21 Things to Know Before Moving to Canada
Thinking of swapping the land of the free for the Great White North? Although you might get some stick from a few fellow Americans, there’s a lot to look forward to.
In Canada, you can find some of the world’s cleanest air, friendliest people, best healthcare, and pretty much all the maple syrup you could possibly want.
But before you hop on a plane – or drive across the longest international border in the world – there’s more to learn about your northern neighbors.
Canada's famous Rocky Mountains reflecting in Moraine Lake's turquiose hue
1. Canadians really are the friendliest people
We don’t usually stick to stereotypes, but this one is spot on.
One of the most endearing traits about Canadians is that they are genuinely very polite to people from all corners of the world.
From unnecessarily apologizing, to uncomfortable “you first,” “no, you first” door openings – expect it all in Canada.
2. Even Americans need work visas
Canada has a very open immigration system. If you have skills to offer and can financially support yourself, your application for a work visa or residency should be successful.
But don’t be under the misconception that it’s easier for US citizens to move to Canada than people from anywhere else in the world – the same rules apply.
3. Healthcare and insurance
Americans moving to Canada will be pleased to hear that you can receive any essential medical services for free! Canada’s generous healthcare runs on a tax-funded Medicare system – meaning the government pays for people’s basic health insurance, which is then delivered by the private sector.
Despite the excellent quality of care, patients will usually have long waiting times. A 2017 Commonwealth Fund survey found that only 43% of Canadians are seen by a medical professional on the same day they seek help.
This is the main reason why a lot of expats invest in private healthcare – you can get pristine levels of support with far shorter waiting times.
In that spirit, we've partnered with Cigna for private medical insurance in Canada. With four levels of annual cover to choose from and extra modules for more flexibility, Cigna will sort you out with a plan that suits your needs.
Start building a customized plan with a free quote to protect your most important assets – you and your family.
4. Canada has two official languages
Roughly 56% of Canadians predominantly speak English, while around 20% of Canadians have French as their first language.
In some areas, French dominates all other languages – for example, 95% of Quebec residents speak French. It’s also spoken widely in the eastern and Francophone provinces.
In the western provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, on the other hand, English is more common – but you can still choose to send your children to French immersion schools there.
5. It’s a very multicultural country
Like America, Canada is a country of both immigrants and natives. And, thanks to the general friendly candor, everyone is welcome here.
Although there are two official Canadian languages, you’ll also hear more than 200 languages from around the world, and roughly 60 Indigenous languages.
There’s even a Multiculturalism Day in Canada. To mark the June 2021 celebrations, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement claiming that “Canada’s commitment to multiculturalism is an example to the world, and at the heart of our success as a country.”
6. There are a lot of taxes
Canada has a decentralized federal tax system, which means there are taxes at a few levels.
Income tax is collected by both the federal and provincial governments, but is pretty straightforward to work out.
Similarly to the American system, tax is also added at the point of sale in Canada, with rates of sales tax varying from place to place. For example, the rate of sales tax in Alberta is 5%, whilst in Quebec, it’s nearly 15%.
Bear in mind that US citizens who are permanent residents in Canada are still required to file annual US income tax returns.
7. The cost of living is pricey
One of the things American expats find most shocking is that Canadian real estate is pretty pricey.
The average home in Canada is CA$474,000 (US$352,076), while the average home in the US is CA$315,303 (US$234,200).
And it’s not just housing that’s more expensive in Canada.
Want to fill up your car with gas? As of August 2021, that’ll cost you $1.55 per liter in Canada, instead of the average $1.21 in America.
8. Canadians are obsessed with ice hockey
Known simply as “hockey” in Canada, this sport is basically a religion to nationals. Don’t believe us? Just take a look at the Canadian $5 bill – you’ll find a picture of kids playing hockey on a frozen pond.
To give you an idea of the country’s obsession with the sport, the Canada vs USA men’s hockey final at the Olympics in 2010 was the most-watched TV broadcast in Canadian history.
A striking sunset washes over the Toronto skyline
9. The education system is top-notch
If you’re moving to Canada with children, you’re in luck – the educational opportunities are some of the best in the world.
In a 2020 study, analyzing 93 countries’ education systems around the world, Canada came 8th on the quality index.
Plus, in the OECD’s 2017 ranking of adult education levels, Canada came first with 56.27% of 25-64 year-olds having a degree.
10. Learn the slang
There’s a lot of local lingo to pick up.
The most famous phrase is “eh,” which Canadians like to stick on the end of almost any sentence, but there are also a lot of random phrases you’ll pick up along the way, such as:
- Biffy – a toilet
- Toque – a beanie/hat
- Loonie – a $1 coin (and a $2 coin is a “toonie”)
- Klick – a kilometer
- The 6ix – Toronto
- Mickey – a flask
11. It gets really cold in winter…
Northern and eastern areas of Canada regularly experience lows of -4°F to -40°F in the winter months, as well as six months of snowfall.
