Ottawa, Canada Capital

A Checklist for Your First Year in Canada

By Kyla Millette

Welcome to Canada!

After months or perhaps even years of planning and preparation, you’ve made it to the Great North with a permanent residency in hand. You’ve gotten through all the pains of organizing endless documentation, getting approval letters, securing job sponsorship, and everything else under the sun. And now you’re about to embark upon an incredible new chapter in your life!

So, what comes next? It’s best to prioritize the things you’ll need to get done once you’ve arrived. Some tasks like activating your PR or Work Permit with an officer of Canada’s Borders Service Agency (CBSA) or obtaining your social insurance number should be taken care of immediately upon arrival. Others can be done within your first month or year. In fact, one of the things most overlooked by new permanent residents is the uncontrollable waiting periods for many of these tasks.

In this article we’ll discuss the various important tasks you’ll need to complete within the first week, month, and year as a permanent resident in Canada.


First Week

1.      Activate Canadian PR or WP at the POE (Port of Entry)

Upon arrival into any Canadian Port of Entry, you will meet with an officer of Canada’s Borders Service Agency to be formally admitted as a permanent resident or to activate your Work Permit. You also have the option of scheduling an appointment with an IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) office near you to have this completed.

To receive your permanent residency, you will need a valid passport, your COPR (Confirmation of Permanent Residency), and a bank statement showing you have sufficient funds. You should receive your PR card within the month but may use your validated COPR document to access any Canadian services available to you until then.

2.      Get Your Social Insurance Number (SIN)

After receiving your PR and a validated COPR document, the next thing you should prioritize is getting your social insurance number. Your SIN grants you access to all the amazing benefits Canada has to offer its residents. You’ll need to have this sorted before you can receive healthcare services or even to work legally. You can obtain your SIN through an online application, in person at any Service Canada office, or by mail. There is a Service Canada office at all airports and in most cases, you can apply immediately upon landing.

In order to apply for your SIN, you will require the following:

  1. a valid primary document that proves your identity and legal status in Canada, and
  2. a valid secondary document to confirm your identity, and
  3. a proof of address

3.       Open a Bank Account

Opening a Canadian bank account is important to get done quickly as it relieves you from costly withdrawal charges or international conversion rates. It’s fairly easy to open up a bank account as you don’t require a job or permanent address, however having an address handy (such as your company address or your AirBnB address should be sufficient). You’ll only need your valid passport and your PR card or validated COPR document.

The fiver major Canadian banks are:

4.      Set Up Living Arrangements

This might be something you’ve had to figure out before leaving your home country. For the first couple of days, some choose to stay in a hotel, hostel or relative’s home upon arrival. Our Howzit partners can arrange accommodation for you, help you get settled in and find your feet the first few days. At this point it’s a good idea to figure out where you’re likely to stay for the next few months while you get fully settled. If friends or family are happy to have you, then great! After you have settled in the first few days or weeks, it would be a good time to find more permanent accommodation.

Familiarize yourself with the different areas in and surrounding the city you’re currently staying in. Find a trusted realtor to show you the areas that you might be interested in. If you have children, it should be noted that they will be sent to the closest school in your neighbourhood and you would require proof of address for the application process.

5.      Set Up a Canadian Phone Plan

Whether you choose to obtain a quick prepaid cell phone or prefer to set up a new phone plan for yourself and your family, getting a Canadian phone number will make your life a lot easier. There is also the option to bring your own phone and buy a data package without the costly exercise of buying a phone contract.

Much like opening a Canadian bank account, setting up a phone number will relieve you of costly long-distance roaming and data charges. You won’t be constantly relying on public WIFI hotspots either! Having a Canadian phone number will also be handy when you start applying for job opportunities.  Most affordable cell phone plans in Canada do require a credit check and a Canadian financial history. Because you’re not likely to have this upon arrival, you may have to pay for the phone outright which may cost upwards of $1000. Alternatively, you can purchase a prepaid, pay-as-you-go or bring your own phone plan for the time being.

You will be required to show proof of address in your application.

Most phones that you bring from your home country will work just as well to get you up and running in Canada. If you are contemplating whether you should buy a new phone in your country of origin or just wait and buy here in Canada, our suggestion is to perhaps wait until you have moved to Canada. Having local support and ensuring that your warranty is effective will make a significant difference in keeping your costs low. Many dealers also have the option of bringing your current phone in to set up a plan on. This may require unlocking or “jailbreak” fees in order for the phone to work with a Canadian SIM card. Popular mobile providers in Canada includes Fido, Bell and Telus.

6.      Register for a Health Card

Registering for a Canadian health card will work differently depending on what province in Canada you’ve just moved to. Some provinces require a waiting period before health benefits can take effect. In Ontario and British Columbia you have to wait 90 days upon registration, while in Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia or New Brunswick there is no waiting period.

Since March 2020, Ontario has waived the 90 day waiting period. Research your provincial policies regarding health card registration.

No matter the waiting period, it’s important to get this done within the first week. Especially if you already have health concerns or require prescription medication.


First Month

1.      Register Your Children for School or Childcare

If you’ve travelled along with your family, it’s important to take the first month to get your kids registered for school or childcare for children under 4 years old. Many families make the decision to move to Canada during the summer months, not only to more easily transition into the winter, but so their children can start attending school at the beginning of the school year, which begins in September.

For kids under 4, daycare or pre-schools services are available and usually require an enrolment fee depending on the city you’re in. At 4 years old, your child is eligible to start kindergarten. If you haven’t already, start researching the schools in your area.

