Renewing my green card


I love the timeless beauty of the Hudson Valley, where I live. Here, looking south.


By Caitlin Kelly

I won’t post the image here, obviously.

But it is green-ish — a pale image of the Statue of Liberty, a copy of my fingerprint (they take your biometrics), my photo (in black and white), my signature, gender and other details.

It also has a code that tells officials how I won this legal status — the drop-down menu of options as you go to renew it is very long. Last time I came back from Canada, the officer commented he rarely sees my category.

It’s a truly precious document.

I was born in Vancouver, Canada, lived in London, England ages two to five, then Toronto ages five to 30, with residence in Mexico, Paris and Montreal along the way.

But I was forever being mistaken for American — which every Canadian knows is not a compliment: too loud, too bossy, too driven, too direct. Walks too fast. Talks too fast. Wants too much.

Canadians prize quiet modesty and indirectness. They loathe conflict and are ambivalent or reluctant about celebrating heroes, money or celebrity — which is why Harry and Meghan chose wisely to move to Victoria, British Columbia. Most Canadians just don’t care.

My mother was born in New York and lived in a few places in the U.S., but she never liked it much and was glad to flee permanently to Canada. The irony is that I now live near her birthplace and she, in Victoria, near mine.



I love this elegant NYC restaurant, Via Carota


Why did I want to move to the U.S., and to New York?

My one word answer remains unchanged after all these years — ambition.

Canada is small, and offers limited opportunities for a big career in journalism and publishing, Even in a recession, and I’ve weathered three of them in New York since arriving in 1989, there are a lot of decent opportunities here and, key, people willing to hire me, staff or freelance.

There are many things about the U.S. — as you know if you read this blog regularly — that deeply trouble me: racism, violence, guns, sexism, income inequality. Not to mention current electoral politics.

But I’ve always been surprised by — and much appreciated — the willingness here to give me chances to prove myself. I am privileged, for sure: well-educated, white, able-bodied. And this is a country where money talks, so when people choose me, I know they do so with the confidence I’ll help them make more and not let them down.



Downtown Montreal has re-purposed some gorgeous bank buildings into cafes and co0-working spaces

I get it. I almost welcome the nakedness of this transaction.

Canadians are a different breed. Much more averse to risk. Slower to commit and quick to scuttle away from conflict.

In a smaller country, failure sticks and is more difficult to erase, deny or flee. I get it.

So I feel more at ease, in some ways, and certainly in New York, than I ever did in Toronto or Montreal.

I miss elements of my life in Canada and I really miss the deeper quality of those friendships.

And boy I do miss its cooler emotional temperature and impulse to discretion — sometimes I want to holler, here: “Enough! I don’t want to hear all your damn feelings!”

I find it exhausting and unwelcome.

I’ve also been fortunate here: owning an apartment, finding a loving, hard-working and accomplished husband and a few friends.

I’ve luckily ticked many of my life boxes, and have — still — some serious professional ambitions yet to satisfy, like hoping to write and sell two more non-fiction books.

I also came here because I had some cool American relatives and ancestors, like a Chicago developer, or the bullfighter, or the archeologist or the diplomat or the small aircraft pilot with the almond farm.

I found them all so intriguing.

So, for $540, my new green card will buy me another American decade.

I pray to be alive and healthy when it expires.


Have you left your native country to settle permanently abroad?


Are you happy with how it turned out?


22 thoughts on “Renewing my green card

  1. I lived in both Germany and the US (Phoenix). I knew that the US move would not be permanent (I was in flight training). Having lived and/or worked in various places around the world has given me a reasonably objective sense of where I come from.

    Your comparison is interesting, particularly your observation on celebrity. Canadians tend to see them as shallow and egotistical, unless you become a unintentional celebrity, such as Terry Fox. Canadians want their heroes to be self-effacing, which is almost contradictory.

    I disagree about conflict avoidance. As former military, I studied the Canadian psyche around conflict: we need to see whatever it is as being “worth fighting for,” and we tend to have some different ideas at times as to what that means.

