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Living in Canada
A Practical Guide to the Way of Life in Canada
Living in Canada offers a wide range of experiences depending on the path you choose. Canadian culture and everything else you need to know about the Great White North are covered in this section: from practical information, to driving, culture and etiquette, public transportation, and more.
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What is it like to live in Canada? Well, this section of our Moving to Canada guide gives you an in-depth description of life in the Great White North.
If you are ready to take the plunge and move to the Land of Maple Syrup, you will need to figure out the pros and cons of living in Canada and how you can find your spot in its culture. This section covers the benefits and drawbacks of relocating to the country, the home of nearly 3,000 hockey rinks and the most polar bears in the world. As well as all of that, we discuss the practicalities of driving, public transportation, public holidays, main airports, embassies, and communications in Canada.
The Pros and Cons of Living in Canada
On face value, there are many pros of living in Canada but the cons of life in the Great White North are often less obvious for people who have yet to move to the North American country. In this section, we discuss the benefits and the disadvantages of living in Canada, so you can approach a possible move there with your eyes wide open.
There are many positives to life in Canada but no person is the same and you are sure to discover secrets about the country that you will come to love. Even so, we have compiled a shortlist of some of the things we think are great about the Great White North.
Canada’s healthcare system is consistently ranked among the best in the world. One of its benefits is its provision of publicly funded healthcare to all. Canada even has educational healthcare programs that teach the elderly how to avoid injuries and other health risks.
About two thirds of Canadians have private health insurance, which covers additional services, such as dental and eye care, prescription drugs, and private hospital rooms. Around 90% of these premiums are paid for by employers or unions.
Welcoming to All
Canada is generally a very progressive, diverse, and multicultural country. So, if you are considering living there, especially in one of its major cities, this is one of the benefits for foreigners.
In Toronto, Canada’s largest city, more than 140 languages are spoken. Over 20% of the country’s population was born abroad, so expats should fit in well. Most expats live in Ontario, British Columbia, Québec, and Alberta. Want to discover how much it will cost you to live in Toronto? Read our specialized cost of living section.
The Natural World
From mountains and lakes to urban life, Canada is known for its abundance of nature. In fact, it has 20% of the world’s fresh water in its lakes and rivers, and the longest coastline on Earth. And there’s a chance you might bump into bisons, black bears, and bobcats, so pay attention when walking in the woods. You might even hear a wolf howling.
Canada’s waters are also teeming with life. You can see humpback whales, sea otters, and orcas. Plus, nearly two thirds of the world’s polar bears live in this country. So why not join them, from a safe distance of course?
Some of the main natural attractions are: Lake Louise at Banff National Park, Big Muddy Badlands in Saskatchewan, Red Sands at Prince Edward Island, Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island, and Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in British Columbia.
While there is a lot to love about Canada, no country is perfect. Relocating is about creating your own slice of heaven where you happen to land. So, here are a few issues that might make living in Canada challenging at times.
High Cost of Living in the Most Popular Cities
If you want to live in a remote area of Canada it can be relatively affordable. But if you want to live in one of Canada’s densely populated cities, like Toronto or Vancouver, it is going to cost you. For instance, the average annual cost of living in Toronto is 45,400 CAD (33,880 USD), almost twice as much as in Québec, where it is 25,374 CAD (18,944 USD). Vancouver is slightly cheaper than Toronto with the average cost of living at 40,682 CAD (30,397 USD).
French Canadian Québec
If you are moving to Québec, bear in mind that French is the official language. 95% of the population speaks it as either their first or second language. This could make you feel like an outsider if you do not speak French fluently, so you might need some time to adapt.
Immigration is Limited
Although Canada is seen as a country that welcomes lots of expats, the last time it had the highest net migration per capita in the Western World was in 2000. In 2017, Canada was 18th in the world for net migration (the difference between the number of people leaving and entering a country).
Between 2015 and 2019, Canada had only the twelfth highest increase in migrants of all Western countries. Germany, Sweden, Australia, and Austria were in the top four places for the proportion of migrants welcomed compared to their overall population. The United Kingdom and Ireland also saw higher increases than Canada.
