Hundreds of thousands of people immigrate to Canada each year. In fact, from 2018-2019, 313,601 immigrants arrived in the country. (!) Although that number dropped to 284,157 the following year, the sheer number of arrivals to Canada indicates a continued interest in moving to the Great White North.

Immigrants to Canada

239,083 – 2003-2004
313,601 – 2018-2019
284,157 – 2019-2020

If you plan to be one of the hundreds of thousands moving to Canada this year, there are a few things you should know before you take the leap. These nine must-knows will help you set your expectations for life in Canada, get settled quickly, and make a smooth overall transition to your new country.

#1: It’s a Big Country with Lots to Offer

Canada is a huge country—the second largest in the world by area.

In fact, at its longest point, Canada measures 5,514 km east to west (3,426 miles) and 4,634 km north to south (2,879 miles).

Largest Countries in the World by Area:

1. Russia
2. Canada
3. China
4. The United States
5. Brazil

Given its sheer size, it’s not surprising that you’ll find several different climates across Canada’s ten provinces and three territories.

For example:

  • The climate of the northern part of the country has been compared to the northern parts of Norway or Sweden. There, you can expect long, cold winters and shorter summers.
  • The coastline of British Columbia, much like Seattle, has a milder, rainier winter than you’ll find in most other parts of Canada.
  • Southern Ontario has a climate classified as “warm-summer humid continental,” which is similar to northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

In short, you’ll encounter a broad range of weather in Canada, so make sure to research your destination carefully so you know exactly what to expect.

Additionally, no matter where you decide to live, it always pays to think ahead where your first Canadian winter is concerned.

#2: You’ll Want to Be Prepared for the Winter

With the exception of the coastal areas of British Columbia, winters can be harsh above the 49th parallel. Of course, winters get colder the farther north you go, but in most places in Canada, winter highs are rarely above freezing. In fact, even in Quebec City, the winter high averages -7.9° C (17.8° F).

Mastering the Metric System

You might have noticed our use of kilometers and degrees Celsius in this article. We’re just doing our part to help you make the switch to the metric system!

If you can believe it, there are only three countries holding tight to the imperial system: the U.S., Myanmar, and Liberia. In other words, adopting the metric system is a skill that will serve you both in Canada and globally.

In other words, get ready to measure your temperatures in degrees Celsius; your distances in kilometers (or “clicks” as you may hear them referred to); and your gasoline in liters.

If you’re not currently living in a location where winter gets serious, invest in some quality gear. At the very least, you’ll need a sturdy winter coat, a pair of boots to keep your feet warm and dry, a good set of gloves, and a toque. (That’s what Canadians call knitted winter hats!) You’ll find an excellent selection in Canada, so you might want to wait until you arrive to make your selections.

#3: French Isn’t Just for the Québécois

Canada has two official languages: English and French. If you already speak French—or you studied it in school—you’ll have plenty of opportunities to use it in Canada.

You’ll find the highest concentration of Francophones (i.e., those whose first language is French) in Québec. However, you might also be surprised how frequently you’ll encounter the French language in other parts of Canada, as the below stats show.

22.8% of Canada’s population that speak French as their official first language

10.4 million Canadians that are conversant in French (a little less than one-third of the population)

85.4% – The French-speaking population of Québec

If you’re not already conversant (or fluent!), learning French can open doors in Canada, both professionally and socially.

#4: Don’t Sleep on Canada’s Cities

When you think about Canada, what do you think of first? Unspoiled natural beauty? Wide open spaces? How about world-class, livable cities?

If that last point didn’t occur to you, the Economist Group (sister company of The Economist) would like to change your mind. The annual Global Livability Ranking from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranks 140 cities by examining five categories—stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. After running all the numbers, the EIU regularly includes Calgary, Toronto, and Vancouver in its list of Most Livable Cities

If city living is what you’re going for, check out Calgary, Toronto, and Vancouver—and see what you think!

#5: It Might Be Time to Switch Sports

If you’re coming from the U.S., you may be a fan of America’s National Pastime, baseball, or the country’s most popular sport, professional football.

Here’s the good news: Your new neighbors in Canada likely share your affection for baseball. However, you’ll find that Canada’s most popular sport is not American football, but ice hockey. In fact, it’s the official national sport! If you’re an NHL fan, this might be welcome news. If not, it might be time to brush up on the game.

