Free, Family-Friendly New Year’s Eve

Full disclosure — I am not good at holidays. I struggle with the expectations and I am terrible at giving gifts. I’m also not great at receiving them, as I tend to want very little, and am particular about what I do want. Thus, it is with some surprise I find myself giving holiday tips.

I’d like to share our family’s tradition for celebrating New Year’s Eve. It’s pretty simple, but at the same time, I don’t know of other families that do it.

We spend our New Year’s Eve watching celebrations from around the world. The easiest way to do this is to follow a stream from a news service on YouTube. In previous years, Reuters, the AP, Global News (in Canada) and the Telegraph (in the UK) have offered them.

As an example, here’s the 2024 one for Global News:

I like the Global News stream because it tends to have a lot of different places, and (as of 2024) they maintain a list of the locations (updated throughout the day) that they’re going to be showing.

In 2024, for example, they included:

  • 6:00 AM ET: Auckland, New Zealand fireworks show
  • 8:00 AM ET: Sydney, Australia fireworks
  • 11:00 AM ET: Hong Kong light show
  • 12:00 PM ET: Thailand: Chao Phraya River in Bangkok
  • 1:00 PM ET: Various locations across India
  • 1:45 PM ET: Karachi, Pakistan
  • 3:00 PM ET: Dubai’s Burj Khalifa fireworks
  • 4:00 PM ET: Moscow, Russia fireworks
  • 5:00 PM ET: Athens, Greece fireworks
  • 6:00 PM ET: Paris, France light show at Arc de Triomphe
  • 7:00 PM ET: London, England’s fireworks
  • 9:00 PM ET: Rio De Janeiro, Brazil beach fireworks
  • 12:00 AM ET: New York, New York Times Square ball drop

We’re in the Atlantic time zone (an hour later than Eastern) so we start our day with New Zealand, and move around the globe over the course of the day. As we do, one thing we’ll do is explicitly wish “Happy New Years” to folks that we know in the various places. As English language teachers who have taught students from around the world (and lived in a number as well) it’s interesting to see how many connections we have to places.

And if you don’t want to leave the TV on too much, the best ones (in my opinion) are Sydney, Hong Kong, Dubai and London.

In addition, we typically pick one of these country’s cuisines to base our dinner on.

I recognize that none of this is a particularly big deal, but I wanted to share it because it’s a nice way to celebrate with kids, as it both heightens their awareness of global diversity and doesn’t require staying up late. It’s also very easy to do. I share the link in the morning with my grandmother (99 years old and counting) and she’s able to watch along with us.

Advanced Version

It’s possible to find even more country’s celebrations if you find local news feeds, and there are even more available if you get a VPN. For New Year’s Eve 2023, we signed up for Express VPN (which I wholeheartedly recommend) and went to local news feeds for some of the celebrations. This isn’t free, but it can be fun, and can open up further diversity. After our daughter went to bed, we used the VPN to watch Jools’ Annual Hootenanny on the BBC IPlayer and I think we may have started a new (to us) tradition.

Refunds for Interrupted Travel in Canada

I just read an article on Savvy New Canadians about requesting and receiving a small refund (as a flight credit) from Air Canada for a recently interrupted travel plan. We found ourselves in a similar situation in January 2023 but we had a different outcome and I wanted to share our experience.

For context, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) says (as of 2018) that airlines have to give compensation for flights that are delayed or cancelled for reasons that are within the airlines control.

The Situation

In December 2022, we flew from Halifax, through Toronto, to St. Louis to spent the holidays with my family. As you may remember, there was a huge winter storm from December 21 to 26 in North America. We flew to St. Louis on December 21, just ahead of the storm. We experienced a small delay (~2 hours) but that was it.

For our return flight, we were supposed to return on December 27. The evening of December 26 (~7 PM Central Time) we were notified that our flight the following morning at 9 AM had been cancelled “due to equipment availability”. I spent 2 hours on hold to talk to someone at Air Canada, by which time we’d been automatically re-booked on the same flights for December 30 (3 days later). The person I spoke to wasn’t able to give me any better options. We considered some crazier solutions (e.g. driving or taking the train to Chicago) but ultimately we decided to keep our re-booked flight.

The Complaint(s)

After we returned home, on January 1, I submitted a complaint with Air Canada using their form. The auto-response from this form (as well as the CTA policy) promises a response within 30 days. After 30 days had elapsed without a response, on February 1, I also submitted a complaint to the Canadian Transportation Agency (using this form).

