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Moving to Canada

Occupying a vast northern corner of the Earth, Canada is simply massive and replete with natural beauty, from glistening lakes and lush forests to soaring mountains and icy tundras. It is the second-largest country in the world and has the world's longest coastline spanning three oceans.

Whether heading to commercial hub Toronto, bustling Vancouver, or somewhere quieter, expats are in for an unforgettable experience.

Living in Canada as an expat

Influences from all over the globe can be seen across Canada. This progressive, diverse and well-developed country is, unsurprisingly, a highly sought-after expat destination that attracts immigrants from all over. Canada was built on immigrant labour, and it hasn’t turned its back on those from abroad. In fact, the country claims one of the highest per-capita immigration rates in the world.

The visa application process can often seem quite daunting, but there are plenty of resources to assist expats. With a relatively small population, a large portion of which are soon-retiring baby boomers, Canada needs to fill an assortment of jobs to ensure continued economic growth. Canada has an abundance of natural resources, including off-shore natural gas reserves and on-shore oil sands, and many positions are available in its energy sector, as well as in its major cities where financial services, real estate and communications industries are thriving.

Most expats find that their quality of life improves in Canada, with excellent infrastructure, great service delivery, a safe environment and friendly people, all set against a backdrop of rugged and spectacular scenery.

Cost of living in Canada

Expats should pay careful attention when they negotiate their salaries. While the cost of living in Canada is certainly reasonable compared to many of the Asian superpowers and European metros, tax rates are very high. Yet such deductions also give expats access to some of the country's fantastic public services, namely universal health insurance that grants near-comprehensive healthcare coverage and free education at public schools, many of which are reputable.

Climate in Canada

One factor that can be a drawback is the fierce Canadian winters. Expats moving to the coastal and southern regions of Canada won’t suffer as much, but those heading for Calgary, Edmonton or elsewhere in the interior provinces will need to prime themselves for severe cold. Snow can cover the ground for nearly six months of the year in these areas. That said, Canada’s buildings are well equipped to withstand freezing temperatures, and in some cases, cities have even created heated underground pathways between malls, offices and apartment buildings.

Expat families and children in Canada

Canada is a wonderful and safe country in which to raise a family. Public education is generally excellent in Canada and is free for permanent residents and work visa holders, and there are plenty of private and international schooling options, too.

When it comes to being out and about with the family, there are myriad summer and winter outdoor pursuits to keep the little ones engaged. Park and beach days, hikes and mountain biking are just a few of the many activities expats can look forward to.

There's much to consider with a move to Canada, and those planning on relocating will need to take the time to research their intended city, but overall, it is fair to expect a calm, peaceful and well-adjusted life in Canada.


Fast facts

Population: 38.7 million

Capital city: Ottawa

Neighbouring countries: Canada shares a border with the United States of America to the south, as well as the US state of Alaska to the northwest.

Geography: The land is a vast wilderness populated by large modern cities, often against the rustic backdrop of beautiful natural surroundings. It boasts vast mountain ranges and prairies, massive lakes, lush forests and rugged coastlines. 

Political system: Federal parliamentary constitutional democracy

Major religions: Christianity

Main languages: English and French

Money: The Canadian Dollar (CAD), divided into 100 cents.

Tipping: 5 to 20 percent depending on the type of service.

Time: There are six time zones in Canada, ranging from GMT-8 in the west to GMT-3.5 in the east, or GMT-7 and GMT-2.5 from November to March.

Electricity: 110V, 60Hz. Standard plugs are flat two-pins, or plugs with a third round grounding pin.

Internet domain: .ca

International dialling code: +1

Emergency contacts: 911

Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road. The rail system connects most major cities and smaller communities while buses are modern, safe and clean. Cycling is encouraged, while metered taxis are regulated.

Weather in Canada

Due to its large landmass, Canada’s weather is highly variable depending on the location. The country stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and extends across six time zones.

That said, most expats living in Canada will find themselves residing within a few hundred miles of the United States border and in a more temperate climate (except for those living in Calgary and Edmonton). Only a small percentage of the population chooses to withstand the harsh conditions in the northern territories, just south of the Arctic Circle.

Though the weather extremes in Canada are fairly fluid across different regions, the four distinct seasons are similar throughout the country. Winters tend to be long and cold, while expats can expect hot but short summers. Weather on Canada's west coast of British Columbia and its east coast of Newfoundland is milder, a direct result of the maritime influence, but these areas also experience more rainfall.

The interior of the country is generally flat and, for this reason, absorbs the cold currents and sweeping winds coming from the Canadian Arctic. The prairies in Canada also experience drastic weather changes from season to season. Some of the hottest and coldest temperatures in the country occur here.

 
 

Embassy Contacts for Canada


Canadian embassies

  • Canadian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 844 880 6519

  • Canadian High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7004 6000

  • Canadian High Commission, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6270 4000

  • Canadian High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 422 3000

  • Canadian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 234 4000

  • Canadian High Commission, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 473 9577


Foreign embassies in Canada

  • United States Embassy, Ottawa: +1 613 238 5335

  • British High Commission, Ottawa: +1 613 237 1530

  • Australian High Commission, Ottawa: +1 613 236 0841

  • South African High Commission, Ottawa: +1 613 744 0330

  • Irish Embassy, Ottawa: +1 613 233 6281

  • New Zealand High Commission, Ottawa: +1 613 238 5991

Public Holidays in Canada

 

2022

2023

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Good Friday

15 April 7 April

Canada Day

1 July

1 July

Labor Day

5 September

4 September

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

*The above are national public holidays. In Canada, additional public holidays are designated in each of the territories and provinces. Local authorities can provide more information.

