IBD Barriers to Entry For Canadians and How to Overcome Them

Disclaimer: Nothing on here is intended to be legal advice. Please ask your relevant immigration / legal council for advice that suits your circumstances.

Background: Canadian MBA, IBD at a Big Five Canadian Bank, now IBD in NYC at a good BB.

When I was in school, I knew I wanted to come down to the US, however, there were difficulties (financial crisis was still fresh and banks had a "hire American" focus). However, I've made the transition, but it wasn't without some difficultly.

Now that I've successfully made the transition, I often get people reaching out to me for advice on how they can make the move. Often, they don't realize what barriers are preventing them from gaining traction.

I generally hear from two types of Canadians:

Type 1: Canadian goes to school in the US
Type 2: Canadian goes to school in Canada and has Canadian Experience

If you are a Type 1, I think you can generally work in the US after graduation under an F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) visa while your firm tries to procure a slightly more permanent H-1B. This post isn't really for you. This post is more for the people who went to school / worked in Canada and are thinking about moving to the US (laterals). I thought it would be helpful to highlight some hints and tips on what to expect in terms of barriers and how to overcome them.

1. "Are You Qualified to Work in the US?"

This was by far one of the biggest barriers. US Banks can easily pick up recruits from 1. target schools, non-targets in the US (for on-cycle), and 2. other US banks / boutiques (off-cycle) then 3. Canada (schools and banks / firms) as a VERY distant third. Also from a head hunting perspective, head hunters will often ask this question out of the gate, because if you aren't qualified you will get auto-dinged (not worth their time).

The top three relevant visas are as follows:
TN-1 (Economist Classification)
IMPORTANT NOTE: there is no Investment Banking TN classification. However, often Analyst / Associate (Internal title) roles have heavy similarities with an economist role (economic valuation, analyzing economic trends, statistical regression etc.).

NAFTA visa - easiest to get, valid for one to three years. Technically, can be renewed indefinitely, but the more you renew the less "temporary" it looks (supposed to be a temporary work visa). You can get this any time. I think the processing fee is $60 which you pay when you cross the border. Also, because it is a temporary work permit, you cannot apply for a Greencard on this visa. EDIT/Update: I've actually been told by a lawyer this is false/a common misconception. Apparently, you still can, but there are some technical nuances (there is a window where you can't travel for three to four months - check with your legal counsel for specific advice).

You can get USCIS pre-approval (takes about two weeks for a company's legal team to prepare and about another two weeks for USCIS to respond). Or you can just try your luck and cross the border. Either way, US Border guard has final say, but if you are nervous (switching jobs and don't want to be left high and dry due to border crossing issues), you can ask for the company to apply for pre-approval to grease the wheels.

Check out USCIS Website here:

Do your homework, but these are a few things you'll need / need to know:
- Canadian Citizen
- Need a letter outlining job description
- Credentials Evaluation (Academic equivalency - proving your degree is equivalent to a four year economics undergraduate degree) (need original degree with transcript or copy of degree with original transcript in a sealed envelope)

H-1B Specialty Occupations
The more standard visa. Based on a lottery system with a very rigid application process. Company has to apply on your behalf by April 1st in order to give you permission to start working on October 1st that same year. Applications are ALWAYS oversubscribed. However, on this visa you CAN apply for Greencard status (a so called "dual intent visa" - work and immigrate).

L-1A Intracompany Transferee Executive or Manager
Executive transfer visa. If you want to stay at the same firm but can find a position in the US you can use this visa. Word of caution, some Canadian banks are more open about sending the people down south. I heard RBC and BMO are a bit more open to this as they actually have strong presences in the US, but heard the other three (TD, Scotia and CIBC) assume you might jump ship if you transfer to NYC (because they generally don't have a strong capital markets presence here) so exercise caution when bringing up the topic of an internal transfer.

If you are a Canadian, chances are you will come in on a TN visa and if the company likes you, they will go ahead and try to process you on an H-1B.

2. "How Serious Are You About Working in the US?"

I get many requests and emails for coffees or calls from people in the US let alone the ones I'm getting from Canada. Everyone knows networking is important for breaking in, but that goes double for Canadians. You have to PHYSICALLY be here to show some level of conviction when it comes to moving to the US. One of my colleagues once put it really well: "Why should we bother hiring people if they haven't been down here to visit / chat? How can we expect them to transplant their lives if they can't even come down to network?"

Some schools (Ivey, Rotman, Queens) have business trek's down to NYC which is great, but any edge you have (friends or family, high school alum, undergrad alum, MBA alum if applicable) you should take advantage of. Make your own trips down. Show some initiative. Use vacation, Canadian long-weekends etc. to make networking less awkward.

3. "Are you 'US Caliber'?"

