will be a follow up post required. Lets hope not.

So let’s begin!

The list of requirements is not a very long one at all. To qualify for a work permit under a NAFTA Professional you need the following:

  • a valid job offer from a Canadian Employer
  • a 4 Year Bachelor’s Degree or a Post Secondary Certificate & 3 Years of Work Experience
  • supporting Documentation (see below)
  • ability to pass the same compliance requirements for crossing the border as a tourist.

Valid Job Offer

The first thing, which probably seems like the most obvious, is you will need a job offer to come up here. To qualify for a NAFTA work permit, you need a valid job offer from a qualified Canadian employer. Makes sense right? Right. While there are other ways to move here, those fall outside the scope of this posting. A valid job offer would mean a studio is looking to hire you for an upcoming project. This would be in a physical form, an employment contract or accepted offer letter. Straight forward enough…


It’s important just like you’ve been told l your life and in this situation it is no different. The general criteria for education is either a four year degree (Bachelors of Arts or Science) or 3 years of verifiable work experience in your field plus a post secondary certificate. Programs such as AnimationMentor.com and iAnimate.net are accepted for the certificate requirement as well. The work experience requirement is something that can vary based on the job you are taking and field you are in. Technically, animators fall under the category of “Graphic Designers” which is the NOC 2011 code. For more detailed information, see this site

Supporting Documentation

This section is a bit different for everyone but overall similar in scope regardless of your personal situation. The supporting documentation that is required is usually marriage certificates, birth certificates for children, copies of your resume, passport copies, and previous copies of any work permits you’ve already held from Canada. Again, some of these may not be needed or you might actually need additional paperwork. A good way to think of it is you need ways to prove your identity and legal status on paper for the immigration officers. Married? Provide proof. Have a child? Prove they are yours. You have worked previous in Canada? You get the idea. Provide proof.

If you are lucky, the company you are moving for will provide you with some sort of application package/worksheet and relocation assistance which will basically worry about all these details for you and walk you through all of the requirements while preparing a packet you can just bring with to the border. In fact, here is an example of the questionnaires usually sent out when working with an immigration firm. Example

Last Steps

Once you have all of your documents in order, you just need to go to the border and tell the immigration office you’d like to apply for a work permit. They’ll flag you through, you’ll go in, present your materials, wait a bit for them to go through it, and they will either approve or deny you on the spot. If approved, pay the necessary fee. Work permits can be given from a couple months to 3 years in duration. This will coincide with the offer of employment you received from the Canadian employer you are relocating for.

One thing to note,and this is important, NAFTA work permits are TEMPORARY. You must be extremely, extremely clear with the officers that you understand this and that you must leave when the permit expires. Be ready to provide proof that you still have ties to the United States or Mexico, such as bank accounts, family ties, past work experience, etc.

Additional Links

As always, it’s best to consult an immigration professional if you are considering the move and aren’t fully comfortable figuring out the process yourself. With a little digging around the CIC website as well as this post plus cheat sheet link, I’m confident you can!

Please leave comments or questions below, I’ll gladly answer them and update this post if necessary. This is the first of a series of posts so make sure to check back!

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer or immigration expert. I am merely posting based on my own personal experiences and understanding of the topic. This post is meant to give you some broad knowledge and is not to be considered 100% definitive. Please seek out the correct legal professionals if any of the topics below require concrete answers based on your own personal situation