Here are the requirements to filing a complaint with the CTA:

The Resolution(s)

On February 6, we received a response from Air Canada (36 days later) offering us $300 per traveller in Air Canada travel credits that expired in 3 years. This was the same thing offered to Savvy New Canadians. I added this information to our case with CTA, with a comment to the effect that we didn’t feel like this met the requirements of the refund process for travel interruptions.

Then, on February 27, we received another response from Air Canada giving each traveller a $1000 refund via e-transfer (and cancelling the $300 travel credit). I’m not sure, but I assume that the reason we received this updated refund offer is because our complaint with the CTA was moving forward. Thus, I would absolutely encourage you to file a complaint with the CTA (in addition to the airline) if you meet their complaint requirements.

If you have any experience requesting a refund due to a travel interruption, please feel free to share it below!

Canada vs. US: Healthcare

Many people are curious about the pros and cons of the American and Canadian healthcare systems. These are my thoughts after approximately 3 years living in Canada. I claim no expertise other than my personal experience. For context, in the US, we were on a private HMO plan, as state employees. In Canada, we are on the Nova Scotia provincial plan. I have no experience with health plans in other provinces, but one nice things about Nova Scotia’s is that coverage starts right away. My understanding is that some other provinces have waiting periods.

In the US

The Pros:

Unlike many people in the US, we had excellent health insurance that was very, very cheap. For ~12 years, we both worked at a large, state university. As state employees, we had fantastic health insurance and, because we were BOTH state employees, we paid almost nothing for it. At the time, in the state of Florida, married couples who both worked for the state paid just $30 per month ($15 each) for family coverage. In other words, we were in an extremely good insurance situation in the US. With insurance, we paid $20 per appointment for general physicians, and $40 per appointment for specialists.

We were also happy with the providers we had access to. We had a pediatrician that we really liked and were typically able to get in the same or next day for illnesses. We’d use after hours clinics, where we might wait an hour or two maximum, to fill in the gaps. We had an extremely positive childbirth experience at the big hospital where they were very supportive of natural birth and it cost us $250 out of pocket. We had a large medical clinic on campus where both my wife and I went for our primary care. It was easy to get primary care appointments, although if we wanted something same or next day we might see a different doctor. Specialist appointments could take a long time — I waited 4 or 5 months to see a hematologist at one point. Prescriptions were well covered (by US standards). My asthma medicine cost $60 for 180 doses, with a list price of ~$600.

The Cons:

We didn’t really have any mental health coverage, aside from 3 free meetings covered by our EAP program. Dental insurance was separate from our health insurance, and was quite expensive. It was also complicated, and changed every year, so we were often changing between programs and, as a result, changing our dentists. We typically paid between $75 and $110 per month for a family plan, plus another $20-$50 per visit. My teeth are kind of a mess, so I had all sorts of extra treatments. We never really found a dentist that we liked — they were fine, but my wife had a terrible experience getting her wisdom teeth extracted and figuring out an overlap between our dental insurance and our health insurance (for an oral surgeon) was a real pain.

The biggest con, though, was the fact that our wonderful health insurance situation was entirely depended on both of us keeping our jobs with the state of Florida. If we were to lose or change our jobs, we’d lose these benefits. And the people we knew that were not working for the state had VERY different health insurance experiences. We didn’t know it was going to happen at the time, but since leaving Florida our department was shut down and both of our jobs went away. If we had stayed, could we have found other jobs within the university? Perhaps, but not necessarily.

In Canada

The Cons:

I’m going to start with the cons. Again, this is based solely on our personal experience and (as expressed above) we were coming from a very good (albeit job-dependent) situation in Florida. Thus, by comparison, our situation in Canada has felt significantly worse.

The big problem is access. None of us have a family doctor. We have been on the waiting list for almost 3 years. I understand that COVID slowed things down, but this is clearly not a functional system.

