What To Do Your First Month in Canada

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BearMoney Team

BearMoney Team

BearMoney is the balanced finance blog for new and old Canadians alike. We are a team of people living international that research, write, and share

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Intro

Arriving in a new country is a very daunting prospect. If that country is Canada you’ve likely invested a significant amount of time and money in getting here. This only adds to the anticipation and nervous excitement as you step off that plane.

You probably already have a list of things you wanted to do when you finally got out and about in your new home. The problem is, where do you start?

Sure there are a lot of cultural activities that you can do and place you can go to celebrate, but there are also a few boring practical things that need to be done.

If you have arrived on a long term visa you are likely to have enough money to last at least the first month. While you can always be looking for a job in this time it is important to find your bearings. Here’s what to do in your first 30 days in Canada.

Cell phone

Day 1 – Get a Canadian Cell Phone

It might be a surprise to you, but the Canadian cell phone market is one of the worst in the developed world. Thanks to an ‘oligopoly’ (a few companies controlling everything) the fees you will pay for phone data will be massive, an average of $5 per GB! This is almost 10 times what you will pay in India and 2-4 times what you might pay in most other advanced countries.

Unfortunately the current Liberal Government continues to give power and money to the large telecom providers and this means more price increases in the future. The absolute floor of a cell phone plan that will work for any new immigrant is about $45-50 a month.

This will likely get you somewhere between 3-6GB of Data and a few other bits and pieces. With some networks you can also get ‘free Wifi’ in special areas or circumstances. However, for the first month we absolutely recommend a ‘Pay as You Go’ Cell Plan.

Your first few weeks in Canada are going to be difficult and probably you won’t have a job by then. This is not a good time to sign up to a 12 months $600 contract on an unfamiliar cell network. With a prepaid cell plan you will able to add credit whenever you need and remain flexible.

Flexibility is important as you may have to change areas or cut costs within your first year. The Coronavirus pandemic showed us that security is often an illusion. Don’t sign the big contracts until you’re an established immigrant.

You need a cell phone day one because you need a cell number to get a job and avail of many government services. The fact that you will also be able to use wifi or data to do business online and contact your family back home is also absolutely key.

It is very common for new immigrants to carry around 2 phones, one for home and one for this new home. I still maintain my foreign SIM card many years later for trips back and to keep in touch with friends and family.

Buy a cheap cell phone and a prepaid SIM your first full day in Canada. This is the lauchpad for your success here.

Day 1 – Go Out For Food

You can tell everything about a city by the food it has. The attitudes of the people, the level of fun, the integration of the immigrant community, food brings people together. That’s why the second step on your Canada journey should be to go out for food.

The fastest way to find out about a new city is to take a walk around the local area and see what food is available. Yes even when it is -25 degrees, this is important. You’re going to have to go eat food in winter too!

If you come from a country with popular cuisine like India or Mexico then you are also given an extra incentive. You are highly likely to meet somebody from the same cultural background as you if you go to an established restaurant.

You can likely find these ahead of time too. Having a small chat with somebody who thinks in a similar way to you can be extremely helpful and give you insiders tips on jobs, housing, social life, and more. You can also meet a fellow countryman/woman in a totally random restaurant too. I have met Irish people working in Ramen Bars for example.

Going out for food is also a chance to celebrate your new arrival in Canada. This was a big a step and it deserves to be marked even if you’re just having an A&W, which is something you will become very familiar with.

Most of all though it allows you to take a breath. You’ve finally arrived.

Banks

Week 1 – Find A Canadian Bank & Get A SIN/Health Card.

Canadian Banking – Hello 1990s

I wish I had better news for you but the sad reality is that Canadian banking suffers the exact same problems as the Telecoms industry. While there are a lot of good options for immigrants in terms of credit unions or online only banks, the practical reality of your first year in Canada is going to likely require you going with one of the ‘Big Four’: BMO, CIBC,RBC, and Scotiabank.

All of these banks have newcomer deals for immigrants like you nad me. Comparatively these deals are great, but by the standards of most countries, they are awful. Check out this article comparing the best newcomer offers in banking.

The important thing to remember is that you can always switch banks later on down the road. What a new immigrant needs is two things: ease of access and ease of use. The bank needs to be close to where you live with employees that will help you and banking (online + offline) that is quick and simple.