*If a public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday becomes a holiday.

Pros and Cons of Moving to Canada

Canada remains a popular expat destination thanks to its thriving economy, strong public service, and safe, multicultural society. While there may be some drawbacks, the vast majority will agree that the advantages of living in Canada far outweigh the disadvantages.  

Below are some of the pros and cons that expats may experience living in Canada.


Culture in Canada

+ PRO: Multicultural society that is welcoming to immigrants

Canada has long been a welcoming country for expats wanting to forge a new life abroad. The government’s comparatively open immigration policy is widely publicised. Skills shortages in many industries continue to drive the need for foreign workers.  

Expats relocating to Canada can expect to find multicultural communities accustomed to interacting and integrating with those from abroad; a point that can make a big difference when settling in.


Working in Canada

+ PRO: A strong employment market

While many Western nations have suffered record unemployment rates and taken a firmer stance against immigration, Canada remains largely unaffected and continues to welcome new arrivals. Expats who have the right skills and experience may find the Canadian economic climate even more welcoming.


Climate in Canada

- CON: Harsh weather conditions

Because of the sprawling nature of Canada’s landscapes, the climate is incredibly varied. Despite the country's awe-inspiring natural beauty, some expats may be put off by the freezing winters. Depending on where they reside, expats may spend a few good months tramping through heavy snows, shovelling driveways and driving on dangerously icy roads. Nevertheless, Canadians don't let the weather stop them from enjoying an active outdoor lifestyle, and many sports from ice hockey to skiing are popular winter pursuits.


Healthcare in Canada

+ PRO: Excellent healthcare

Canada offers an affordable and high-quality universal healthcare system known as Medicare. All citizens and permanent residents are entitled to free health insurance. Each province offers different coverage options, with dentistry and optometry usually excluded, so most Canadians also have private health insurance to supplement these costs. Individuals are free to choose their own health-service provider, but wait times for certain procedures can be frustratingly long.


Cost of living in Canada

- CON: An expensive place to live

The high cost of living in Canada may come as an initial shock to new arrivals. Canadian cities regularly rank among the world's most expensive for expats. Vancouver and Toronto are the most expensive, with Calgary trailing not too far behind.  

Taxes in Canada are high, and expats may see a large percentage of their salary going towards provincial and federal taxes. Nevertheless, the reward for this is excellent public-service delivery, including world-class universal healthcare and free education.


Accommodation in Canada

+ PRO: Great standard of accommodation

Accommodation in Canada is in the form of apartments, condos and standalone houses, all of which are generally of high quality. The apartments in the country are usually larger than those found in European cities.

- CON: Housing is extremely expensive

Due to a disparity in the demand and supply for homes in Canada, the country has one of the most expensive property markets in the world. That said, homes in smaller cities and those outside of city centres tend to be more affordable.


Safety in Canada

+ PRO: Safety

Canada has a reputation as an incredibly safe destination, and expats won’t need to be overly concerned about their safety while living here. Crime rates are generally low, even in major cities. The Canadian police are professional and well-respected and carry out their duties timeously and efficiently.

Working in Canada

It’s little wonder that with a stable economy and healthy job market, Canada is attracting an increasing number of opportunity-seeking expats. 

A land built on the backs of immigrant labour, Canada has a well-documented history of welcoming working expats into the country. Those with commendable industry experience and a degree of specialisation will find that there is no shortage of job opportunities. 

Experts anticipate that the manpower associated with the local baby-boomer generation will be depleted in coming years, leaving Canada even more inclined to welcome highly skilled workers to help sustain its expanding, dynamic economy.  


Job market in Canada

Though Canada is often brushed off as a country that thrives only because of its abundant natural resources, including strong forestry, fishing, oil and gas sectors, in actuality these industries are not nearly as important as the big business that has come to rule the manufacturing and service industries.

More explicitly, in Canada’s urban centres, expats may be able to find positions in the financial services-, real-estate- and communications industries, all of which have been growing in recent years. 

All things considered, though, expats moving to Canada from the UK or the US should expect slightly lower wages, not to mention higher taxes. That said, it is important to note that Canada offers better healthcare and social benefits, while its cities have earned recognition as some of the best places to live in the world. So, a slightly lower income should not have a massive impact on a person’s quality of life.


Finding a job in Canada

Canada takes pride in its strong infrastructure and well-maintained support systems, so it comes as no surprise that there are multiple resources available to assist individuals in their job search.  

Before starting the search, it’s important to recognise that the job market in Canada may not only be vastly different from what an expat may be used to, but that different provinces in Canada may demand different skill sets. For example, in Quebec, it may be expected that job seekers have some French language knowledge. It may also be necessary to make sure foreign qualifications are recognised in Canada before applying for a position, so research is key.  

There's are a variety of internet job portals where expats can upload their resume and apply for jobs. Social networks, such as LinkedIn, and social media groups are also becoming increasingly valuable in the job search. 

