Living and Working in Canada
Deciding to Come to Canada
So you want to come to Canada, eh? First of all, contrary to widespread belief, we don’t say ‘eh’ all the time. In fact, there are a few untruths out there about the country, one of which is that it’s a cinch to get in. It’s important to dispel the myth that Canada’s doors are wide open to whoever wishes to enter, so that you can ensure you’re one of those who does get in. Ninety per cent of skilled worker applicants are successful, but this is partly due to a preliminary self-assessment they are encouraged to do, resulting in many deciding not to apply. But, if you have the skills and the profile that Canada is looking for, you could be off to a new life in a vast and beautiful country. This book will help you to achieve your goals.
DEFINING YOUR GOALS
- Perhaps you want to come to a country less restricted and/or more stable than your own.
- Maybe you have family here whom you’d like to join, or you simply fancy a lifestyle change. You may feel Canada offers a higher standard of living than your own country.
- Are there employment opportunities in your field that don’t exist in your country? Is there a business you’d like to start that you think would prosper better in a competitive and growing economy like that of Canada?
- Perhaps you prefer to first sample life in Canada through a working holiday programme or a limited-time working permit.
- Do you want to take a particular course of study at a Canadian university or college? Or are you just coming over on a short-term student exchange?
- Maybe you just want to backpack around the country or visit friends and relatives for longer than a few weeks.
KEEPING EXPECTATIONS REALISTIC
When you have determined your motives in wanting to come to Canada, it’s important to identify the realities of what lies ahead. It’s wonderful to have great expectations, but it’s imperative that you become well-informed on certain aspects of Canadian life. There is plenty of opportunity, but no country is perfect.
Addressing myths and truths
Health care is free
What’s that about there being no such thing as a free lunch? It’s true in Canada that when you visit your family doctor you don’t pay any money to the doctor directly. But the health care system is funded by the taxes Canadian residents pay. Canadian health care spending is estimated to have reached almost 172 billion dollars in 2008. or $5,170 per person.
Multiculturalism has eliminated racism
Canada’s Multiculturalism Act is indicative of a progressive society. Immigrants are 50 per cent more likely to be self-employed than other Canadians are and immigration is expected to account for 100 per cent of all labour force growth by 2011. In addition, they don’t use public services and social assistance as much. Despite these statistics there are people who believe that immigrants drain the welfare and social systems. Yet paradoxically, immigrants are sometimes accused of stealing jobs from long-time Canadians. Canada is known for egalitarian values and for being a ‘cultural mosaic’ rather than a ‘melting pot’, but that does not mean that racism is non-existent. However, in most cases Canadians know that Canada needs more people to continue to grow (the birth rate has been in decline for several years) and to prosper.
High-level skills lead to a high-level job
For the most part this is true. And the higher the level of skill and expertise you have, the better your chances of getting into Canada. For example, engineering, financial, science and health professionals score high points on skilled worker immigration applications. Unfortunately, however, immigration does not take into account whether your certification or accreditation stands up in Canada. You could face years of further study in Canada – at your own expense – to be recognised in the profession you were in in your homeland. This challenge will be dealt with in the chapter on getting a job.
Seeing the up side
On the other hand, you may have heard a few discouraging things about Canada that are far from the truth, such as myths about bears in the streets, everyone living in igloos and it being cold all the time. In the following chapters you will learn more about Canada and, in turn, learn that the above is false. For example, there is ready access to natural spaces where, yes, there are bears, but in the majority of cities the most aggressive wildlife you would encounter would be racoons ravaging garbage cans. Housing in Canada comes in all shapes and sizes and igloos exist only in the far north. In fact, with 90 per cent of Canada’s population living 160 km from the US border, most Canadians enjoy warm summers in addition to the cold winters – and in some parts of Canada, like the West Coast, the winters are actually quite mild.
JOINING YOUR FAMILY
One major attraction of moving to Canada may be that you have friends or family who have moved there already. Your relatives can help with advice and assistance in your application process. In fact, having immediate family in Canada can offer one avenue to immigrate here; the chapter on immigration deals with this option. The adjustment to life in a new country can also be a great deal easier with the help of friends and relatives.
Different preparations are involved depending on whether you are immigrating to Canada or coming on a student visa, a working permit or just as a visitor. For the purposes of this section, the following points mostly pertain to immigration.
There are many people who do their own visa preparations when it comes to immigrating. Most buy a book like this one to get the information they need. Immigration Canada’s website and local consular offices also have detailed information on how to apply. But some people, especially those who feel they have complicated cases, might choose to hire an immigration lawyer or an immigration consultant. Both cost money, of course. Immigration lawyers are lawyers with a speciality in immigration and are regulated by their provincial law society. They will guide you through the process and try to minimise any legal quagmires that may arise. Immigration consultants are often less expensive than a lawyer and will guide you though the process, but they are not legal experts. It’s also very important to note that immigration consultants are regulated by and must be in good standing with the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC).
It would be difficult to leave a beloved pet behind, but there are some conditions to be met in order to bring your animals with you. First of all, Canada is a signatory to international agreements banning the importation of exotic and endangered species. That means there are some animals you are entirely barred from bringing in.
But for those animals you can import, the conditions you must meet will depend on what type of animal you are bringing in and what country you come from, because some countries are certified rabies-free and some are not. Also, at the time of publication, birds from certain countries were banned from import because of fears of avian influenza (bird flu).
