The Difference Between a Canadian Citizen and a Permanent Resident

Understanding Canadian citizenship and Permanent Residency isn’t always easy. There is a difference between a Canadian citizen and a Permanent Resident (Landed Immigrant) and understanding their differences helps you to understand your rights and privileges under Canadian laws.

The simple way to describe the two differences is that you first need to become a Permanent Resident of Canada, and after a few years, you may be able to apply for Canadian citizenship if you meet all the criteria requirements.

Permanent Residence

Permanent Residence (PR) is the process of becoming a resident of Canada. Initially, many individuals come to Canada on a temporary status, either as a student or worker, and subsequently apply for permanent residence. Some applicants are even able to apply for permanent residence from abroad.

Permanent residency in Canada applies to those who are not Canadian citizens but have been granted permission to live and work in Canada without any limit on their stay. A permanent resident is required to live in Canada for two years out of every five-year period or risk losing their status. 

The main important point of becoming a permanent resident is that an individual needs to make an application and is required to demonstrate that they meet the criteria of becoming a permanent resident.

On the other hand, many people obtain their permanent residence status by being sponsored by a relative, spouse, parent, including an adult child. This process can be done through the Family Class or Inland Spousal categories, and it requires the sponsor to prove the appropriate family relationship, and the applicant is also required to meet all the requirements of that category. 

The economic immigration programs are for individual applicants and their accompanying family members but it requires that the principal applicant meets the required criteria of a specific program such as the Skilled Worker, Canadian Experience Class, Federal Skilled Trades Programs, Express Entry, Self Employed categories, or a Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). Once an application is processed and completed the federal government will issue the individual and their respective family members with a Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR). COPR is a document that is presented either at a port of entry or at an immigration office in Canada for one to actually become a PR. When this process is complete, a few months later the individual will then be issued with a Permanent Resident card otherwise known as a Maple Leaf Card

The permanent residence status helps to distinguish the difference between the different classifications within the country. This includes non-permanent residents such as students, and family members as well as those who are citizens of Canada by birth.

As a permanent resident, an individual has the right to access most social benefits such as health care, protection under Canadian law, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. An individual is required to renew their PR card every five years. 

Main differences

The main differences are that permanent residents cannot:

  • Vote in federal elections
  • Run for federal office
  • Hold Canadian passports
  • Hold some jobs that need a high-level security clearance


A Canadian citizen is an individual who was born within the county’s borders or a person who has received citizenship through neutralization. For an individual to become a neutralized citizen permanent resident who meets the criteria must first make an application to Citizenship and Immigration Canada to receive their certificate of citizenship.

The Residency requirement for Canadian citizenship can be more complex. In simple terms, for citizenship eligibility, a permanent resident is required to physically reside in Canada for four years within a six-year period. However, the Canadian government will introduce legislation that will make it easier for people to gain Canadian citizenship. The government has also proposed to reduce the residency requirement to three full years of physical presence in Canada within a five-year period. It is expected that this legislation will be passed into law in the summer of 2017 or fall of 2018.

A person can be a citizen of Canada if they were born to Canadian parents outside the country, this, however, doesn’t apply to all cases. Individuals born outside of the country after April 17, 2009, can receive citizenship with one Canadian parent if they are the first generation born outside Canada. In April 2009 the Canadian Citizenship Act was amended to allow only the first generation of children born to Canadian citizens outside Canada to be given Canadian citizenship status.

In addition to that, if a parent was not born in Canada, but became a neutralized citizen before the child’s birth, citizenship will be granted to the child born outside Canada.

There are also cases where citizenship can be granted automatically. For example, adoptions involving a Canadian parent will provide citizenship to the child.

Knowing the difference between a Permanent Resident and a Canadian citizen can help you understand your rights in Canadian society.

To learn more about the various visa options available for Canadian Immigration, click here