Here are the most important things to do during your first days, weeks and months in Canada.
1. Choose a good neighborhood to enroll your children in a good school
Your child will have to go to your neighborhood school so be very careful when choosing where to live. If you came to Canada to give a good education to your children, choose a school with a good reputation, and settle in that neighborhood. Not all public schools are equally good – sometimes there is a huge difference.
2. Get help: Find an Immigrant Service Agency / a Community Center
These centers will help you with almost anything: enrolling your child in school, finding a place to live, writing a Canadian-style resume, getting ready for a job interview, etc. If you have a problem or don’t know something, ask to be guided.
3. If it’s winter, learn how to dress!
Don’t suffer – learn how to dress in winter. Windchill in winter is the reason for feeling so cold. Whenever the temperature drops, your body needs several days to adjust. If you came from a warmer country, it will take your body time to adjust. The secret to dressing warmly is to dress in layers: you need a minimum of two layers on your legs (or three if it’s really cold) and up to 5 layers on your body. Boots are very important.
4. Know your transportation options and study the map
What public transportation is available? Are there buses, subway, streetcars? The sooner you’re comfortable with traveling around the city, the sooner you will feel comfortable. Start by walking around your neighborhood. Take public transportation. It is very important that you don’t feel like a prisoner in your new place. If you can go anywhere, whether driving your own car or taking transit, you will feel free. Get a paper copy of the map or use google map, whichever you like more, but be sure you understand the city/town you live in. Become very familiar with the map and where everything is located. The sooner you do it, the sooner you stop feeling like a stranger.
5. Find a place to volunteer
If you don’t have a job yet, you must find a place to volunteer as soon after your arrival as you can. It will help you learn many things faster, including improving your English, getting Canadian experience, making social connections, getting references, and more. You can volunteer as little as two hours a week or as much as 5 days a week, whatever fits your life.
6. Know what to do in a medical emergency
- 911: call 911 if somebody’s life is in danger. 911 operators will find somebody who speaks your language.
- hospitals: ER (emergency rooms) can have a very long waiting time! Find out how long ER waiting times in your local hospital are – it could be several hours
- walk-in clinic: is there a local walk-in clinic near your new home? These often have shorter waiting times to see a doctor (30 min to 1 hour).
- family doctor: if you have children, it’s better to find a family doctor. If you’re single or just married, you could opt to use walk-in clinic services.
- dentist: if you don’t have insurance that covers your dental expenses, there may be options, such as community health organizations, colleges, and universities that teach dentistry and have dental clinic programs, public health programs, and special dental care programs for children – ask your local Immigrant Services Center
7. Be careful: fraud in Canada
Yes, there is a lot of fraud in Canada too. It is very important to know that not every email you receive is legitimate. It could look like an email from your bank or from your cell phone company, but don’t automatically believe it!! The same applies to phone calls: calls from your bank may not be calls from your bank, calls from the CRA could be fake too. Do not answer any personal questions – do not give out any personal information. Hang up, find the real phone number and call yourself.
Any call saying you won some prize is a fraud. There’s also a lot of fraud in certain areas, such as moving services (if you need to move, always ask somebody to recommend a good company), job market (if they ask money from you, for example for training, and guarantee you a job after, don’t believe them), home repair scams, fake health treatment claims (miracle cure, for example for weight loss), fake charities, etc. Be careful, don’t believe things that look too good to be true or urge you to act quickly.
8. Surround yourself with English
Children adapt to the new county faster and learn the language faster because they are surrounded by English – their homework is in English, their classmates and teachers speak English, etc. As an adult, you can do the same! It’s going to be hard at first but if you watch TV in English, listen to the radio in English, watch English videos on YouTube, talk English on social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.), read English newspaper/magazines daily, and speak to people in English at work (at your volunteer job), you will make progress almost as fast as your children!
Word of Caution on the Free English Classes:
While some classes are excellent, others could be of rather poor quality. There is no standard curriculum for these classes so a lot depends on the provider and on the individual teacher. Unfortunately, some new immigrants who don’t know this spend 3-5 or more years taking these classes but never learn to speak the language outside the classroom.