Affordable Housing | Work-Life: Canada newcomer’s checklist

Canada newcomer’s checklist

Useful tips for newcomers to Ontario, Canada


I have been living in Toronto (Ontario, Canada) since May 2000. When I arrived I found many things that were new to me – and very different from my home country (USA). So I got the inspiration to collect useful information, share my experience, and offer tips and advice that may help you get through your first year easier.


You will find hundreds of websites on the Internet explaining how to take care of paperwork and other such “official business”. But day-to-day practicalities – details about your living cost, transportation, opening a bank account, and so on – are much harder to come by … so why learn the hard way?

I welcome fellow newcomers and immigrants entreprenuers to contribute the content of this page. Based on their feedback and comments I continuously update this site.

The information presented is not official, as it is based on personal and professional experience . Please use these as friendly guidelines. I hope I can help you start your new life here or at least just save a few hours.

My first day

I arranged my homestay reservation from back home – it is easier and more convenient than starting to look for accommodation after a  flight. Usually a credit card is needed to make a reservation over the internet. I used my American account without any problems. I chose a location relatively close to downtown, so I saved money on public transportation tickets and also a lot of time.

From the airport you can get a cab for a flat price. This is means that there are zones in the city based on the distances from the airport. For me it cost about $45. To be sure ask the driver before you get in. The tip is usually 10%.

Bed & Brekfast

Arranging the paperwork

We have extensive material in this blog and there are a lot of guidelines on the Internet and printed materials also, so I don’t want to focus on this topic. Check the link below.

CIC Canada

Official Help

Newcomer centers offer a wide selection of different programs that can help newcomers to learn English, get jobs easier or learn about Canada. There are a lot of programs, and you can get a headache easily while trying to choose those that are suitable for you. My suggestion is to focus on the English or French language (one course costs $30 per semester minimun in the private sector) and those programs that offer you the information that you really need.

The City of Toronto

Toronto is not just a city. It is surrounded by other cities which form a unified metropolis called the Greater Toronto Area (GTA)

There are better areas and also others which are not so friendly. by Jeno
Government of Ontario
TTC – public transport


Longterm accomodation

After my first month I moved from the homestay to a more cost effective private residence. In the summer time there are rooms in student residences or neighborhoods  around universities where you can rent a room for a few months at an affordable price. About 50% of these rooms have Internet connection.

I lived at the Naturo student residence where in still 2002 one month cost $400.

Once you get to know the city better you can rent a room or an apartment in an area that you prefer or one that is located closer to your work. Yes, this can be a big issue: after I got my first job I had to travel 1/2 hour each day with public transportation. Also, since I lived in the North York area and worked in West Mall Etobicoke Mall, I had to buy a weekly pass for $40.

    Always keep in mind that sometimes the additional costs – heat, electricity, etc. – are included in the rent and sometimes not. Usually you have to sign a one-year contract. If you would like to move out before your lease expires, you may have to find another person who will rent it out after you moved out.

If you are looking for new accommodation in the winter time you can expect 1 month free rent, which is a great offer. The prices for a room start at $450, while an apartment with 1 bedroom costs over $750 / month. Expenses include: hydro, water….. you do not have to pay sales tax on top of the rent fee maybe it is already included or maybe it is 0% – I do not really know.

Sometimes car parking is included; if not, you can expect to pay about $30/month.

One more thing about parking: In the GTA you cannot park for more than 3 hours in the same spot by law, even if you do not find explicit signs prohibiting it. So if you are thinking about renting accommodation, plan your parking location too. by Jeno

Toronto Star classifieds

Sales Tax

I know, it is strange, but the price tags do not show you how much you have to pay for the item. The details: the sales tax is usually 15% but there are items that are tax-free. So if you see a price tag on a CD that says $10, then you have to pay $11.50 at the cashier. But if the price tag on a loaf of bread says $1.60 then you will pay exactly $1.60 because there is 0% sales tax on it.

