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Moving to Canada

Occupying a vast northern corner of the Earth, Canada is simply massive in scope 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 major oceans: the Pacific, the Arctic and the Atlantic.

Influences from all over the globe can be seen across Canada. The country’s British and French origins feature in the European architecture; the American cultural influences through fanatic sports leagues and entertainment; Inuit traditions are realised through their contribution to the country’s rich ancient history; and, more recently, Asian immigrants have made their mark on vibrant neighbourhoods throughout the country. 

This progressive, diverse and well-developed country is, unsurprisingly, a highly sought-after expat destination that attracts immigrants from every part of the globe. Canada was built by foreigners and is a place that hasn’t turned its back on those from abroad. In fact, it claims one of the highest per-capita immigration rates in the world.

The visa application process can, however, often seem quite daunting. But with a relatively small population, a large portion of which is soon-retiring baby boomers, it does mean that Canada will need to fill an assortment of jobs to ensure the gears of its economy continue to grind forward. 

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 the communications industries are thriving.

Expats should pay careful attention when they negotiate their salaries. While the cost of living in Canada is certainly reasonable when compared to the likes of many of the Asian superpowers and European metropolises, tax rates are high, so a lucrative salary can be reduced significantly. Yet such deductions also give expats access to some of the country's fantastic infrastructural assets, namely universal health insurance that grants near-comprehensive coverage, a high-standard healthcare system, and free education at public schools, many of which are well reputed.

One drawback that can be a source of worry are 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 or Prairie provinces will need to prime themselves for the severe winter cold. Snow can cover the ground for nearly six months of the year in these areas and temperatures can drop to well below freezing during the peak of the bad weather. 

Typical of a well-developed, wealthy Western country, however, 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. 

Apart from the cold, most expats find that their quality of life improves in Canada, with most centres in the country offering a multicultural societal blend set against a backdrop of rugged and spectacular scenery.

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


Fast facts

Population: 38 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. The second-largest country on the planet, 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 the large size of its landmass, weather in Canada is highly variable depending on the location. The country itself 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 within a more temperate climate, comparatively speaking (with the exception of those living in Calgary and Edmonton). Only a small percentage of the population chooses to withstand the harsh conditions associated with life in the northern territories, just south of the Arctic Circle.

Though the extremes of weather in Canada are fairly fluid from region to region, the four distinct seasons are the same. Winters tend to be long and cold, while expats should 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 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 are also known to experience drastic climate 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: +1 202 682 1740

  • 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: +1 613 688 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

 

2021

2022

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Canada Day

1 July

1 July

Labour Day

6 September

5 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 destination for expats from all over the world. Drawn to the safe and economically sound environment, many look to Canada as a solid option for career advancement and a great place to raise a family. 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 emphasise the need to attract foreign workers to the country.

Expats relocating to Canada can thus expect to find multicultural communities accustomed to interacting and integrating with those from abroad; a point that can make a big difference in initially becoming comfortable in one's new environment.


Working in Canada

+ PRO: A strong employment market

Canada’s approach to immigration is nothing new – however, what has changed over the past few years is the state of the rest of the world. While many Western nations have suffered their worst unemployment in decades and taken a firmer stance against immigration, Canada continues to welcome new arrivals.

The result of this has seen scores of people reevaluating their positions, not only because of the great lifestyle a move to Canada will offer but because of necessity. While unemployment continues to grow elsewhere, Canada remains largely unaffected. Expats who have the skills and experience behind them will find that the economic climate in Canada can potentially be 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. Expats may spend a good few months tramping through heavy snows, shovelling driveways and driving on dangerous and icy roads, depending on where they reside. 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 healthcare system known as Medicare. All citizens and permanent residents are entitled to health insurance that ensures access to free healthcare. Each province differs in what is covered by Medicare, with dentistry and optometry usually excluded, so most Canadians also have private health insurance to cover these costs. Individuals are free to choose their own doctor or 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 may come as an initial shock to new arrivals in Canada. Canadian cities regularly rank among the world's most expensive for expats. Vancouver and Toronto are the two most costly, with Calgary trailing not too far behind. Accommodation will leave the biggest dent in one's budget.