So what do we do if we need care? We have a few options:

  • Afterhours clinics — There are a couple near us and they all require appointments. To get an appointment, you have to call repeatedly during the first 30 minutes that they’re open and hope you get in before the appointments fill up. It isn’t great, but we’ve typically gotten in.
  • Maple – Also, for the last year or so we’ve had access to free virtual care through Maple. Again, getting into it is challenging. As free customers, we can’t schedule appointments, and the queue is often full. Since I work from home, it’s easy for me to try repeatedly, but that isn’t a good option for lots of people.
  • Emergency Room – There’s a hospital right in town. I’ve used the ER a couple of times, as have my wife and daughter, and it has been pretty good. Usually, we’ve gotten in and our fairly quickly (under 2 hours). At the same time, there was at least one time when I took my daughter and we left after 2 hours because it was simply going to be too long of a wait.
  • Dial-a-Nurse – We have a dial-a-nurse program that is free and is fine if you just need advice, but they can’t treat anything.

The Pros:

There’s a saying I’ve heard here in Canada — “the healthcare is great, you just can’t get it” and that jibes with my experience. Aside from the access issue, everything has been good. I’ve gotten a number of referrals from Maple, and while some have taken a while to schedule, the quality of care has been great. Every doctor and nurse I’ve met with has been knowledgeable and professional, and my appointments haven’t felt rushed. And everything has been 100% covered by my taxes (aka “free”) which, even after 3 years, still feels strange. I always feel when I leave like someone is going to run out after me and ask me to pay.

I have supplemental health insurance through my job which costs me nothing. I could probably get a similar family plan if I were unemployed for ~$200 CAD per month, but it doesn’t feel essential. My insurance covers 80% of PT or mental health up to $500 CAD per year, per member of my family. That gets me ~4 or 5 sessions, depending on the provider. Similarly, it covers 80% of dental, up to a max of $1000 per person, per year. Plus, Nova Scotia has a children’s oral health program that covers basic dental work for kids up to age 14, so we don’t pay anything for our daughter. We have a dentist in town that we really like but, again, getting an appointment can take a while.

Before we moved, I was nervous about prescriptions. I knew they were not covered by provincial health insurance, so I stockpiled some of my asthma medicine before the move. That has totally turned out to be a non-issue. In the US, I would pay $60 (with insurance) for 180 doses. The list price of this medicine was over $600 USD. In Canada, I get the same medicine for $13 CAD (with insurance) for 200 doses. Without insurance, it will cost me $50 CAD. It’s the same exact medicine from the same brand. Seems crazy.

One last thing I like about Canada — it’s much less of an interventionist culture. Some of that is undoubtedly tied to the lack of access, but I think it also has to do with incentives. I don’t think doctors here are incentivized in the same way to schedule follow-up appointments or tests. And, personally, I’m pro-minimal-intervention in healthcare, so I’m happy with that approach.

In Conclusion

Our experience in the US was much better in terms of access, and similar in terms of cost, but that is a very atypical experience in the US. Plus, it was dependent on both of us keeping our jobs, and needing insurance certainly adds a layer of complexity to early retirement.

In Canada, the quality of care has been excellent, and the cost has been negligible, but getting access has been a real challenge. One thing that we’re interested in exploring further is some of the private options that may be coming. Coming from the US, if we could pay $50-$100 per month to have better access to healthcare, I think we’d be open to that.

Ultimately, I’d say we’re still undecided about our opinion of the Canadian healthcare system. We haven’t needed it for anything serious, and (despite the access challenges) we’ve been able to get it when necessary. Plus, we really like the fact that we can count on it being there even if our work situations change.

(One last note that doesn’t really fit in here but that I wanted to mention — I lived in Taiwan for 5 years, and found their healthcare system to be really great. It took some time to find good providers as some weren’t up to the standards I was used to, but once I did, both the cost and the access was excellent. Years later, my wife took some public health courses and Taiwan was often held up as a success story in terms of universal healthcare. Based on my experience, I can totally see why.)

What about you? If you’ve lived in both the US and Canada, what has your experience with healthcare been?

2022 Annual Review

As I said in our 2021 Annual Review, I write with post with some trepidation. In the interest in helping financial independence seem more attainable, I want to be very open about the math behind it. At the same time, comparison is a real source of suffering, and I don’t want to contribute to that. I’m also not a passionate tracker of these things, so our numbers are inherently rough. Regardless, in the hopes that this will do more good than harm, here’s how our finances played out in 2022.


I still work full-time and my wife still works part-time. This year was our first “clean” year in the sense that we were both working for Canadian employers. You’ll note that both our salaries are lower. For me, that’s because I got a lump sum payout on my vacation time when I left my US employer in 2021. For my wife, that’s because her US employer paid more. Now that our income situations are cleaner, I’m considering taking over our Canadian tax filing. For now, I’m planning to do it alongside our tax accountant and see if I get the same results.