Lastly, expats shouldn’t underestimate the value of networking, and of taking advantage of organisations for newcomers and trade associations in each province.


Work culture in Canada

Canada's work culture is generally quite casual but abides by strong values. Punctuality, respect and teamwork are key. Most Canadian companies have a top-down structure, meaning that decisions are largely made by those in executive positions rather than the company as a whole.

When meeting and greeting, it's important to make direct eye contact and to give a strong handshake. Dress codes vary by industry, with sectors such as finance leaning more towards formal attire while creative industries are more casual.

Doing Business in Canada

Expats doing business in Canada are likely to find that the customs and practices are influenced by a blend of American, British and French business cultures. These diverse influences result in a unique Canadian business culture with a number of nuances to speak of. 

Canada has a large and thriving free-market economy, and though there is more government intervention here than in the US, there is far less than in many European countries. Locals tend to be open minded and tolerant, and expat businesspeople can look forward to a welcoming working environment.


Fast facts

Business hours 

The workweek in Canada is Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, although longer hours are common.

Business language

English is generally spoken in business circles but it is very useful to speak some French, especially if doing business in largely French-speaking Quebec.

Appropriate greetings

A handshake is the usual greeting but business associates in Quebec may greet one another with a kiss on the cheek. Business etiquette in Canada dictates the use of the formal titles of ‘Mr’ and ‘Ms’ during introductions, but Canadian businesspeople usually switch to a first-name basis fairly quickly.

Dress

Presentation is important in Canada, and expats should ensure they appear neat and well groomed at all times. For corporate meetings, a suit and tie are appropriate.

Gifts

Gifts are not generally expected, but a small token upon the conclusion of a business deal is acceptable. Gifts are opened when received.

Gender equality

Women have the same rights as men and are increasingly occupying top-level positions.


Business culture in Canada

Canada is a massive country with an impressive multicultural make-up. Despite Canada's size and diversity, expats can count on a few consistencies in the country's business culture.

Punctuality

Canadians value punctuality, and it is rude to be more than a few minutes late. It is also not appropriate to arrive too early and disrupt another person's schedule. Meticulous timekeeping is therefore important.

Hierarchy

Canadian management style tends to be less formal than in Europe, with managers preferring to be seen as part of the team and less as aloof authority figures. Decisions ultimately rest with top executives, but input across all levels is highly valued.

Meetings

Canadian businesspeople often like to start business relationships in a reserved and professional manner. Meetings usually begin with a minimal amount of small talk, including an exchange of pleasantries. Meetings are generally well organised and schedules are strictly adhered to. Canadians appreciate politeness and expect others to adhere to the correct social protocols. It is common to exchange business cards, so it's good to carry a few to every business meeting. In Quebec, business cards should have one side in English and the other in French. 

When presenting information to business associates in Canada, it is important to be fully prepared with facts, figures and documents to substantiate claims and promises. Canadians tend to be rational and logical in business and won't be convinced by the overuse of emotion and passion.

Communication

As in the US, Canadians prefer a direct style of communication, though they tend to be more reserved and less open in terms of showing emotion. Confrontation is carefully avoided, and aggression is spurned, while saying what one means in a tactful and forthright manner is respected.


Dos and don’ts of business in Canada

  • Don't assume everything is the same as in the US

  • Do be prepared with facts and figures for presentation

  • Don't use aggressive sales tactics

  • Do learn some French if doing business in Quebec

  • Do avoid personal discussions at business meetings

Visas for Canada

Whether planning to carve their way down Canada’s ski slopes on holiday, or settle into one of its world-famous urban centres on a more permanent basis, it is essential for those wishing to enter Canada to research the different visas available. 

The visa application process may appear overwhelming due to the more than 60 categories available, but the good news is that the Canadian government provides a comprehensive and updated online resource that assists applicants with the process.


Visitor visas for Canada

Citizens of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and a number of European countries are afforded visa-free entry into Canada for a period of six months or less, as long as they have a valid passport. 

Expats from a designated list of countries available on Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration site will, however, need to apply for a visitor visa (also known as a temporary residence visa) to gain entry into Canada. 

All visitor visa applicants funding their own trip will be required to show proof of funds to cover their expenses during the visit.


Permanent residence visas for Canada

Those planning to immigrate to Canada will need to obtain permanent residency. It’s possible to apply for permanent residency through Canada’s federal programme, as well as through one of the country’s provincial programmes – in which case a particular province will need to nominate the applicant. 

The first step of the process is deciding which permanent residency category to apply for. There are different permits for those reuniting with their families, those who have recently graduated from a Canadian institution, and those who have the education, skills and experience that will benefit Canada’s economy.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats are advised to contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Work Permits for Canada

Expats intending to work in Canada legally will, in most cases, need a work permit. There are two types of work permits: open work permits and employer-specific work permits. Both types have their own requirements and privileges.


Types of work permits in Canada

Employer-specific Permits

This type of permit, as the name suggests, is only valid for a job from a particular employer. Should an expat wish to change employers, they would need to find a new job and restart the work-permit process.

To obtain an employer-specific permit, expats must first secure a job offer from a Canadian employer. Canadian employers must be able to prove that the job on offer cannot be filled by a Canadian citizen. The employer must show that they have advertised the position throughout Canada for a certain period and have been unable to find a qualified local candidate.