Be ready for challenging interview logistics. Typical cross-border interview stages include:
1. Recruiter / Headhunter pre-screen (Are you able to work in the US, What is your motivation for going to the US etc.)
2. Phone Interview - behaviourals, technicals, standard stuff
3. Case study / modeling test (remote) - Put together a model / presentation and present over the phone
4. Fly down for final rounds (meet the team, senior bankers etc.)
5. Offer

As per the previous section, number 1 here can be tricky. It's hard to be in the flow as many jobs aren't even posted. If you have friends in the US or alumni who are in this market you should absolutely reach out for help here.

3 and 4 can be tricky also. 3 because if you are working in IBD, you have to find some non-awkward time to build the model (I had to build my between mid-night and 4 am because I couldn't flake at work). 4 because you have to find some excuse to be physically absent for a day to travel to your interview.

There are many other things to consider if you want to come to the US, but I'm going to leave it as this for now as a starting point for people to start doing their own homework or reach out with specific questions.

Happy to answer questions.

Comments (19)

Double Doubler, what's your opinion? Comment below:

+1, great post. I'm very interested in your post as I'm working in PE Infra for a major Canadian pension fund and am considering transitioning to the US to work for an infra fund manager down there in a few years (there's a ton of deal flow right now as we meet our allocation targets and I want the experience long term).

What were your major reasons for wanting to work in the US? Has your experience left you satisfied with your decision?

Double Doubler
  • 2
TorontoMonkey1328, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Short answers: Larger market. And VERY happy.

I will say that the junior banker experience in Canada is actually pretty comparable to the US. The hours are tough and you do learn a lot. However, deal flow in the US is stronger, deal size is substantially higher.

I could see myself as a career banker (fingers crossed) and realized that picking up coverage responsibilities at a Canadian bank can sometimes be difficult. There is a smaller and fairly well defined coverage universe and an aspiring MD can find it hard to find enough new clients to build their fee base. There are a lot of house banks / established relationships for the limited number of fee paying clients.

I wanted a early start for establishing relationships as a junior banker through execution so that it would be easier to build on those relationships when I got closer to "officer level". Wanted to start thinking long-term about banking while it was still early stage / relatively low-risk (no revenue responsibility).

TorontoMonkey1328, what's your opinion? Comment below:

If you want to go to the US, I'd say go direct. As a note, the only Canadian schools I've seen with presence in the US are Richard Ivey (UWO), Queens and McGill for Undergrad. For MBA, I'd say Ivey is probably the best for US placement.

However, I'd say that best bet is still a US school if you want to work here.

Monkey95, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Really? Do you mind expanding a bit? From what I've seen at the undergrad level, Canadian students generally have a more complete understanding of finance than many U.S. students.

mrb87, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Really? Do you mind expanding a bit? From what I've seen at the undergrad level, Canadian students generally have a more complete understanding of finance than many U.S. students.

That's the problem, it's all theoretical/technical knowledge. They just regurgitate formulas without any real conceptual understanding. Great if you're an IBD analyst but few of these kids seem to have an original thought in their heads, or any idea of how to actually analyze a company as an investment. Just my 2c but I've interviewed probably dozens of kids from Canada.

And I don't say this merely to be critical but to highlight that if you are coming from Canada make sure you're not a mindless finance robot but can actually think intelligently about investments, articulate a thesis, understand drivers of valuation, etc...

GeorgeZ, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Hi TorontoMonkey1328, I am a Canadian student who is highly appreciative of your post and just PMed you. Not sure if you check inbox at all? Thanks for your genuine care for students. Have a nice day!

Attack_Chihuahua, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Great post OP. If you are who I think you are, I think we may have talked last semester over the phone.

  • 1
TorontoMonkey1328, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Ha. Wouldn't surprise me. This profile is pretty unique and like I said before, I do try to make an effort with everyone who networks with me. http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/why-i-enjoy-networking-with-candidates

If you do actually know me, please don't out me. I generally stand by everything I post, but would still rather stay as anonymous as possible.

Grindhouse, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Hey thanks for posting this. I was thinking about heading stateside to go for IBD but I wasn't clear about the TN Visa...so do you need an offer letter in hand from the company when you arrive to show the border guard?


Thunderfin, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Hey, not sure if you're still checking WSO but was interested in this thread, as I'm a Canadian currently applying to college. I'd definitely like to try working in NY IB in the future. My two options are Ivey HBA and Amherst College (top LAC in the States)... both are semi targets from what I've heard, Amherst's alumni base may be smaller but it's supposedly very tight. If my goal is working in the States, would you suggest I apply to Amherst or Ivey (Amherst will be more $, though). Thank you!

  • 1
Best Response
TorontoMonkey1328, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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