If you are planning to immigrate to Canada and settle down in this mysterious place, your emotions can be a mix of thrill, joy, happiness, sadness, and horror. It is a totally strange but understandable feeling.
Are you doubting yourself and asking questions about how to survive in this new land while dealing with new people, culture, society, language, and weather?
It is definitely fun to be in a new continent thousands of miles away from homeland! However, every newcomer faces some challenges after arriving in this wonderful wild land with its loveliest and friendliest people.
In this blog post, I am going to list what we experienced and learned during our decade of Canadian life. You will learn about what to do and what to avoid. Avoiding the Top Mistakes by newcomers can help making your transition much easier and smoother. I will provide our personal experience with each recommendation.
Top Mistakes By Newcomers in Canada
Don’t Delay Opening Your First Canadian Bank Account
I usually recommend newcomers to open their first Canadian bank account as soon as possible. Almost all big Canadian banks have special accounts for newcomers. They realize most people stick with the same account for their life so there is a stiff competition between banks to attract new account holders.
As a newcomer you can open an account with one of the big banks easily which I don’t recommend as it gets tricky after the promotion year is offer making you start paying fees. You usually only need your landing paper and passport to open the account. The list of best Canadian bank accounts for newcomers in Canada is as below:
- BMO NewStart Program
- Scotiabank StartRight Program
- RBC Newcomer Advantage
- CIBC Welcome to Canada Banking Package
- TD New to Canada Banking Package
What I recommend is to try being a little adventurous and open an account with one of the digital banks below which offer great services without any fees. You can pretty much get anything done from your home via Chat or phone service. Yes, in Canada we barely need to go to a branch nowadays.
Related: Check my coverage about the Best High Interest Savings Accounts in Canada
EARN AN EXTRA $50 by using my Tangerine Referral Orange Key. 43640010S1
Personal Experience: Based on the local immigration agency, I ended up opening a Scotiabank account. There was no fees during the first year. However, I cancelled this account to avoid paying fees and instead opened a Tangerine account. Don’t get cut with temporary promotions. They take advantage of you!
Don’t Show up Without a Prior Appointment
In many countries around the world, an appointment is not really a thing. You just show up and go from there. Often times, you can’t get things done easily so you keep trying over and over. This is because the culture of booking appointments and being organized might not be a thing.
In Canada, try to always call first. Book an appointment before going anywhere unless you are sure you can be offered the service you expect. This can be a bank, mechanic, doctor, teacher, accountant, lawyer, job agency, government agency, social worker, or any other service provider.
Personal Experience: When we landed in Halifax, we didn’t have a confirmed booking. We never owned a credit card so couldn’t reserve anything online. I ended up looking up some places on real estate sites and chose one randomly . We told the airport taxi driver to take us there. When we got there, nobody opened the door. There was a phone number we tried unsuccessfully. We ended up going to a close by motel for a week before figuring our our next move.
Don’t Rely on Your Winter Boots or Jackets from Other Countries
First of all, if you had the option, try arriving in Canada between April and November when the weather is much nicer than the snowy freezing months of December to March. This will allow you enough time to adjust to the new weather condition and get prepared.
However, if you land during the Canadian Winter, your jacket or winter boot bought from your homeland (Unless you live is a cold country with sever winter like Russia or Greenland) country won’t be useful here. It won’t protect you in the normal -20 C Canadian weather.
You can buy a good winter jacket from any retail store in Canada upon arrival. Just search online and you will see many options both to be purchased directly in stores or from an online retailer.
Personal Experience: Being from Iraq with a stop-over in Amman, Jordan before making our way to Canada, we didn’t really have any chance to buy a Winter jacket. We arrived in September and what we called winter jackets were barely enough for the Atlantic Canadian fall weather.
Do Avoid Big Cities, Downtown Core or Expensive Neighborhoods
This is one of the biggest mistakes by newcomers where they focus on downtown or most popular and expensive cities to start their life until they realize life can’t be affordable in big cities like Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver without a dual family income.
I highly recommend newcomers to try starting their life in places far from the main big cities until they adjust their new life, have some years of Canadian working experience, and a stable income. Renting in smaller cities like Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, Halifax, Moncton, Edmonton can save you a fortune when starting a new life in Canada.
Even in these smaller cities, don’t focus on downtown or popular neighborhoods. These are expensive and won’t really suit your needs as a newcomer. Canada is one of the safest countries in the world so even a dangerous area in Canadian standards might be tens of times safer than a safe place in other countries.
Saving on paying high rent is a game changer and will shape your financial life in Canada eventually unless you can land a high paying career right away.