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


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 security 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 more and more expats are considering working in Canada, with its stable economy and healthy job market.

A land built with the picks and shovels of immigrant labour, Canada has a history of welcoming foreign expats into the country. Those with commendable industry experience and a degree of specialisation will find that there are a fair few 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 entice highly skilled workers to relocate there in order to 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 continuously over recent years. 

All things considered, though, expats moving to Canada from the UK or the US should expect lower wages, not to mention the fact that a great deal of an expat's monthly salary will go towards taxes in Canada. However, it is important to note that Canada’s urban centres are consistently voted among the best places to live in the world, so a slightly lower income should not really affect a person's quality of life. 


Finding a job in Canada

Canada takes pride in its strong infrastructure and well-maintained systems of support, and so it comes as no surprise that there are a variety of resources available aimed at helping individuals find a job. 

Before starting the search though, it’s important to recognise that the job market in Canada may not only be very different from that in one's home country, but 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. 

There's a variety of internet job portals where expats can upload their resume and apply for jobs. Local newspaper classifieds can also be a good source of leads.

When it comes to the job search in Canada, expats should not 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 fairly 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 higher-up 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 tending towards more formal attire and creative industries such as media being 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 culture. These diverse influences result in a unique Canadian business culture with a number of noteworthy nuances to speak of.

Canada has a large and thriving free-market economy, and though there is more government intervention here than in the USA, 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.

As a testament to its solid infrastructure and transparent policies, Canada was ranked 23rd (out of 190 countries) in the World Bank's 2020 Ease of Doing Business Survey. Specific business criteria that Canada ranked highly for include starting a business (3rd), protecting minority investors (7th) and getting credit (15th). Areas where Canada scored relatively poorly were those of getting electricity (124th) and enforcing contracts (100th).


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 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 formal titles of "Mr" and "Ms" on 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 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 more and more top-level positions.


Business culture in Canada

Canada is a massive country that claims an impressive multicultural make-up. Despite its size and diversity, expats can nevertheless 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. However, it is also not appropriate to arrive too early and disrupt another person's schedule. Therefore, meticulous time-keeping is very important.

Hierarchy

Canadian management style tends to be less formal than in Europe, with managers preferring to be seen more as part of the team and less as aloof authority figures. Decisions ultimately rest with 'the boss', 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, although one can expect to spend a few minutes exchanging pleasantries.

Meetings are generally well-organised affairs and schedules are adhered to. Canadians appreciate politeness and expect others to adhere to the correct protocols of a given situation. 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 thus 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 studiously avoided, and aggression is looked down upon. But 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 settling into one of its lauded urban centres more permanently, it is essential for those wishing to enter the country to know the facts about visas for Canada.

Countless categories make the visa application process appear overwhelming, but the good news is that the Canadian government provides a comprehensive and up-to-date 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 visit 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) before they arrive to be granted entry into Canada.


Permanent residence visas for Canada

Those wishing 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 point of the process is deciding which permanent residency category to apply for. There are different permits for those reuniting with their family, those who have recently graduated from a Canadian institution, and those who have the education, skills and experience that will make them economically advantageous to Canada.

*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

In order to legally work in Canada, foreign nationals 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 associated requirements and privileges attached.


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 find a new job and go through the work-permit process again from scratch.

To obtain an Employer-specific Permit, foreigners must first solidify a job offer from a Canadian employer. Canadian employers must be able to prove that the job being offered cannot be filled by a local employee and that there is no one available in the domestic market that has the skills or the experience to assume the job. The employer must show that they have advertised the position throughout Canada for a certain period and have been unable to find a local candidate suitably qualified for the job.

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, having applied for a permanent resident permit, 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 Canada offers.

Mercer's 2020 Cost of Living Survey, which measures the comparative cost of items in 209 cities worldwide, ranked Vancouver as the world's 84th most expensive city, with Toronto not far behind with a rank of 98th. This is a significant jump from previous years, indicating a rapidly rising cost of living. On the other hand, Montreal, Calgary and Ottawa are much more affordable, ranking at 137th, 146th and 151st 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 substantial support towards the cost of health insurance and education.


