Section A – Living in Canada
- Step 1: Learn about your city or region
- Step 2: Learn about your province or territory
- Step 3: Need help when you get here? find immigrant-serving organizations
- Step 4: Finding a place to live
- Step 5: Finding a School
- Step 6: Important Documents
- Step 7: Driver’s licence
- Step 8: Money and Finances
- Step 9: Government benefits
The more you learn about Canada, the faster you will be able to adapt to the Canadian work environment. Taking the time to ask questions, to read and research, to watch videos on the Web or elsewhere can all greatly help your transition from new immigrant to an established and comfortable member of Canadian society. This section is designed to help you learn more about life in Canada, and to guide you in taking a few essential steps as an immigrant.
You can find detailed information about most aspects of living in Canada in Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Welcome to Canada guide.Learn more about immigrating to Canada.
Step 1: Learn about your city or region
Learn more about the city or region you want to live in by:
- Reading through the official website of that city or region. Some cities even have websites specifically for newcomers.
If you are in Canada, you may also:
- Find a good map on the Internet or in a shop and use it to explore.
- Find immigrant services in your area.
- Visit a local public library to see what type of information and services they offer.
- Find out what types of activities and programs are available through a local community centre or join a recreational sports league so that you can start meeting others who share your interests.
Public Transportation in Canada
The official website of most cities contains information on public transportation. Those sites are a good source of information on how to get from one place to another in your new city or town.
Once you’ve done this, make notes about factors that are important to you. For example:
- public transportation
- community services and organizations
- types of schools for children (public, private, English, French or French immersion)
- health care
Step 2: Learn about your Province or Territory
Canada is divided into 13 political regions called provinces or territories. There are 10 provinces and three territories. Learn about the province or territory where you want to live and work in Canada by visiting these provincial and territorial government websites:
- British Columbia
- New Brunswick
- Nova Scotia
- Prince Edward Island
- Newfoundland and Labrador
- Northwest Territories
Make notes about factors that are important to you. For example:
- local economy
Step 3: Need help when you get here? Find immigrant-serving organizations
Settling in will be much easier if you contact an immigrant-serving organization as soon as you arrive. The people who work for these organizations can help you find a place to live and can answer your questions about education for your children, transportation, language training, shopping and other important matters.
Immigrant-serving organizations can help you:
- find a place to live;
- get your Social Insurance Number and health-care card;
- enrol your children in school;
- get language training;
- find a family doctor;
- find out about government and community services for newcomers;
- look for a job;
- develop a realistic budget; and
- get emergency food aid, if it is needed.
Find immigrant services in your area. The names and contact information of more immigrant-serving organizations can also be found through an Internet search for “Canadian immigrant-serving organizations.”
You can find detailed information about most aspects of living in Canada in Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Welcome to Canada guide.
Note: In Quebec, the Ministère de l’Immigration et des Communautés culturelles (only available in French) is organized into different regions. Each region has a local office, called a Carrefour d’intégration, that works with the immigrant-serving organizations to help newcomers adapt to life in Quebec.
List the questions you will ask an immigrant-serving organization about how to adapt to working and living in Canada. For example:
- What government benefits am I entitled to?
- How do I get help with my career plan and finding a job?
- Who do I contact about getting my credentials assessed?
- How do I heat my home? How much does it cost?
- What are the seasons like? What type of clothing will I need?
- What type of taxes do I have to pay in Canada?
Step 4: Finding a place to live
Make sure you arrange for a place to stay before you leave for Canada. If you do not have family or friends you can stay with, search online for hotels, motels or hostels in the city where you will be living. You can often get cheaper rates if you book several weeks before you leave.
General Housing and Budget Information
For information about housing in Canada, visit Housing for Newcomers. This website describes the types of housing available in Canada and contains information about all aspects of renting or buying your first home here.
Look at your financial situation to see what type of housing you can afford in Canada.
- Compare the cost of housing with your expected wages.
- Think about whether you will buy a house, rent a house or an apartment, or stay with friends or relatives.
- Then, make an action plan for finding your new home. If you need help, call or visit a local immigrant-serving organization.
Every province and territory in Canada has rental laws that define the rights and obligations of both landlords and tenants. They also have laws on various aspects of buying and selling a home. Read about these laws so that you understand what is expected of you and what you can expect of others when you are renting or buying a home.
Finding a Place to Live
Once you come to Canada, you can identify the neighbourhood you think you would like to live in and can afford to live in by:
- searching the Internet for housing;
- visiting in person the houses and apartments you have seen advertised;
- comparing your family’s needs to the amenities available in a neighbourhood: the location of schools, shopping, buses, recreational and community services, safety;
- asking an immigrant-serving organization for information about housing in your community; and
- searching the Canadian Real Estate Association’s database of property information from realtors across Canada.