Online Banks and Credit Unions

Ask most Canadians where they do their banking and you will get a wide range of answers. However, if you ask the financially savvy Canadians, many of them will talk to you about online only banks and credit unions. These financial institutions often offer lower fees and a simpler experience than the big Canadian banks. They do however require a bit more effort to navigate and a probably better left to established immigrants.

The SIN and the Health Card – Canada’s Privileges

When you make the decision to come to Canada you are agreeing to participate in one of the best social systems in the world.

The taxes paid here might be very high (especially for the more successful) but the benefit system that they prop up is a thing of beauty. Even with its faults, you will find it easily in the Top 10 globally for public healthcare.

Similarly, although the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has its flaws, working and filing taxes in Canada is incredibly straightforward. Although many people use companies such as H&R block to file their taxes, you can easily do yours in a couple of hours, once a year.

In order to benefit from this system you need a Social Insurance Number (SIN) and Health Card. These two things combined will allow you to work, received healthcare, and access benefits in your new home.

If you are lucky enough to land in Toronto Pearson Airport (YVR) you can even get a SIN once you clear the immigration desk. Be warned though, clearing immigration can take many hours, mostly just queuing, so if you don’t have time that’s ok.

In most provinces you need to get your SIN before you can get your Health Card. In some you have to resident for a set period of time before getting access to healthcare, see here for details. Your SIN can be obtained at a Service Canada location (fastest), online via email or via snail mail.

In my experience this took a grand total of 25 minutes with the Service Canada representative even taking time out of his schedule to make sure I knew my rights as a worker!

This is an absolute must so get going on this within your first few days in Canada.

Transit

Week 1 – Transit Around Your New Home

When you land in a new town or city in Canada the first thing you will be told is ‘buy a car’. Even in downtown Toronto this is a common tip given to newcomers. Unfortunately, even for immigrants with solid savings or a guaranteed job getting started with a basic car can cost upwards of $9,000 in your first year alone. If you live somewhere that requires an SUV for winter then this can be even higher.

Even still, figuring out the roads and routes of your new home in your first month is going to help you adapt and integrate incredibly well. It will also help you figure out where to live.

Most first time immigrants chose an area that is ‘fully serviced’ meaning all stores you need are nearby. Most Canadians though are happy to drive 45 mins to do their grocery shopping.

Go from nearest to farthest on any train/bus

If you live somewhere with public transport this is a great tip. Doing the absolute longest trip, preferably at rush hour, is going to show you what a big chunk of your daily routine will be.

Sure Google Maps says it takes 45 mins to get from your new apartment to downtown, but what is it actually like on a Monday morning at 8:30AM? Also, what do the non-tourist areas of the city look like? What is your new home really like?

My first week in Canada I took a bus trip that lasted about 45 mins, I got to see the strip malls, the supercenters and everything in between. It was incredibly helpful to actually see what was nearby rather than just looking on a map.

Price passes and cars

Most Canadian cities with transit systems have some form of monthly or annual pass for their transit network. A general price guide for this is around $150-175 a month. This is the cost of unlimited public transport. Depending on your job and routine this might be too expensive.

Single use tickets are generally $3-5 but not all Canadian cities have adopted ‘card’ based systems, so paper tickets are still very much a thing.

If you’re going to be doing a lot of travel either for work or leisure then you should also probably price out a car for your new life in Canada. You’ll also probably want to price out parking too, as it is expensive here and not all jobs provide employee parking.

Generally you can expect to get absolutely screwed on insurance the entire time you live in Canada. If you just want a basic, older car, then your monthly costs are likely to be around $750 including insurance, gas, and the car. That is a lot more than a transit pass but in some cases you will definitely need it.

Definitely buy some winter tires for you car too, Canadian roads are serious business during winter.

Find out where the easily commuted jobs are

Before your job hunt begins it might be a good idea to look and see if there are any geographic clusters of whatever industries you’re looking into.

Most big companies will be in the downtown core but a lot of smaller ones will be located in very hard to reach places (by public transport or in terms of traffic etc). By figuring out where the jobs are and already knowing about the transit route, you can start looking for your first permanent Canadian home.

New Apartments Canada

Week 2 – Start Looking For Your Apartment/House

Renting can be old school

Your first apartment or house in Canada is likely to be a rental, and likely to not be the fanciest property on the market. Generally speaking there is a large sector of the rental market geared toward ‘new arrivals’.

What this means is that the apartment is generally older, generally cheaper and a good springboard to launch your new life in Canada. Usually beside transit or within walking distance of downtown, these homes are going to be about 10-15% below the local market rate.

