We speak to Russell Ward, an expat blogger who moved to Canada in 2003. Russell shares his tips with regards to arriving in Canada for the first time.
Canada is the world’s second largest country – a vast expanse of mountains, plains, forests, lakes and tundra. It also has one of the highest per capita immigration rates in the world so you’ll feel right at home as a new arrival in the great white north, much as I was when I emigrated to Canada in 2003 and lived in this beautiful country for three incredible years.
There are many things that make Canada a desirable place to live. It has a unique Anglo-French culture and offers an impressive variety of things to see and explore – from modern cosmopolitan cities, including Vancouver and Toronto, to world-class ski resorts and unique outdoor experiences such as watching the northern lights in the Yukon or sighting whales off the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Here are my top ten tips for when you first arrive in Canada.
1. Choose your location wisely
We originally chose Calgary as our city of choice but soon changed to Vancouver after a revealing fact-finding visit in the year before our emigration. Canada’s regions are quite different from each other and the climate can vary from province to province – we discovered that we wanted less snow in winter and to be closer to the ocean all year round.
2. Set up your SIN
All newcomers who want to work in Canada must first apply for a Social Insurance Number or SIN. It acts as a unique identifier, there’s no fee to apply for it and you’ll need this number for most things – to open a bank account, file a tax return, undertake a credit check, receive government allowances and so on.
3. Register for high quality healthcare
To receive free public healthcare services, you first need to have a provincial health insurance plan card otherwise known as a Health Card and this should be arranged as soon as you land. When we arrived in Canada, the application forms were available in most doctor’s surgeries and pharmacies.
4. Shake hands with your bank manager
Initially you might choose to leave your UK bank accounts open and access them when you need cash. You’ll still want to visit your local bank fairly quickly to set up an account. I chose to meet with the manager at my local TD Canada Trust branch and explain that I was an expat in need of establishing myself in my new home.
5. Learn the local lingo
If you’ve opted to live in a French-speaking part of the country, then you’ll need at least a basic knowledge of the language to ensure you fully integrate into Canadian life. It’s not essential to know French if you live in the larger cities, particularly outside of Quebec, but it will help you get the most out of your new life so register at a language centre as soon as you can.
6. Establish creditworthiness
Unless you have oodles of cash in the bank, you’ll generally want to establish a credit history as soon as possible. I used my UK credit card at first but, as soon as I could, I applied for a Canadian credit card. This allowed me to purchase goods and services without worrying if I had enough loonies or toonies in my back pocket.
7. Find a place to rest your weary head
As with all big moves, you’ll want to find a safe, secure neighbourhood with good transport links and a range of decent schools. In those first few months, you’ll probably rent – sign a lease, pay a bond and the first month’s rent. When it comes to buying a house or apartment, use websites such as www.mls.ca that are vital for searching for properties in areas you like. Watch out for the cost of utilities (e.g. gas and electric), which can be extremely high given the hot summers and frigid winters.
8. Buy some wheels
Like every Western country – in fact, most countries – cars are popular with the locals in Canada. While public transport in most of the larger cities is adequate for travel, it’s better to purchase a reliable set of wheels to give you access to the recreational areas and tourist attractions further afield. In the more rural locations, cars are an absolute necessity, especially those equipped with snow tires and chains.
9. Meet the locals
Canada and the UK are two quite different places and I was surprised at how homesick I felt after a few months abroad. I found it useful to no longer make comparisons to my former life and start to put myself out there meeting new neighbours and colleagues who were more than happy to help me settle in.
10. Prepare for a dose of culture shock
Culturally, Canadian life is firmly North American and the country’s English roots are steadily eroding. You’ll therefore probably experience culture shock early on. Things are simply going to be different and you should prepare for the highs and lows of that initial period of time. Visit some of the expat blogs and forums where you’ll find people in similar situations sharing advice, tips and their own experiences in dealing with new cultures and surroundings.
Russell Ward is a British expat living on Sydney’s Northern Beaches where he writes about his search for a life less ordinary at www.insearchofalifelessordinary.com, one of Australia’s leading expat and travel blogs. He also writes for businesses and brands at www.theinternationalwriter.com and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram as @russellvjward.