Open Work Permits

Open Work Permits are not tied to a particular employer and allow permit holders to change jobs or employers freely. This type of work permit is available to expats who fulfil any one of a number of requirements, including holding a temporary residence permit, being a permanent residency applicant, or being a spouse of a skilled worker.

Cost of Living in Canada

Overall, the cost of living in Canada is high, but in exchange, so is the quality of life.   

Mercer’s 2022 Cost of Living Survey, which measures the comparative cost of items in 227 cities worldwide, ranked Toronto as the world’s 89th most expensive city, with Vancouver not far behind at 108th. Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal are more affordable, ranking 141st, 132nd and 125th, respectively.  

While housing is expensive, expats earning a decent salary will find these cities to be otherwise affordable thanks to the fact that Canada provides subsidised health insurance and education. 


Cost of accommodation in Canada

Accommodation costs in Canada vary across different cities and regions. Rent in large cities like Vancouver and Toronto is the steepest, with prices increasing closer to the city centre.


Cost of transportation in Canada

Canada has a vast public transport system, but it does come at a price. That said, getting around in major Canadian cities is still less expensive than in other important world centres. 

Cars are relatively cheap to purchase, and most Canadians own a vehicle. Mandatory car insurance can be pricey, though.


Cost of education in Canada

Canada is well known for having an abundance of high-quality and affordable schools that attract many international students. Expats with young children will appreciate that Canada provides free public education to all citizens and permanent residents, from kindergarten to secondary school. 

Each region administers its own education system, so policies and requirements may differ in each province. Expats who don't have a permanent resident card or a work permit must apply for a study permit for their children, who would then be classified as international students and would have to pay tuition, which can be steep.


Cost of healthcare in Canada

All Canadian citizens and permanent residents are eligible for health insurance. The country’s healthcare system is made up of provincial and territorial health insurance plans that are funded through taxes and administered by the provinces and territories themselves. 

After applying for public health insurance, expats will have to wait until they become eligible to use it. These periods can be covered by temporary private health insurance. The official recommended period for which expats should purchase temporary coverage is three months. 

Those who would like access to services that aren't covered under their province or territory’s health insurance plan can buy private health insurance, which usually includes prescription drugs, dental costs, private hospital rooms, ambulance services and prescription glasses.


Cost of food in Canada

Food and drinks in Canada are generally cheaper than in Western European countries but slightly more expensive in comparison to the United States. Canadians eat a lot of beef and chicken, making pork and lamb a rarity and therefore pricier. It's easier to get other speciality meat such as bison, especially in larger cities. Fresh fruit and vegetables are available throughout the year at cheaper prices than in Western Europe.


Cost of living in Canada chart

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Toronto in July 2022.

Accommodation (monthly rent in a good area)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

CAD 1,560

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

CAD 1,302

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

CAD 2,556

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

CAD 2,204

Shopping

Milk (1 litre)

CAD 2.60

Loaf of white bread

CAD 3.06

Chicken breasts (1kg)

CAD 14.05

Rice (1kg)

CAD 4

Dozen eggs

CAD 3.84

Pack of cigarettes

CAD 16

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

CAD 12

Coca-Cola (330ml)

CAD 2.36

Cappuccino

CAD 4.53

Bottle of beer (local)

CAD 6.34

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

CAD 80

Utilities

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

CAD 0.34

Internet (average per month)

CAD 81.74

Basic utilities (per month for a small apartment)

CAD 174.14

Transportation

Taxi rate/km

CAD 2

City centre bus/train fare

CAD 3.25

Petrol (per litre)

CAD 2.03

Culture Shock in Canada

Canadian culture derives from an amalgamation of various immigrant cultures. Indeed, many newly-arrived expats may be surprised to find remnants of their own culture reflected in Canada’s various customs. While culture shock in Canada is not a problem most expats are likely to deal with, there are still a few things worth knowing.


Language barrier in Canada

Language barriers are unlikely to be an issue for expats, as the majority of the country is English-speaking, apart from Quebec whose population is mostly Francophone. Quebec is culturally and linguistically distinct from the rest of the country and expats moving to its capital, Montreal, will benefit significantly from learning French.


Cultural differences in Canada

The large cities, especially Toronto and Victoria, reflect a strong British heritage, while Montreal is proudly French and Vancouver hosts many Asian cultures. Where America prides itself on its integration of cultures, Canada encourages co-existence in an 'ice cream swirl' or, as it is commonly referred to, a cultural mosaic. Nearly a quarter of Canada's population originate from a different country. 

While various cultures are encouraged to maintain their traditions and flourish, the mainstream culture is very similar to that of the US – which will be familiar to most expats owing to America's far-reaching film and television industry.


Geographical distances in Canada

What may come as a surprise to expats is more geographical than cultural. The incredible size of Canada makes driving even just to the next town quite a journey. Driving across Canada, from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast, is almost equivalent to the distance between the UK and Pakistan.


Weather in Canada

One of the biggest challenges expats will encounter is the weather in Canada. Many newcomers, especially those from warmer climates, will have to get used to long and often harsh winters. The northern territories are at the receiving end of the most extreme levels, but provinces and cities closer to the United States border typically enjoy more temperate weather. That said, summer is usually lovely and warm, with both the west and east coasts basking in milder conditions.