Step 5: Finding a school
Canada’s Education System
In Canada, each provincial and territorial government manages its own system of education. Some provinces have separate ministries or departments of education, one for elementary and secondary education and another for post-secondary education.
For information on anything related to education, visit the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada.
Elementary and Secondary Education
All children and youth in Canada have access to free elementary and secondary education at public schools (although they may have to meet age and residency requirements). In many areas, there are also private elementary and secondary schools that charge tuition fees. Most students in Canada attend public schools.
Elementary education (grades 1 to 6-8) and secondary education (grades 6-8 to grade 12) are the two basic levels of schooling for children and youth in Canada. Students who successfully complete secondary school receive a high school diploma.
By law, children must attend school starting at the age of 5 or 6 until they reach an age between 16 and 18, depending on the province or territory.
Because Canada is a bilingual country, English-language and French-language schools are often both available throughout the country, even in areas where one language is more commonly spoken than the other.
The school year usually begins at the end of August or beginning of September and finishes toward the end of June. Children attend school from Monday to Friday during the school year (except during holidays).
Enrolling Your Child in Elementary or Secondary School
Provincial and territorial governments give school boards (sometimes called school districts, school divisions or district education councils) responsibility for managing schools in a particular area.
If you are enrolling your children in a Canadian school for the first time, the school or school board will assess them to determine the level they should be placed at and whether they need free additional support (such as English or French language classes).
To enrol your child in elementary or secondary school, contact your local school board. To find contact information for your school board, visit the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. In the map on the main page, click on the province or territory where you live and then visit the website of the ministry or department of education for that province or territory.
In Canada, there are different types of post-secondary institutions that offer a variety of programs of study. Some institutions are officially recognized and are partly funded by the government to ensure that certain standards are met. Other institutions are not officially recognized. Listings of post-secondary institutions are available from the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC).
Although many post-secondary institutions receive some financial support from the government, all students must still pay tuition fees for post-secondary studies. Tuition fees vary depending on the institution and program, but they are usually between $2,500 and $8,000 a year. Find information on the cost of post-secondary education and financial assistance programs.
At most post-secondary institutions, there are two main terms of study every year: September to December and January to April, with a short break between the two terms. From May to August, many students take a break from studying to work. However, most institutions still offer courses during the summer for those who want to continue their studies during this period.
Types of post-secondary institutions in Canada
Universities offer programs of study that lead to different types of degrees—bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees—in many disciplines.
Colleges offer programs of study that lead to diplomas and certificates that qualify graduates to work in specific professions and trades. An increasing number of colleges also offer degree programs.
Enrolling in a Post-Secondary Education Program
To learn about the programs of study available at post-secondary institutions, you can visit the websites of universities and colleges directly or search the program databases at the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials.
To apply for entry into a program of study, consult the website of the institution you are interested in attending to find out about the application process. Most institutions have firm application deadlines, so you may have to apply as long as six months before the program begins.
Step 6: Important documents
If you are a new permanent resident of Canada, apply for the following essential documents soon after you arrive:
- Social Insurance Number card
- Permanent Resident Card
- Health card
Social Insurance Number (SIN) card
A Social Insurance Number (SIN) card is a card with a nine-digit number on it that you need in order to work in Canada, to apply for government programs and benefits, and to file an income tax return.
Your SIN is confidential and can only be requested by certain federal government departments and programs that are specifically authorized to do so.
Protecting your Social Insurance Number
Your SIN is confidential. You only need to give it to certain organizations in certain situations. Find out more about how to protect your SIN and who can ask for it.
Permanent Resident Card
The Permanent Resident Card is the official proof of your status as a permanent resident in Canada. If you leave the country, you must show this card in order to be allowed back in.
You can use your Permanent Resident Card as an identification document in various circumstances, for example, to request other government documents (a health card or a Social Insurance Number), to access government services or to open a bank account.
If you are a new permanent resident, you will receive your card by mail at your home in Canada. You must inform Citizenship and Immigration Canada of your Canadian mailing address as soon as you know where you will be living.
Get more information on the Permanent Resident Card.
To get free health care in Canada you must have a health card issued by the government of the province or territory where you live. You must present your card each time you need medical services. Find more information and instructions on how to apply for a health card.