And note that this is just salary — it excludes things like the Canada Child Benefit, re-imbursements, and credit card benefits.

Me$98,871 (CAD)$123,680 (CAD)$84,652 (USD)$73,599 (USD)
My wife$24,672 (CAD)$35,341 (CAD)$20,418 (USD)$41,581 (USD)

Spending (minus taxes)

Monthly Average$4,913$6,466
Annual Total$58,953$77,699

This year, I shifted to tracking our spending in a much simpler way. Itemizing it simply took too long. Also, I’m not trying to cut our spending, so knowing where it goes (e.g. groceries vs home repair) isn’t important. And I’m leaving out taxes because we’re now having them pulled from our paychecks. Thus, when I pull our spending from our bank accounts I’m not getting them. I’m OK with that, though, as I need to figure them in manually for our post-work phase as we’ll have significantly less taxable income then.

All-in-all, I’m happy with this spending. Would I like it to be lower, sure, but that says as much about me as it does about our spending. Using the 4% rule as a rough estimate, this would mean we’d need ~$1.5M USD / ~$1.95M CAD to retire, with the caveat that we’d need to account for taxes. We’re close to these numbers, but not quite there as our net worth dropped last year.

Net Worth

All values in USD
Jan 1, 2023Jan 1, 2022Jan 1, 2021Jan 1, 2020
457(b)s $167,360$184,711$154,718$131,036
Roth IRAs$229,437$279,360$237,008$201,669
403(b)s and RSPs$529,604$645,266$548,075$469,428

Our net worth went down by 14% in 2022, which isn’t too bad considering the market performance. We’re continuing to hold more cash than we usually would, along with ~$42K in iBonds, with an eye towards paying down a chunk of our mortgage when it comes due in 2025. After we top off our RRSP contributions for 2022, I’m planning to put the bulk of this cash into a 2 year GIC.


We don’t count home equity as part of our net worth. We purchased our house in July 2020 for $254,000 CAD (~$200,000 USD). The value has definitely increased from there based on comps. I’d guess, if we were to sell it today, we’d be close to (if not over) $350K CAD, which is nuts. When our mortgage comes due in 2.5 years, we’ll owe ~$178K. We’ll likely pay it off (or at least down significantly) if interest rates are high then. If not, we may do another 5 year mortgage.


Even with the market downturn in 2022, we’re still in the ball park of FI. At the same time, I’m not currently considering shifting to part-time work. This is partly because my company is going through a rough patch and I don’t want to make myself appear expendable. In addition, I’ve really come to appreciate the work-life balance that my job provides, along with a salary which would be very difficult (if not impossible) to find locally in semi-rural Nova Scotia. For now, my plan is to stay as a full-time employee for the next couple of years, then re-assess.

In addition, I’ve really come to realize that full retirement isn’t my goal. It does me good to have structure and purpose, and to have projects that make me engage with other people on a regular basis. Ultimately, I’d like to create this type of structure myself through part-time work and volunteering but, for now, I’m appreciating the security of a good salary with good work life balance. At the same time, I’ve started working with someone locally on some IT consulting that could eventually become a part-time replacement for my current job. We shall see.

2021 Annual Review

I have mixed feelings about putting these numbers down on the page. On the one hand, I think bringing more transparency and openness to personal finance is a good thing. At the same time, I think that our tendency to compare ourselves to other people is a lousy thing, and I certainly don’t want to encourage that. Fortunately, there are many people out there who have more money than we do, and there are lots of folks in the personal finance space who spend less that we do, so I don’t think our numbers should stir up too much suffering.

I’m also a bit hesitant to do this as I’m not a zealous tracker of every dollar that passes through our lives, and I realize that this isn’t a popular approach in the personal finance space. Until we moved to Canada, for example, I never tracked our spending or wrote out a budget. I’ve always felt that one of the perks of living well within your means is NOT having to track things religiously.

The combination of the international move and closing in on our FIRE number, though, made me more interested in knowing our actual spending. So I’ve been tracking that since we moved to Canada in the summer of 2020. I’ve also been tracking our net worth for about 9 years.


