Living in Canada
Canadian Currency and Banking
It is your choice whether to open a bank account in Canada. If you do, most major banks offer great student accounts and services that can help you save on international transaction charges. A basic bank account costs approximately $5/month and most include personalized cheques that can be used to pay for large amounts like rent and bill payments. Internet banking is also quite common and has become a widely accepted method for bill payments and other transactions.
To find out more about student account options or to open an account, visit any Canadian bank or go to your current bank and inquire about partnerships they may have with those in Canada.
Canada’s major banks are:
The majority of stores accept a variety of payment methods, including cash, debit cards and credit cards. Visa and MasterCard, the two main credit cards, are widely accepted by most major businesses, however American Express is not. Be sure to check with your bank before using your existing Visa or Mastercard in Canada and be aware of exchange rates and any other foreign transaction fees.
Automatic teller machines (ATMs) are readily available in most shopping centres, tourist attractions and banks, as well as in some convenience stores and gas stations. Since most ATMs are operated by individual banks, making a withdrawal from an ATM other than the one operated by your bank can incur a fee of CAD$1 to $2.50 (more if you’re making a withdrawal from a foreign bank account). Always check with your home bank to find out what fees or interest rates will be charged before using your ATM card or credit card at a Canadian bank machine.
ATMs can be used for:
- Cash withdrawals
- Depositing cash or cheques
- Paying bills
- Printing account statements
- Transferring money between accounts
Before using your bank card in Canada, please check with your bank to find out:
- What fees will be charged when making withdrawals from a Canadian ATM.
- If the popular networks - Cirrus, Plus, Interac - are compatible with your card.
- If they have any agreements with a Canadian bank.
Always make sure to tell your bank/credit card company that you are planning on using your card(s) in Canada in order to avoid having your account(s) frozen in error in case they have been stolen.
Bank Trading Hours
Most banks are open Monday to Friday at 10am and close around 4:00 or 5:00 pm. Some branches close later and some are open reduced hours on Saturday. Banks are most often closed on Sunday.
Money Transfers to Canada
There are a number of different ways to transfer money to Canada:
- Traveler’s cheques can be purchased at most banks and come in a variety of denominations. They are secure and can be immediately cashed at any Canadian bank or currency converter. Do not forget to make photocopies of your traveler’s cheques in case they get lost or stolen.
- Bank drafts from another country can take up to 8 weeks to clear in a Canadian bank and a fee will be charged for the service.
- Some banks can transfer money electronically to your Canadian account. Fees vary by institution, but costs average about $30.
Health and Travel Insurance
In Canada, each province or territory is in charge of its own healthcare system covering Canadian citizens for hospital and physician care. Virtually all Canadian post-secondary institutions have medical insurance plans available for international students. Contact the Canadian educational institution you plan to attend for information about health insurance coverage for you.
Regardless of whether or not you plan to purchase coverage from a Canadian institution, it is highly recommended that you purchase travel health insurance. For more information on travel health insurance, contact your travel agent.
In Canada, it is customary to tip bartenders, waiters, hairdressers, concierges and cab drivers. A tip is a sign of appreciation for service provided and the amount given should reflect that. You are generally expected to tip 15-20% of the total amount of your bill, and unlike in many countries, the tip is not included in the bill amount.
In all Canadian provinces or Territories, the actual price you pay at the cashier will be 5-15% higher than what is listed on the price tag, or in advertisements, due to the additional sales taxes added at the time of payment.
The GST, or Goods and Services Tax, is a national tax of 5% that is added to the price of most goods The Harmonised Sales Tax (HST), combines a provincial/territorial sales tax with the GST in the following provinces:
- British Columbia – 12 %
- Ontario – 13%
- Nova Scotia – 13 %
- New Brunswick – 13%
- Newfoundland and Labrador – 13%
Some provinces have yet to adopt the HST and still charge a provincial sales tax and the GST separately, but they are both added together at the point of sale. The provincial sales tax for these provinces is the following:
- Quebec - 7.5 %, for a total of 12.5% tax at point of sale
- Saskatchewan - 5%, for a total of 10%
- Manitoba - 7%, for a total of 12%
- Prince Edward Island -10 %, for a total of 15%
- Alberta, Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories do not have a provincial sales tax.