You will have to prove your animals are pets and that you don’t plan to sell them. Depending on the animal and how old it is, there might be quarantine or vaccination requirements. For some animals, you’ll need to get a permit to bring it in, which requires an application and a fee. Assistance dogs (seeing-eye, hearing-ear) are exempt from permit requirements if they accompany the person who needs the assistance.
Your pet will also be subject to an inspection when you come to Canada. You should also be aware that if you are coming to Canada temporarily, your pet may be required to be quarantined on your return to your home country, sometimes for long periods of time.
To find out what is specifically required for your pet, you can contact the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) (see Useful Addresses). Their website (www.inspection.gc.ca) also has a wealth of information. CFIA also regulates the importation of plants.
It’s wise not to bring any drugs, except prescription drugs, into Canada. Even marijuana and hashish are considered narcotics and being caught with them carries a prison sentence. Can you think of a worse way to start your new life in Canada? You are allowed to bring in up to a three-month supply of prescription drugs as long as you can prove they were prescribed by a licensed physician and dispensed by a pharmacy.
Canada has tight gun control laws. The federal law governing firearms is the Firearms Act. Individual provinces may have additional requirements, particularly regarding hunting. You must be 18 years of age or older to bring in firearms.
There are three classes of firearms: non-restricted (such as rifles and shotguns for hunting); restricted (for specific purposes such as target shooting, not allowed for hunting or self-protection); and prohibited. Prohibited firearms include automatic firearms and some semi-automatic ones, many handguns (depending on barrel length and calibre) and replica guns. They cannot be brought into Canada.
You must have a valid firearms licence and a Canadian registration certificate for each firearm. If you are coming just for a visit, you can declare your firearms through a non-resident firearm declaration (this must be signed by a customs officer at the border and is good for 60 days and the fee is $25) or apply for a five-year Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) and register your firearms in Canada. The latter option requires proof you have passed the required safety courses and costs $60 to $80 depending on the firearms.
If you are moving to Canada for an extended period of time or permanently, the PAL option plus registration is required. For more information, contact the Canada Firearms Centre (see Useful Addresses).
Canada, of course, aims to prevent diseases from being imported into the country. You will need certain vaccinations for diseases. If you are immigrating you will have already been screened for diseases such as yellow fever and tuberculosis during your mandatory medical. If you are a visitor, a student or coming on a work permit, you may also require a medical depending on what country you are coming from or what occupation you may be undertaking while in Canada (such as working with children). Check with your Canadian Embassy or consulate.
STICKING TO YOUR DECISION
Once you start making serious preparations to come to Canada – especially if it’s to settle for good – you may begin to have doubts. It is a courageous act to leave a life you know for one that is unknown. You may be worrying about cultural differences, homesickness or you may be afraid that your bravery will lead you to failure. This is perfectly natural. Just remain clear about your motives, informed about your choices and prepared for what will greet you. And know that even if you don’t have family or friends awaiting you, you are not alone. There are agencies and organisations in many Canadian communities that are set up to help immigrants and new visitors.
The host programme
This helps you get settled in your community. It is a free service that introduces you to a Canadian who helps you learn about how things are done in Canada. For example this person will help you with the following:
- grocery shopping
- registering your children for school
- how to use local transport
- how to arrange television, phone and other utility services.
To join the host programme, contact a local immigrant service agency (see Useful Addresses). There is also the Language Instruction for Newcomers (LINC) programme and the Immigration Settlement and Adaptation Program (ISAP).
Adjusting to culture shock
Canada is like most industrialised countries, so if you’re from the Western world you may not find it all that different. The greatest adjustment will probably be getting used to the climate and the vast spaces. Make sure the clothing you bring is appropriate for the season, but don’t overdo it. You don’t need three featherdown jackets all at once in the wintertime, but a warm jacket, gloves, a hat and boots are necessary. If you bring clothing you can layer, your wardrobe will be at its most versatile for any season.
Canada’s biggest cities are so multicultural that anyone of any race or religion is bound to find a community they can feel comfortable in. Smaller towns, however, are less diverse and the adjustment might be more dramatic. But smaller centres can also be less isolating because everyone knows everyone. A recent Statistics Canada study found immigrants did better, sooner, in terms of income levels and language skills in smaller cities compared to those who settled in big centres.
Other than that, the differences are bound to be little ones only you would notice: office etiquette, slang words, hours of operation for businesses and shops etc. You’ll soon settle right in.
Before you leave
If you’re coming to live in Canada as a permanent resident, don’t sell your house or give up your job until your papers have come through. You have about a year to get to Canada once you receive your visa. Regardless of whether you’re coming as an immigrant, temporary worker, student or visitor, do not make any life-altering decisions based on your travels, until you are certain you are going and have your visa or work permit in your hand.
When you do come, don’t pack your official documents in your suitcase, but carry them with you. This includes your passport; visa/immigration papers for you and anyone else you are travelling with; birth certificate; baptismal certificates; marriage certificates; adoption, separation or divorce papers; school records, diplomas and degrees; trade or professional certificates; immunisation, vaccination, dental and other health records; driver’s licence and any accident record from your insurance company; car registration (if you are importing your car); employer reference letters.
Also, bring with you two copies of a detailed list of all personal or household items you are bringing with you or that will follow you later. Last but certainly not least, make sure you have sufficient funds for short-term living expenses.
And off you go!