Personal Experience: We chose Halifax as we were told it is a much affordable place to start our Canadian journey. I am glad this was our way. With almost no income, it would have been a nightmare paying rent in bigger cities. Our rent was only $550 in Dartmouth, NS for a 1 bedroom apartment.
Do Find a Month to Month Rental & Read the Contract Carefully
Try a monthly contract if possible until you get to know the place and know where you are going to settle down. This can be close to your new workplace or university. If you can try to even get a basement Airbnb or stay in a hostel if not a family with children.
In your first couple months or year of arrival, you are usually asked to provide couple months of rental. Try to negotiate this or walk away and find alternatives. Don’t fall in love with a place or feel it might be the dream place. Don’t get intimidated by realtors or owners saying they have some others interested and the place won’t stay in the market long enough.
Best way to avoid paying multi months rents up front is to have post-dated cheques. Most landlords accept this form is payment as a guarantee. You basically give them cheques dated for future months and can be cashed only on the first day of the month.
If your new landlord is grumpy and don’t accept post-dated cheques, you might need to find a co-signer who can be a family or friend. Most newcomers can find sweet hearted Canadians who are willing to sign your rental based on the assumption you will be paying rent. PLEASE BE KIND & PAY YOUR RENT or your co-signer will be in trouble and have to pay on your behalf.
Another very important point is to read the contract details very carefully. Spend time reading and reviewing. Ask friends or social services for help if you need to understand any point. Some landlords have some seriously questionable contracts like you have to paint the walls or wash the ceiling and windows before leaving. Be careful. If you end up having issues with a landlord, all provinces have Small Courts dedicated for settling issues between landlords and tenants. Do attend these courts prepared and you shall win the case.
Hopefully, you can get going by one of these two methods to avoid getting dinged hefty rent charges upon arrival.
Personal Experience: Our first landlord was really devastating. She sued us for $1750 in damages for a $550 rental apartment per month. She claimed damages and brought invoices. All the invoices were by her husband’s company where they scam people together.
We didn’t damage anything but I was told she will take the $250 deposit anyway so I didn’t clean before leaving and was okay wit her taking that but coming to my workplace serving me court papers was a really bad move. She got caught to be a liar in the court when denied any personal relationship with the contractor’s company who was her husband so she lost the case.
I could have counter-sue her for damages but I decided to let go. It was a stressful one year.
Don’t Spend More than You Have or Earn (Stick to your budget & AVOID DEBT)
I totally get it. You are brand new here and need glorious new stuff. Don’t do it until you really have enough cash for at least your first year. Instead of buying new furniture, get used ones from Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace.
Credit Cards are great tools to earn travel points or cash back ONLY if you pay them full every month. They will become a burden and budget killer if you start accumulating debts and pay interests.
Make a plan and stick to spending what you have. Looking for some inspiration? Check our my About and how we started our life in Canada. Another great resource is offered by government of Canada. You can find the details in the Official Canadian Financial Calculators and Budget Planner Tools post.
Personal Experience: We had to cut meat and fruits except apple and banana for months as we didn’t have enough income. My wife ate lots of apples during her first pregnancy. We chose a cheap but safe apartment and purchased used items till we could stand up.
Don’t Get Cut by All the Shiny Mobile Plans & Devices
You probably already have a working cell phone. You can use your phone if unlocked in Canada and no need to buy a new one or replace it. Don’t get cut in an expensive 2 year Mobile contract just because you want that new iPhone or Samsung phone. They are just tools, and all do the same job of calling, texting, running apps, and keeping us connected. And yes, they all take millions of pictures which we never really go back to see.
Take your time and do your research. Read How VoIP Phone Is Saving Us 1000s of Dollars. Or if you aren’t a fan of VoIP, you can still get affordable mobile plans by avoiding the big companies (Telus, Bell, and Rogers). Usually smaller companies like Fido, Public Mobile, Freedom provide higher plans with lower prices.
Interesting Fact about Canada is that smaller companies owned or relying on bigger ones are better and cheaper. As you see this applies for banks and mobile providers. Tangerine is owned by Scotiabank, Simplii by CIBC yet both have more affordable services. Mobile companies are the same. Bell, Telus, and Rogers own all the mobile infrastructure in Canada. All other players work like sub-contractors yet provide cheaper options. Do take advantage of this.
This also applies for home internet. Do your research and compare prices including installation fees and what it includes (Wireless Modem and Router, Rebate on installation, First month free). Same applies for getting Home or Auto insurance through a smaller broker rather than directly from the insurance provider.
Personal Experience: We never paid for TV Cable services. We always had free offers for 6-12 months then we ended up cancelling before renewal. For the mobile, we usually used pay as we go or data plans. However, we didn’t know about the smaller internet providers and for years kept paying the expensive cost of the main Atlantic Canada ISP called Eastlink.