2.      Explore Job Opportunities

If your permanent residency was granted to you via job sponsorship, this point may not resonate with you. If not, your first month as a permanent resident is a good time to spend seeking employment opportunities in Canada. Maybe you just need something part time to help get you back on your feet, or perhaps you’re in search of a job in the same field you held back home. For some, you may be interested in starting over completely in a new industry, and as such may need added courses and qualifications.

During this time, it’s also a good idea to get your resume acclimated to Canadian culture. For example, some countries like South Africa are very multidimensional, expecting applicants to have a variety of skillsets and experience working in different roles. Canada instead is much more of a skill-based economy where employers tend to hire those who specialize in one particular area. It’s important to edit your resume to better reflect this.

You may also want to take up ESL (English as a Second Language) training to further help you secure employment.

Some popular job boards used in Canada include: Indeed, ZipRecruiter, Monster, LinkedIn among others. Here at Howzit, we also offer helpful resume resources.

3.      Sign Up with a Family Doctor

Even if you’re still within the waiting period of your health benefits, this is a good time to start looking for a family doctor. It can be difficult to find a doctor open too taking on new patients at any given time. Try checking with the health authority in your community who may have a list of local physicians taking new patients.

You can also ask friends or family if they have a family doctor and try contacting their clinic.  Many family physicians are working in teams at large clinics rather than private practices, so even if that particular doctor isn’t accepting new patients, someone else at the clinic might be.

It’s good to note however, that if you’re still waiting to be accepted by a family doctor but need immediate medical attention, walk-in clinics are always available to you in Canada. If you’re in a province with a waiting period, you will have to pay out of pocket to be seen during that time.

4.      Get a Public Transit Card

As a new permanent resident, even with your home country’s driver’s licence, you may have to restart the process of obtaining a Canadian one. (More on that below.) Until then it’s a good idea to get yourself a public transit pass so you can easily get around your new city.

Most public transportation services allow you to purchase a reloadable card that you simply tap when getting into a bus or train station. Other cities offer a monthly, weekly, or daily pass you can purchase, although it should be noted that many cities are in the process of phasing these out. You can always pay per ride but using the passes are typically cheaper in the end.

5.      Get a Driver’s License

As mentioned above, becoming a permanent resident may require you to sit a theory test and road test before you can obtain a Canadian driving license, even if you already have years of driving experience outside Canada. This is usually dependent on the province you’re in, as some may allow you to simply exchange your foreign license for a Canadian one with only needing to take a theory test.

In any event, it would be wise to familiarize yourself with the road signage and rules in your new province. They may present different challenges to those you might be used to, such as winter driving in Canada or driving on the right side of the road. These changes could require preparations you’ve never had to consider before.

We highly recommend that you bring documentation from your home country that will support your driving history and insurance history. For South Africans moving to Canada, your driving history letter can be obtained by contacting RTMC ( and your insurance history can be obtained from your insurance company. The driving history letter will ensure that in certain provinces (such as Ontario) that you can bypass the G2 licence and immediately apply to do your full G licence.  The insurance history might help greatly in reducing your insurance premiums once you buy a vehicle. From what we could establish from many of our followers, the insurance history will not always be taken into consideration and it seems to depend from insurance company to insurance company. However, some of our followers had great success in reducing their insurance significantly.

6.      Acquaint Yourself with the City

Finally, during the first month of your stay, take some time to get acquainted with your new surroundings and the sights it has to offer! Go visit the local museum, shopping centre, or check out the new transit routes. You’ve made it this far; why not familiarize yourself with the area and connect with your new community.

Perhaps you’ve landed in a city for the moment, but have plans to eventually settle someplace else in Canada. Why not get on a train and explore your options? The possibilities are endless!


First Year

1.      Look for a House to Buy

If you’re an individual or family that’s interested in a more permanent home situation, you may want to start the process of purchasing a home. Renting might have been nice for the first few months, but perhaps you planned on eventually owning your own property in Canada.

During your first year as a permanent resident in Canada, try to seek out a mortgage broker or realtor to help you understand your options as a first-time buyer. This can sometimes be a lengthy process, so getting started during your first year as a permanent resident is ideal.

Our partners at Homewise and Petrus Group offer helpful services for finances and mortgages.

2.      Buy a Car

Now that you’ve likely gotten your driver’s license sorted out, you may be tired of taking the bus or train everywhere, especially if you’re in a smaller town. Afterall, Canada’s open roads and beautiful scenic views are part of its charm.

After a few months you might want to start looking into your financing options for purchasing a vehicle. Most importantly, you will have to seek out your eligibility for auto insurance. Since you will be newly licenced to drive in Canada, your insurance rates might be higher than you’d expect.

Whether it’s auto insurance or a new vehicle, it’s always a good practice to shop around to find options that are most suitable for you. When purchasing a vehicle, you will need to ensure its driving capabilities are ideal for Canadian winters. Accessories like snow tires for instance, will be a necessity during the winter months.

In Canada, HST is not included in any of the pricing and might bring about a surprise when you are on a tight budget already. Remember to check and calculate this in when doing your budget on a car, a house or any product and service.

3.      Connect with Your Community

After all the hard work you’ve put in to get here and get settled, it can often times feel isolating being in a brand-new country. With culture shock, little to no friends or family around, and perhaps even a language barrier, it can be a difficult transition during the first year.

In the first year as a permanent resident it’s a great time to connect with your community. Asking any friends or family you have to introduce you to theirs or simply talking to your neighbours are good ways to meet new people. For parents, you can usually find casual groups for you and your kids at local schools and daycare centres. Recreation centers are always hosting programs for locals as well. Check out the ones that pique your interest and introduce yourself!

Using social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook are also great for connecting with new people, some who might also be immigrants like yourself and share the same experiences. Joining programs that help with ESL training is also a good place to forge new connections.


Did these points raise even more questions? Let’s help you get more answers – reach out to us to chat!
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