Living in Canada

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A practical guide to the way of life in Canada

No matter whether you are considering living in the big city or prefer a rural area, the True North has a lot to offer. We provide you with information on how to master expat life in Canada, from a country profile to healthcare and education. Read more about all the relevant topics on InterNations GO!

Life in Canada

At a Glance:

  • Having a car is fairly essential to get around Canada, even if you live in one of the cities.
  • Expats living in Canada spend close to half of their budget on rent and utilities.
  • Canada has an excellent healthcare system, with the publicly funded health insurance ‟Medicare”.
  • Expats should begin to look for a family doctor or general practitioner soon after their arrival.

The high quality of life in Canada is almost proverbial. Ever since the United Nations established their Human Development Index, the country has ranked among the top ten. Moreover, Canadian life reflects the country’s relatively immigrant-friendly policies. Every fifth person living in Canada today was born abroad, which amounts to approximately 6.8 million people. 

Besides, there are other definite advantages. As opposed to its southern neighbor, for example, the government provides free basic healthcare to most citizens and permanent residents.

Urban Population and Phenomenal Countryside

Most expats in Canada work in one of the big cities or metropolitan areas. In fact, 82% of the population has settled in urban centers, while the rest of the country is less densely populated. Only 36.6 million people are currently living in Canada with its nearly 10 million km2. Approximately 75% of them live in the south, within 160 km of the US border.

Landscapes range from maritime regions over the Great Lakes, the Prairies and the Rocky Mountains up to the Arctic in the far north. Some of the natural highlights include Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, the Bay of Fundy, and Niagara Falls.

Often Essential: Driving a Car

Soon after arriving in Canada, you will notice that cars are very popular among Canadians and expats alike. Statistically speaking, nearly 8 out of 10 people own a car. After a while, you’ll find out why: in Canada’s rural areas, your “next-door neighbor” or the closest supermarkets are likely to be located several miles away.

Even if you live in a large city, a lot of tourist attractions or recreational areas are only accessible by car. Consequently, expats often choose to buy a car if they have not imported one from home. Car prices are relatively cheap. It may well be your cheapest option to buy a new or used car once you have arrived.

What to Do without a Car

Nevertheless, if you opt for one of Canada’s larger cities, getting around by public transportation is manageable. While Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal remain the only Canadian cities with a subway, most bigger cities have a comprehensive bus system.

Cities in other provinces are best reached by plane. Business trips by plane are a common part of business life in Canada. The country has about 500 airports. The larger passenger airports include Toronto Pearson International, Vancouver International, and Montréal-Trudeau International.

You can also benefit from a relatively extensive railway network. However, many use it for the occasional scenic trans-Canada trip rather than as a regular means of transport.

Finding Your Perfect Home

Many expats choose to rent rather than buy a place in Canada. Outside the downtown areas of the large cities, only few Canadians live in apartments. Small houses are the norm. Whether you are renting a house or an apartment, either will be at least partly furnished. Many homes, especially in southern Canada, are equipped with air conditioning. While prices for renting a home vary considerably, an apartment in downtown Toronto or Vancouver is probably the most expensive option you could be looking at.

Homes in smaller towns, also in those surrounding larger cities, are not all that expensive. Utilities are normally not included in the rent. Costs for heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer are particularly high, which is why expats living in Canada spend around 35% to 50% of their budget on rent and utilities.

As there are no or only few restrictions on foreigners buying property in Canada, purchasing a home remains a feasible option. To guard yourself against possible fraud, however, you are strongly advised to contact a consultant accredited by the Appraisal Institute of Canada. Make sure to have a lawyer review all contracts before buying property in Canada.

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Health Care and Education in Canada

Different from the US: The Healthcare System

Canada has a publicly funded health insurance system, so-called “Medicare”, which is financed through taxes, fees and, in some provinces, monthly premiums. Every province and territory has its own health insurance plan and its own specific regulations. Generally, the public healthcare system ensures basic medical care for all citizens.

Additional treatments, such as dental care, prescription medication, and optician check-ups, have to be paid for by the patient. Many Canadian employers offer their employees additional healthcare coverage, for example, prescription drugs, physiotherapy, and chiropractic treatment.

Expats whose work permit is valid for more than six months are usually included in the public healthcare system. Nevertheless, in some provinces there might be a waiting period of three months before newly arrived expats can be included in public healthcare coverage.

You’re Well Taken Care Of

The quality of healthcare in Canada is comparatively high, although it may vary from province to province. Waiting times, especially for specialist appointments and hospital treatments, may be quite long. However, the government has supplied additional funds and regulations aimed at reducing this problem.

Expats should begin to look for a family doctor or general practitioner shortly after their arrival. The doctor will be your primary contact in any health-related matters and may refer you to a specialist or a hospital if necessary.

Appealing Schooling Opportunities

Canada is an ideal destination for expats with younger children. Daycare opportunities are readily available throughout the country. Public schools, which expat children can attend for free, have scored highly in international student assessments such as the OECD PISA study. Almost all larger cities have day nurseries and private daycare opportunities. From the age of five, kids can attend kindergarten.

Due to provincial autonomy in cultural and educational matters, there is no single Canadian school system, and curricula vary tremendously in different provinces. Public elementary education and secondary schools are free of charge.

There are a number of private schools in Canada, which charge their students tuition fees, a few international schools in the bigger cities and a large number of schools belonging to specific religious denominations. The language of instruction in Canadian schools is mostly French in Québec and English in all other provinces.

What It’s Like to Go to School

Generally, mandatory schooling is divided into elementary school and secondary education. Elementary school includes grades 1 to 6 in most provinces, grades 1 to 7 in British Columbia, and grades 1 to 8 in Ontario.

While students in Ontario go on straight to high school (grades 9 to 12), the grades in between are taught at middle school or junior high in the other provinces. During high school, students can generally choose between courses preparing them for college or the workplace and courses aimed at preparing students for university admission.

The exception is Québec, where regular secondary schooling ends after grade 11 and students planning to go on to university need to complete another two-year program at a so-called Collège d’enseignement general et professionel (CEGEP).

Canada’s Renowned Universities

After graduating from high school, students have more than 90 Canadian colleges and universities to choose from. The University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and the McGill University in Montréal are among the most respected. Other students may decide to attend a community college or a vocational school or to apply for a full-time job right away.

InterNations GO!
by InterNations GO!
06 December 2018
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