If you’ve never been, you could be forgiven for thinking that Canada is a bit like the USA but just with better healthcare and without the guns. But that sells it short – so short. It is a land of stunning scenery, some of the most unique and wildest wildlife on the planet and its home to some of the most truly modern, progressive, fun cities in the world. On top of that, Canadians boast extraordinary levels of politeness (although it would never occur to them to boast, of course) and these excellent manners include welcoming newcomers to Canada’s bosom with open arms. And not just people – this is the country that built the world’s first UFO landing welcome site in St. Paul, Alberta as part of the its centennial celebration in 1967.
And it could be easier to work here than you think…
- How to Retire to Canada
- How to Buy a home in Canada
- How to Find a job and work in Canada
- How to Start a business in Canada
- How to Buy a car in Canada
- How to Sell a home in Canada
Our top five reasons to move to Canada
- It’s huge (the only country bigger than Canada is Russia) and as they only have 36 million people, most of Canada is just scenery and nature
- It’s safe. Canada’s crime rates are famously low
- It’s very open and welcoming to new people. The Canadians have great manners anyway, but the government also spends millions of dollars helping new citizens to settle
- It’s a great base from which you can visit places in the USA without actually having to live there
- Its commitment to gender equality goes all the way to the top. When Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister he put together a cabinet with equal numbers of men and women. When asked why, he famously responded, “Because it’s 2015.”
Five places to consider in Canada
- Toronto (Ontario). Safe, clean, and with great public transport, Canada’s largest city grows by about 100,000 people every year. New citizens are so warmly received it even has an annual Newcomer Day to welcome them. Toronto is noted for its cultural diversity and they say 140 languages are spoken here
- Along with Toronto, Vancouver (British Columbia) and Waterloo (Ontario) vie for the title of Canada’s Silicon Valley
- Ottawa (Ontario). Canada’s capital city consistently tops the ‘best Canadian cities to live in’ lists. Plentiful government and tech jobs make it a city of low unemployment and higher than average incomes. And you’re only 20 minutes from skiing, hiking and other outdoor pursuits
- Regina (Saskatchewan). Low unemployment, high incomes, blah blah blah but this is where the Mounties are trained. Cities don’t get more Canadian than this. It also has a huge 2,300-acre park and enjoys 2,300 hours of sunshine every year
- Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures (Quebec) was for a brief while a suburb of Quebec City but became a city in its own right again in 2006. Situated on the Saint Lawrence river, it’s noted for its high quality of life over a broad range of measures ranging from green open spaces to low taxation to healthcare. Also, see below for Quebec’s maverick immigration opportunities
- Oak Bay (British Columbia) lies on the southern tip of Vancouver Island next to Victoria, the capital of BC. With beautiful, rugged shorelines and beaches, two marinas and a penchant for arts and crafts, Oak Bay might be a little twee (or pricey) for some. But don’t dismiss Victoria as ‘the home of the newly wed and nearly dead’. For one thing, it’s reckoned to be the best Canadian city for cycling
The moving to Canada checklist
How to work in Canada
If you have family in Canada who can sponsor you, start being nice to them because that’s perhaps the easiest way to get into Canada. If not, there are still quite a few options which could enable you to take a job there. Many skills are actually in demand and you could be fast-tracked. The Canadian immigration service has a handy online tool you can use to check your eligibility.
See our guide on how to find a job in Canada.
How to manage your money in Canada
When you enter Canada, the immigration authorities do like to satisfy themselves that you have sufficient funds to support yourself, so make sure you can persuade them that you have enough to keep you going. But also note that if you’ve got more than CAN $10,000 on you, Canadian customs regulations require you to declare it. If you don’t, you could be fined and see your funds confiscated.
Opening a Canadian bank account should be straightforward providing you have the right documentation – for example, your passport and a valid work permit or temporary residence permit. All five major banks – Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Scotiabank, Bank of Montreal and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce – offer accounts to newcomers and some, including Scotiabank, will let you set up your account online before you even step foot on Canadian soil.
Be sure to check out the account fees before signing up. Unlike most UK banks, Canadian banks charge monthly fees, although these are often waived if you maintain a minimum balance (often around CAN $3,500). Transaction fees may also apply. Getting cash out of your own bank’s ATM is free but could cost you CAN $1.50 per transaction at those of other banks.