Around 300,000 expats and other immigrants were allowed to enter the country in 2018 and 2019, but many more were refused. And it was not necessarily plain sailing for those whose applications were accepted. Some of these more fortunate applicants had to wait years before they were eventually allowed entry.
People who immigrate to Canada have to pass through a rigorous vetting process. In addition, simply flying to Canada can be a tough task. In 2017, 30% of people who applied for a visitor’s visa to fly to Canada were rejected.
There is good news though, while from 2005 to 2015, the average number of allowed immigrants was only about 250,000 per year, this number is growing. The amount of immigrants allowed can rise again to 350,000 between 2020 and 2021, as Canada attempts to address its aging population problem. There are about 10,000 centenarians living in Canada.
Although the number of people allowed to settle in Canada looks set to keep increasing, there will still be many aspiring expats forced to wait to apply again.
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Below are some useful resources that you may want to have handy when moving to Canada.
If you have an emergency in Canada, dial 911. This will connect you with the police, fire, and ambulance services. It can be used from landlines, phone booths, and mobile phones.
Non-emergency services can be reached by calling 311 in some areas and most major cities.
Canada has ten national holidays:
- New Year’s Day – January 1
- Good Friday – March or April
- Easter Monday – March or April
- Victoria Day – Monday before May 25
- Canada Day – July 1
- Labor Day – First Monday of September
- Thanksgiving – Second Monday of October
- Remembrance Day – November 11
- Christmas Day – December 25
- Boxing Day – December 26
There are also provincial holidays such as Family Day on the third Monday of February, which is observed locally in select provinces: Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. In British Columbia it is celebrated on the second Monday of February.
There are several embassies and consulates found across the country in Canada’s main cities. Just in Canada’s capital there are 129 embassies and high commissions.
Many people moving to Canada come from the following countries. These are their respective embassies and high commissions:
- High Commission of India. 10, Springfield Road, Ottawa ON K1M 1C9
- Embassy of the Philippines. 30 Murray Street, Ottawa ON K1N 5M4
- Embassy of China. 515 St Patrick St, Ottawa, ON K1N 5H3
- Embassy of the United States of America. 90 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1N 1G8
- Pakistan High Commission. 10 Range Rd, Ottawa, ON K1N 8J3
- Embassy of France. 42 Sussex Dr, Ottawa, ON K1M 2C9
- Nigerian High Commission. 295 Metcalfe St, Ottawa, ON K2P 1R9
- British High Commission. 80 Elgin St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5K7
- Embassy of Iraq. 215 McLeod St, Ottawa, ON K2P 0Z8
These are the top four busiest airports by passenger traffic across the country:
- Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ)
- Vancouver International Airport (YVR)
- Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL)
- Calgary International Airport (YYC)
Culture and Social Etiquette
To avoid awkward social situations in Canada or cultural faux pas, it is essential to understand Canadian customs and etiquette beforehand. This sub-section will briefly go over Canadian culture and what is expected of you when it comes to dining, tipping, riding public transport, and other day-to-day activities.
Canadian culture values honesty, sensitivity, empathy, and humility in their relationships both with friends and strangers. Canada can be described as an egalitarian country, meaning everyone is equal. Hierarchy is not so important in Canada. In fact, Canadian children are raised from a very young age to be very independent. Many kids are confident enough to speak to teachers and other adults in the same casual manner they might talk with friends. Canadians are known for being polite and very nice overall. They are friendly, unpretentious people.
When meeting someone for the first time, make eye contact and shake hands with your right hand. In Québec, they may kiss you on the cheek. Older men might even kiss a woman’s hand. If you are a woman, you can accept this graciously, but if you are a foreign man, do not do this to a Québécois woman as they may find it strange. It is polite to refer to people as “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” “Madame,” or “Monsieur” until invited to use first names.
It is polite to hold the door open for someone, not interrupt when others are speaking (although Francophones are likely to do this), and to let people off of the elevator first. Remember to say “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.” If you did not hear someone clearly the first time say “pardon.”