Canada's climate is characterized by its diversity, both from region to region and from season to season. While extreme northern temperatures climb above only 0°C for a few months every year, most Canadians live within 300 kilometres of the country's southern border, where warm springs, hot summers and pleasantly crisp autumns prevail for at least 7 months. Canada has 4 very distinct seasons: spring (March-May); summer (June-August); fall (September-October); and winter (November-February).
For more detailed weather information including average temperatures by location, please visit the Weather Office website.
Winter Survival Tips
- Listen to weather forecasts on the radio or check the Internet so you are not caught in a blizzard or any other active weather system.
- Do not consider winter clothing a luxury. Invest in a good winter jacket, gloves, earmuffs or a warm hat, long johns, a scarf and boots.
- Dress in layers so that you can adjust to the variable temperatures inside and outside.
- Be sure to eat a nutritious breakfast, you will be warmer if your body has fuel in it to burn.
- Prevent dehydration in cold weather and dry indoor heat by drinking water regularly and using a moisturiser on your skin and lips.
- Wear sunglasses and sunscreen on clear days as sunlight reflecting off snow can be very intense.
- Remember the wind chill factor. High winds blowing on a cold dry day lower the temperature further, so –20°C with a wind of 16 km/hour can feel like –25°C!
- Be aware of the potential for frostbite. Ears, fingers, toes, or cheeks exposed to very cold temperatures for even just a short period of time can become frostbitten.
- Should any part of your body feel numb or become pale or slightly blue, seek medical assistance immediately.
- Should you find yourself in an emergency situation and become stranded in the cold, do not hesitate to seek help. Prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures can be life threatening.
- Pay your bills! Each individual home and some apartment tenants pay for the heat they use, whether gas or electricity. Students renting private apartments should be sure to verify if they are responsible for paying their heating bill and if so who their heating provider is. It is mandatory to ensure heating bills are paid on time to avoid having the service shut off.
The rate of basic telephone service, Internet and cable television in Canada is one of the highest in the world. Internet usage is wide-spread, with more than 85% of the population being connected and cellular (mobile) phone usage is extensive with over 60% of households owning a cell phone.
Making international calls from Canada
To call or fax an international number from Canada, you will need to dial:
011 + Country Code + Area Code + Local Number
International calling cards offer reduced rates and can be purchased from most convenience stores.
Both wired and wireless Internet service is readily available at all academic institutions and you will be provided with a free university email account once you have begun your studies. Internet cafés are also common, particularly in metropolitan centres, and charge reasonable rates.
High-speed Internet at your home or apartment can be ordered through a telephone company and installed for you; a monthly fee will apply. Some of the major Internet service providers are:
Mail prices are based on size and weight. A standard letter destined for within Canada starts at CAD$0.59 for up to 30g. A standard international letter costs CAD$1.75 and takes 1-3 weeks to deliver.
For more information, please visit Canada Post.
A large percentage of young people have cell phones (mobiles); monthly plans, start at about CAD$20 per month, or there is a pay-as-you go option. The minimum term for most phone plans is 12 months. New phones can be purchased for under CAD$100. While you may be able to use your existing mobile phone in Canada if it is compatible and you have international roaming activated—this option could get pricey.
Major mobile companies in Canada include:
Canada has 6 different time zones. Daylight Time is observed the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday of November in most of Canada.The remainder of the time is Standard Time.
On or Off Campus Residence/ Dormitory
Dormitories are the preferred accommodation for most students in Canada. They are usually located on or near the university or college campus and typically have shared kitchen, bathroom and laundry facilities. Some dorm accommodations offer optional cafeteria meal plans where students pay a set up-front fee for the term and receive 2 or 3 meal tickets per day.
Dormitories are a great idea if:
- You’re only going to be in Canada for a semester.
- You’re new to Canada and would like to meet people quickly and easily.
- This is your 1st or 2nd year of study.
- You are living away from home for the first time.
- You want to be accessible to everything on campus without having to worry about transportation.
A listing of private accommodations (e.g. apartments, flats, room and board) close to campus is usually available through the housing office or student’s union of most universities and colleges across Canada. Since schools don’t regulate private housing, it is best to visit the location in person and make sure you ask any questions you might have before committing to a lease.
Some things to consider before renting an apartment or flat:
- Prices, quality and availability vary greatly. Start apartment hunting early!