If playing sports is higher on your list than watching them, check out the most popular sports played in Canada:

  1. Ice hockey (no surprise there!)
  2. Golf
  3. Soccer
  4. Running
  5. Basketball

In other words, if hockey isn’t your thing, you’ll find plenty of friends to help you perfect your golf game in Canada.

#6: You’ll Still Need to Tip in Recognition of Good Service

Given their proximity, it’s no surprise that Canada and the U.S. share certain norms and conventions. Tipping is one of them.

Although tipping customs differ significantly around the world, Canada’s tipping practices are pretty similar to those in the U.S. When you’re dining in a restaurant, it’s customary to add 15-20% gratuity in appreciation of good service. The same is true for taxi drivers, as well as those who provide personal services, such as hairdressers and manicurists.

#7: You Can Likely Just Exchange Your Driver’s License

Regulations pertaining to driver’s licenses vary by province, much as they do by state in the U.S. However, in general, if you’re moving to Canada for any length of time, you’ll need to switch over your license for one from your local province.

How much time do you have to make the switch? It varies. British Columbia allows you 90 days, while Ontario only offers 60.

If you’ve got a valid driver’s license from the U.S., you’ll likely be allowed to simply exchange your license for a local one. (Arrivals from Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Isle of Man, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Switzerland, and Taiwan also have similar privileges!)

To find the regulations pertaining to your new home, click on your destination below:

#8: You May Catch a Break When It Comes to Cost of Living

Just as in the U.S., the cost of living in Canada varies across the country. Additionally, in an overall comparison by Numbeo, the overall cost of living index for Canada and the U.S. were very similar – 70.22 and 70.13, respectively. While the U.S. was a bit more expensive in terms of rent, cost of living, groceries, and restaurants, those living in the U.S. enjoyed greater purchasing power.

However, when you look strictly at the cost of living comparison between major cities, Canadian cities generally offer a lower cost of living than their American counterparts. Of course, your mileage will vary based on your specific destination.

Canada vs. U.S. Cost of Living Comparisons

Canada vs. U.S. Overall – Nearly even
Toronto vs. New York – Toronto is 25.96% lower
Montréal vs. Chicago – Montréal is 9.73% lower
Vancouver vs. Seattle – Vancouver is 16.36% lower

Finally, though, there are two items you’ll pay more for in Canada than in other destinations:

Cellular Telephones

In a study across 50 different countries, a Finnish telecom research firm found that Canada’s cell phone prices “continue to be the highest or among the highest in the world.” In fact, a monthly smartphone plan with 1000 minutes of talk time and 100 GB of data was thirteen times more expensive in Canada than France. (!) Make sure you budget accordingly.

Sales Taxes

In the U.S., you’ll find varying sales taxes depending on which state you’re purchasing in. If you’re lucky enough to buy in Delaware, there’s no sales tax on your purchase. In Rhode Island, you’ll pay an additional 7%.

In Canada, you’ll see two types of sales taxes added at the register:

  1. Provincial sales tax (PST), which varies by province
  2. Goods and Services Tax (GST), which is levied by the Canadian federal government

Together, these combine to form the Harmonized Sales Tax. (Except in Alberta, where there’s no provincial sales tax.)

As a result of this tax structure, you’ll see anywhere from 5% to 15% added to your purchase total. This can cause some sticker shock for Americans who are used to a much smaller add-on at the register. As with your cell phone bill, make sure you budget accordingly.

#9: Experienced International Movers Will Make All the Difference

Finally, even as we’ve explored many of the similarities between Canada and the U.S., it’s important to remember that a move between the countries is still an international one. Your household goods will have to cross the border, clear customs, and also possibly travel thousands of miles. In other words, there’s more involved in a U.S.-Canada move than if you were simply changing neighborhoods or switching states.

Choosing an experienced international moving company can help you avoid most of the common speedbumps, like a delay at the border. It also increases the likelihood that your moving company has the experience and expertise to handle your shipment with care the whole way.

We’d love to see you make an easy transition to Canada. By keeping these nine must-knows top of mind, you’ll know everything you need to make a smooth move to the Great White North.

Lastly, when you’re ready to make the move to Canada, our experienced international moving team would be happy to assist! Just reach out for a complimentary quote to get started.

Tell us about your move!

  • MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.