Accommodation in Canada

The process of securing suitable, reasonably-priced accommodation in Canada can be a long and arduous task for expats. There is high demand and a general shortage of accommodation in Canada’s major metros, so new arrivals with little knowledge of Canada’s property market might benefit from using a real-estate agent. 

Most expats moving to Canada rent a home, at least initially, to get a feel for their new city before committing to purchasing a house.


Types of accommodation in Canada

Expats moving to Canada will find a range of property types available. The options vary somewhat between cities, but accommodation generally consists of apartments (usually located in city centres), townhouses (also known as rowhouses), and standalone houses (typically found in the suburbs). 

Canada is a modern, highly industrialised and economically stable country, and the standard of accommodation is generally high. Houses in Canada are generally more spacious than in Europe and will usually have some kind of heating system in place to deal with some of the weather extremes. 

Home security isn't an issue in Canada – it is well known for being a safe society, and as long as expats exercise common sense, they are unlikely to have a problem. 

Most rental homes in Canada come unfurnished, so expats will need to account for the cost of buying or leasing furniture.


Finding accommodation in Canada

We recommend that expats research their destination city well in advance and try to pinpoint potential neighbourhoods in line with their budget, lifestyle and needs. Trawling through online rental classifieds and real-estate websites will give prospective residents an idea of what is available. 

Once in Canada, it is a good idea to view a few properties, check out different areas and neighbourhoods, test the market and calibrate one's expectations accordingly. Social media groups are also a good jumping-off point. 

If expats have no luck on their own, real-estate agents are a good resource. Since many landlords don't want to bother with the hassle of finding tenants, estate agents often have a mandate over the best rental properties in a given city. Note that, as helpful as agents can be, they will expect a fee for their service. This can range from anywhere between 10 percent of the monthly rent to a whole month's rent.


Renting property in Canada

Lease agreements are very important in Canada and are usually strictly adhered to. Prospective tenants should be sure to read the contract carefully, as its conditions are legally binding once it's been signed. 

The agreement will cover the following considerations: 

  • duration of the lease (usually 12 months, often extendable) 

  • additional financial responsibilities of the tenant (water will normally be included in the rental charge, but tenants will have to pay for gas and electricity) 

  • deposit (often this will be one month’s rent, refundable in principle as long as the property is returned in the same condition)

Healthcare in Canada

Healthcare in Canada is decentralised, comprehensive and universal for all citizens and permanent residents. The universal public health insurance affords low-cost access to doctors and other health practitioners. Unfortunately, expats with temporary residency in Canada are not eligible for the same benefits.

This insurance system, known as Medicare, allows individuals to seek treatment at both private and public healthcare facilities; though the overwhelming majority of hospitals, clinics and practices in Canada are, in fact, private. The system does not dictate which doctor or service provider an individual must use.

Still, even if expats don’t qualify for Medicare and must take out a more expensive private health insurance plan, they can rest assured that they will receive high-quality treatment administered by well-trained professionals.


Public healthcare in Canada

The healthcare system in Canada is funded publicly by taxes, but doctors and hospitals run their own businesses privately – billing the government for services rendered.

Each province or territory defines the procedures and services covered by its particular health insurance plan. All core health services, such as acute hospital care and most physician services, are covered. This affords expats and locals alike a fair opportunity to receive high quality treatment. 

A downside to the system is the fact that waiting times can be long. Though emergencies are addressed immediately, some individuals report waiting weeks for a mere consultation and even up to six months for an important surgery.

There is also a shortage of general practitioners and many won’t take new patients. To make matters more frustrating, specialists require a referral from a general practitioner before they can provide treatment.

Still, despite these issues, it's commonly agreed that the benefits of the public healthcare system in Canada far outweigh the downsides.


Getting a health insurance card in Canada

Expats moving to Canada should make it a priority to apply for a medical card upon arrival. Application forms are available online. Identification in the form of a birth certificate or passport and confirmation of permanent residence is required to complete the process. 

Only once this documentation is processed can expats qualify to receive Medicare treatment of any kind. In most Canadian territories and provinces, each individual member of a family receives a unique personal identification number and accompanying card.

Insurance co-pays vary across provinces and territories in line with each location’s policies and wealth distribution, but are generally cheap across the board. Note that medical care services offered in one province or territory may differ in another, and we recommend acquiring private health insurance when travelling across Canada. It’s also advisable for expats waiting for their health insurance card (a three-month waiting period is standard) to take out private health insurance for that period.


Private health insurance in Canada

Private health insurance in Canada is used by locals and residents as a supplement to Medicare, and is used by temporary residents as the main source of cover.  

Various packages are available, and expats will need to conduct some research and carefully evaluate their priorities to see which plan and service provider is most suitable. 

Premiums tend to be on the expensive side, so if relocating to Canada with a job offer in place, expats should negotiate the inclusion of private insurance in their employment package.


Pharmacies in Canada

Pharmacies can easily be found in all major Canadian cities. They are located within drug, grocery and large department stores, while others are attached to hospitals and medical clinics. 

Expats will find that they can get most prescription medicines at a pharmacy in Canada. As some medication is expensive, it is best to keep the receipt in order to claim the cost from either Medicare or a private health insurer.


Emergency medical services in Canada

Emergency medical services in Canada are regulated by individual provinces and, by law, must be provided to anyone in need. 

