Analysis of return and onwards migration flows has typically relied upon lifetime migration definitions. Both Canada and Australia have collected data on usual place of residence both one and five years prior to the census, which provide a richer source of information on return and onwards moves. Utilizing data drawn from complementary sources, this article examines the incidence, composition and spatial patterning of return and onwards migration at the state and provincial level in Canada and Australia over the period of 1986–1990–1991. Results indicate a high degree of symmetry in these processes between the two countries. While many of the findings are consistent with those derived from analysis of lifetime data, we find that one quarter to one third of return moves were to the original (1986) dwelling, indicating a planned return rather than the failed migration as previous literature has often assumed.