11 tips to help you get settled in Canada

30 September 2021 by National Bank
Image of young women holding a maple leaf in front of her face

The more preparation you can do before moving to Canada, the easier it will be for you to settle in after your arrival. Once you’ve arrived, you’ll have a few things left to do to get off to a successful start. We’ve put together 11 tips to help you get settled in Canada.

1. Find a place to stay 

Your first accommodation might be a hotel room, a short-term rental, an apartment or a house. Some newcomers choose to stay with friends or family already living in Canada. 

Whatever you opt for, remember that your first lodgings are most likely temporary. You’ll be better equipped to find the right home for you after you’ve settled in a bit, when you know more about how things work and the cost of living in Canada, including housing costs. Refer to the following resources for help finding accommodation:

  • Specialized property sale and rental websites
  • Newspapers and classifieds websites 
  • Social media
  • Friends, colleagues and acquaintances
  • “For sale” or “For rent” signs on the street
  • Organizations for newcomers to Canada
  • For students, housing search resources offered by your educational institution

Some Canadian cities offer resources to help with finding affordable housing. To be eligible, you often have to meet certain conditions, such as having an income below a given threshold.

To find out more about renting an apartment or house, refer to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s resources for newcomers to Canada (available in a number of languages). 

If you’re interested in buying a property, check out our advice on buying a home.

2. Apply for your social insurance number (SIN) promptly

One of the first things to do after you arrive is to apply for a social insurance number (SIN). This is a national identification number issued by the Government of Canada. It doesn’t cost anything, and it’s essential for a number of things, like working or receiving government benefits.

To get your SIN quickly, you can go in person to a Service Canada office. It’s also possible to apply online or by mail. You’ll find all the information you need on how to apply for and use your SIN in the SIN section of the Service Canada website.

Important: Your SIN is confidential and shouldn’t be used as ID. You should only disclose it in certain specific situations which are outlined on the Government of Canada website. 

3. Apply for health insurance

Canadian citizens and permanent residents are entitled to free healthcare under Canada’s healthcare system.

Good to know: Newcomers to Canada may need to obtain temporary health insurance to cover them until they become eligible for public healthcare. Eligibility conditions and waiting periods vary depending on the province or territory.

To benefit from public healthcare coverage and to make it easier to receive treatment, apply for your health card from your provincial or territorial government as soon as you’re eligible for it. To learn more about eligibility conditions and healthcare services, visit the Health Canada website, which also lists the provincial and territorial ministries of health.

Note that some individuals who are not eligible for a provincial or territorial health insurance plan, such as refugees, may be able to access healthcare services through such programs as the Interim Federal Health Program. 

Good to know: Your province or territory may have an agreement with your home country enabling you to receive health insurance coverage more quickly. Check with your local ministry of health for details. 

Finally, remember that your public health insurance plan doesn’t cover all types of care. You may find it beneficial to take out supplemental private coverage for dental and vision care as well as certain medications. This kind of coverage is sometimes offered by employers too. 

4. Finish opening your bank account

If you started the process of opening a bank account in Canada online before arriving, you’ll need to visit a branch to confirm your identity in person, for security reasons. During your visit you’ll be given a bank card that allows you to carry out transactions in stores and withdraw cash from ABMs.

If you don’t already have a bank account when you arrive in Canada, you can go into a branch of a financial institution to open one. You can also start the process online.

Arrived in Canada less than 5 years ago?

Learn about our bank account offer for newcomers.

Find out about other banking services

Take advantage of your visit to the branch or use your bank’s online services to find out more about the Canadian banking system. Consider applying for a credit card to start building your credit history in Canada. You can also ask for help and advice on investment options in Canada. 

It’s normal to have a lot of questions at the start. Each country’s banking system is different, and the Canadian system has its own specific features which may be different from what you’re familiar with. Feel free to make an appointment with one of our specialists to ask questions and learn more about how the system works. 