In case of a medical emergency, an ambulance can be requested by dialling 911. Paramedics in Canada are highly trained and provide excellent care at the scene of an accident or emergency.

Education and Schools in Canada

New arrivals will be pleased to know the standard of education in Canada is high, and the assortment of schooling options is impressive. Given the broad range of choices, expat parents will want to get a head start by researching schools as far in advance as possible. A helpful resource in this regard is the Fraser Institute, which issues publicly-available annual report cards to schools based on academic and overall performance.  

Parents should note that Canada has no nationalised system of education, and instead grants the responsibility of execution and assessment to the thirteen individual provinces and territories. As a result, the systems in each region will be largely similar, but not identical. The compulsory education age range is also controlled by the individual jurisdictions and may vary, though attendance is compulsory between the ages of six and 16 in most provinces. 

Once expats have decided which province or territory they would like to settle in, they'll need to be more pointed in their research and consider whether a public or a private school will best suit their child’s needs. Both have their pros and cons, but cost and curriculum are often the factors that carry the most weight in the decision-making process.


Public schools in Canada

Public school curricula in Canada’s individual provinces are usually reflective of the territory’s population, language, history and culture. In predominately French-speaking Quebec, for instance, the primary language of education is French. New Brunswick follows a bilingual language policy, while the other provinces are English. 

While some public schools may also offer International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) curricula, this is not the norm.

Expat students with a residence permit can attend Canadian public schools for free, while non-residents are liable to pay the tuition fee appointed by their province/territory. 

As in most countries, the standards of public schools vary from one to the next, so it’s best to do extensive research. As students attend Canadian public schools based on catchment zones, parents often pick their residential neighbourhood based on the school they’d like their children to attend.


Private and international schools in Canada

Though the majority of Canadian citizens utilise the free public education system, expats who can afford it may also want to consider private or international schools for their children. 

These institutions are primarily funded by student tuition and private donors. Generally, they boast better facilities, a more diverse and comprehensive range of extra-curricular activities, smaller class sizes and a higher standard of education. 

Each school can establish its own curriculum, some claiming different language affiliations, teaching styles and religious value systems. This point may be important to those expats who'd prefer that their children continue learning in their home language, home curriculum or according to a distinct educational philosophy. 

However, such liberties do come with a hefty price tag. Tuition fees at private and international schools in Canada are costly.


Special-needs education in Canada

As is the case with most education-related matters in Canada, each province is largely responsible for how they handle students whose behavioural, communication, intellectual or physical needs can’t be met by the standard education system. The government abides by the principle that children with special needs should be kept in mainstream schools as far as possible, with individualised assistance, concessions or special arrangements made to support students. For those with more severe disabilities that need intensive support, there are special schools available.


Tutors in Canada

Throughout Canada, tutors are widely used, whether for exam preparation or extra help with a particular subject such as maths or science. Expat families may find even more ways to make use of tutors as they can assist with bridging the gap between a child's previous schooling abroad and current education in Canada, especially where a completely new curriculum is being followed. There are also tutors specialising in language who can help expat children develop their English skills, or maintain fluency in their native language.

Transport and Driving in Canada

Despite its large geographic size, getting around Canada is fairly easy thanks to an excellent transport system. The country has well-established road networks and an extensive railway system, as well as a large number of domestic airports – all of which combine to make travelling around Canada straightforward and painless.


Public transport in Canada

Trains

VIA Rail is Canada’s national passenger rail services operator, and its trains link major Canadian cities, such as Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, and many smaller communities. 

There are different service classes on Canadian trains, though the country’s rail services are generally high quality regardless of class. The trains are neat, the seats are spacious and passengers can access free WiFi.  

Travelling by train costs more than by bus, but it's more comfortable. It’s recommended to buy train tickets in advance as it’s cheaper than buying them on the spot. 

Buses

Bus services in Canada are also excellent. The buses are clean, safe and reliable. 

There are a number of service providers offering intercity bus travel, with extensive networks across Canada and even extending into parts of the United States. 

Intercity buses may include onboard toilets, air conditioning, reclining seats and movies, and some also offer free WiFi and electrical outlets. Tickets can be purchased online, over the phone, at a bus terminal or via an agency. 


Taxis in Canada

Most cities in Canada usually have several taxi companies to choose from, and these can either be hailed in the street, caught at a taxi rank or pre-booked over the phone. Metered fares are regulated in cities and cannot be negotiated. Drivers generally expect a tip of between 10 and 15 percent. Taxi drivers in all major cities are required to carry official identification issued by the city. 

Ride-hailing apps such as Uber are also available in many parts of Canada.


Domestic air travel in Canada

Given the size of Canada, air travel is often the most efficient and affordable way of getting across the country. 

The Canadian airline industry is highly competitive. Industry leaders, such as Air Canada, have stiff competition from rising low-cost airlines, including Sunwing Airlines and Swoop, which means there are always great deals to be had.


Cycling in Canada

Canadian towns and cities promote cycling and try to provide cyclists with the best possible riding conditions, including dedicated cycle lanes.

Cyclists in Canada must follow the same road regulations as other vehicles. Wearing a helmet is compulsory in most provinces. There are plenty of dedicated bicycle stores all over Canada, while many of the larger Canadian cities have also implemented bike-sharing schemes to further incentivise cycling.


