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Moving to Canada

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    Canada is a place of magnificent beauty with a diverse array of cultures and geographical wonders. It is a huge country that spans six time zones (and almost 10 million square km!) and has nearly 40 million residents, from various religious backgrounds and speaking different languages. Despite the vast area the country covers, much of the population lives within 100 miles of the US border. If you’re planning on moving to Canada, you’ll want to learn as much as you can about living and working there. You’re in luck, because our guide contains everything you need to know. So whether you’re moving to Canada from the UK or anywhere else in the world, read on. 

    Learning the language

    The predominant two languages in Canada are English and French, and it is strongly recommended to learn them both – for ease of working and living there. There are different ways you can go about learning Canada’s languages. The Languages Canada programmes are a great option, and many schools can support learning the languages if you are bringing children with you to Canada.

    Canadian flag displayed against the Rocky Mountains

    Time Zone

    Canada is well known for being an extensive country. It spans across six different time zones, including Newfoundland Standard, Atlantic Standard, Eastern Standard, Central Standard, Mountain Standard and Pacific Standard. Wondering what the time zone will be where you are moving to? Find out here.

    Passports, visas & permits

    When moving to Canada, it is crucial to make sure that you are being compliant with its unique laws and requirements. A current passport is needed and has to be valid for the whole duration of your stay. A visa will also be required, including a work permit and often, authorisation to import your car or home belongings if you wish to do so. If in any doubt, your employer should provide you with assistance. You can read more about the visa, travel authorisation and Immigration services specific to Canada’s requirements.

    Woman’s hand holding two Canadian passports and airline tickets

    Customs Requirements

    Transferring your goods to Canada is relatively easy – although there will be a variety of charges and formalities to deal with. Make sure to avoid bringing prohibited items such as handguns and pay close attention to restrictions on plants, meat, seeds and syringes import. If you arrive with over $10,000 in cash, also be prepared to have to declare it to the authorities. For further questions, you can contact CBSA – Canada Border Services Agency. 

    Taking my pet

    Many of us have four-legged family members who can often bring a lot of anxiety when relocating abroad. To put you at ease, Canada offers a lot of services to support pet owners. You should, however, keep in mind that the climate in Canada is very different – with winters often getting very cold. Make sure that your pet can deal with extreme cold weather – especially if you currently live in a hot climate. Once you have agreed on bringing your pet with you, make sure that cats and dogs have a Health Certificate issued a week before travel. They should also have an original certificate of rabies vaccinations and wear identification and rabies vaccination tags. For any other information on bringing your pets to Canada, contact CFIA.

    Taking a vehicle

    As previously mentioned, Canada is huge and because of that, having a car is crucial. Given its extreme climates and cold winters, you are best off with a four-wheel-drive car, or at the very least, a car with excellent snow tires. If you already have one of these at home, you might be tempted to bring it with you. Make sure to check with your employer first and if you manage to get a green light, you will need to know the following:

    • The vehicle has to meet Canadian safety requirements and emission standards
    • The vehicle has to be at least one year old – Canada prohibits current-year car imports

    Currency

    The Canadian dollar is the national currency of Canada. Cents (¢) include a nickel (5¢), dime (10¢), quarter (25¢), half a dollar (50¢), dollar (C¢1) and two dollars (C¢2).

    Canadian money can be purchased at Canadian banks, airports, hotels and travel agencies, or you can opt to take advantage of our International Money Transfers.

    Medical Services

    For medical services, you will need to get a Social Insurance Number upon entry. Be prepared to show the immigration officer your employment authorisation and order of employment forms. After that, you should receive forms requesting proof of identity which once filled in, will allow you to obtain SIN. For more information visit Service Canada Centre.

    Finding a home

    Like everywhere else, real estate agents are there to help you find a rental or help to purchase a property. Unsure what option to go for? Read more about mortgages and rentals in Canada to make an informed decision. 

    Are you only staying in Canada for a short period of time? Short term rental is your ideal option and is offered in many Canadian cities, suburbs and even rural areas, available for durations between one day and over a year. You’ll often be able to find short term rentals that are either furnished or un-furnished so that the accommodation can meet your specific needs.

    Snowy cabin on a lake scene against a backdrop of Candian mountains

    Housing areas

    Not sure what area in Canada is the one for you? We are here to help with some overall information you might find useful:

    • Calgary – furnished property is difficult to find and the costs are relatively high
    • Edmonton – high availability of both rental and mortgage properties, though costs in the area are beginning to rise.
    • Halifax – this and surrounding cities Dartmouth, Bedford and Sackville are popular with expatriates. There is a ferry service between the towns and a wide diversity of new builds and older homes.
    • Montreal – affordable accommodation, with a particular focus on new-build complexes. 
    • Ottawa – great area for rental properties, with various property types at a lower price.
    • Toronto – Canada’s most expensive city, high accommodation costs and difficulty to find a furnished property.
    • Vancouver – East Vancouver has a good variety of houses however commuting can be difficult. West End mainly has one to two-bedroom apartments with limited space. These often prohibit children and pets.