    I have always liked the US, but it’s coming across as being on the brink – of what, I’m not sure. Just the sense of instability, maybe. Its reputation is suffering and if DT is re-elected, I think the consequences could be dire. I’m not sure what I would do if I were in your position.

    1. I agree about “celebrity” — and Americans love to see $$$$$$ as a sign of personal value, of success, so other measures pale in comparison. I weary of this. And, yes, great observation….I had to REALLY break my very Canadian habit of self-deprecation when I moved to NYC. People thought I meant it and lacked confidence — when a Canadian would know it signaled the opposite!

      Interesting point…let me think on this.

      The U.S. is a goddamn mess. We have many many conversations about whether to leave but we do not have enough $$$$ without Social Security and Medicare (IF I kept my green card) to just up sticks. It’s quite complicated…I really enjoy living close to NYC and all its amusements. I prefer to live within 60-90 minutes of a major city — and Ontario real estate is massively overpriced. Also, not a small town person…nor eager to suddenly move to Calgary or Halifax…so, lots to think about.

      1. I am going to retire in a little over two years from now and we have gone round and round about WHERE to retire. We took a hard look at Ontario and Quebec. I love Montreal and Quebec City and seriously looked at moving there. We briefly considered Calgary.

        In the end, though, my anglophone, BC-raised husband would like to stay in wine country. It’s true that if you are a foodie and into wine, the Okanagan and BC in general is hard to beat. The climate in the valley is also very temperate and it’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Best of all, we’re two hours by car away from Vancouver. Kelowna is 40 mins away.

        For us, the choice included the political ambiance. Alberta isn’t doing itself any favours with that horse’s ass Jason Kenney. There’s another one in Ontario.

        After living in NY for so long I can see why Halifax and Calgary would be difficult, and frankly, I wouldn’t move to Alberta. I’m surprised you wouldn’t want to go to Montreal. Winters are very snowy, but we were looking at condos and townhouses with snow removal included. 😁

        One thing I constantly remind myself of is the fact that I have choices, lots of them, really. So many people don’t.

      2. PS – as you probably know, your profession has lost two Canadian greats, Anne Kingston and Christie Blatchford, in just two days. I was so sorry to hear. I liked reading both of them; great writers and people.

      3. It’s quite a challenge — and yes, we’re very fortunate to have options.

        Because of my health, and will need to have left hip replacement replaced (and want the same surgeon here), even if we moved to Canada, I would need to keep Medicare til then…I have heard there are some nasty tax issues if we re-patriate so those need investigating. We have discussed renting a Montreal apartment (and keeping our NY home)…we can’t rent out our NY home (co-op rules) which is a huge hassle…So we are juggling many things!

        I don’t ADORE NYC but it offers us such riches culturally and the Hudson Valley is very beautiful…so it’s the mix of health, friendships, beauty, costs.

        The political climate in the U.S. is truly toxic. That is unlikely to change in November.

  2. I’ve often wondered why you made the choice to leave Canada for the US. Of course, yours is a classic tale for many Canadians seeking, if not fame and fortune, recognition and greater income potential south of the border. Your explanation is clear-eyed and I get it now. Definitely your feisty spirit is more New York than TO! I also made the choice to move away from Canada, but for very different reasons. A French husband, a chance to live in Europe: it was just too tempting to turn down. But there have been sacrifices for sure. My career took a hit — along with earnings — when we moved. I went from being a co-creative director in a boutique ad agency in Toronto to teaching English at Berlitz. It was tough. But gradually I crept back to better jobs and landed in corporate communications, and am happy as a freelancer. Regrets? None. But I do miss family and friends, and that very Canadian feeling of feeling welcome.

    1. I had had very good jobs in Toronto and Montreal (Globe, Gazette)…then what? where? Didn’t want Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax or Ottawa….so the States seemed like, why not?