Currently, I work full-time and my wife works part-time. For most of 2021, we were both employed by US employers, switching over to Canadian employers in the fall. I got a bonus as I received a lump sum payout for my banked vacation time when I left my US employer. Next year, both of our salaries will likely be somewhat lower. And I’m only tracking our earnings from our jobs. In other words, I’m not counting things like the Canadian Child Benefit or investment earnings (which were all re-invested). We also received a small inheritance (~$15K USD) in 2021.

Me$123680 (CAD)$84652 (USD)$73599 (USD)
My wife$35341 (CAD)$20418 (USD)$41581 (USD)


All expenses listed in CAD
Home Repair / Maintenance$9,754
Spiritual Health$2,519
TOTAL$108,069 CAD
~$85,000 USD

The utilities number is actually a bit higher, as the pellets that we buy for our primary heat source are counted under “home repair / maintenance” (as that’s where everything from a hardware store goes. We probably spend about ~$750 CAD per year on pellets. Finally, spiritual health is a combination of meditation retreats and classes that we do.

Net Worth

All values in USD
Jan 1, 2022Jan 1, 2021Jan 1, 2020
457(b)s $184,711$154,718$131,036
Roth IRAs$279,360$237,008$201,669
403(b)s and RSPs$645,266$548,075$469,428
Net worth over the years, in USD

We moved in July 2020, selling our house in Tampa, and clearing ~$100,000. That’s part of both the jump in our taxable account, and also the jump in cash for January 2021 — I was dollar cost averaging into our taxable account at the time. The tremendous growth by January 2022 is primarily market gains. We’ve contributed a bit to our RRSPs up here, but I only had a little room.


I don’t consider our house as part of our net worth. We purchased our house in July 2020 for $254,000 CAD (~$200,000 USD). Crazily, based on the price per square foot of several recent sales in our neighborhood, I suspect it has already appreciated to close to $300,000 CAD. We have a mortgage of ~$195,000 CAD, with a monthly payment of ~$1100 CAD. I’m currently leaning towards paying it off (or at least down significantly) when the mortgage matures in about 3.5 years.


I suspect our future spending will be a bit lower, as we were still getting established in Canada this year. At the same time, we didn’t have any major one off expenses (we replaced our ERV, but that wasn’t too bad) so it may not be too far off. And I feel like the tax portion of our spending will drop significantly in retirement, as some of the money that we’re spending each year won’t be income. In other words, it will come from our taxable account or (eventually) our Roth IRAs.

If we take $65,000 USD as our target for annual spending, the 4% rule would give us a FIRE number of $1,625,000. At $1,448,280, that puts as about 90% of the way there. And neither my wife nor I plan to fully retire in the near future. I’m thinking I’ll go down to part-time in the next year or so, but at the same time with the combination of working from home and generous leave, I’m also thinking I might just stay full time until I’m ready to pull the plug. Regardless, I feel like we’re in great shape.

What we’re watching on CBC Gem (January 2022)

We really like the CBC Gem app. It’s free, and many of the shows have few (or no) advertisements. We stream it from our phones to our TV via a Chromestick. The streaming itself is excellent, and the app is pretty good. My main complaint is that it would be nice to be able to save a list of future shows to watch. Also, the app periodically will sign us out for no reason, but that’s a minor inconvenience.

Periodically, I’ll share some of what we’re watching. For better or worse, I tend to be pretty judgemental about pretty much everything, so I’m kind of hard to please when it comes to media. As a couple, we tend to like things that are “good hearted” — we don’t really watch anything scary or violent or based on people behaving badly. Here are the few of the things we’ve enjoyed watching recently.

Upright – Honestly, I think this might be one of my favorite shows of all time. It tells the story of a down-on-his-luck musician and a teenage runaway as they transport a piano across the Australia. Very well-written and well-acted, and unlike anything I’d ever seen. My wife and I both really enjoyed it. The pacing is excellent in terms of how you gradually learn about the characters. We both cried in the last episode (which, for me, is very unusual). In the US, I *think* it’s available on Amazon Prime.

The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan – This is a UK travel show and the premise is that a comedian (Romesh Ranganathan) visits countries with dangerous or otherwise bad reputations. In the first series, he visits Haiti, Ethopia, Albania and the Arctic. The places he visits are interesting, and we really enjoy the tone of the show — he doesn’t make fun of the places he visits, nor does he view them through rose-colored glasses. It’s also been interesting to see some of the conversations around colonialism and racism, particularly with him being a person of color from a former colonial power. Each episode is about an hour long, too, which allows for more depth than some other travel shows (like Travel Man, for example, which is fine but kind of superficial in my opinion and also on CBC Gem).

