Living in Canada

Living in Canada can be a life changing experience. It is a nation that boasts beautiful countryside that is interspersed by modern cities. It is a popular living location with people who are looking to bask in natural beauty whilst enjoying all the modern conveniences that are found in the Western world. Canada is also frequently ranked number one in the United Nations annual Human Development Index, which considers factors such as job opportunties, quality of schooling, life expectancy and cost of living. It has one of the strongest economies in the world and is a member of the G8, the world's most prosperous nations.

Whilst Canada covers a vast area, the majority of people live in cities that are positioned within 200 km of the US boarder, leaving the larger part of the country less inhabited. Northern and Western Canada are popular with nature lovers from across the world and these areas are also home to the last Inuit (Eskimo) communities.

Canada as an expat destination

Canada was originally inhabited by first nation aboriginal tribes and it wasn't until the 17th and 18th century that the Europeans started to establish settlements there.

Canada remains part of the British Commonwealth and is subsequently very popular with expats from both the UK and France. However, despite its European background, Canada shares much more economic and social similarities with the US and for this reason it is highly popular with US expats who are looking for experiences outside their home country.

Today Canada's strong economy means that they are able to accept more immigrants from around the world than any other western nation (per capita) and for people from the US and UK the legal requirements for living in Canada and gaining acceptance are relatively straightforward in comparison with other places in the world.

Cost of living in Canada

Many expatriates find that the cost of living in Canada is much lower than that in their home country. The housing costs are much cheaper when compared with other countries and people who relocate to Canada looking to purchase property will find that they can get more for their money here. Mercer's 2011 survey of expatriate living costs Toronto (59) overtook Vancouver (65) to become the most expensive Canadian city in the ranking, followed by Montreal (79) and Calgary (96). Ranking 114, Ottawa is the least expensive city in Canada. For the full information you will need to compare the cost of living in your home country with that of popular cities then please see our relocation guides. They contain full sample costing for all popular goods and services in cities throughout the world.


Canada's population consists of approximately 32 million. The main languages spoken are the official languages of Canada, English (59%) and French (23%) with the remaining 18% consisting of other languages.


Canada experiences four distinct seasons, with long, cold winters and warm summers. Coastal temperatures are often warmer than those inland, especially during the winter.

Expat job & career opportunities

The Canadian government have demonstrated a willingness to employ foreign workers and have historically been quick to recognize that skilled immigrants are important to the growth of the Canadian economy.

The majority of expats living in Canada find work through insurance, catering or production industries and there tends to be a good availability of office jobs for expats. In the past Canada has suffered from a deficit of skilled engineering candidates and for this reason expats who work in the field of project management, process and engineering are in higher demand.

The unemployment rate in Canada, as of September 2009, was 8.4%. At present the country is experiencing a shortage in positions for students but rises are being observed in the retail and wholesale trade sectors.

It is worth noting that some expats are legally able to work in Canada without work permit, a list of exempt occupations can be found at The Government of Canada website also provides useful information on moving to Canada as a foreign worker

Key facts every expat should know about Canada

  1. If you wish to apply for an immigration visa for living in Canada make sure you plan well ahead; they can take up to three years to process.
  2. If you do successfully secure an immigrant visa there is a large amount of paperwork that you will be required to produce when you first arrive in Canada. You will need evidence that you have sufficient funds to cover all your living costs for at least six months, a detailed list of ALL the personal or Household items you are bringing with you in your luggage and a further list of all those that will be following by shipment.
  3. Even though British Columbia is renowned for its marijuana culture, it is actually an illegal substance in Canada. While there are special bars and restaurants where smokers can go it is unwise to flaunt it.
  4. Some expats can legally work in Canada without a work permit.
  5. If you ship your belongings to Canada you must be present in Customs to clear them. If you are not there they will be "held in bond" by the Customs Office.

Expat Info Desk currently has city guides available for living in Toronto and living in Vancouver. These exhaustive relocation guides contains everything you need to know about living in these Canadian cities and will assist you to:

  • relocate efficiently and effectively with minimum stress.
  • settle in to your new life quickly and easily and find the help and assistance you need, when you need it.
  • identify areas to live in that suit your lifestyle and budget.
  • find the right places to meet like-minded people.
  • find schools that are suitable for your children and their learning needs.
  • ensure that your family get the most of their experiences abroad.
  • prepare for the new culture in advance and avoid any cultural traps.
  • deal with any transition challenges.
  • cut through red tape and avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.

Unlike a book, the guides are regularly reviewed and updated in order to ensure that the information is accurate and reliable and because it is written by real expats who live and work in Canada, you can be assured that you are accessing the information that you need as written by people who really are in the know.


Stretching from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Atlantic Ocean in the east, Canada enjoys all the geographic and climatic variation that you would expect from the world's second largest country.

Divided into ten provinces and three territories, each of which has its own distinctive scenery and weather. Canada is known for its stunning scenery and landscapes, from the mountain chains which dominate the western reaches of the counry to the rocky coastal charms of the eastern Maritime provinces.

