Canada is notably one of the best places to live. But, like any other country, it has its own set of customs, culture, and way of doing things, which may differ from a student’s home country and require some learning and getting used to. We have put together some details about life in Canada to help students plan ahead and adjust into Canada more easily.
Students are strongly encouraged to arrange their accommodations prior to their arrival. There are generally three options for accommodations: on-campus residence, homestay, and off-campus housing.
Students can find residence options offered by a school, as well as the application deadline, on the school’s website, or by contacting the school directly. Many international students, as well as out-of-town Canadian students, choose to live in residence during their first year instead of making off-campus arrangements to make their transition easier. This is an excellent way for students to make friends and become ingrained in Canadian culture in a supportive and structured environment.
Students can also choose to live with a Canadian family. The “host” family is screened by a professional agency. A popular agency is Canada Homestay Network. There are many other options that students can consider as well. Some schools may even have a preferred homestay agency that they work with. Students can research this on their school’s website or by searching “name of school” and “homestay” on Google.
Students also have the option of renting an apartment or a room outside of school. Some schools have services that help students find a place, known as off-campus housing assistance. Students can find housing on websites like Places4Students, Kijiji,or by searching on Facebook. When searching, use keywords like “(name of school) student housing” or “(name of school) rentals”.
For temporary accommodations, students can also consider staying at a hotel or AirBnB, many of which offer discounts for extended stays. Please note that this is an expensive option and should only be used as a last resort.
Transportation services play a big factor in choosing where to live. If a student is considering living off-campus, they should research ahead to ensure the commute to- and from campus will be convenient.
Canada has a robust public transportation system, which makes it easy for students and other commuters to get around the city. Canadian public transportation system includes public bus networks in most towns and cities, rapid transit (subway) in large cities, and commuter/rapid light rail systems to connect neighbouring regions.
Many post-secondary institutions offer discounted monthly transit passes to subsidize the cost of transportation for its students. Students can purchase their bus pass when they arrive on campus.
Cars and Driving
Canada has a large network of roads and highways, making long distance travel by car possible between most places.
In Canada, driving regulations and licenses are managed provincially. International students can drive in Canada with a proper licence. The rules vary by province, but generally, students can drive in Canada for a brief period of time if they have a valid licence from their home country although an International Driving Permit (IDP)—a document that allows drivers from one country to drive in other countries—is recommended. In some provinces, students can use their foreign license for the entire duration of their studies, while other provinces require international students to apply for their provincial licence. Students should consult the Ministry of Transportation website for the province they will be driving in before getting on the road.
Taxi and Ridesharing Services
All cities and towns have one or more companies that offer taxi service. However, taxis can get quite expensive so they are typically only used when public transit is not a feasible option.
Uber and Lyft ridesharing services are also popular options and available in many parts of Canada.
Due to Canada’s large size, people often travel between major cities and provinces by airplane. All main cities have airports with regularly scheduled flights to and from many places.
Health and Travel Insurance
All Canadian post-secondary institutions offer medical insurance plans that international students can get for themselves, as well as for their spouse and children if they are in Canada.
Medical insurance is made mandatory by some schools and the cost of insurance is included in some student fees. Medical insurance is highly recommended as paying out-of-pocket for health services can get very expensive quickly.
Banking and Money
The currency of Canada is the Canadian Dollar (CAD). The dollar is available in different coloured notes of $5.00 (blue), $10.00 (purple), $20.00 (green), $50.00 (red), and $100.00 (gold) denominations. Coins of five cents (nickel), 10 cents (dime), 25 cents (quarter), $1 (loonie), and $2 (toonie) denominations are also used.
Cash, Cards, and Online Banking
Cash is an acceptable form of payment in almost all scenarios, however debit cards and credit cards have emerged as the more common payment method for all transactions due to convenience. Cheques are used fairly frequently for large amounts, such as rent and bill payments. Internet banking is also widely accepted for paying bills and conducting other transactions. Many post-secondary institutions also offer online banking options for tuition and account payment.
Students can withdraw money from their bank account to obtain cash. Students can withdraw cash by visiting any of the branches of the bank they have an account at. At the bank, students can speak with one of the tellers (bank’s customer service representatives) or withdraw the money on their own using one of the bank’s Automated Teller Machines (ATM). ATMs are accessible during and after a bank’s business hours, including evenings and weekends.
For an additional administrative fee, students can also withdraw money from another bank’s ATM, as well as from private ATMs. Private ATMs are not affiliated with any banks, and are typically found in restaurants, bars, gas stations, and grocery stores.