Ghosts (BBC version) – The premise of this show is simple enough — a couple live in a house haunted by a bunch of ghosts from different time periods. It’s quite funny, and the team behind it is a group of improvisers who basically created the show so that they could all be in something together. It’s gets a little over the top for my tastes at times (there’s a Top Gun inspired montage in one of the later episodes that is pretty cringey) but we still like it. The first two seasons are on Gem.

Hot Docs – There’s a collection of “Hot Docs” that has recently been added to CBC Gem. My sense is that this might be an annual virtual festival, but I’m not sure. We watched Made You Look which tells the story of a long-term art fraud in NYC and found it to be very interesting. I’d like to watch Portrayal as well. Apparently, I’m interested in documentaries about art mysteries. Who knew?

Do you use CBC Gem? And, if so, what are you watching? Are there other free streaming services out there that you like?

Canada vs. US: Estate Planning

When our daughter was born, my wife and I had wills drawn up that used revocable trusts in the event that we both were to pass away. Control of the trusts would pass first to my brother and then to my sister, paralleling the guardianship of our daughter. Our goal is for the assets to follow her to her new family, with no strings attached.

Once we moved to Canada, though, we were told that having a US executors and US trustees would be problematic. At the same time, we didn’t really want to do a full re-working of everything, because our intention is that our daughter (aged 6) would return to the US if we both were to die. Thus, having a US estate plan still makes sense for us.

The solution we’ve arrived at is two-fold. First, we’re continuing to keep our US wills and US estates in place for our US assets (which is the larger share of our assets). Second, for our Canadian assets, we are having wills drawn up that, in the event of both of us passing away, use a trust services company (our bank) to enable my brother or sister to manage our estate remotely. We’ve made it clear to the trust services company that the goal is just to liquidate everything and move it back to the states.

I must confess — I’m no expert on estate planning and I’m not convinced that this is the ideal solution. I’m sure that there are things we could do, for example, to improve the tax efficiency of things. That being said, it meets our needs better than just having a US will, and because our intention (for now) is that our daughter would go back to the States if we both were to die, I think for the time being it makes sense to keep the US will in effect. Once our daughter is older (in say 10 years time) the plan will likely change to one that would keep her in Canada, at which point we’ll re-do everything with that in mind.

One downside to having the US trusts, though, is that Canada requires a tax filing for these trusts every year (even though they are empty). This isn’t a big deal, but it will add a couple of hundred bucks to our tax bill each year. My plan is to start doing our taxes ourselves in the next year or two, so I’m not hugely worried about this. Plus, since our goal right now would be for our daughter to return to the US, it makes sense to keep them even with the additional cost.

Finally, we took a similar approach with our power of attorney documents. If we both were to be incapacitated, we’re using a trust services company as co-attorney with my brother. That way, he can effectively direct things while remaining a US resident.

It was a little tricky to find a lawyer who could handle this. We worked with one lawyer initially, but it was clear that she didn’t really know what she was doing in terms of the crossborder aspects. We ended up with someone, though, that really seems to know her stuff. I don’t have any particular recommendations for trust services companies. I just went with the banks that we have our mortgage and checking account with. When we revisit our wills in 5-10 years, I suspect will get rid of the trust services company in favor of a local friend. If the goal is for our assets and daughter to remain in Canada, though, I could see us continuing to use a trust in some capacity until she reaches a certain age.

If you have any questions about estate planning, please feel free to ask, with the caveat that it’s entirely possible I will not have an answer for you. 🙂 And if you have any experience with your own version of a crossborder estate plan, I’d love to hear it!

Additional Reading:

Guide to International Estate Planning for Cross Border Families from Creative Planning International

Estate Planning for US Citizens in Canada from RBC Wealth Management

Cross-Border Canadian-U.S. Planning by Ed Northwood


In March 2020, we were planning to come to Nova Scotia to go house-hunting ahead of our anticipated May or June 2020 move. Needless to say, our plans changed. Fortunately, we were still able to find a house (via FaceTime) and ended up moving just a bit later than planned (in July 2020). Because of this, though, we ended up buying a house (and getting a mortgage) without ever having set foot in it. We had visited the town that we settled in for about 4 hours in October of 2019, and that’s it.