Driving in Canada

Driving is the most common means of transport in Canada. Expats will be able to use their foreign driving licence for a few months, but will ultimately have to exchange it for a Canadian one. This may either be a straight swap or a full driving test may be required. 

Under Canadian law, all cars must be insured and registered with the owner’s provincial or territorial government. Insurance costs can vary across Canada, so expats should do some research before committing to a company.

Shipping and Removals in Canada

Expats moving to Canada have a lot to consider when it comes to shipping household goods. Generally, the rule of thumb is that if it can be replaced in Canada, it's best to leave it. 

Even though the east and west coasts of this massive country are home to large, efficient ports, shipping is expensive. In most cases, expats can purchase new goods once they arrive in Canada for less than they'd pay to ship them over. There are also plenty of furnished accommodation options available in most Canadian cities. For those settling in Calgary, or in other inland destinations, shipping will be especially costly, as the process will require a combination of different delivery methods.


Shipping household goods to Canada

Those who decide to bring household goods with them to Canada can streamline the process by strategically dividing their belongings. The most essential goods should be brought over by air-freight, which is faster but more expensive, while the rest is shipped by sea.  

It's also important to spend some time researching shipping companies and getting quotes from reputable providers before committing to an agreement. Insurance is essential, and should not be purchased from the shipping company but from an independent insurance provider.


Shipping pets to Canada

Shipping pets to Canada requires proof of rabies vaccination and, in some cases, a veterinary certificate. Microchips are only necessary for animals brought into the country for commercial purposes, but we recommend pet owners nevertheless microchip their pets as a precaution.

Expat Blogs in Canada

Few resources can build a better picture of life in Canada than the expat blogs maintained by already established foreigners. Whether these writers are recounting great challenges, relaying roll-on-the-floor funny encounters, delivering crucial advice and important tips or reaching out to those around them, their insights afford others a unique and personal glimpse into their new community.


Recommended expat blogs in Canada

Cape Town to Calgary

This informative blog is run by South African expat Catherine, who moved to Calgary in 2019. Giving useful insight into life in Canada, her blog has everything from practical guides to posts on fun activities to musings on homesickness.

► Nationality: South African

Canada blog

Off Track Travel

Gemma and JR, a British/Canadian couple, share their experiences of travel off the beaten path along with tried-and-true tips and recommendations. Here readers will find plenty of outdoorsy ideas for trips all over Canada.

► Nationality: British/Canadian

Canada blog

Correr Es Mi Destino

Travel-bug Zhu is a seasoned expat currently living in Ottawa, Canada. She loves the unpredictability of life on the road and is always up for an adventure. Aptly subtitled 'Cultural Adventures in Canada and Around the World', her blog is a mix of travel tales from all over the globe and stories of her expat life in Canada.

► Nationality: French

Canada blog

Frequently Asked Questions about Canada

Canada is a massive country of scenic beauty and home to a mosaic of different cultures and ethnic groups. Expats moving to Canada are sure to have many questions about life in this exciting destination. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Canada.

Is it worth learning French?

When moving to Quebec, French is worth learning, as this is the province's primary language. People in Quebec can usually speak English, they just often choose not to. Outside of Quebec, the language is almost always English.

Do I need a car in Canada?

Canada is spread out over a huge area, making moving between destinations difficult without owning one's own transportation. It is true that within large cities there are good public transportation systems in place. However, even there, suburbs are sometimes difficult to commute to and from without a vehicle. It is much cheaper to buy a car in Canada rather than bringing one from overseas.

How bad is the weather in winter?

The weather in Canada really depends on the area. All places can expect snowfall; the Pacific Southwest is the mildest with only 50 days a year below freezing. Much of the Arctic north is too cold to live in at any time. Populated areas on the southeast average 23°F (–5°C) for the winter.

Which city do the most expats live in?

Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal have the largest expat populations. While expats in Canada traditionally cluster in large cities, increasingly they are spreading out to smaller ones. There is active recruitment and competition among cities to attract immigration.

Is it easy to buy a house and what are the factors involved in buying a house?

When moving to Canada, location is the largest factor in buying a house. Commutes to work can take a very long time. The average house price in Canada varies tremendously depending on the province. 

The quality of a neighbourhood and the proximity to public transport are two factors to consider when house hunting in Canada. It is probably necessary to hire a real estate agent. Property taxes can be significantly more expensive than abroad. Yet the housing market is large and it is easy for foreigners to buy Canadian property.

Articles about Canada

Banking, money and taxes in Canada

With a sophisticated and safe system, it's easy to handle banking, money and taxes in Canada. Connecting to overseas bank accounts is common and paying for goods with local and international credit or debit cards is standard practice.


Money in Canada

The official currency in Canada is the Canadian Dollar, which is divided into 100 cents and is abbreviated either as CAD or C$.

  • Notes: 5 CAD,10 CAD, 20 CAD, 50 CAD, 100 CAD

  • Coins: 5 cents (nickel), 10 cents (dime), 25 cents (quarter), 1 CAD (loonie) and 2 CAD (toonie)

Canada is both a cash and card society. Expats will find that most merchants accept cash and card as a payment method.


Banking in Canada

The five largest Canadian banks are Royal Bank of Canada, TD Canada Trust, Bank of Montreal, Bank of Nova Scotia and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. These all offer easy access to accounts, a robust network of ATMs, internet-banking services and branches in most major Canadian towns and cities. International banking options are also available, with foreign banks such as HSBC, Citibank and Bank of America all present in Canada.