Cost of accommodation in Canada

Accommodation costs in Canada vary across different cities and regions. The highest rents are in large cities like Vancouver and Toronto, with prices increasing the closer one lives to the city centre. Expats renting accommodation outside the city in the suburbs can expect to pay lower rents. 


Cost of transportation in Canada

Canada has a vast transportation system. Public transportation in Canada is quite expensive, but transport in the major cities is definitely less expensive than that found in other important world centres.

Cars are relatively cheap to purchase, as is petrol, and most Canadians own their own car. 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 appreciate that Canada provides free public education to all Canadian citizens and permanent residents from kindergarten until they complete secondary school, which is usually at the age of 18.

Each region administers its own education system, so policies and requirements differ from province to province. Expats who don't have a permanent resident card or a work permit have to 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 in Canada. 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 may have to wait before they become eligible to use it. These periods can be covered by temporary private health insurance. The officially recommended period for which expats should purchase temporary coverage is three months.

Those who would like 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 priced fairly but can't be considered cheap, even though they're generally cheaper than in Western European countries. Food is a bit more expensive compared to the United States.

Canadians eat a lot of beef and chicken, and less pork and lamb, which is less available and pricier. It's easy to get other speciality meat such as bison, especially in larger cities. Fresh fruits and vegetables are available throughout the year for prices that are generally a little cheaper 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 January 2021.

Accommodation (monthly rent in a good area)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

CAD 2,100 

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

CAD 1,700

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

CAD 3,400 

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

CAD 2,500 

Shopping

Milk (1 litre)

CAD 3

Loaf of white bread

CAD 2.90

Chicken breasts (1kg)

CAD 14

Rice (1kg)

CAD 3.80

Dozen eggs

CAD 3.40  

Pack of cigarettes

CAD 15

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

CAD 11 

Coca-Cola (330ml)

CAD 2.40

Cappuccino

CAD 4.50 

Bottle of beer (local)

CAD 7

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

CAD 90 

Utilities

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)  

CAD 0.40

Internet (average per month)

CAD 65

Basic utilities (per month for a small apartment)

CAD 140

Transportation

Taxi rate/km

CAD 2

City centre bus/train fare

CAD 3.25 

Petrol (per litre)

CAD 1.20 

Culture Shock in Canada

Canadian culture derives from an amalgamation of various immigrant groups, and expats arriving from many countries may be surprised to find remnants of their own culture reflected in the different Canadian characteristics. While culture shock in Canada is not a problem that most expats are likely to have to deal with, there are still a few things worth knowing.


Language barrier in Canada

Unless moving to the province of Quebec, expats won't experience an issue when it comes to communication. Everyone speaks English. Quebec is distinctly different culturally from the rest of the country and expats moving to its capital, Montreal, will benefit significantly if they can speak French.


Cultural differences in Canada

The large cities, especially Toronto and Victoria, reflect a strong British heritage. Montreal is proudly French and Vancouver mixes Indian and Asian cultures. Where America prides itself on integration of cultures, Canada encourages coexistence in an 'ice cream swirl' or, as it is commonly referred to, a cultural mosaic. Roughly 20 percent of Canada's population originate from a different country.

While various cultures are encouraged to flourish, by and large, mainstream culture is very similar to that of the US – which will be familiar to most expats as a result of America's far-reaching film and television industry. The exception is Quebec, functioning as a French lingual and cultural centre.


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 itself, from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast, is almost equivalent to the distance between the UK and Pakistan.


Weather in Canada

One of the biggest challenges that expats will encounter is the weather in Canada. Many newcomers, especially those from warmer climates, will discover long and often harsh winters. The northern territories are at the receiving end of the most extreme levels but those provinces and cities closer to the United States border typically enjoy more temperate weather. Summer, however, can be 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 expensive task for expats. There is a general shortage of accommodation in most Canadian metropolises, so new arrivals who don't know much about the Canadian property market will 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 there.