Don’t forget, if you need to transfer money from the UK to Canada or vice versa, WorldFirst offers the easier, cheaper, and faster way to safely get your money where you need it.
Healthcare in Canada
Canada is famous for its publicly funded healthcare system. Health insurance covers most of the basics but can exclude things such as medication, dental care and physiotherapy. Only Canadian citizens and permanent residents can apply for public health insurance for Canada. This is done through the province or territory. In some provinces, new permanent residents get health insurance coverage straight away. In others, there’s a waiting period of up to three months. Most provinces don’t provide health care benefits to non-residents or temporary residents.
If you’re not entitled to a health insurance card, make sure you get private health insurance.
Transport in Canada
Canada’s cities generally have good transport infrastructure. The country also has an extensive rail network, although this is mainly used for freight. Due to the vast size of Canada, air travel is an important part of travelling across the country and all the major cities, as well as smaller and more remote settlements have air connections. Cars and air travel have taken over from the railways.
Cost of living in Canada
It’s difficult to generalise about the cost of living in Canada compared with the UK. The differences are often wiped out by exchange rate fluctuations. Petrol is much cheaper in Canada and car insurance much cheaper in the UK. Swings and roundabouts.
How to find a place to live in Canada
The process of renting an apartment in Canada is much the same as in the UK. Pretty much everything is listed online but it’s still worth keeping your eyes on the classifieds sections of local newspapers or even simply walking around a neighbourhood you fancy as landlords often post ‘to rent’ signs outside their properties.
You’ll probably need a letter from your employer showing your annual income and bank statements to prove you have enough money to cover rent for a few months. You may also be asked for references from previous landlords. Be up-front about being a newcomer as some landlords may shy away from the complexities of renting to you and it’s better for you both to find out sooner rather than later.
The government-run Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation should be your first-stop for information about buying and renting in Canada. Note that each province or territory has its own laws regarding property rental and the respective obligations of landlords and tenants, so check those out.
The Globe and Mail has a handy tool to show you which cities are affordable based on your income.
When it comes to actually buying your own place, check out our how to buy a house in Canada guide.
Eating in Canada
These are the foods you absolutely must try:
- Poutine: chips with cheese curd and gravy
- Bannock: a bread originally made by Canada’s indigenous peoples
- Saskatoon berry pie. Saskatoon berries look like blueberries but they are more closely related to the apple and have a sweet, nutty almond flavour
- Peameal bacon (aka cornmeal bacon) is made from fine-trimmed, lean, wet-cured pork loin rolled in cornmeal
- Real maple syrup. Don’t dismiss it because it’s a cliché. The province of Quebec produces three-quarters of the world’s supply of maple syrup. The good stuff is expensive: a few years ago, thieves stole 3,000 tons of maple syrup worth CAN $18.7 million from a storage facility in Quebec
Restaurant scenes vary widely depending on where you are, but multi-cultural cities like Toronto offer an incredible range of cuisines.
How to make friends in Canada
Canadians are open people so for most newcomers making friends isn’t much of a problem. The rules are the same as everywhere – seek out like-minded people through special interest groups, clubs, faith, sports, or whatever. If sports are your bag then now’s the time to brush up on your ice hockey and curling (winter) and hockey and lacrosse (the rest of the year). Just get out there. Or network with other ex-pat Brits to find out how they did it.
Party like it’s 1999 in Canada
Big place, as we said, so it very much depends on where you are but the big cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver obviously have a lot of night life going on. But you can also party in the most unexpected of places. The capital of Newfoundland, St John’s, claims that its famous George Street has more bars per square foot than anywhere else in the world.
There’s a festival for everything. From the annual Toronto Jazz Festival to the Calgary Stampede – a 10-day rodeo celebration and fair. Lumberjacks and other agricultural staples abound at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition (‘the Ex’) and for plant lovers there’s even a Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa.
How to live like a local in Canada
Two tips for you:
- Try not to look too appalled when you find that in some parts of Canada milk comes not in bottles or cartons as God intended, but in bags
- Stop scratching around in your purse for pennies, the Royal Canadian Mint stopped making them in 2013. Prices just get rounded to the nearest nickel (5 cents)