In central Canada you will find prairie land stretching for thousands of miles from Alberta to Manitoba, while in Ontario and the predoniantly French-speacking Quebec lie two of the countries major economic hubs - Toronto and Montreal.

Simply put, when it comes to Canada, big is definitely better.

Five reasons to choose Canada

Outdoor lifestyle

A varied and dramatic landscape and climate allow for a wide range of outdoor activities - both on land and water.

Bright future

it's got masses of things that the world is running short of (namely water and oil), and event the Canadian north is opening to exploration.

Scenery/ nature

From the Rocky mountains of British Columbia to the Great Lakes of Ontario, Canada has some of the world's most inspiring scenery and wildlife.

Property prices

Although property prices in BC, Alberta and Toronto are above the world average, you can pick up more for yoru money in the majority of Canadian provinces and territories.


Canada is a big old fella, so ther's more than enough room to swing a cougar or five.


So, now that you’ve decided that Canada is the place for you, it’s time to tackle the all-important ‘to do’ list before heading over. This can be quite extensive depending on whether you’re going over for a year on a working holiday, or moving the whole family across indefinitely. If all the aspects of moving abroad are researched thoroughly and given ample time to be achieved, your move will be made significantly easier.

We’ve put together an extensive list of things you should consider to help you get across to Canada prepared and ready to start life’s next adventure.

Before you go

Look at your visa options

The starting point for any successful move overseas is securing the right visa for you, and if applicable, your family. If you are not a Canadian citizen, you must have a visa to enter Canada. Decide what you want to do in Canada (short term working holiday, or longer term employment and residency) and then look into your visa options – we have a great Guide to Canadian Visas to get you started.

Check your passport details

Ensure you and all family members or friends you are travelling with have valid passports that are in date for the full duration of the visa you are applying for (e.g. If you are applying for a 4 year visa, you should have at least 4 years of validity on your passport). If it needs replacing, then do so.

Create a budget

Look into what it will cost for you to move to, and live in Canada. Make sure that you will be able to achieve the standard of living you are hoping for, without doing this you can set yourself up for a bit of a shock! Our Cost of Living page is a great place to start.

Update your CV

Ensure you have all your qualifications and work experience listed and up to date, this will allow you to apply for jobs before you arrive, visit our website to see what kind of employment is on offer.

Get your trade or qualification recognized

If you have a trade or qualification it’s advisable to have your qualifications formally recognized by the relevant authority in Canada. This may improve your chance of gaining employment in your profession or trade. Visit our Employment section for more information. If you are going on a working holiday, this may not be necessary.

Look at your financials

Will you need to maintain an account in your home country (e.g. for payments into your account or to maintain bills)? Will you need to open a bank account in Canada for salary payment and to be able to transfer funds to? Take a look at Money & Tax section for more information on how this can be done

Settle up

Close down accounts in your home country such as utilities, subscriptions, etc. You don’t want any loose ends or headaches with things that have been left when you are in Canada. Also ensure you have your post re-directed to either a family member or friends address, or have it re-directed to your new address in Canada.

Book your flights

Many large airlines offer special one-way fares for people migrating to Canada depending on your arrival visa type. It may be worth ringing their booking line directly to inquire about what services are available.

Look at health and travel insurance

Now you know your travel dates, ensure you have travel or health insurance suitable for your time in Canada. If you are planning to stay in Canada for an extended amount of time, you may want to register with the local health service (often referred to as Medicare) visit the Health Service & Insurance section for more information.

Organize a start date

If you have secured a job in Canada, it is advisable to arrange a start date with your new employer before you leave. This will ensure that upon arrival, you have a set amount of time to get adjusted, unpack and begin your new life.

Say your goodbyes

Before you leave, make sure you have said all your goodbyes, provide your new contact details and travel itinerary to your family and friends.

Once you arrive

Apply for a Canadian Social Insurance Number (SIN)

Do this as soon as possible. To receive an income in Canada, you need a Social Insurance Number (SIN). Visit Money & Tax section for more information.

Register for healthcare

The Canadian Government provides a public health service, often referred to as Medicare. Instead of having a single national plan, Canada’s health care program is made up of provincial and territorial health insurance plans, all of which share certain common features and standards. Visit Health Service & Insurance section for more information.

If you have children, enroll them into school

By law, children under 15 years of age must attend school. Each province has it’s own department of education, to find out the nearest schools to where you are living, visit the Canadian Immigration and Citizenship website.

Apply for a Canadian Driver's License

Driver’s licenses are issued by each provincial department. You are able to drive on your foreign license for several months, but it is advisable to apply for a Canadian license as soon as possible. You can visit the Canadian Department of Immigration website for more information on each provincial department, and how you go about applying for a license.