Types of accommodation in Canada

Expats moving to Canada will find a range of property types available. The options available will vary slightly from one city to the next, but generally there will be 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. Living quarters in Canada are generally more spacious than in Europe and will certainly have some kind of heating system in place to deal with some of the climate extremes.

Home security isn't an issue in Canada – it is a famously 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 likely need to account for the cost of buying or leasing their own furniture.


Finding accommodation in Canada

We advise that expats begin their research of properties in Canada well in advance. It's best to research the city one intends on moving to and try to pinpoint neighbourhoods that offer the best range of housing options for the best prices and are within close proximity to public transportation and good schools, for those with children. Trawling through online rental classifieds and real-estate websites will give prospective residents an idea of what is available. They will also show what they should reasonably expect to budget for renting or buying property in Canada.

Once in Canada, print and online news publications are good places to continue the property search. It is a good idea to go and view a few properties, check out different areas and neighbourhoods, test the market out and calibrate one's expectations accordingly.

If expats find no joy in looking for accommodation on their own steam, real-estate agents are another good resource. Since many landlords don't want to bother with the hassle of finding their own tenants, estate agents will often have mandate over the best of the rental properties in a given city. Note that, as helpful as agents can be in finding a place to stay, they will expect a fee for this 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 followed to the letter. Be sure to read the contract carefully, as once it's been signed, its conditions will be legally binding.

The agreement will cover the following considerations:

  • duration of the lease (usually 12 months, often extendable)
  • additional financial responsibilities of the tenant (normally water will be included in the rental charge, but tenants will have to pay for gas and electricity usage)
  • deposit (often this will be two months' rent, refundable in principle as long as the property is returned in good condition)

Healthcare in Canada

Healthcare in Canada is one of the most hotly debated topics in North America, especially as the debate continues on whether the US would benefit from adopting a similar healthcare system to that which is in operation in Canada.

Canada offers all citizens and permanent residents universal public health insurance, which affords low-cost access to doctors and 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 certainly receive high-quality treatment administered by well-trained professionals. 


Public healthcare in Canada

Citizens and those with permanent residency in Canada are eligible for comprehensive, universal and accessible care. The system 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 what is and what isn't covered by their 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 treatment at a universally high standard.

All things considered, the most pointed downfall of the system is the fact that waiting times can be long. Though emergency situations 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, while waiting lists are long for those who will. To make matters more frustrating, specialists require a referral from a general practitioner before they will provide treatment. 

Still, despite these issues, it's commonly agreed upon 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 or permanent resident card is required to complete the process.

Only once this documentation has been obtained 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 do vary across the provinces and territories in respect to each location’s political policies and distribution of wealth, but are incredibly cheap across the board. Do note that medical care offered in one province or territory may not be honoured in another, thus it is often recommended to purchase private health insurance if travelling across Canada. 

In the interim, while expats are waiting for their health insurance card in Canada (a three-month waiting period is standard), it is recommended they take out private health insurance. 


Private health insurance in Canada

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

Various packages are on offer, and expats will need to carefully evaluate their priorities to see which plan and service provider is most suitable.

Premiums do tend to be on the expensive side, so if relocating to Canada with a job offer in place, expats should make it a point to include private insurance in negotiations regarding their employment package.


Pharmacies in Canada

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

Expats will find that they can get most prescription medicines at a pharmacy in Canada. However, as some medicines are 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 each individual province 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 can provide an excellent level of service 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 impressive. Canada prides itself on its transparent systems and education is no exception.

Concerned parents moving to this geographically large country with their little ones will want to get a head start and begin sifting through the resources that can help them make an informed decision. The Fraser Institute annually issues both public and private schools in each province their own report card, measuring and comparing schools' academic performances.

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 they won't be identical. There are varying differences in curriculum, language, methods of evaluation and accountability policies. The compulsory education age range is also controlled by the individual jurisdictions and may vary, though most demand attendance between the ages of six and 16.

Once expats have decided in which province or territory they'd like to make their home, they'll need to be more pointed in their research and consider whether a public or a private school will best suit the particular needs of their child. 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 schools in Canada are subject to the steady hand of each respective province or territory. It follows that curricula are an accurate reflection of that area's population, corresponding with the geography, language, history and culture of the surrounding space.