5. Register with your country's consulate

Though you may not be required to register with your country’s consulate, it’s often advantageous to do so. They may be able to help you with the following: 

  • Official documents (e.g., passport)
  • Registering to vote in your home country 
  • Your retirement pension (if you receive one from abroad)
  • Scholarships
  • Assistance in the event of difficulties or emergencies
  • Information and advice on settling in Canada
  • A list of organizations for newcomers

 6. Get help from organizations for newcomers

You may already have had help from newcomers’ organizations to find a place to live or complete paperwork before your arrival. These local organizations can also help you get settled in Canada.

You can turn to them if you have questions about things like administrative procedures, transportation, the school system or finding a job. 

7. Find a job or go into business

If you don’t already have a job lined up when you arrive in Canada, you’ll probably want to find one as soon as possible to have a regular income and ensure your financial security. Check out our advice on the financial and administrative aspects of finding a job in Canada and on how to prepare for an interview. Depending on whether you have permanent resident or temporary foreign worker status, you’ll need to complete some administrative procedures with the government before you can start working.

Good to know: French and English classes are available if you’re interested in improving your language skills. The federal government maintains a list of organizations that offer services for newcomers on its website.

Do you have training and qualifications from your home country? For some jobs and professions, you’ll need to have your qualifications or professional experience officially recognized in Canada. Depending on your situation, you may contact a professional order or an educational institution, such as a university. 

You also have the option of going into business, by starting a new company or acquiring an existing one. Subsidies, loans and support programs are available for newcomers to Canada who want to go into business. It’s worth taking the time to do your research. A good starting point is to contact chambers of commerce or regional economic development organizations.

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8. Find the best way of getting around

Cars are the most widely used mode of transport in Canada. Before you can start driving, you’ll need to get a licence from your province or territory..

Good to know: Your province or territory may allow you to exchange a driver’s licence obtained in your home country for a new one without having to take lessons or pass another driving test. 

Public transportation can be a great way to get around if you live in a city. It’s often cheaper and quicker than driving too. How well developed a city’s transit network is depends on location and population size. In a number of big cities, you can also take advantage of bike or car sharing services.

9. Protect yourself with insurance

To ensure you’re protected if an unfortunate event occurs, consider taking out insurance coverage. Several types of insurance are available in Canada; some of them are mandatory while others are optional. Here are a few examples:

  • Car insurance. If you own a car, you’ll need to get car insurance quickly in order to drive in Canada. 
  • Life insurance. This coverage allows you to protect your loved ones in the event of your death. It is not mandatory.
  • Home insurance. This covers your home in the event of theft or damage (in a fire, for example). It’s not mandatory, but some lenders may require you to have it (a financial institution that lends you money to buy a home, for example).

Some employers offer group insurance plans at competitive rates which include coverage for treatments that aren’t covered by the public system, such as dental care, vision care or medications, as well as disability coverage or life insurance. If you don’t receive this type of coverage through your employer, you can take out your own private insurance. 

10. Socialize

Socializing and building a network is one of the keys to successfully settling in a new country. Through these relationships and exchanges, you can benefit from advice and support and develop a sense of belonging to your community. There are a number of ways to build a network, including:

  • Signing up for cultural activities 
  • Joining a sports team or club 
  • Taking part in activities organized by your cultural community or organizations for newcomers 
  • Doing volunteer work
  • Participating in professional events 
  • Becoming a member of an organization

11. Review your budget

You may well have made a preliminary budget before leaving your home country. Perhaps you used some of the resources available to estimate the cost of living in Canada

However, you’ll have a better sense of your income and expenditure once you’ve settled in. This will enable you to draw up a budget to take control of your finances and achieve your goals. 

Moving to a new country is no mean feat. There’s a lot to think about both before and after your arrival in Canada. To ensure your new adventure gets off to a flying start, take advantage of all the support available to you. For more information about Canada’s banking and financial system, sign up for National Bank’s newsletter. We’re here to answer your questions.

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