Elders and people with disabilities are treated with compassion and understanding. Do not spit in public, litter, and make sure to pick up after your pets. If there is a line, patiently wait for your turn. It is also considered rude to point your finger at someone.
Canadians do not touch each other much when conversing, so keeping to your own personal space is important. It is also good manners to take your hat and sunglasses off when speaking to someone. In Québec, it is rude to talk with your hands in your pockets. You will find that French-Canadians are a bit more animated and expressive than others.
Neighbors might come by your house to welcome you to the area. They may bring food, a small gift, or card. Other occasions where Canadians give gifts is during Christmas and birthdays. However, this gesture is only reserved for close family and friends. If you are invited to dinner at someone’s home, bring a small gift for the host. This could be a bottle of wine, flowers, or chocolates. Do not gift cash. People will usually open presents upon receiving.
In Québec, people send flowers to the host before the dinner party. If gifting flowers, never gift white lilies. These are reserved for funerals. Avoid gifting or sending red roses, too, as this is associated with romantic love.
If you are at a restaurant, event, or someone’s home, do not seat yourself. Instead, wait to be seated. Do not start eating until everyone else has been served and, if at a dinner party, wait for your host to start eating before you begin. Never talk with your mouth full. Do not rest your elbows on the table. It is generally acceptable to leave a small amount of food on your dinner plate. If eating at a restaurant, never summon a waiter or waitress by yelling and snapping your fingers. Instead, wait for them to pass by your table, make eye contact, and say “excuse me.”
In Québec, it is normal to be served wine with your meal. However, never ask for a martini or scotch before dinner. These drinks are considered “palate numbing.” If you are having drinks before dinner, opt for champagne, Pernod, kir, or vermouth instead.
If you are eating out, tipping is expected. Usually, Canadians tip 15% of their bill. However, in some places, the tip is automatically included when serving large parties, so make sure you check your bill carefully before leaving another tip on top of what might already be there. Other people you may tip are taxi drivers, hairdressers, and barbers. Valet parkers and bellhops expect only 1 CDN (1 USD) as a tip.
Punctuality and Timing
When it comes to punctuality, Canadians take it seriously and very literally. When they say “3:00 o’clock” they mean 3:00 o’clock. If you are late, it is considered rude, and an apology and explanation will be expected. Also, showing up too early (15 minutes or more) is looked down upon. Therefore, do your best to get there right on time.
Do not call people in the early morning hours or late at night as this is considered disrespectful and inconsiderate.
On Public Transportation
Canadians are pretty quiet while riding the bus or metro. If you are commuting and want to listen to music, make sure you use headphones. If you are with friends, do not yell or speak too loudly.
Other Things to Know
- Never confuse Canada/Canadians with the US/Americans.
- Avoid any discussions concerning Québec separatism, politics, and religion.
- Cursing in Canada is not as common as it might be in other countries, so keep your bad words to a minimum when in public.
- In Canada, do not refer to the indigenous people as “Indians.” Instead, use First Nations people, natives, or Aboriginal people.
- Canada is a very diverse and multicultural country. Keep this in mind when making any sort of humorous comment. Canadians are very politically correct so avoid jokes on sensitive or controversial topics.
- While Canadians do not mind commenting on controversial topics, subjects such as sex, religion, politics, and finances are typically shied away from.
Driving in Canada
If you are wondering about driving in Canada, this sub-section will go over everything you need to know. Conditions for getting a driver’s license in Canada varies between territory and from province to province. This sub-section will go over the general requirements for each.
In most provinces and territories, driving in Canada with a UK, US, and European license, or any foreign license for that matter, is allowed for a period of 90 days. This period is stretched to four months on Prince Edward Island, six months in Québec, 120 days in the Yukon, and only 60 days in Ontario.
You will want to make sure you have an International Driver’s Permit (IDP), too, as some places (Northwest Territories, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick) may require one in conjunction with your home country’s driving license. An IDP will also be needed if your driving license is not in English or French.
An IDP is valid for non-residents for up to one year. If you are a resident, after the allotted period has passed, you will be expected to exchange or apply for your Canadian driver’s license.