- Rental prices can range from C$400 - $1500 per month depending on the city or area you choose to live in.
- You will probably have to give one month’s rent up-front as a damage deposit. This will be returned to you when you move if your place is left in good condition.
- You will be required to sign a lease, which is a legal document with your landlord that states your responsibilities as a tenant. Leases are typically binding for 1 year.
- Landlords are responsible for keeping the premises in good repair and must give you advance notice (generally 60 days in most Canadian provinces) if they want you to vacate the residence.
- It is illegal for a landlord to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation or disability.
- Your university or college may provide free or reduced legal advice. Use these paralegal services to review leases or if you run into problems with your landlord.
Remember, it is your responsibility to arrange for accommodation while in Canada. For more information, please contact the housing or residence office at the Canadian university or college you are planning to attend.
Electrical Appliances and Voltage
In Canada, appliances use 120 Volts with plug Type B. An electrical appliance plugged into an outlet supplying an incorrect voltage can cause an electrical fire, sparks and smoke. Some appliances come in multi-voltage models, meaning they can be adjusted to match the electric current in that region. If the voltage on an appliance cannot be changed, a device called a “transformer” can be purchased at any major electronics retailers to convert the appliance to the proper current.
Driving in Canada
An International Driver's Permit is not necessary as Canada honours all valid foreign driver’s licences. If you have a learner’s permit or provisional license you should check with the Ministry of Transportation in the province or territory where you plan to study to determine if you are eligible to drive.
Car rental companies usually stipulate that drivers must be at least 21 years old and have a valid driver’s licence from their country of residence. Drivers between the ages of 21 to 25 may have to pay a surcharge.
Road Rules and Driving Tips
- All traffic drives on the right side of the road.
- Seat belts must be worn in the front and back of the vehicle, and infants must be strapped into a safety seat.
- Speed limits in city areas are usually between 40-60 kilometres per hour (km/h), except in the vicinity of schools where the speed limit is reduced to 30 km/h. Where no limit is posted, the maximum is 50 km/h.
- Speed limits for rural driving vary depending on the province and the local conditions. Generally, speeds are between 90 and 100 km/h.
- Pedestrian crosswalks are marked by overhanging yellow signs and an 'X' or white horizontal lines painted on the road surface. Pedestrians have the right of way at crosswalks and cars must stop to let them cross.
- Streetcars are public transportation vehicles that require plenty of room to allow passengers on and off from the front and rear doors. It is an offence to drive too close.
- Turning right on a red light is permissible at an intersection in every province except for Montreal in the province of Québec. Before making a turn, bring the car to a complete stop and make sure that there are no signs forbidding a right turn.
- At a 4 way stop, come to a complete stop before advancing through the intersection. Yield (give way) to the vehicle that has stopped before you and to your right.
- If a police officer requires you to stop, remain seated in your car, switch off the engine and wait for instructions from the approaching officer.
- Always carry your licence and vehicle documentation.
- Never attempt to bribe or pay a fine directly to a police officer. Attempted bribery is a very serious offence in Canada.
- In the case of an accident involving personal injury, the police must be notified immediately. They will file an accident report. It is a crime to leave the scene of an accident involving injury without first giving details to the police.
- In the event of a vehicle breakdown, check the glove compartment of your rental car for information on who to contact. If it is your own car, then be aware that the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) provides assistance to members of some international auto clubs. You should check with your local auto club for details on coverage when driving in Canada.
- Should your car break down in a remote area, stay with the vehicle until help arrives. If you are travelling a long distance, then it is always a good idea to let someone know the route you intend to use and your estimated time of arrival.
- If you are driving in winter, make sure your vehicle is equipped with the appropriate winter tires. It is illegal in some parts of Canada to not have winter tires fitted during the winter months.
Most businesses are open from 9am-5pm Monday to Friday and closed on weekends. Most retail outlets and grocery stores are open until 9pm Monday to Friday, and until 5pm Saturday and Sunday. Note that some retailers are closed Sunday.
The closing time for bars, clubs and restaurants varies from province to province.