You should apply for a health card as soon as possible after you arrive in Canada. You should also purchase private health insurance to pay for your health-care needs until your application for a health card is accepted. Permanent residents in some provinces (British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick) must wait a certain period (up to three months) before they are covered under the government health insurance plan.
Canadian Health Care
In Canada, the government pays for many aspects of health care with money collected from taxes. This means that you do not pay for most services when you go to a doctor, clinic or hospital.
Each provincial and territorial government is responsible for its own health insurance plan. These plans have many similarities, but there are also some differences. Therefore, you should find out which medical services are covered for free in your province or territory.
Many people in Canada have a family doctor they go to for their basic health-care needs. People who do not have a family doctor generally go to “walk-in” medical clinics or community health centres to see a doctor for non-urgent medical attention. You can find listings for family doctors, medical clinics and community health centres in your area by searching the Internet. You can obtain referrals from a local immigrant-serving organization.
If you need emergency medical help, go immediately to the emergency department of the nearest hospital or telephone the national emergency number (911) for an ambulance. All emergency medical services offered in hospitals are free across Canada.
Find out more about Canada’s health-care system.
Supplementary Health Insurance
Many people in Canada have supplementary health insurance to pay for health-care that is not fully covered by their free government health insurance plan (such as prescription medications, dental care, physiotherapy and prescription eyeglasses).
If you work, you and your family may receive supplementary health insurance through your employer. You can also purchase supplementary insurance directly from private insurance companies.
Individuals and families with low incomes may be eligible for supplementary health insurance through programs offered by their provincial or territorial government. For details, visit the website of the ministry of health for the province or territory where you live.
Step 7: Driver’s licence
Provincial and territorial governments are responsible for issuing drivers’ licences. You can drive anywhere in Canada with a provincial or territorial licence.
If you have a valid driver’s licence from your country of origin, you will probably be able to use this licence to drive in Canada while you go through the process of obtaining a Canadian driver’s licence. If you plan to use a foreign driver’s licence in Canada, you should get an International Driving Permit (IDP) in your country of origin. An IDP provides a translation of your licence into several languages, including French and English. Find out more about the procedure and requirements for obtaining a driver’s licence.
Step 8: Money and finances
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) provides information on many aspects of banking in Canada, including:
- The different types of bank accounts available
- The documents you need to open a bank account
- Savings and investment options
- Credit cards, loans, mortgages and other forms of credit
- Financial planning
After you have learned the basics about banking in Canada, visit different banks to find out about the financial products and services they offer before you decide which bank is best for you. Choose a bank that meets your needs and open an account.
In Canada, whenever you take out a loan or use a credit card, a credit-reporting agency collects information on whether you make your payments on time and how long it takes you to pay back the money you borrowed. This information becomes your “credit history” and is used to give you a “credit score”.
Your credit history and credit score are important because banks and other financial institutions usually look at that information when deciding whether to give you a loan, credit or mortgage. Also, landlords can check your credit score before they decide whether they will rent to you.
Find information on how to build a good credit history in Canada.
As a resident of Canada, you must pay income tax to the government on money you earn throughout the year. In Canada, you have to pay tax to both the federal and the provincial or territorial government. If you are paid a salary by an employer, your income tax is usually deducted automatically from your pay. If you are self-employed, you may have to pay your taxes in a single payment or in several payments.
Each year, you must submit an Income Tax and Benefit Return to tell the government how much money you earned and how much tax you paid during the year. The deadline for completing the return is April 30 of each year. The information you give will determine whether you get a refund or whether you will have to pay additional taxes.
For information on submitting an Income Tax and Benefit Return, visit Canada Revenue Agency or call 1-800-959-8281.
In Canada, certain government programs can help you build savings by reducing the amount of income tax you pay. For more information, read about, for example, Tax-Free Savings Accounts and Registered Retirement Savings Plans.
If you own a home, you will receive a bill for property and school taxes from your municipal government.
Whenever you buy something in Canada, you have to pay sales taxes. The prices listed for products and services generally do not include sales taxes. Sales taxes are added when you actually pay for what you are buying.
The Office of Consumer Affairs provides online information from the federal government to help consumers make well-informed decisions about the products and services they purchase.
The Canadian Consumer Handbook contains reliable information on a number of consumer topics such as online shopping, contracts, housing and home renovations, identity theft and collection agencies.
Step 9: Government benefits
Find out about government benefits or allowances you may be entitled to by visiting the Canada Benefits website and the Canada Revenue Agency’s website or by contacting an immigrant-serving organization.
You might want to ﬁnd out about:
- Child and family benefits
- Tax credit for public transit passes
- Tax deduction for tools
- Registered education savings plan (RESP)