Tip Sheet – New to Canada

Came to Canada recently? Congratulations. Moving to a new country is never easy. Everything is different. At a time like this, it helps to have a guide of sorts for navigating this new landscape. You may already be familiar, but here some tips to make your transition easier.

Phone plan: there’s no concept of pre-paid or pay-as-you-go connection; most are two-year contracts. Freedom, Koodo, Telus, Shaw, Virgin are some of the players, but choose your plan wisely, or else you may be stuck with something that doesn’t work for you in the long run.

Home internet: there aren’t many players. Compare the local providers like Shaw and Telus and benefit from the many promos that run through the year.

Banking: customers pay the banks here to keep their money. Some of the names include BMO, RBC, Scotiabank, CIBC, and TD. You end up paying the same fee to most of them, which is around $14-15 a month. Your best bet is to open an account with the bank that has the best offer. Watch out for seasonal promos. One of the banks gave away a free apple tablet, There’s a hefty international transfer fee, especially if you’re receiving or sending money. Using services like Remitly, XE or PayPal is economical and easier.

House: you’ve probably heard this already. Getting a house is difficult, but do not try and book a place from your country of origin. There are a lot of scammers out there who will promise keys to a gorgeous house for a dirt-cheap price after you wire them some money. Book an Airbnb or plan to crash with a friend or family or try Couchsurfing if you’re up for it. Craigslist, Facebook groups, listings outside of buildings are an excellent place to get started. Rents are fairly high, depending on which neighbourhoods you live, unless you’re splitting it with roommates.

Jobs: no jobs are inferior. Canada is truly where there’s the dignity of labour. You could be working at a restaurant, a retail store or a theatre, which is as respectable as an office job might be. You may have been working in a specialist job back home, but until you get your career back on track, there’s nothing wrong with working as a shoe salesman or a server. Be patient, as there are multiple rounds, and it takes a while, sometimes as long as 3-4 months or even more. Keep applying, keep fine-tuning your resumes and cover letters.

Local credentials: having local credentials helps you get a foot into the door. It also proves to employers that you have the requisite skills and knowledge to do the job. Find a college or institute that can offer short-term, part-time/full-time courses and programs. Even if you were in a senior position previously, say an HR manager, getting a CPHR designation will help your career immensely. Do some research and find out if you need any certifications or licences to work in Canada. Most programs are offered online these days apart from being in-class, so you can work towards getting the education you need to further your professional career without giving up on work.

Short-term programs are worth looking at as they make you job-ready quicker instead of opting for longer Master-level programs. Ashton College is currently offering four bursaries worth $8,000 each for full-time tuition. Apply here.

Healthcare: if you are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, apply for public health insurance, which covers most health-care services. Each province and territory has its own health insurance plan. Sometimes, it may take up to three months for your insurance to kick in, so you should have private insurance to cover your needs in the interim. Even after you get public insurance, you may still need a private one to include things that the government health card doesn’t cover. Walk-in clinics are alright, but if you have an emergency, you’re better off going to a hospital.

Tipping: there’s a culture for tipping because most jobs in the service sector pay minimum wage. So if you go to a pub, take a taxi, have your hair cut, remember to tip. You will get two options: tip in percentage or dollars. You can choose the most appropriate one. If you choose percentage, most card machines show only the higher percentages as options: e.g. 18, 22, 25. You can choose the “other” option to add a percentage of your choice. Fifteen percent is a good go-to in most cases.

Compass card: The public transportation system is excellent in Canada and is well connected by road, rail and water. Given our ongoing battle to contain or reverse climate change, using public transit is the smart thing to do. You could buy a ticket on a need basis, but it’s much better value for money to get a Compass card and use it as a debit card by topping it up. You can get a Compass card at SkyTrain stations at the machine where you buy your tickets. Load it up and travel worry-free.

Compass gives you up to 90 minutes of travel across buses, SkyTrain service and the Seabus on a stored-value fare. What it means is, suppose you got off at Gastown at noon and get on another bus before or by 1:30 pm, you won’t be charged again.

Driving: if you have a driver’s licence from your home country, you may be able to drive in Canada for a few months legally, but you will eventually need to get a Canadian driver’s licence. To get your licence, you might need to take a road test and a knowledge test. You may even qualify to exchange your existing license depending on the country that issued your original licence. Each province and territory has its own application process.

Insurance costs are high; finding parking spaces is an issue. There are many rideshare services like car2go or Evo, which you can use to avoid all the hassles of owning a car.

Summer: between June – September, you may see the entire city out in the summer, at the beach, pubs, hiking, barbecuing. If you come from a tropical country, like the Philippines or Brazil, seeing the sun may not be such a big deal. But with the otherwise extreme weather for the rest of the year – e.g. it rains in Vancouver for half of the year; Montreal gets a lot of snow, summer is the only window which allows people to roam in t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops. Also, depending on where you are – suppose you’re in Vancouver – you may get longer days during summer (the sun sets at 9:30 pm) and shorter ones in winters (sun may set at 3:00 p.m.)

Navigating social/cultural nuances:
There are many differences between Canadian and other cultures.
Thankyous/sorrys: learn to use these two words more often. Canadians are polite and apologize or thank for things in general. If you bump into someone, accidentally cut someone inline, block someone’s way, apologize. If someone lets you on the bus before them, thank them. Thank the bus driver as you get off; at the cafe, when the barista hands your drink to you or a bag-girl or boy packs your groceries, thank them.

Common courtesies:
1. Let people get off the SkyTrain or bus before getting on;
2. On escalators, stand to the right side if you don’t want to climb; to the left side if you do, but don’t stand on the left side and block someone’s way. Most often, people won’t say anything because, again, they are polite, but it doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do.
3. When in closed spaces like a SkyTrain or a bus or an elevator, it’s always a good idea to plug in your headphones if you want to watch a video or listen to a song.
4. Chewing food noisily is another no-no.
4. If you spend a little time in the city, you’ll notice people keep their voices low when talking on the phone. Mimic that behaviour, as talking loudly, may disturb others.
5. While coughing or burping, it’s better to say excuse me or sorry. Keep a handkerchief or paper napkin handy.
6. Staring is considered impolite. There may be several things many of us may not have been exposed to in our origin countries, like the way men and women dress, for instance or people with different sexual orientations; face tattoos and piercings, among other things. What may be strange for us, maybe a way of life for them. It’s okay to give a cursory glance if we’re curious, however, staring too much may make the other person uncomfortable, and we don’t want to do that.

Welcome again to Canada, this beautiful country of opportunities and natural wonders.

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