For example, as the province of Quebec claims a predominately French-speaking population, 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, but those without will need to pay the tuition fee appointed by their province/territory.

As in most countries, the standard of public schools varies from one to the next; some boasting exceptional reputations and others considered best avoided. Expats can consult each institution's report card for a better idea of its performance, and make a point to chat to locals or fellow expats about options. As students attend Canadian public schools based on catchment zones, parents may also  want to pick their residential neighbourhood based on the school that corresponds with the area.


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 schools for their children, including private and international schools.

These institutions are primarily funded by student tuition and private donors and, as in many countries, it's assumed they boast better facilities, a more diverse and comprehensive range of extra-curricular activities, smaller class sizes and an elevated 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 their children continue learning in their home language, home curriculum or according to a distinct educational philosophy.

However, such liberties are not without a price tag. Private schools in Canada are far from free, with the range of tuition costs being considerable.


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, communicational, intellectual or physical needs that cannot be met by the standard educational system. Overall, inclusivity of such students is a common goal throughout the country. The government abides by the principle that children with such needs should be kept in mainstream schools as far as possible, with support being offered in the form of individualised assistance and special arrangements or concessions. For those with more severe abilities that need more 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 mother tongue.

Transport and Driving in Canada

Despite its large geographic size, getting around Canada is not difficult, 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 contribute towards making travelling within Canada fairly straightforward.

Major Canadian cities such as Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver all have efficient public transport networks and dedicated bike paths.


Public transport in Canada

Trains

The national passenger rail services in Canada are operated by VIA Rail, whose trains link most major Canadian cities and many smaller communities.

There are different classes of service on trains in Canada, but regardless of class, the overall quality of rail services is very high – the trains are neat and tidy, the seats are spacious and all passengers can access free WiFi.

Travelling by train costs more than a bus, but it's more comfortable. We recommend buying train tickets in advance as this is cheaper than buying them on the spot.

Buses

Bus services in Canada are also very good. Buses are clean, safe and reliable.

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

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


Taxis in Canada

Most cities in Canada usually have several different taxi companies in operation, and they can either be hailed in the street, caught at a taxi rank or prebooked over the phone. Metered fares are usually 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 operational in many parts of Canada.


Domestic air travel in Canada

Given the size of the country, air travel is definitely an option worth considering for expats living in Canada.

The Canadian airline industry is highly competitive. The leaders in the industry, such as Air Canada, are chased by rising low-cost airlines, including Sunwing Airlines and Swoop. Increased competition means that expats can often find great deals on domestic flights.


Cycling in Canada

Canadian towns and cities promote cycling as a means of transport and try to provide cyclists with the best possible riding conditions. Cycling is popular, and most cities and towns have hundreds of miles of dedicated bike paths.

Cyclists in Canada must follow the same rules and road regulations as other vehicles. Wearing a helmet is compulsory in most provinces. A bike is easy to acquire in all Canadian cities and towns regardless of the style or price range. Many of the larger Canadian cities have also implemented bike-sharing schemes which make cycling an even more convenient way to get around.


Driving in Canada

Driving is the most common means of transportation in Canada. Expats will be able to use their foreign driving licence for a few months, but they will ultimately have to exchange their licence 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 must be registered with the person's provincial or territorial government. Insurance costs can vary across Canada, so expats should do some research before committing to any given insurance policy.

Buying a Car in Canada

Expats may assume that buying a car in Canada will need to be one of their first and most urgent purchases. The country is certainly vast. While in certain locations it will be absolutely necessary to purchase a vehicle fairly quickly, Canada’s larger cities often boast world-class public transport infrastructure.

So before perusing the listings and haggling with hopeful car dealers, new arrivals should take some time to evaluate their destination, and to understand the dynamics of the city’s orientation and the means of getting around. 

If deciding that buying a car is a must, one will need to first and foremost organise the logistics surrounding a legal driver’s licence. From there, as in most places, it’s a matter of balancing the push and pull of one's budget with their priorities and requirements. Canada has a robust automobile market, and it’s possible to purchase nearly any type of new or used car.