You have to learn which items have 0% sales tax. Also sometimes they tell you the price with the tax – please be careful. by Jeno


  Some examples:

item final price
basic food price tag
gas price tag
transportation ticket price tag
movie ticket price tag + tax
furniture price tag + tax
alcohol price tag
child clothing price tag
adult clothing price tag + tax
electronics price tag + tax


If I compare groceries to USA I find many similarities, but the selection is not nearly as wide here – grocery store shelves reflect the domination of mass production over variety. Usually bigger shops have better prices. You cannot find any hypermarkets here – instead there are grocery store chains. The quality goes up with prices. For example, NoFrills and Food Basics are cheaper while Loblows offers a wider selection and better quality. But remember this is only my opinion.

Some food items, such as natural, salt free butter, are hard to come by at reasonable prices – while others – for example, salmon in all shapes and forms – are readily available and more affordable than in many other parts of the world. Food prices may seem quite distorted: for example cola and soft drinks cost less than water.

Do not be surprised if you do not find any alcohol in regular grocery stores. The Ontario government maintains tight control over alcohol sales and naturally, it is a big business. So if you would like to celebrate becoming a landed immigrant you have to find out where the closest LCBO or Beer Store is located.

Cell phone

Now this is a quite strange system. I have lots of problems with mobile phone service companies. The phones available from service providers are very limited and often quite antiquated. However, if you would like to use your own independent (more advanced) cell phone with a SIM card, then you might as well forget all mobile companies other than ROGERS and FIDO (others are using an old technology, not the GSM system). Also your cell phone has to be able to use the 850 and 1900 MHZ carrier. TELUS is not great.

For me I found that the prepay system is better. I use a $30 (without tax) prepaid card that is valid for 2 months. My minute rate is $0.15 without tax for local calls. The charging system is minute based, not second based. Do not be surprised like me, that you have to pay even to receive a call. Again:receiving a call it is not free They call your available minutes as “airtime”.

The coverage is yet another painful issue. Some systems do not give you coverage everywhere in Ontario. You will probably not bump into problems in cities, but if you leave the urban areas or major highways you may find yourself without any coverage (just hope your car doesn’t break down in the middle of nowhere, having to walk many miles to reach areas with proper telecommunications infrastructure). So be sure to check what coverage you get with each mobile service package.

You can also chose an area code. Certain types of calls will cost you more than your local rate – but not in all cases. For example within the GTA you have to pay only local minute rates, even for the areas that use different area codes.

And my final advice: never give up, never be disappointed, and always fight until the end. 🙂

Bell Canada

Outdoor activities

Ontario is a nice place but if you like arquitecture and culture you have to travel to Quebec. If you like paddling, sea kayaking, cross-country skiing, then you cannot find a better place in the World. Tour Ontario.

  To camp in a park is great fun. There are regular campsites where you can get dedicated spots which are quite large (100 m2) or you can choose wilderness sites that you can reach only after hiking or paddling there.There are National Parks, Provincial parks parks and Nature reserves. Canadians are pretty good at managing these protected areas. Usually you have to pay about $10 per day for parking. Also there are park fees based on the number of persons, but there are many free places too. Check Scarbourough Bluffs.

If you are interested in exploring the east coast you can find a collection of my photos of my trips around Ontario-Quebec-Nova Scotia-New Brunswick here , under the photos section.

 My advice: in the top season the sites are always fully booked, especially on long weekends. So plan ahead, if you can, and book your site before you go on your trip. by Jeno

Canadian Deathrace for extreme hikers
Ontario Mountain Biking Areas
Bike and Hike trails in Ontario

Driving License

You have to localize your license because you can only use your foreign license for 3 months. Depending on your experience and the country where you obtained your license, you have to take different steps to get an Ontario license..


