Nine years ago, I came to Canada with a bachelor’s degree, some credits in master’s degree and more than 10 years of work experience as a HR practitioner. I would say that deciding not to move or to move to Canada permanently was one of the toughest choices that my husband and I have made. My husband was really against this decision but maybe he loves me that much that I was able to convince him to move to Canada with our two small children back then (I have 3 kids now). In hindsight, I did not regret my decision to convince (or should I say force) him and I am thankful that he agreed. Immigrating to a multicultural country like Canada did not just gave me the chance to become a better person by learning what my strengths are and also by learning new skills.
It is true that a new immigrants will face settlement and adjustment hardships when they arrive to Canada, my family was not an exemption, and we also had our share of difficult situations. As newcomers we went through that period where we had that feeling of being strangers in a strange land when we arrived. There are many reasons why a newcomer would feel this indifference, first and foremost is the language barrier, though both my husband and I speak English, you have to realize that each country has their “own slang” so there are those words or phrases that only locals will understand. There’s also the housing and employment issues that a newcomer will need to face, then comes the issue on how you will familiarize yourself with the customs and laws, plus knowing the place, it’s physical geography not to forget the issue on adapting to the climate. We could go on and enumerate more issues but the point here is you have decided to move to Canada, you are here, whether you like it or not, you have indirectly accepted the challenge.
There are these difficulties that you will encounter when you initially settle in Canada, but there are learning opportunities or actions that you can do or adapt that will help you in your adjustment to your “new home.” Here are some practical advice and survival tips that worked for me (and my family) during our adjustment period:
- Do not turn down people who come to help and settle with your own people. I can say that my family is fortunate because we cannot say that we are “alone” when we arrived in Winnipeg. I have my cousin and her family who readily lend a hand to us. We lived with them for seven (7) months and since day 1 she guided me on what important things I should do – from getting our family’s SIN and health card up to opening our Canadian bank account. Having someone who is already familiar with what needs to be done definitely made things easier for us. When I say “your own people,” I meant people with the same nationality as yours. If you do not have friends or relatives, at least try to settle in a city where there is a large ethnic community that you belong. In this case you won’t feel alone and you can easily relate to the people around you, as for me and my family, there is a large Filipino community in Winnipeg and the assistance that we received from fellow Filipinos were immeasurable, most especially when we were still looking for a job and a place to move into.
- Read and research in advance. If I will talk to the newcomer Cristina, nine years ago, this is one of the first advices that I am going to give her. Although, I mentioned in my tip number 1 that there are people whom we can come to for help, it is still best that even before leaving your home country you have started familiarizing yourself with the ways and means in the country that you are moving in. You will have time to prepare yourself and your family and you will have an idea of what to expect to the place that you are going to. Researching in advance can also make it easier to access all kinds of services in your new country.
- Look around you and take advantage of the available resources. One of the best things that I appreciate the most when we moved to Canada is the presence of groups and government agencies that are dedicated to helping newcomers with their transition from being immigrants to becoming “permanent residents”. These settlement centers are great help to immigrants and refugees to settle and integrate in order to become established and contributing members of Canadian society. Newcomers are encouraged to find the settlement Centre’s in their city and they can take advantage of the support that these agencies provide during their settlement period by registering to the appropriate programs. One of the best programs available to new immigrants that I learned a couple of years ago was the pre-arrival program for eligible newcomers. This program is delivered by Settlement Online Pre-Arrival (SOPA) to eligible newcomers who are immigrating to Manitoba, Alberta, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, PEI, British Columbia, and Ontario. The program allows eligible new comers to take free online courses on job search strategies and Canadian working culture and get connected with settlement agencies in their destination province and employment networks while they are still outside Canada.
- Learn from other people. When we say help, it is not always something physically provided to us, it can also be something intangible, right? So, in relation to tip number 1 when I say, “do not turn down help offered to you, I am referring to useful lessons from stories of other immigrants like you who moved and settled in Canada. But you have to bear in mind that not because something worked or did not work for them, the same thing will happen to you. Pick up useful information from their stories and keep those that are applicable to you and to your family’s situation.
- Learn your rights and duties. Knowing your rights, responsibilities, benefits and privileges is one of the first things that you should learn even before you come to Canada. Permanent Residents (PR) of Canada are entitled to most of the same rights and privileges as a Canadian citizen. These rights are defined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which legally protects the basic rights and freedoms of the people of Canada. These includes your legal rights, such as the right to a fair trial; equality rights, such as the right to protection against discrimination; mobility rights, such as to enter and exit Canada as you see fit and reside, work or study anywhere in Canada, as well as your basic freedoms, such as freedom of thought, speech, religion and peaceful assembly. PRs also get most social benefits that Canadian citizens receive, including but not limited to universal health care coverage, free education, Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB), Old Age Security, Guaranteed Income Supplement and Canada Pension Plan, maternity and parental leave or Employment Insurance (EI) benefits. Being a PR also gives you the opportunity to become a Canadian citizen when you have lived in Canada as a PR for at least 3 out of the last 5 years. Being a PR, you also have responsibilities to perform, you must pay taxes and respect all Canadian laws at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. Getting a job, taking care of one’s family and working hard in keeping with one’s abilities are important Canadian values, thus it is also important for you to take responsibility for oneself and your family.