    Getting around

    Do I need a vehicle?

    Due to the size of Canada, owning a car or a different mode of transport is crucial. You can opt for public transport but it is very limited in the far north and can be inconvenient in many major cities.

    Driving conditions

    Canada is one of the safest countries in the world for road safety, with the lowest fatality rates in North America. Due to the extreme weather, it is key for expats to familiarise themselves with winter driving conditions – including the potential of whiteouts and black ice. Moreover, distances on roads are mainly displayed in kilometres – something to familiarise yourself with if you hail from a country that makes more regular use of miles. 

    Driver’s license

    Did you know that it is illegal to drive in Canada without a driving license? You are also expected to carry your vehicle registration, permit and insurance certificate at all times. Depending on the area where you are staying, your national country license will only be valid for anywhere between 30 days and 6 months. Therefore, you should obtain a local license within the given timeframe of your destination. Make sure to schedule your test early in advance as the testing centres tend to be booked out.

    Vehicle insurance

    Upon entry to Canada, your vehicle has to be insured. Depending on your home country, insurance may or may not be valid therefore, make sure to check with your provider before leaving.

    Mass transit

    Would you prefer to travel via public transport? Most of Canada, apart from the far north, has a good choice of transportation options, including buses, domestic airlines, ferries and trains. Ferries tend to be jam-packed during the summer months so try to avoid them if possible. If travelling across the country, opt for a domestic flight or get a sleeper train as a cheaper alternative.

    Vehicles driving on open Canadian roads with mountains in the background

    Social Environment

    The expatriate community

    There are a wide variety of expatriate communities in Canada. Sign up for a local civic organisation, place of worship, a club or get involved with school projects to meet fellow expatriates. Alternatively, join the Newcomers Association, which has now spread to most areas of Canada.

    Social life

    There is a lot to do and see in Canada – including community leisure activities, camping and hiking in 38 national parks or sightseeing at 131 natural historic sites. Depending on your location, we highly recommend Gatineau Park in Montreal, Ontario Science Centre in Toronto and Glenbow Museum in Calgary. 

    Canada’s National Sport

    Sports are a very big part of life in Canada, and there’s no shortage of different sports to enjoy. Canada’s national sports are split into summer and winter seasons. Ice Hockey is the Canadian winter national sport – with Canada being crowned the gold medalist. Lacrosse is the summer national sport, with evidence suggesting that Canadians first played it over 500 years ago. 

    Religious worship

    Given the diversity of Canada, there are plenty of places of worship in all major towns. Whether you are Muslim, Christian, Catholic, Jewish or have any other faith, there will be a place of worship available, or at the very least – a like-minded group you can meet up with.

    People holding Canadian maple leaves in various colours

    Social customs

    Greetings vary in different areas of Canada – anywhere from “Hello” to “Bonjour” or even “Salut”. When meeting someone new, it is expected to greet them by their title and last name, until the most senior person of the group greets them by their first name.

    Alcohol and drinking

    It is rare to indulge in alcohol during a meeting or business lunch. Follow your host to make sure that you are being respectful. Also, keep in mind that the legal drinking age is 19 in Canada, with exception of Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec where it is 18. Overall, consuming alcohol responsibly is a friendly and social part of life in Canada. 

    Tipping

    When dining out in Canada, tips are generally not factored into the final bill, however, it is expected for you to pay around 15% of the total bill in tips. Tips are an important part of the income for service workers in Canada, and in some areas, waitstaff has a separate minimum wage which is actually lower than the regular minimum wage. This means that if you don’t tip, servers and other hospitality workers aren’t earning as much as they should be. 

    Gestures and body language

    Depending on where you are in Canada, people might be more or less expressive. Those from Quebec tend to gesticulate more. Moreover, direct eye contact is key to convey sincerity and is expected.

    Avoid pointing at someone with an index finger or using the “thumbs down” gesture – as both of these are considered offensive.

    Etiquette 

    In Canada, you are expected to treat the elderly and women with respect. This might include offering a seat on public transport and addressing the elderly in their title and last name only. Also, make sure to give Canadians personal space and avoid physical contact when chatting. If you are bilingual, it is considered rude to speak another language around those who do not understand it, so try to stick with English or French instead.

    Best of luck in your Canadian adventures! Need help with moving your family to Canada? Read our blog, 5 Valuable Tips to Help Families Prepare for an International Relocation.

    Interested in information on another country? Take a look at our other International Relocation guides.

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