  Being originally from DR, I had to take a written test and after that a driving test. After this I obtained the full G license, which is the final one (other friends with over 10 years experience have been condemned to driving only with supervision and before nightfall). It is strange because if I would have been brought mine from New York which was expired (only 8 hour from here), a written test would have been enough to get a full canadian license. I think I do not have to describe that Mexico and DR have totally the same driving regulations and habits, as well as similar weather: the two systems totally match. I complain because a driving test with mandatory driving courses cost at least $275.

Oh, and do not be shocked: you can drive in the city sometimes with 80 km/h, but on the highways you must not exceed 100 km/h by law.

Driver handbook and license info

Buying a vehicle

There is a huge selection of used cars, and the dealers are the same as everywhere else in the world. So be careful.

Before you select the kind of vehicle that you prefer, always check the insurance cost. Do not shush me, I am talking about differences of $2000 / year! Car insurance.


For used cars you can find wide selections on the Internet. It is not a big issue to find a car that suits your needs and your pocket. Bigger dealerships are better in terms of reliability, especially new car dealership selling trade-ins – they are less likely to trick you into a bad deal.

There is a lincense plate fee, drive clean test (mandatory), registration fee, dealership fee and 15% sales tax based on the price of the vehicle. Also at every owner change the vehicle has to pass a mechanical test. Sometimes the price does not include this test, which means that you have to pay extra, you have to arrange it or there is a problem with the car and the repair costs too much. So if you are happy with the price tag, recalculate with these fees on top of the price tag of your new, shiny vehicle.
Toronto and GTA car dealers
Step-by-step used car buying guide

Car insurance

This is another major issue in Canada. As a newcomer, insurance companies do not trust you. In their policy you are the same as a 17 years old Canadian student who just bought his first car. Even worse, some companies will flat-out refuse to provide you insurance, because your parents do not have insurance history here. You are especially doomed, if you do not have a full G license yet.

Some of the insurance companies just simply rejected me, the others gave me a quote of over $6000 for a year!!!

 The kind of the vehicle is important. For example, for a red, two-door honda civic with manual gear (I am not joking), insurance costs much more than for a regular minivan with automatic gear.

In my case, I bought a minivan, which costs more in terms of gas, but being a typical family vehicle, its insurance costs less. On a yearly basis, this solution was more cost effective, and also I get a comfortable and more secure vehicle.

You are just wasting your time if you try to get a better quote on the basis of documents from your birth country that prove that you did not have any accidents for many years. This is true even if the you had the same insurance company at home, as the one you are trying to deal with here.

The details: I have over 10 years and over a million km’s of driving experience. I bought a minivan that belongs to the best insurance category. In my first year I paid $330/ month with Scotia. This year without any accidents and police or parking tickets (yeah, I am lucky too) they reduced it to $240 which sounds much better.

Conclusion: when I calculated the yearly cost, I found that it is almost the same as Latin America, but you have to pay less for gas (in 2008-Feb it was about $0.85 -0.95 tax incl.) and more for the insurance.

Bottom line: I heard about “great deals” offered by some agents who ask for $300 – $500 to get a better quote at insurance companies, but I chose Canada because a believe in the corruption free world not these tricky backdoor solutions. by Jeno

Ontario Automobile Policy
Car Insurance Quotes

My idioms

Word meaning
Gas fuel, benzin and not natural gas that is used for heating
Hydro hydro – electricity not water
2nd floor means 1st floor in New York
Ozonized water means natural water, you can drink it
Zapping using a microwave oven
POP soft canned drink

Getting a job

This is a hard issue. The main problem is that most of the newcomers do not have “Canadian Experience”. Yes, it is true, many employees say this is the problem with us. Even though I have been working for large, multinational IT companies in USA and DR for over a decade. So never give up, prove your ability, bring your portable job or portable business or get help on it ;  experience and motivation to the employers. After your first job life will become much easier.


Ontario inmmigration



Hire inmmigrants

Visitors to Canada travel plans

TRIEC’s The Mentoring Partnership

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