Don’t Delay Applying for SIN, Health Card, and Driver License
It is very important to visit Service Canada on your week of arrival and apply for your SIN. Social Insurance Number (SIN) is the national identification and linked to all our financial life. Banks will need it to open a new account or credit card. Employers require the SIN to set up payrolls for tax purposes. And Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) uses the SIN for all the services including tax deductions and benefit payments.
Newcomers who don’t have a permanent residency in Canada (Students, Workers) get a temporary SIN starting by the digit 9. This SIN will then be upgraded to a permanent one after obtaining the permanent residency status in Canada.
Next is to visit your local provincial service center and apply for health card. Make sure to check the eligibility and documents requirements. Most provinces require 3 months of residency in the province before becoming eligible for the provincial health card. Health Card is the 2nd most important service anyone should have in Canada after SIN. It is used to have a free service in doctors offices, walk-in clinics, and hospitals. Each provincial health provider has its own rules and regulations. Make yourself familiar with all the rules and what is covered.
Provincial Health Card do not include Dental and Drug coverage. Exception is QC where there is a drug coverage within the province health card paid by taxpayers’ money.
Next is driver license. If you know how to drive and already have a valid driver license, depends on the issuing country, it might be exchanged with a Canadian driver license. However, the driver license of most countries can’t be easily replaced, and you will need to go through training or take exams in your province. If you are used to driving in your country, this should be easy. Just make yourself familiar with the Canadian rules which are the standard driving rules all over the world (Stop, Yield).
Most places accept both provincial health card and driver license a valid form of identification saving you from carrying your passport everywhere you go.
Personal Experience: There is not much to say here except I never knew how to drive and didn’t have a driver license. I made it a priority and got my first ever driver license on our 2nd year of being in Canada.
Do Get Minimum One Canadian Credit Card to Build Canadian Credit History
This might sound contradicting my other piece of advice on avoiding debt. However, credit card is a two edged knife. If used properly, it can give great value including included roadside assistance, travel and emergency insurance, discount on gas, cash back and points.
As an example, I carry a free Tangerine Mastercard which offers 2% cashback on grocery, gas, and recurring bill payments. This means I get $20 free money on every $1000 I spend as long as the statement is paid in full every month to avoid interests eating all the benefits.
A Canadian credit card is very important to build a Canadian credit history. Financial institutes and banks rely on this credit history to decide giving anyone mortgage for purchasing a home, a car loan, line of credit, or even approving a higher end credit card.
Therefor, it is important to have your credit history in Canada get started as soon as possible. I can’t say this enough! Spend as much as you can pay back. AVOID DEBT. Credit card usually charges 19.99-29.99% annually in interests. This means they charge you $19.99-$29.99 for every loaned $100 in credit card balance. Avoid this at all expenses.
Personal Experience: As my first bank was Scotiabank, I had my first credit card with them. However, as I didn’t have a credit history, they locked $500 from my saving account and gave me a $500 credit limit. It was okay till they refused to increase and unlock the hold after a year.
I ended up cancelling the card and getting a new credit card from RBC. Ironically, RBC gave me a $9000 credit limit. The point is to never give up. Keep trying with different provider until you get what you want.
Do Use Classification Ad sites like Kijiji, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace With Cautions
Yes, almost everyone I know uses Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace to purchase items. I personally bought many furniture, kitchen appliances, kids’ toys, and clothes from these resources. I even sold my car on Facebook marketplace!
However, don’t assume every seller is honest. Some just want to get rid of what they have in any expense. Others are in the business of buying and reselling for a profit and do what it takes to make some profit including scamming others. Do your due diligence. Meet in person. Take someone with you if you are buying an expensive item. Check what you are purchasing in person before transferring money.
Personal Experience: I only had 1 bad experience with Kijiji and that was my first ever interaction with the site or online buying in general. In our first month of arrival, we found a great looking couch and sofa set for $80. I contacted them and they even agreed to deliver for an additional $20. To me it was a great deal.
Unfortunately, they delivered them during rain in an open truck. The furniture got really wet and smelly. They also weren’t as nice looking or clean as the Ad said and had a broken leg with tears here and there. I didn’t notice this until later. Anyway, the transaction was done. I paid and received the items. The seller forgot to give us one of the legs. I messaged them to get it and they agreed to bring it.
As we really didn’t like this couch and sofa, we decided to try selling it on Kijiji to buy another one. We put it for $100 to cover our expenses. The seller saw the Ad and made a deal out of it thinking we are trying to make a profit. She refused to bring the missing leg and threat to call the police if we bother her. As a newcomer to Canada, we weren’t in any position to deal with police or anything. She took advantage of us, but lesson learned.