Opening a bank account

It is important for expats to open a Canadian bank account as soon as possible to get established and facilitate any transactions from their home country.

Most banks require a Social Insurance Number (SIN) to open an account. In some situations, expats may want to open an account before they receive their SIN. In order to do this, expats should contact a banking representative who will explain the types of accounts and determine a suitable package for their needs. 


Taxes in Canada

Paying Canadian income tax depends on a number of factors, one of which is residency. An individual is considered a Canadian tax resident if they are in the country for longer than 183 days a year. Expats who are tax residents in Canada will be taxed on money earned anywhere in the world. Those who are not considered tax residents will only be required to pay income tax on money earned in the country. 

There are two systems in place in Canada: provincial and federal taxation. 

Taxation is based on income brackets that determine the percentage of income that will be taxed. Those in a higher bracket will pay more taxes while those in a lower income bracket will pay less.  

Expat tax matters can be complex, so it's always best to consult a local specialist tax practitioner.

Expat Experiences in Canada

When considering a move to a new city, there is nothing more useful than hearing real life stories and experiences from other expats who lives or have lived there. We'd love to hear about your expat experiences. Please contact us if you live or have lived in Canada and would like to share your story.


Shannon is a 30-year-old expat from North Yorkshire, England currently living in Victoria, Canada. She moved to Canada in 2016 after travelling to the country as a student and falling in love with Vancouver Island. She says she enjoys the access to the great outdoors and the excellent work-life balance in the city. Read more about her expat experience in Victoria.
Figo is a South African expat who moved to Toronto with his wife (a Canadian native) in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic. He says moving to Toronto has been fantastic, although he misses the climate and diversity in Cape Town. In his interview with Expat Arrivals, Figo shares all about his expat experience in Toronto. Photo of Figo Naude

Catherine is a South African expat who moved to Calgary in 2019 with her husband and two children. She says it’s been a wonderful adventure and enjoys sharing her experiences on her blog, Cape Town to Calgary. In her interview with Expat Arrivals, Catherine tells us about the ups and downs of her expat experience in Calgary.

Catherine

Tim and Kamila are expats from South Africa and Slovakia with plenty of international travel experience. They moved to Canada in 2019 and help advise others in their move. They share their expat experience with us, telling us about their life in Canmore, Canada.

Tim and Kamila

Karen is a South African expat who moved to Canada in 1993 with her husband and children. In search of a better future for their family, they settled in Toronto, and after 25 years are now proud Canadian citizens and happy to call Canada their home. Read more about her expat experiences in Toronto.

Karen%20R%20resized.jpg

Cyrus Janssen is an expat who spent 10 years in Asia before relocating to Vancouver in April 2017. He is a golf professional and sports marketing executive who enjoys international travel, language learning and blogging about his journeys. Read his experience as an expat in Vancouver.

Cyrus - an American in Vancouver

Juliette Giannesini is a French expat living in Ottawa. Moving alone, she started teaching French as a second language and has now made a name for herself in freelance work. She still can't stand the winters though. Get to know more about her expat life in Ottawa.

Michele Vincenti is an Italian expat who moved to Vancouver with his wife and young child in 1995 in search of a better quality of life. Although he misses good Italian food, he enjoys life in Vancouver and runs his own business-consulting firm. Read more about his expat life in Canada.

Michele Vincenti - An Italian expat living in Canada

Natalie is a British expat who moved to Ontario with her husband and two children for better opportunities for the family. Although she misses her family and friends back home, she is enjoying small-town life and feels safer than she did in London. Read about her expat experience in Canada.

Natalie Treasure - A British expat living in Canada

Aisha Ashraf is an Irish expat living in Whitby, near Toronto. She and her husband have embraced the many adventures and challenges of life in Canada, and are loving the outdoor lifestyle, proximity to a world-class city and general safety. Get her detailed and interesting take on life in Canada here.

expat canada

Geraldine Eliot is an ex-South African living in Vancouver. She runs her own copywriting and editing company and teaches at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. She is also a published poet, social media convert, and active blogger. Read about her experience of expat life in Vancouver here.

Claire Leek is a British expat who has settled on the outskirts of Vancouver. She still misses a few of Britain's bits and pieces, but is satisfied with the swing of the day-to-day in Canada. Read more about what she has to say about moving to Vancouver.

Claire Leek, A Brit living in Vancouver

Emmanuelle Archer is a French expat entrepreneur living in Vancouver. Seduced in '99 by a summer vacation, she's still in awe of this amazing city. So much so, in fact, that she busies herself giving no-nonsense business tips and career-boosting advice for expats new to the area. Read about her expat experience.

Emmanuelle Archer, an French expat living in Vancouver

Melissa and her partner moved to Canada to pursue a few privileges they were denied in the States. Now settled in the Canadian countryside, she reflects on the trials and tribulations of expat life in New Brunswick.

photo of melissa, an american expt livign in canada

Francois Roux is an expat of French extraction now living in Vancouver. He has moved around a bit, and lived in Australia and the US before settling down in Canada. He now advises other expats on moving to and getting the most out of Vancouver. Read his take on expat life in the city right here.