Buying a new or used car in Canada

Apart from their budget and obvious requirements, expats should consider what kind of purpose their car will serve. If keen to take advantage of the soaring Canadian mountains and national parks, new arrivals may want to flirt with the idea of buying a vehicle with four-wheel drive capability; whereas if primarily interested in something zippy that can fit into the small parking spaces associated with Vancouver or Toronto, then something compact is the best way to go.

Similarly, expats will have the choice of buying a new or used car from a dealership, or a used car from a private seller.

The obvious benefit of buying from dealerships is the fact that even used cars often come with warranties. These service providers can often also help arrange necessary paperwork on site, such as car insurance and vehicle registration. That said, if one doesn't mind putting in a little extra legwork, buying a used car from a private seller can be a great way to bag a bargain.


Car insurance in Canada

Before a person can legally drive their car in Canada, they will need to insure, register and licence their new vehicle. Insurance is required by federal law and is the prerequisite for obtaining registration and licence plates.

Each province has a minimum amount of third-party liability insurance that is required. Similarly, most provinces require drivers to insure for medical expenses and loss of income resulting from a driving-related injury.

Types of car insurance:

  • Third-party liability insurance (for cases where one causes damage or injury to another driver)

  • Collision insurance (for cases where a driver damages their own car)

  • Comprehensive insurance (for cases where one's car is stolen or vandalised)

Getting an affordable car insurance deal

First, any car insurance will depend on a slew of documents that include one's Canadian driver’s licence and driving record, their address, the specifications of their car, information about their past and present insurers (if any), and information about their past claims.

If an expat does not have a full Canadian licence, they should consider getting one as soon as possible after arriving in the country. The more comprehensive one's licence, the lower their insurance fees will be.

Even though a person's insurance fees (premiums) are dependent on their driving skills and driving record, the two most important factors determining the price of insurance are the value and “riskiness” of their car. Cheaper cars will naturally attract lower premiums and more expensive cars will have the owner pay extra. This relationship can, however, be distorted by the probability of one's car being stolen. Some cars are naturally more prone to theft for various reasons and will thus attract higher premiums. On the other hand, installing an alarm and other anti-theft mechanisms into the vehicle will decrease its riskiness and thus the insurance cost.

If driving an old car, consider whether the car’s value warrants the cost of collision coverage. If a car is worth very little, it may not be in one's best interest to pay collision insurance on it. Instead, the owner may just prepare to write the car off if it was to be severely damaged and purchase a new vehicle instead. This way, they might be able to save money on collision insurance without being exposed to too much risk.

Expats should endeavour to maintain a clean driving record, obeying the rules and driving responsibly so that they do not collect traffic tickets or incur damage to their or other people's vehicles while driving. Every offence or accident that a person causes can increase their insurance premiums.

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 and, in most cases, expats can purchase new goods once they arrive in Canada for less than they'd pay to bring household goods overseas. There are also plenty of furnished accommodation options available in most Canadian cities. For those settling in Calgary, or in other inland Canadian destinations, shipping will be especially costly, as the process will require a combination of different delivery methods.


Shipping household goods to Canada

Those who do decide to bring household goods with them to Canada can streamline the process by dividing their belongings up strategically. The most essential goods should be shipped by air, which is faster but more expensive than shipping by sea. Household goods that won't be needed right away should be sent via slower and cheaper methods.

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


Shipping pets to Canada

Shipping pets to Canada requires proof of a rabies vaccine, and in some cases, a veterinary certificate. Microchips are only required for animals brought into the country for commercial purposes. However, we recommend that pet owners do nevertheless have their pet microchipped as an extra 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)


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 having a presence in Canada.

Opening a bank account

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

Most banks require a Social Insurance Number (SIN) to open up 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 various types of accounts and transactions and determine a package suited to their individual needs.


Taxes in Canada

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

Taxation is based on income brackets. Those in a higher bracket pay higher taxes and those in a lower bracket pay a lower percentage.

Expat tax matters can be complex, so it's always best to consult a local tax practitioner who has experience working with expats.

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.


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.