The moral point is to say no if you don’t like something in person regardless of if it gets delivered or not. Plus, don’t get intimated by some random threats if you haven’t done anything wrong. This is the case for anything we buy nowadays including new items on Amazon. Free returns if not as described.
Do Make Connections, Update Your Resume & LinkedIn Profile, Apply for 100s of Jobs
Finding a job in this competitive Canadian job market isn’t easy. There are hundreds of thousands of newcomers coming to Canada yearly. In addition count in all the university and college graduates yearly. Companies can usually find highly skilled employees and pay them less competitive wages. I have had friends graduated from Masters in Engineering degrees getting jobs paying them less than $25 an hour.
Having connections in Canada like many other countries can help finding a job easier or faster. You will need a reference when applying for a job in Canada so try getting to know a circle of people within your profession to make this transition smoother.
There are many great resources in Canada to find your first or upcoming jobs. Below are some of the best job search sites and resource in Canada to begin with:
- Job Bank directory by Government of Canada
- LinkedIn Job Search
- Indeed Job Search Canada
- Workopolis Let’s go to Work
- Monster Career Search Directory
In addition, every province has its unique career services and resources which are a Google search away. Best recommendation I can give is to don’t feel let down. The job market is competitive. It is really tough to get your hand on your first job unless you graduate from a highly skilled program in Canada. Doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, dentist, engineer in another country. You still need to get certified and take exams to start your career in Canada. Expect to apply for hundreds of jobs to only get handful of phone calls leading to only 2-3 interviews and hopefully 1 job offer.
The best way to make yourself attractive is to have an updated resume detailing how you will be a great fit in a particular job. You might need to tweak your resume multiple times depending on the job you are applying for. Be Patient. Be Persistent. Be Strong. You can do this.
Personal Experience: My first job was difficult. It involved traveling to other cities while I didn’t have a car so I had to arrange a ride or take buses. Then things got better after finding my first full-time job. Your best friends are Indeed and LinkedIn. I found all my jobs through LinkedIn.
Indeed is an okay source to find a job but don’t rely on getting it while applying through Indeed. Make an effort. Find the company’s web site and apply directly or send a personal email to the HR and introduce yourself.
Do Apply for all Eligible Social and Financial Benefits Immediately
Depends on your situation you can be eligible for some of great social services and benefits. It might take months to start receiving these benefits so apply as soon as you can. Some of these benefits are listed below:
- COVID-19 – Benefits and services
- Employment Insurance benefits and leave
- Family and caregiving benefits
- Public pensions
- Student aid and education planning
- Housing benefits
Government of Canada has a really amazing tool to help finding benefits which is called Benefits finder. I recommend you using this tool to find all the benefits you might be able to take advantage of.
Personal Experience: Even though we applied for Child Benefits as soon as our daughter was born, it took months and months and tens of calls and papers to get it processed. They just didn’t believe we had a daughter I guess! Gladly, nowadays, no application is required. It is all automatic via CRA.
Don’t Let the Charming Salespeople Sell You Stuff or Services
This is one of the very important things to always consider. Yes, most people are honest, but they work for a commission, so they need to bring clients or sell products to make money. Don’t get overwhelmed or intimidated by these sales techniques.
If someone is trying to sell you something really hard, that thing is probably not good. If they had enough clients, they won’t go spend hours trying to find new ones. This means they don’t have enough people joining via referrals or recommendations, so they need to hire people to get clients.
You might find people offering services from the time you land in the airport. This can be phone plans or credit cards and anything in between. You can also have people knocking at your door trying to sell you products like Cable or Internet.
Personal Experience: I did a big mistake when listened to my colleague and accepted sales people to come to my home and sell me their RESP (Registered Education Saving Plans). This was with a group benefit company called Knowledge First Financial (KFF). Avoid them and similar ones at all costs. They are basically legal thieves taking close to 30% of your contribution as fees. Gladly I didn’t contribute much but still they took $1750 out of $6000 contribution. Be warned!
Conclusions & Recommendations
To be successful in your mission, do your research prior to any decision. There are many great online resources to help your settlement in Canada. Use all the available resources and ask questions. Feel free to call government agencies and inquiry about what you have in mind. Call and make appointments with both public and private agencies. Be mindful to yourself and your budget and be patient.
It takes a lot of effort to be successful in a new country but believe in yourself and you shall succeed.
Thank you for reading & Good luck in Canada! Let me know your thoughts and comments below. If you have any tip for newcomers feel free to let others and myself know by commenting.