22 Things to Know Before Moving to Canada

There’s a lot more to Canada than maple syrup and ice hockey (as awesome as both those things are). From its staggering natural beauty to its vibrant cities, Canada has a whole heap to offer Australian expats.

Before you make the big move, check out these things you need to know before moving to Canada. You might be surprised!

1. Canada is one of the most multicultural countries in the world

Canadians have a strong history of welcoming citizens from all around the world. One in five of the population was born outside of Canada, and Toronto in particular is a real melting pot of cultures. Over 40 members of the Federal Canadian Parliament are either children of immigrants or naturalised citizens, and the country plans to welcome another million Syrian refugees before the end of 2017. All this makes for an attractive, liberal expat destination with the promise of fascinating cultural experiences.

2. You’ll need to wrap up warm

In most parts of Canada, expect perhaps the sunny British Colombian coast, winters are long, snowy and very, very cold. With temperatures dropping as low as -25°C on a regular basis, it can be quite a shock to the Aussie system! But playing in the snow is the best, and when the hot summers arrive, you’ll really appreciate them.

3. Tipping is a must

Back home in Australia, tipping is more of an optional extra reserved for great service. But service workers in Canada rely on tips to supplement their minimum wage pay packets. The standard tipping rate is 15%, rising to 20% for excellent service. The only time it is acceptable not to tip is if you receive exceptionally poor service.

4. Canadians drive on the right

If you plan on driving in your new home, you’ll need to adjust to life in the ‘wrong’ lane. You’ll also need to find out the rules about driving licenses in your province. Some, such as Ontario, allow drivers to obtain Canadian license by virtue of holding an Australian license. Other provinces will require you to apply and even get tested before granting you a license.

5. Canada is a bilingual country

The official languages of Canada are English and French. Don’t worry if you don’t speak French though, the vast majority of Canadians speak either only English or both languages. It’s only rural parts of French-speaking Quebec where you might run into Canadians who don’t speak English.

6. Prepare for maple syrup heaven

It’s a total cliché but it’s true – Canada has amazing maple syrup. In fact, 80% of the world’s maple syrup is produced here, mainly in Quebec. You’ll soon be adding it to everything from breakfast to baking (drool).

7. Try not to mistake Canadians for Americans

Yes, to the untrained ear Canadian and American accents may sound similar – but a sure-fire way to offend many Canadians is to mistake the two. If in doubt, don’t comment or guess. Though they share a continent, Canadians are proud of having their own distinct culture and identity and don’t take too kindly to being lumped in with the US.

8. The animals are pretty fearsome

We don’t want to scare you, but if you’re lucky enough to be out exploring the vast and spectacular Canadian wilderness, you could come across any number of dangerous wild creatures, including polar bears, cougars and grizzly bears. While they are, of course, an incredible sight, make sure you take appropriate safety precautions.

9. Idiot strings aren’t just for kids

Remember when you were little and your mum would tie your mittens onto two ends of string and thread it through your coat sleeves? That’s an idiot string. And with the freezing Canadian winters to contend with, this practical way to avoid losing your gloves in the snow is used by people of all ages.

10. Poutine will be your new favourite food

Trust us, this sounds a little weird but it’s so good. Canada’s favourite dish is poutine, a dish of French fries and cheese curds topped with meaty gravy. It’s the ultimate winter comfort food and the perfect antidote to one too many strong Canadian beers. Originally from Quebec, you’ll now find delicious poutineries all over the country.

11. Canadians are a nation of sports fans

As well as internationally popular sports like soccer, basketball and baseball, get ready to enjoy Canadian favourites like lacrosse and ice hockey. And whether you’re spectating or giving it a go yourself, you can’t miss the quintessential Canadian winter tradition that is shinny – an informal ice hockey game played on your local frozen lake.

12. It’s all about the Great Outdoors

The outdoorsy life is a big part of Canadian culture. Even city-dwellers love to get out into the country’s vast countryside to indulge in some weekend adventuring. Activities like fishing, hunting and hiking are popular ways to unwind, along with skiing, snowboarding and mountain biking. For the most stunning scenery, head to one of Canada’s 39 National Parks to see everything from mountains and glaciers to forests and waterfalls.

13. Politeness is highly valued

Canadians pride themselves on being polite and courteous, so don’t expect the most direct communication. Manners are important and you might find work etiquette, for example, feels more formal than back home.

14. Don’t miss the festivals

Expat life in Canada is a fantastic opportunity to embrace some new festivals and traditions. The most famous highlights include the Calgary Stampede, the Quebec Winter Carnival and Canada Day, but you’ll also find a whole host of smaller events celebrating everything from poutine to fireworks.