If you’re from areas in America like Minnesota or Alaska, you’ll probably be used to this level of extreme weather. Not ready to deal with the blistering cold? Head to the plains, the coast, the Vancouver area, or Vancouver Island to get warmer weather.
12. …but there’s more to Canada than snow
Although Canada is famous for its extreme winters, the climate is actually quite diverse. You can enjoy hot summers, cold winters, and a mild spring and fall in between.
As with any country, the weather you’ll get comes down to the location you settle in. While the northern parts of Canada experience -13°F winters, some coastal areas, such as British Columbia, have pretty warm winters. In fact, the daily average highs in Victoria, British Columbia reach 48.2°F and nightly lows only drop to around 39.2°F.
13. Quality of life
Canadians have an excellent quality of life – and it’s certainly reflected in satisfaction rates.
On a scale from 0 to 10, Canadians gave their satisfaction with life an average score of 7.4 – higher than the US’s average of 6.9.
This isn’t the only thing Canada scores highly on, compared to America:
|% of people aged 15 to 64 who have a paid job||73%||70%||68%|
|% of employees working long hours||4%||11%||11%|
|% of adults aged 25-64 who have completed upper secondary education||91%||91%||78%|
|Life expectancy at birth||82 years old||79 years old||80 years old|
|The level of atmospheric PM2.5 (a harmful air pollutant)||7.3 micrograms per cubic meter||10.1 micrograms per cubic meter||13.9 micrograms per cubic meter|
Data from OECD Better Life Index
14. Canada is big
Canada is the second-largest country in the world after Russia, with a total area of 9,984,670 km2.
To put this into perspective, it would take you four years to walk the entire coastline.
The width of this enormous country is also astonishing. The distance between British Columbia and Toronto (3,634 km) is just over the distance between Toronto and London, England (3,547km).
The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac looking over St. Lawrence River in Quebec
15. Canada’s cities are buzzing with life…
Canada’s cities have lots to offer if you’re into culture, arts, food, and outdoor activities. In The World’s Best Cities Ranking, which compares 100 urban hot spots, Toronto sits in 13th place, Vancouver in 34th, Seattle in 40th, Calgary in 47th, Ottawa in 67th, and Edmonton in 76th.
Both Toronto and Vancouver are bursting with opportunities for expats, which is one of the reasons why they’re both so high in the global rankings. Plus, you’ll find streets in these cities packed with things to do – from nightlife venues to cultural expeditions.
16. …and its landscapes are breathtaking
If you’re more of a nature fanatic than a city slicker, Canada is just the place for you.
Explore glaciers, spectacular waterfalls, and yellow aspens at the Canadian Rockies, or perhaps head further north to watch nature’s spectacular auroras – more commonly known as the Northern Lights.
Want to take a dip? You’ll have roughly 563 lakes larger than 100 square kilometers to choose from!
17. There are some odd place names in Canada
Keep your eyes peeled for any weird and wacky names. Some of our favorites include:
- Punkeydoodles Corners, Ontario
- Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Alberta
- Stoner, British Columbia
- Eyebrow, Saskatchewan
- Pekwachnamaykoskwaskwaypinwanik (in the native Cree language, this lake’s name means “where the wild trout are caught by fishing with hooks”)
18. There’s a Tim Hortons on every street
Never heard of Tim Hortons? This will soon change once you land in Canada. Rather than finding a McDonald’s on every street corner, you’ll discover one of these fast-food restaurants.
The popular franchise started in Ontario in 1964, and now there are around 4,000 Tim Hortons in the country.
19. Canada is an animal lover’s paradise
There are so many wonderful animals to see in Canada – the mischievous beaver, impressive Canadian lynx, mellow moose, and incredible killer whale. You might even come across a polar bear in some of the more remote areas!
To look after its critters and mammals, Canada has even introduced bridges for animals. This way, the country’s furry friends can cross the road safely.
20. Weed is legal in Canada
In 2018, Prime Minister Trudeau legalized marijuana – despite it not being universally welcomed by Canadians, including some members of his Liberal party. He claimed that legalizing weed would introduce more fairness and equality. Thankfully, the move has paid off.
An analysis of police data found that, between 2013 and 2017, Black people – who only made up 8.8% of the population of Toronto – faced 34% of marijuana possession charges. Legalization means the police have lost the tool they once used, Professor Owusu-Bempah, from the University of Toronto, said, “as a way of bringing certain marginalized populations into the criminal justice system.”
21. Maple syrup is everywhere
Let’s finish with the stereotype to end all stereotypes: Canadians really are obsessed with maple syrup.
Known as “liquid gold” in the Great White North, over 80% of the world’s maple syrup is produced in Canada – specifically, in Quebec.
Fun fact: In 2011 and 2012, the maple syrup market was disrupted by the “Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist.” Nearly 3,000 tons of the stuff, valued at roughly CA$18 million, was stolen from Quebec suppliers.
And that’s it – everything you could possibly want to know before moving to Canada from the US.
Wherever in Canada you decide to relocate, you’re sure to have a fantastic time.
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