      It was HARD! Good Lord. I arrived with NO contacts or friends or job or alumni network and a terrible recession. It took 6 months to get a job, and I cried every day for hours with frustration. You will appreciate the irony — what won me that 1st. magazine editing job was my French and Spanish language skills! Once I had a NYC line on my resume, things got better. A VERY parochial city.

      I really miss my friends so we go back at least once or twice every year and stay in close touch by phone and email. I had lunch in Manhattan yesterday with a top CBC podcaster who’s snagged a great job here — thanks to CBC cuts. Their loss!

      But no regrets at all. I would never have achieved what I did had I stayed there.

  3. I feel deeply sorry for young British people whose future is going to be impeded by Brexit. There goes their freedom to travel! Brexit – such a senseless waste of time and rations; especially as the process could have been carried out in a much more sensible way. Cutting off your nose to spite your face never works! Please protect me from the utter stupidity of our elected representatives. A complete bunch of selfish and egotistical idiots! The world seems to have been taken over by a bunch of bully boys.

  4. “Have you left your native country to settle permanently abroad?” Yes.

    “Are you happy with how it turned out?” Yes and no.

    When you leave your homeland, it’s not just the country you leave behind, its your past, your roots and identity.

    It hasn’t been easy. There were many highs and lows. Since 2013, though, I’m in a good place.

    But once I retire, I want to leave as quickly as possible. I’ve been here WAY too long.

    I’d like to retire to one of those islands off the coast of Vancouver; the Gulf Islands. Or somewhere on Vancouver Island.

    To be frank, I’m sick and tired of people glamorizing and romanticizing Paris. Incredibly rude people. Terrorist attacks. Sidewalks covered in dog excrement. Strikes and street violence, not to mention police brutality toward citizens. Terrible noise and air pollution. Can’t wait to leave.

    1. The Gulf Islands are gorgeous, as is Vancouver Island. I really want to be near friends, though, and ours are all in Ontario (2 in rural NS) which is tough — I don’t love Ontario and real estate is very overpriced for the quality.

      I have long dreamed of spending retirement in France…not sure where or how.

    1. Thanks!

      Had I not had those American relatives, would I have been as intrigued? Maybe not. I was also very lucky — I moved to NH then NY with a sweetie, later husband, later first husband! I am not sure I could have dared make such a huge leap alone, as many do.

      I remember vividly how scared I was when I moved across the border, like a rain drop hitting the ocean. Could I ever make a mark in my field here? (see also: ambition!) I have, to my astonishment, however small.

      I like to say I’ve clawed my way to the bottom of the middle!

  5. fionayb

    Renewing my green card is a bitter sweet experience for me. I had not expected to be here this long. The plan was that I would marry my American husband and we would move to Japan to finish my PhD and then… who knew. Plans change and here we are in Kentucky nearly 19 years later. There are many things I love about the US, and many things I dislike.

    I have no desire to become an American citizen, and continue to be amazed by the number of Americans who assume I automatically became a citizen when I married one. I also have to explain that not every country requires a pledge of allegiance.

    But if not here, then where? We had been in the early stages of planning to relocate back to my home country – the UK. Then Brexit happened. I love the UK but I see so much hatred and division growing there. Brexit has removed many options to return. Ironically now, any likelihood of moving back to Europe will be not because of my British passport but because of my American husband and his Japanese employer.

    So do I have a country? I no longer know. I have a British passport. I pay taxes in the US. I can vote nowhere.

    1. I hear you. Boy, do I hear you!

      Until we’re on Medicare, we’re bankrupted by health insurance, which alone enrages me., It is American corporate greed at its unregulated worst. I am really really tired of that. It hurts millions of Americans — and I am sick of no one in power giving a damn.

      I always hoped to retire to France, at least part time. If Trump wins again, I am not sure I can tolerate four more years of theft, crime, lies and endless bullshit. It has really destroyed much of the pleasure of living here.

      But returning to Canada isn’t simple, and one part of that is the very high cost of Ontario real estate, which is where most of our friends live. And we can’t rent our co-op which would give the flexibility I so badly want — to FLEE this toxicity without the upheaval of re-patriation.

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