- Know landmarks or important places to go. Familiarize yourself with the city you have chosen to live in, you may want to do some research even before coming to Canada. Find out which places in the city are safe and which are not, which is the busiest part of the city and more importantly which places have the most jobs that are relevant to your field of expertise. It is also important to know the city landmarks and find out the type and range of services available in the city that you are moving in – how’s the transportation system, the healthcare, educational system and other services that you will need. Of course, it will also make it easier for you if you have an idea of the locations of schools, hospitals, banks, malls or groceries, pharmacies and other places that you often go.
- Learn the language. English and French are the official languages of Canada, according to the 2011 census, English and French are the mother tongues of 56.9% and 21.3% Canadians respectively. In all government services, including the courts, and all federal government institutions in Canada, the public has the right to communicate in either English or French. However, not all newcomers are able to communicate neither well in English nor in French. Language can often be an underlying part of a newcomers’ problem with his or her adjustment. Even if you are aware of all the benefits and privileges that are available for new immigrants, accessing these services may be difficult if you cannot properly communicate. Newcomers can participate in English/French language classes at no cost, these are fully funded by the Canadian government to improve the individuals’ language skills. These classes are called Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC)/ Cours de langue pour les immigrants au Canada (CLIC). Classes are based on the official national standards for measuring and recognizing the language skills of adult immigrants in both English and French. To take a language class, you must take the CLB online self-assessment language test which can be done even before coming to Canada. Once you arrived, you will need to visit an organization in your province that assists newcomers to get a formal language assessment, after which you will then need to register for a class, once registered, you are now ready to start with your language class.
- Familiarize yourself with the transportation system and/or learn to drive. Canada has some of the best public transportation networks in the world, making good use of this will make it much easier for you to get around. All cities and most major towns in Canada have public transportation systems which often include bus, train, subway, light-rail trains, streetcars (trams). Bus is the most common form of urban transportation in most provinces of Canada. To use public transportation, you must buy a ticket or a transit pass. Transit passes give you unlimited use of public transportation for a certain period (one month or more). But even if these transportation systems are available, it is still best to secure your driver’s license as soon as you can. If you have a valid license from your home country, you can probably be able to drive in Canada for a short time after you arrive (depending on the province). If there’s one thing that I regret the most, that is not learning how to drive as soon as we came to Canada (but I am working on it). The process of getting a driver’s license is not expensive and is actually very straight-forward; your first step is to pass the Manitoba Class 5 knowledge test, when you pass this test you will have your learner’s license. And your final step is to pass the Road Test. There are immigration centers that offer free classes to help newcomers prepare for the Class 5 knowledge (written) test, check with the immigration centers in your area to find out if they offer this program.
- Learn new skills or upgrade your skills. One of the most common difficulties that many new immigrants face in starting a new life in Canada is finding a suitable employment, unfortunately, there are newcomers who have a difficult time in establishing in the field that is relevant to their experience. More often than not, newcomers may need to get some skills training to help them find work or they may need to upgrade their skills to re-certify in the profession or trade that they are in. Most of the settlement agencies have free information workshops. It is no doubt that when we decided to come to Canada, we have the technical skills required for a “skilled worker” but having the technical know-how and the years of experience in your field of expertise is not the only consideration in ensuring one’s success in his career in Canada. Canadian employers also give importance to what is called “soft skills.” These are unquantifiable intangible qualities such as communication skills, interpersonal skills, presentation skills, problem-solving, attitude, confidence, leadership skills, flexibility, etc., that are also crucial to excel at work. It is also best for you to find out if you have the soft skills and work on enhancing the skills that you think you need in being successful in the field that you are in.
Aside from these tips that I mentioned in this post, you will for sure hear more advice and guides that you can adapt, as I said, pick up those that you think are applicable to your situation. As for me, one of the considerations that someone who is is planning to immigrate (not just in Canada but to any other country) should take is to choose a country where you know somebody or at least a place where there is a large community of the same nationality as yours. It will be easier if you have people with whom you can identify your situation. Canada is a newcomer-friendly country, the Canadian Government has many programs intended to assist new immigrants during their transition period and as a newcomer it is always wise to get the information that you need from the agencies that run these programs, the advice and assistance that they offer are really helpful. While preparing for your big move, start doing your homework – research about the province and city that you are moving to. Once you arrived, make use of the programs available for new immigrants while you are still eligible – you can participate in English language class or you could qualify for a federal program that grants loans of up to $45,000 to immigrants who want to start their own business and you could also use the Federal Internship Program to obtain quick work experience. Find out what will best suit you and help you succeed.
Languages of Canada, accessed July 18, 2018.
Language classes funded by the Government of Canada, accessed July 18, 2018.
Driving in Canada, accessed July 18, 2018
Understand permanent resident status, accessed July 18, 2018
Get your credentials assessed in Canada, accessed July 18, 2018