How to Get a Canadian Driving License
If you are from one of the following countries, you will be able to exchange your driver’s license in Alberta without taking a knowledge or road test: Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Isle of Man, Japan, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, UK, or US. In this case, you must surrender your home country’s driving license to receive your Alberta one, and you must be able to prove that you have at least two years of driving experience.
If you hold a license from any other country, you will be subject to a knowledge test and then a road test. If you do not have two years of driving experience, you will be issued a Class 5-GDL license and be expected to wait two years until you have enough driving experience to take your road test and receive your full Class 5 license.
Like Alberta, you can exchange your foreign driver’s license for a British Columbia one if it is from one of these countries: Australia, Austria, Germany, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey, UK, US, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea, Switzerland, and Taiwan.
To exchange, you will have to give up your home country’s driving license and answer a few questions about road safety. Make sure you bring ID including your permanent resident card or work/study permit. If you have more than two years of driving experience, you will be issued your full license right away. Otherwise, you will be granted a Class 7 license, and then you will have to wait two years to apply for your full Class 5 license. The good news is that foreign driving experience can be credited towards your two-year total.
If you are from a country not listed above, you will be expected to take the knowledge test (you must get at least 40 out of 50 questions correct) and road test.
If you are from the US, you can exchange your license for a Nova Scotia one so long as you are at least 16 years of age, disclose any medical conditions that can affect your driving, and surrender your American driver’s license.
If you are from Germany, the Isle of Man, South Korea, Taiwan, or the UK you can also exchange your license in this province if you are 16 years of age, take a vision screening test, disclose any medical conditions that can affect your driving, and give up your home country’s driving license.
For expats from anywhere else, they will need to pass a knowledge and road test.
If you are from the US, Australia, France, Korea, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, the Isle of Man, Japan, New Zealand, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Switzerland, and Taiwan, you can exchange your license in Ontario.
If you are eligible for exchange and have two years of driving experience, you just need to take an eye test to receive your Ontario’s driving license. If you have less than two years of driving experience, you will need to take an eye test and a road test after two years of experience to get your full license. The good news is any foreign driving experience counts towards your two-year total.
If you are not eligible for exchange but have at least two years of driving experience, you will need to take both an eye and written test. After you pass this, you can book your road test for your full license. If you have less than two years of experience, you will have to take both the written and eye test, and be subject to two road tests before you can get your full license.
You can exchange your foreign driver’s license in this province if it is from Austria, Belgium, France, UK, Germany, the Isle of Man, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, Netherlands, Taiwan, or the US. You will need proof of legal status in Canada, proof of residency in Québec, and proof that you lived in your previous country. You will need to pass a knowledge and road test. If you are not from one of these countries, you will need the same documents, to pass the knowledge and road test, and follow the graduated licensing process.
Driving in Canada Rules
Canadians drive on the right-hand side of the road. To pass, they do so on the left-hand side. At pedestrian crossings, pedestrians have the right of way. Everyone in the car must wear a seatbelt and cell phones are not permitted while driving unless they are hands-free. When driving, make sure you always have your driver’s license, IDP (if applicable), registration, and insurance documents. These will typically be required should you be stopped by the police for any reason. If you are flagged down, pull over to the side of the road safely, turn off your engine, and wait for instructions from the police officer.
In urban areas, the speed limit is 50 kph (31.1 mph), between 60 kph and 80 kph (37 and 50 mph) in rural areas, and between 80 kph and 100 kph (50 and 62 mph) on highways (the minimum limit is 60 kph or 37 mph). The blood alcohol content limit is 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. Drinking and driving is a severe offense in Canada and may result in a driving suspension, vehicle impounding, or even arrest.
If you are driving in Québec, right-hand turns on a red are not allowed on the island of Montréal and keep in mind that road signs may only be in French.
Some provinces across Canada have introduced High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes on highways (usually marked with diamonds). These lanes are reserved strictly for cars carrying two or more passengers.
If driving with children, car seats are required if the child is under 40 lbs. Also be aware that some provinces including Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon have made it illegal to smoke inside a car with a minor present.