If you want to live and work, study or start a business in Canada the first thing you need to do is find and apply for the right visa. The official website for Canada – listing all available visas types and the requirements for each – is run by Canada’s Immigration Department otherwise known as Citizenship & Immigration Canada (CIC). You should visit this site once you have read the summaries below.

Working in Canada – determine your eligibility

Every year, over 180,000 foreign workers enter Canada to work temporarily. Designed to help Canadian employers address skill shortages, a work permit is needed for most temporary jobs in Canada. The main visa classifications for working in Canada are the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (Skilled Workers & Professionals), Canadian Experience Class (for people with recent Canadian work experience or who have graduated and recently worked in Canada), Provincial Nominee Program (one of Canada’s provinces or territories sponsor you) and the International Experience Canada Program (Canada’s Working Holiday Visa). There is also options for Investors and Self-Employed.

Canada’s new Express Entry system is the current method of selecting candidates for permanent residence programs. The province of Quebec selects its own skilled workers, and therefore does not use this system. If you plan to live in Quebec, please see the CIC website for information.

Employer sponsored visas

Most foreign workers are employed in Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which is a temporary employer-sponsored visa used by Canadian employers to fill positions when they can’t find anyone in the local labour market. To be granted this visa you need to secure a job with a Canadian employer.

If you plan to work in Canada temporarily, it’s likely your employer will need to obtain a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) before hiring you. An LMIA is an assessment from Economic and Social Development Canada (ESDC) which shows whether Canadians are available to take up a job, or if there is a need for a foreign worker.

It is the responsibility of your potential employer to apply for an LMIA, and if approved, they can then pass it on to you.

There are a number of other requirements worth bearing in mind, including: that your skills, qualifications, experience and employment history match those required for the position; that you have English language ability; you are eligible for any relevant licenses or registration required for the role.

Your right to stay and work in Canada depends on your employer continuing to sponsor you but most foreign workers on a temporary visa will be subject to a 4-year limit on the length of time they may work in Canada. If you want to change jobs, your new employer must apply to CIC and be accepted to sponsor you.

There are plenty of ways to find an employer to sponsor you. Many employers will proactively seek candidates at international recruitment exhibitions, such as the Working Abroad events. It is worth finding out what employers from your industry will be attending these events and going to meet them in person. Meeting someone in person will always increase your chance of being offered a job.


Finding a job when moving to a new country is at the top of most people’s priority list. It can be the difference between settling in quickly with a regular income, or a start to your new adventure with some uncertainty.

Unemployment in Canada is at a very low 7.1%, riding off the back of a strong economy and natural resource industry. With unemployment levels expected to remain low, there are significant employment opportunities for people from overseas looking for their next career move. The Canadian labour market can be very competitive. How quickly you finding a job will depend on economic factors, your qualifications and your skills, the type of work you are looking for and particular circumstances that may affect the availability of certain types of work in different parts of the country.

Finding a job

Before you go

Many people will choose to seek employment before arriving in Canada. Employers often seek employees internationally at large recruitment exhibitions and events across the globe. The Smart Kraft is a great way of meeting these employers in person, visit our Exhibitions and Events page form more information.

You can also contact your local branch of global recruitment agencies such as Manpower, Adecco or Hays as each of them have offices throughout Canada and will be able to assist with your job search.



It is advantageous to get your qualifications formally recognised by the relevant authority in Canada, improving your chance of gaining employment in your profession or trade.

If you have trade qualifications in areas such as engineering, construction, metalwork, electrical or catering, the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC) can advise you on how those qualifications can be recognised in Canada.


If you are looking for work in a professional occupation, you will probably need to get your tertiary qualification formally recognised. You may find that your current qualification may translate straight into the Canadian workforce, it's best to visit the CICIC website to confirm if your qualifications are recognised in Canada.

CICIC are also able to provide advice on having your general tertiary education credentials recognized in Canada. Visit their website for more information.

Employment Training Courses

In Canada, health and safety laws require that workers in certain professions (including Hospitality & Construction) to undergo compulsory basic training and become certified to be eligible for employment. There are several educational firms that you can attend to complete these training courses.

General employment information

Annual Leave

Canada's standard entitlement for paid leave is two weeks per year. It can be more than this, depending on the province you work in, as well as the employer. Annual leave is pro-rated for the amount of time with the company. A standard working week in Canada is 40 hours. Each of Canada’s provinces sets their own paid public holidays, but there are also standard national holidays.

The is no general allowance for sick leave per year, but your employer may have some form of sickness benefits, visit the Service Canada website for more information.

Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP)

RRSP is a long-term investment for an employee’s retirement. It is also known as 'retirement savings' or 'pension income' around the world. An RRSP is a retirement savings plan that you establish, and the Canadian Revenue Agency registers, and to which you or your spouse or common-law partner contributes. Deductible RRSP contributions can be used to reduce your tax. Any income you earn in the RRSP is usually exempt from tax as long as the funds remain in the plan; you generally have to pay tax when you receive payments from the plan. You can find out more information about Canadian pension funds from the Canadian Revenue Department website.