Wondering whether you can start a business in Canada on a work permit? Not exactly. If you are actually asking, "Can I start a business in Canada as a non-Canadian and stay and live in Canada permanently?" then the answer is "No."
To legally start a business in Canada as an individual, you need to be a Canadian citizen or a landed immigrant (permanent resident), and as a foreign worker on a work permit in Canada, you are neither.
The Limitations of Work Permits
Most Canadian work permits are valid only for a specified job, employer, and time period (i.e., are closed work permits). Even to do work on the side, or to do other work for the employer listed on your work permit, would violate the conditions of your work permit. When your work permit expires, you must leave Canada or get an extension.
If you're looking for a closed (employer-specific) work permit, you must:
- Submit an offer of employment to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)
- Pay a $230 employer compliance fee
- Get an offer of employment number
There are several different types of work permits, and there may be certain businesses that would make you eligible for an employer-specific work permit that would be easier to extend. These include launching a business that will provide:
- significant social, cultural, or economic benefits, or
- jobs for Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada
However, these situations don't mean you can start a company on a work permit. Your real path to launching a business is to seek permanent residency.
Permanent residents, also known as landed immigrants, are allowed to legally start businesses in Canada. To become a permanent resident, you will need to apply to immigrate to Canada. There are several different types of immigration that you may be able to apply for:
- Immigration to Canada under Canada's Start-Up Visa for Entrepreneur Immigrants
- Immigration to Canada as a self-employed person
- Immigration to Canada as a skilled worker
The possibilities of immigrating to Canada as a self-employed person are limited. To immigrate through this program, you must have relevant experience in either cultural activities or athletics, and intend and be able to make a significant contribution to the cultural or athletic life of Canada.
Before you apply to immigrate to Canada as a skilled worker, you will have to decide whether you wish to immigrate to Quebec or to a different province. Quebec runs its own program for selecting skilled workers. To immigrate anywhere else in Canada as a skilled worker, you will need to apply under the Express Entry program.
To come to Canada through this immigration program, you have to be eligible to immigrate under one of these three programs:
If this is the case, you will then apply by filling out an online profile with information about your skills, education, work experience, and language ability (English or French). If you're coming with a spouse, you'll need to provide their information as well.
Applicants are assigned a points score based on a ranking system, and those meeting the criteria will be accepted into a pool of possible candidates. IRCC regularly holds Express Entry rounds of invitations, where it will invite the highest-ranking candidates from the pool to apply for immigration to Canada as permanent residents. Note that potential candidates are screened by IRCC and may fail to meet the admissibility requirements based on a number of factors, including:
- Security concerns—acts of espionage, terrorism, subversion, etc.
- Committing acts in violation of human rights outside of Canada
- Being a resident of a country that is currently sanctioned by Canada or other international organizations
- Conviction of serious criminal offenses within or outside of Canada
- Membership in recognized criminal organizations, or engagement in activities such as money laundering, people smuggling, etc.
- Health concerns—having a health condition that may pose a danger to the Canadian public or require excessive medical care in Canada
Another Possible Way
You might also start a partnership or corporation in Canada (but not a sole proprietorship) by teaming up with one or more Canadian citizens or landed immigrants. Seek legal counsel about this first, though, as it may invalidate your work permit. Also note that, even if you do this, being a partner or a shareholder in a Canadian business does not automatically mean that you can live in Canada long term.