A flashing blue light on a vehicle indicates that it is a snow removal vehicle. It is illegal to pass these. Take extra precautions while driving during the wintertime in Canada. Black ice and heavy snowfall are not to be underestimated, so drive slowly and carefully. Also keep in mind that in some provinces (such as British Columbia and Québec), winter snow tires for your car may be required.
Vehicles are also required to come to a complete stop for a stopped school bus. Buses will typically have a flashing red lights or a stop sign. Passing them is illegal.
The age for driving in Canada varies depending on the province and territory. It is usually 17 (16 in Ontario) and requires a driver’s license.
Renting a Car
Driving a rental car in Canada is perhaps the best option if you only need a car for short periods. You can contact your local transportation ministry to find out about rental agencies in your area. Whichever agency you choose, make sure that car insurance is included in your rental agreement.
To rent a car in Canada, you must be at least 21 years old and have had your license for at least a year. When renting a car in Canada, you may be required to show your passport and return airline ticket. You will also need a credit card. If you are traveling with children, some companies will offer car seats for an additional charge.
If you are between the ages of 21 and 24, a Young Renter Fee will be applied. Other extra charges to watch out for include:
- One-way drop off fee;
- 5% GST;
- Provincial Sales Tax (where applicable);
- Per kilometer charge, if traveling outside the province;
- Cost for additional driver;
- Premium location fee such as 10-15% at airports;
- Administrative charge for using Highway 407 ETR in Toronto.
Most rental cars in Canada are automatic, and you have a variety of options to choose from including small economy cars, luxury vehicles, and pickup trucks.
Major car rental companies in Canada are:
There are also many popular car-sharing programs such as Zipcar.
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Public Transportation in Canada
Public transportation in Canada includes bus, train, subway, light-rail trains, or streetcars (trams). Most major cities and towns have at least one of these. The bus is the most common form of public transportation throughout Canada.
To use public transportation, you will be required to purchase a ticket or pass. A transit pass usually works out to be cheaper than buying several tickets and gives you unlimited access to public transport for a certain period (usually a month or more). In most places, you can purchase tickets on the bus, at major transit stations, or convenience stores. Taxis also exist in most towns and cities but can be quite expensive (prices are listed below).
Cost of Public Transportation in Canada
This is an overview of public transit prices for monthly passes in major Canadian cities. The costs presented here are the regular adult fare. Keep in mind that some of these cities have discounted prices for children, youth, students, seniors, and other affordable access programs for those who qualify.
|City||Monthly Transport Pass (CAD)||Monthly Transport Pass (USD)|
The flag down rate for taxis in major cities is around 4 CAD (3 USD) and price per kilometer is around 2 CAD (1 USD). Here is an overview of how much you should expect to be charged for an hour ride across major Canadian cities:
|City||Price (CAD)||Price (USD)|
If traveling by train in Canada, your go-to company will be Via Rail Canada. It is the country’s intercity passenger rail service operating across the country. A short-distance, one-way trip will cost a passenger between 35 to 150 CAD (26–112 USD). Of course, the earlier you book, the cheaper your ticket will be. Montréal to Toronto is usually 80 to 150 CAD (60–112 USD). Montréal to Ottawa can be 35 to 60 CAD (26–45 USD), one-way.
A one-way, cross-country trip can cost 500 to 2,300 CAD (374–1,719 USD). Keep in mind that the highest fares are in July and August. There are also discounts for youth, students, seniors, children, and frequent travelers.
How is Public Transportation in Canada?
All in all, getting around Canada is relatively easy via public transportation. Transit in Canada is quite safe, clean, and efficient, so you can feel good about opting for public transport in this country should you need to.
Best Ways to Travel Around Canada
Since Canada is such a large country, the most convenient and fastest way to travel is usually by plane. Airline options are Air Canada or WestJet.
The most popular method of transportation, however, between Canadian cities, as mentioned earlier, is by bus. Popular bus service companies include Coach Canada, Megabus, Greyhound, or Orléans Express.
Train rides are a good option for those wishing for a more scenic ride and a unique view of Canada. It is a great way to see some of Canada’s most magical panoramas all from the comfort of your train seat.
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