15. Even Americans need work visas and to apply for residency

Don’t be under the misconception that it’s easier for citizens of the US to move to Canada than those from anywhere else in the world. The same rules apply; however, Canada is extremely welcoming to new residents.

Canada has a very open immigration system, if you have skills to offer and/or can financially support yourself you should find yourself successful in your application for a work visa, or residency.

The great thing about Canada’s immigration system is all the information and the application process can be found online. It’s very detailed and very efficient, so once you have all your documentation together you can make your application, then track it completely, online.

16. Canadians really are very polite

You know Canadians are polite, but did you know they are very polite?! They really are, from apologising unnecessarily, to uncomfortable door opening moments – “you first”, “no, you first” – really does happen.

It’s one of the most endearing things about Canadians though, they are genuinely very polite, and wonderfully welcoming even to strangers. No matter where you are moving to in Canada, expect a warm welcome and to make friends quickly.

17. Canada is bilingual

French is predominant in Quebec, spoken widely in the East and the francophone provinces. Around 20% of Canadians speak French as their first language, 56% of Canadians have English as their first language. (Source: Census Canada 2016).

Around 95% of Quebec residents speak French. French is spoke far less in the western provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, but you can still choose to send your children to French immersion schools which have an excellent curriculum for learning French at an early age.

18. It gets really cold in Winter

You may be from a state which already experiences extreme cold and snow, if you are not, be prepared. Areas of the North and East can regularly experience lows of -20 to – 40 C, and snow a few feet deep.

If you are not a fan of snow you need to look more to the plains, the coast, the Vancouver area or Vancouver Island.

Nunavut, Manitoba and Saskatchewan average -30 degrees Celsius during winter. Quebec and Ontario also experience the “lake effect” from North America’s great lakes, which can result in paralyzing snow falls for a few days at a time.

19. Smoking in public is illegal

It is illegal to smoke in many public places outside and inside. Check the rules for public areas in towns and cities. If you are moving to a more rural area you must remember the risk of wild fires, which are often caused by cigarette butts. If you do smoke you must dispose of your cigarette butts safely.

If you are not used to being out in the wilds, consider learning to make a proper (and safe) campfire, vital education before you move.

20. Canada is truly multicultural

Known as being of the most diverse and multicultural countries in the world. Everyone is welcome in Canada and treated the same.

The Canadian Parliament is the most diverse anywhere with 41 sitting Members of Parliament having been born abroad.

There are many languages spoken in Canada and you will encounter, and can experience, many cultures.

Like America, Canada is a country of both immigrants and native peoples. By 2031 it’s expected that half of Canada’s residents could have been born in Asia.

Canada needs immigration to meet some major skills gaps in its thriving technology sector, and to meet demand for trades, healthcare and many other skilled roles.

Canada’s population is changing, with a higher population of seniors than children for the first time, in 2016. Canada’s fertility rate is an average of 1.6 children per mom, the fertility rate needed for a stable population is 2.1 children per mom. Canada needs its new residents!

Not only will you receive a warm welcome, Canada was voted the 2nd best country in the world to live, again in 2017, by the U.S. News & World Report.

21. Healthcare and insurance

If you have residency, or a long-term visa, you may be eligible for Canada’s excellent healthcare system. Public health insurance is available to eligible citizens and permanent residents. You may have to pay towards a medical services plan, which will vary from province to province. Though Canada’s healthcare system is not ranked the highest in the world, it is ranked better than that of the USA.

Canada does rank incredibly high for quality of life, and being one of the best places to live and work.

22. Taxation in Canada

Canada has a decentralised federal tax system so there are taxes at a few levels. Income tax will be collected by both the federal and provincial government.

When taking a job make sure you understand what your net income (income after tax) will be. Taxation is straight forward and if you are due at refund at the end of the year, due to your tax status or terms of employment, you will usually receive it quickly.

Sales tax is added at the point of sale in Canada. So, the prices you see in a store will have tax added when you get to the checkout. Rates of sales tax vary between 5% in Alberta and nearly 15% in Quebec.

The cost of living will be much higher in the big cities due to demand for property. Vancouver and Toronto are expensive. If you choose a small town or city, or a more rural location, prices will be lower.

The sheer size of Canada, and relatively low population per area, can mean that your groceries need to travel a good way before they reach your local store, bumping up prices of groceries somewhat. If you choose one of the Canadian islands, like Vancouver Island, most produce is imported which will increase costs.

Canada and America are countries of similar size. Where America has a population of 314 million Canada’s population is just 34 million.

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