It worked out great (we’ve been here 18 months and counting and we love it) but it certainly wasn’t what we’d planned. I’d like to share what I’ve learned about the differences between Canadian and American mortgages. And just to be clear — I’ve had one mortgage in each country, so there are undoubtedly some aspects of mortgages that I’m not familiar with. Please feel free to let me know about other differences, or ask questions, in the comments below.

Amortization Period

The amortization period is the length of time it would take to pay off a mortgage making just the regular payments. For American mortgages, this will be the same as the duration (or term) of the mortgage, but not for Canadian mortgages (more on that below). In the US, the most typical amortization period is 30 years, versus 25 years in Canada. Amortizations periods of 15 or 20 years are also common in the US. I’m not sure how common shorter amortization periods are in Canada, but I may be investigating this our mortgage matures in about 3.5 years.

Term / Duration

The term of a mortgage (Canada only) refers to how long the contract is good for. This contract specifies things like interest rate, prepayment terms, etc. In Canada, this is different from the amortization period. For example, we have a 5-year fixed rate mortgage here in Canada, amortized over 25 years. In other words, we’re locked into the current mortgage contract for the first 5 years, and then we’ll renegotiate when that matures. Typical terms in Canada are 5, 7 or 10 years. The good thing about these short terms is that you can typically get a very low interest rate with a 5-year term. The bad thing (obviously) is that this rate is just guaranteed for 5 years and could go up. We went with the 5-year because we wanted the lower rate and we didn’t want to lock ourselves into anything longer because of the limited prepayment terms.

Prepayment (aka open or closed mortgages)

In my experience in the US, you can typically prepay as much as you want, whenever you want. If you pay more than your required payment each month, it gets applied directly to the principle. And you can pay it off in full whenever you’d like without penalty.

In Canada, on the other hand, many mortgages are “closed”. That means there is a penalty for prepayment before the end of the mortgage term. In other words, if we were to pay our mortgage off before the 5 years is up (remembering that the amortization period is actually 25 years) we’d have to pay a penalty. This penalty is typically a percentage of the remaining interest in the mortgage term, interest that you’d be avoiding by paying it off early. There are also open mortgages that allow prepayment without penalty, but those typically have higher interest rates.

Closed mortgages typically allow some prepayment without penalty (ours allows 10% annually) but you can’t pay the whole thing off whenever you want. If you move before the mortgage matures, you typically wouldn’t have a penalty because the mortgages are portable (meaning you can apply it to your new house) but I imagine you could run into this problem if you left Canada. Our mortgage is closed. Honestly, that made me uncomfortable at first, but the short term and the very low interest rate (2.44%) helped allay my concerns.


I’m not sure how typical this is, but our mortgage in Canada does NOT include our homeowners insurance payment. Perhaps there is some behind the scenes communication going on, but it isn’t clear to me how my bank guarantees that I have insurance. We found insurance ourselves, and paid for it ourselves, for the first year. Then we changed companies the second year. I notified the bank of all of this, but they weren’t particularly bothered by it. In the US (at least, in Florida) the bank made our insurance payments (so they knew we had insurance) and even dictated some coverage terms. In Canada, the bank just asked to be listed as the first payee. So our mortgage payment is just principal, interest and taxes in Canada, whereas in the US it has been principal, interest, taxes and insurance.


I don’t have a strong preference for one mortgage situation or the other. I was initially put off by the “closed” nature of Canadian mortgages, but because I’m not a monthly prepayer I don’t really mind. Our plan is to see how things are doing in 3.5 years and possibly pay off our mortgage then. We’ll owe ~$175K Canadian at that point. If the market is up (in other words, if we aren’t in the midst of a correction), I suspect we’ll just pay it off from a combination of our cash on hand, some I-Bonds, and some of our taxable account. On the other hand, if the market is down and the interest rates are low, we’ll probably just get another 5-year mortgage, likely having invested our cash on hand when the market fell. If interest rates are high, though, and the market is down, I think we’ll pay off a chunk, using whatever cash on hand we have (and probably the I-Bonds as well) but leaving our taxable account alone. I love the idea of not having a mortgage in early retirement, but I’m not wedded to it.

Are there any other differences that you’re aware of between Canadian and US mortgages? Are there any questions that you have?