Canada welcomes immigrants from all over the world, making it a mosaic of different ethnicities and traditions. At the same time, Canada also has its own way of life and a unique culture that newcomers blend into as they settle in and eventually become Canadian.
In this article, we will share some key topics (and debunk a few myths) related to life and culture in Canada that will help you learn more and know what to expect as you plan your move here and transition to Canadian life.
1. The cost of living can greatly vary depending on where you decide to live
The cost of living differs from one Canadian city to another. For those renting, accommodation will usually be the majority cost component of your living expenses. It can be expensive to live in major cities like Toronto and Vancouver, and irrespective of the city you choose, living in the downtown area will usually cost more than in the suburbs. Other costs include food, utility bills (hydro, heat, air conditioning, internet, home phone, cable TV), childcare, and things like parking, insurance, and transit passes, which can quickly add to your monthly living expenses.
2. Canada is a credit-based economy, and your credit score is important
North American countries such as the U.S.A and Canada are known to be credit-based economies. This essentially means that people use their credit cards to make purchases and then repay the entire amount owed either at the end of their credit card billing cycle or in installments. Once you receive your first credit card, start by making payments for small expenses such as phone bills or groceries, and be sure you pay the balance in full by the end of the billing cycle. This will ensure you gradually build your credit history.
Having a credit rating or a credit score is essential for life in Canada. A credit score is a way for financial institutions to measure your ability to repay loans. Some scenarios where you may be asked for a credit report are while renting accommodation, applying to certain jobs, and obtaining mortgages or other loans from the bank.
3. Phone, internet and cable TV could cost way more than your home country
Air Conditioning (AC) and heat are a majority of the utility cost. Hydro (electricity) bills average to $50-80 CAD per month, while water can be about $20-40 CAD per month. Internet and cable TV, combined, will cost additional – usually, upwards of $100 CAD per month. Canadians pay some of the highest prices in the world for cell phone plans. Prepaid or pay-as-you-go plans exist. However, most people in Canada purchase phone plans on a contract basis. These personal phone plans can cost between $50-100 CAD per month. So, it’s worthwhile to budget and plan your expenses before you move.
4. A driver’s license from your home country will only allow you to drive for the first 60 to 90 days in Canada
If you have a valid driver’s license from your home country, you can generally use it for up to 60 to 90 days (the time varies between provinces) in Canada. Beyond that,you would need a Canadian driver’s license to drive. Before arriving in Canada, you should –
- Check your province’s specific licensing rules to know for how long you can continue to use the license from your home country; and
- Get a copy of your driving history (known as a “driving extract”) from the licensing authority in your home country. Having your driving history ready to go in either English or French is helpful for applying for a license and getting driving insurance.
5. Not everything in healthcare services is free
Canada has a universal healthcare system that is paid for through taxes, and therefore, basic healthcare services are provided to residents for free. Each province and territory has its own provincial or territorial health insurance plans to facilitate these healthcare services. However, certain items and services such as prescription medicines, physiotherapy, special nursing services, dental treatment, ambulance services, prescription eyeglasses, wheelchairs and other durable equipment, and any medical expenses incurred while travelling may not be covered by provincial health insurance. To cover these specific services, there are private or supplementary health insurance plans that you can purchase from various providers.
In Canada, families spend an average of $4,000 CAD per year on private or supplemental health insurance. However, do keep in mind that this cost would vary depending on factors such as the overall coverage, deductible, number of dependents, age, health history, and province/territory of residence.
6. Weather – it is not always cold in Canada
Canada is a vast country, and weather conditions differ from the west coast to the east coast. While it is often regarded as a cold country, in reality, depending on where you live, you could experience four seasons during a year: spring, summer, fall, and winter. In some provinces like Ontario, throughout the year, temperatures may vary between –40 degrees Celsius in the winter to 40 degrees Celsius in the summer. Winter on the west coast is milder and rainy in comparison to the east coast. And the more north you go, the more arctic-like conditions you’ll be likely to find. However, know that as long as you have your wardrobe, home, and car ready for winter, you’ll be just fine. In Canada, life goes on as usual, even during extreme winter.
7. Canadians are very polite; it’s common to use “sorry,” “please,” and “thank you”
Canadians are known to be very polite; the words “sorry,” “please,” and “thank you” are used very liberally. Keep in mind that usage of these polite words doesn’t necessarily indicate a desire to be friendly but is merely a social standard.
8. The price you see listed on the item is not the price you pay
In Canada, sales taxes are not included upfront to the cost of items on websites or in stores. In simple words, what you see is not what you pay! Sales taxes are added at the time of payment. So, factor in a few extra dollars at the time of checkout. Goods and Services Tax (GST), Provincial Sales Tax (PST), and Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) are some of the line items you will notice on most of your receipts.
9. Social norms in Canada may be different than what you’re used to
Canadians are known to be open, friendly and polite in their interactions. However, don’t mistake social conventions and Canadian manners for permission to breach personal boundaries or overshare details about your life. In your home country, it may be common practice to visit a friend’s place at short notice, but in Canada, people usually like to plan their schedule and prefer to have sufficient advance notice of your visit. Canadians value their privacy; discussing political and religious beliefs with someone you’ve just met may not be a good idea. It may also be considered rude to insist that someone (whom you barely know) try your home-cooked food.
10. Tipping for services is a way of life
Tipping may not be common in your home country but is deeply ingrained in Canadian life. Not tipping for services is considered rude. In Canada, service and hospitality industry workers (such as bartenders, servers, hairdressers, drivers, food delivery persons, etc.) are generally paid only minimum wage (or depending on the province, even less than minimum wage). The expectation is that tips earned will make up the difference. The standard tip for waiting staff ranges from 15 to 20 per cent of the bill in restaurants and around 10 per cent for most other service providers. It is also customary to tip bartenders in Canada.
11. Food allergies may be more common in Canada than in your home country
Food allergies are very common in Canada. It is estimated that one in 13 Canadians have at least one food allergy. Most prevalent food allergies include shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, milk, fish, egg, wheat, sesame, and soy. Hence, before offering food to someone, it is always advisable to check with them for allergies.
12. There are restrictions on where you can smoke
In Canada, it is illegal to smoke in indoor public places, such as common areas of buildings, restaurants, stores, hospitals, places of employment as well as in public transit. Smoking is only permitted in your own living space, your vehicle (except if you have a minor with you), and in select open outdoor environments. Most buildings will require smokers to stand at least nine meters away from the building entrance when they smoke outside, regardless of how cold it is. Some landlords also prohibit smoking in their rental units. The cost of cigarettes may also be considerably more expensive than in your home country.
Many newcomers experience culture shock after moving to Canada. Being aware and learning a few aspects of Canadian culture can smooth your integration into Canadian life, help reduce culture shocks and set realistic expectations for your life in Canada.