Opening a Bank Account
Most Canadian banks offer great account options for students, including some especially designed for international students with special services to help them save on international transaction charges and make managing their money easier. A student can open a bank account by going to the local branch of their preferred bank with two pieces of identification, including an ID with their photo on it and a piece of ID that includes their address.
The five biggest banks in Canada, with hundreds of local branches across the country are:
- Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)
- Toronto-Dominion (TD) Bank
- Bank of Nova Scotia
- Bank of Montreal (BMO)
- Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)
Students can access quality internet and mobile phone service in Canada. Wi-Fi internet is available across campuses, accessible to students through their college/university email account, which they will create once they enroll at the institution.
Students can order high-speed internet for their house or apartment (if living off-campus) for a monthly fee through local service providers. Some of the major internet service providers are Rogers, Bell, Telus, Shaw and Cogeco.
The majority of people living in Canada use a mobile/cell phone as their primary communication device, however, some people still use landline phones at their residence. Students can bring a cell phone with them from their home country or purchase a new one in Canada. Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel, LG, Motorola and Huawei are all widely available in Canada.
If the student is bringing their own device, they can purchase a new SIM card and get a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) plan from a service provider. If purchasing a new phone, the student can pay for it completely and opt for a BYOD plan, or get a monthly plan with a tab from a service provider. When getting a tab, a portion of the monthly payment will be credited against the cost of the phone until it is paid for.
Students can purchase cell phone plans online, over the phone, or by visiting any one of the local stores. Students will need to provide a government photo ID as well as a proof of address. A credit check and/or a Canadian issued credit card is often required to purchase a monthly phone plan, however some companies often forego this requirement for special promotional student plans.
Pre-paid plans, on the other hand, do not require a credit check since students pay upfront, but they must bring their own phone or purchase a phone from the service provider first.
Students can add a long-distance calling and/or long-distance texting plan to stay connected with their family overseas, or purchase prepaid international calling cards. Alternately, and more commonly, students can take advantage of internet-based communication platforms, such as Skype, WhatsApp and Telegram.
Major mobile companies in Canada are Rogers, Bell, Telus, Fido, Virgin, Koodoo, Freedom and Public Mobile. All of them generally offer special back-to-school deals before the start of the school year.
From grocery shopping to take out, there are many options available on- and off-campus. Most neighbourhoods have grocery stores and supermarkets where students can easily get groceries and personal care supplies.
There is also a large variety of ethnic restaurants, specialty stores, and supermarkets that students can eat at and shop at to stock up on their favourite foods and stay in touch with their culture.
Entertainment, Media, and Sports
Like all urban centers around the world, Canadian cities offer a range of entertainment options. No matter where students stay in Canada, they will find many activities to suit their interests.
Going out to eat, grabbing a drink, enjoying the outdoors, or catching a movie are amongst some of the popular student activities.
Canadians also love playing and watching sports. Major professional sports teams in Canada include:
- Toronto Raptors (basketball)
- Toronto Maple Leafs (hockey)
- Montreal Canadiens (hockey)
- Ottawa Senators (hockey)
- Toronto Blue Jays (baseball)
- Vancouver Whitecaps (soccer)
- Saskatchewan Roughriders (football)
Most colleges and universities also have sports teams competing against each other, as well as house leagues (where students play against other students from the same institution).
Outdoor winter and summer activities like skiing, hiking and camping (sleeping outside in a tent in nature) are also very popular in Canada.
Canada is one of the most peaceful and safest countries globally, but regrettably incidents can happen anywhere. International students should follow the same common-sense safety precautions as they would anywhere in the world. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:
- Call 911 in any emergency. This is a central number for police, fire and ambulance throughout Canada.
- Reports any incidents, no matter how small, to the police.
- Be cautious with strangers and aware of your surroundings. Trust your instincts and leave uncomfortable situations.
- Walk on well-lit, busy streets and avoid isolated areas. Walk with a friend when possible.
- Most schools also have campus security and “walk home” service where trained students or security guards would walk home with the student.
- Keep your belongings secure, and your home and car doors locked.
- Do not leave your drinks unattended, and do not drink and drive.
Adjusting to Life in Canada
Canada welcomes international students with open arms, and hundreds of thousands of international students study happily and safely. Despite this, coming to a completely new country can be overwhelming. It is also natural to feel homesick from time to time. There are many resources and activities on campus to help international students get to know other students, make friends and explore their new city and country. Students should take the time to explore their neighbourhood and attend local events, while remembering to stay in touch with their own culture and their family back home and embracing the best of both worlds.