National Public Holidays in Canada
The following public holidays are observed nationally:
- New Year’s Day - January 1
- Good Friday
- Victoria Day - the Monday preceding May 25
- Canada Day - July 1
- Labour Day - first Monday in September
- Thanksgiving - second Monday in October
- Remembrance Day - November 11
- Christmas - December 25
- Boxing Day - December 26
There are also additional public holidays determined by the individual provinces and territories.
International students should follow the same common sense safety precautions in Canada as they would anywhere in the world.
Register with the Embassy
It is a good idea to register your presence in Canada with your country’s embassy or consulate before you arrive.
In an Emergency
- Call 9-1-1. This is a central number for police, fire and ambulance throughout Canada. You do not need coins to dial 9-1-1 from a pay phone. If English is your second language, do not panic. Interpreters are available.
- If you are robbed, do not argue or fight. If you are assaulted, shout or blow a whistle to draw attention to your situation. Try to protect your body and distract the attacker so that you can escape. Call 9-1-1 immediately.
- If you are a victim of a crime, no matter how small, report it to the police.
- If you have a non-emergency issue or question for the police, visit or call your city’s police station. Police in Canada are very professional and you should feel comfortable approaching them for help.
In the Community and on the Street
- Be cautious with strangers.
- Be aware of who and what is going on around you.
- Trust your instincts and leave uncomfortable situations.
- Some areas of cities may have higher crime rates than others. Ask advice for the best routes to take when going out.
- Always tell someone where you are going and when you will return.
- At night always walk on well-lit, busy streets. If possible, travel with a friend and avoid isolated areas, such as parks or alleys.
- Most universities have campus security that includes patrol cars, 24-hour telephone lines and well-lit areas where you can contact the campus security office.
- Some universities also offer a “walk home” service where qualified students will walk their peers home, or to another location, after dark.
On Buses, Subways and in Taxis
- Sit at the front of the bus near the driver.
- Know your bus route and schedule before you leave.
- Do not hitchhike.
- Taxis are a good way to get home when it is late and dark. Know the number of a taxi company so you can easily phone one if necessary. Canadian taxis should all have running meters showing the cost of the ride. Taxi drivers will not expect to negotiate a price with you.
- Many public transportation systems also offer special assistance for those travelling alone at night.
- On the train, use the emergency phones on the platform or emergency button if you are ever harassed.
On a Bicycle
- It is mandatory that you wear a helmet when riding a bike in Canada. At night, use front and rear bike lights and wear reflective clothing.
- Bicycles must ride on the road or a bicycle path. The sidewalk is for pedestrians.
- There are many clearly labelled bicycle paths in urban areas across Canada. Take these as often as possible, and keep to the right side of the lane.
- Traffic rules for bikes are the same as those for cars: stop signs, red lights, etc.
- You must also remember to signal your turns with your arms;
- Lock your bike when leaving it unattended.
Alcohol and other Drugs
- The legal drinking age varies from province to province, but it is either 18 or 19 years old.
- Arrange a ride home beforehand if you plan to drink alcohol. Do not accept a ride home from a stranger in a bar.
- NEVER drink and drive. Doing so is not only dangerous and irresponsible; it is also a serious criminal offence.
- Know your drinking limit.
- Do not accept drinks from strangers or let your drink out of your sight. If you do leave it unattended, order a new drink. Drugs can be put into drinks when you are not paying attention.
- Drugs such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana, ecstasy and GHB are illegal. Do not use or possess these drugs at any time, you could face stiff penalties.
Street people will occasionally ask for money. If you want to help them, we suggest it is better to contribute to a charity. There are many community agencies throughout Canada that help panhandlers by offering free meals, shelter and counselling.
- When renting accommodation, deal directly with the landlord and pay the damage deposit directly to him or her.
- When possible, pay rent with a cheque, as it is easier to provide proof of payment, and always ask for a receipt.
- Do not let people into apartment buildings or buzz them in if you do not know them.
- If a repairman, delivery person or salesperson wants access to the building and you are not expecting them, refer them to the building manager.
- Meet and know your neighbours.
- Keep your door(s) locked, even when you are home.
- It’s suggested to use tutors who are authorized by a Canadian educational institution. Some people who claim to be tutors or conversation partners may not be qualified or may seek inappropriate relationships.
- Do not hesitate to report any inappropriate behaviour.
- Never pay tutors in advance.
For more information about Education in Canada, please contact us. Imagine studying in Canada!