Don’t be surprised though, if your landlord or property managers take rent in cash, check, or are slow to fix issues in your building. They see so many immigrants pass through their properties and their entire business model is to suck as much money out of the property with as little effort as possible.

You can get deals though if you arrive with enough money. Most places will give you ‘one month free’ if you sign a fixed term lease. Do be sure to check out your tenancy rights before signing anything though.

Note: Furnished apartments are quite rare in Canada but in the ‘immigrant apartment’ market they are more common than usual.

Renting ‘all in’

About 20% of the places you look at will be ‘all in’ that means that the utilities are covered in the cost of your rent. Another 50% will offer some combination of electricity/heat/water/internet in the deal. It is quite rare to find an apartment that offers none of these things.

In Toronto or Vancouver you might have no choice, but everywhere else, avoid places without these included utilities.

We recommend renting ‘all in’ wherever possible. It reduces your anxiety and uncertainty about bills and allows you to plan your basic expenses for 3/6/12 months at a time. If you’re renting with other people it also gets rid of the possibilities of disagreement over the bills.

Finding The Right Neighborhood

If you are lucky to have family or social ties to your new city/town before landing, you will be happiest living either with or near these people. If Covid-19 taught us anything it is that connection and family matter an incredible amount.

For the rest of us it is important to find the right neighborhood to settle in. Our lasting impression of Canada is going to be linked to our first permanent home there.

When choosing your new apartment/home consider the following points:

  • Access to transit and distance from jobs
  • Access to social life (critical)
  • Services/Stores within walking distance
  • Crime level and cleanliness

As a new immigrant it is important to find a place that is safe and well-serviced. Immigrants are often the target of street harassment, especially those of visible minority groups. If you’re going to put down roots, it is worth considering the new neighborhood in detail.

Canada New Immigrant Routine

Week 3-4 Find Your Canadian Routine

One of the greatest things about moving to Canada is getting to lead the Canadian lifestyle. Whether it is hockey, maple syrup or saying sorry all the time, it is important to dive headfirst into your new home.

However, you don’t have to like everything about living here. The winters can be tough, you might not like maple syrup etc, etc. What you absolutely do have to do though is respect Canadian life and attempt to try as much as possible.

This is why it is important to find out what aspects of your new home you enjoy, and to start building a routine around what Canada means to you. This is very difficult for some immigrants as it might require leaving large parts of your home culture behind. Unfortunately, nobody has a happy life in Canada without integrating successfully. You have to at least try.

Food, Social, Sports, Fitness, Recreation

Food is expensive in the Great White North. Whether it is groceries or eating out, the costs can mount up. The same can be said of Sports, Fitness, and Recreation.

While most cities have really good rec programs where you can meets friends and have a lot of fun, the sheer scale of sports available and their entry costs make it a daunting process. In winter you might have to spend hundreds of dollars on skies/skates/snowboards just to get started.

It is great fun to try most of these things and if you have friends with equipment you can borrow all the better. If you don’t it’s probably best to chose one summer activity and one winter activity and purchase some used gear for them. You can get set up on skis and a paddleboard for about $1,000 or mix and match a lot of other things to suit your tastes and budget.

In the same way you can find cheap sports/fitness/date/fun ideas around you city through social media and word of mouth. A lot of Canadian engage in expensive habits and hobbies but there are always ways to have fun within your budget as a new immigrant.

One thing to definitely do is join your local library. Seriously, the resources available there are fantastic.

Grab a Tims

The final thing to do in your first month, if you haven’t already, is to show you respect at the closest thing Canada has to a national church, Tim Hortons.

Even though their coffee is terrible and their food even worse, the coffee chain is a mainstay in Canada and will likely be your most commonly visited place over the course of your life here. The ‘Double Double’ is pretty much the standard morning drink of Canadian workers.

You are one of these people now, so it is time that you sit down and let it truly sink in. You have a home, all your government documents, and an idea about what your life will be. You’ve arrived in Canada.

Closing Thoughts

The first month is a heady mixture of fear and excitement for most of us. People without support networks already in place are going to have to do all of these things themselves.

This is ok, you’re no alone, thousands of people have walked this path before you and thousands more will walk it after you. We would always recommend connecting with your Expat community in your new home for any tips/tricks or social outlets.

It is ok to get lonely and find it tough but if you follow the right steps and give it a good try you have a great chance of making this wonderful Country you permanent home.

Do you have an more insights about the first month as an immigrant either in Canada or another country? Let us know below!

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