Living In Canada – The Expats’ Essential Guide

The complete guide to living in Canada: the pros and cons, visas, taxes and where to live, plus tips on relocation to Canada.

Living in Canada offers plenty of great perks. It has glorious scenery, interesting culture, high quality of living, and plenty more besides.

In this guide we’ll cover exactly what living in Canada means for expats. You’ll find helpful information like the best places to live, employment opportunities (and retirement opportunities), and a brief overview of things like healthcare.

Deciding to move to Canada is one thing, but picking where in this vast country to live is another thing entirely. Hopefully you’ll have a better idea by the end of this guide.

Is Canada a good place to live?

Canada is considered a good place to live due to its job security, economic stability, and environmental standards, among many other reasons. It’s viewed internationally as a happy and friendly place, and this isn’t without good reason.

Living in Canada - Vancouver
Autumn is always stunning in Canada, just look at this landscape of False Creek in Vancouver downtown, BC, Canada

It consistently ranks high in worldwide quality of life indexes, significantly higher than countries like the UK and USA. But if that’s not enough, here’s a clearer breakdown of why Canada is such a good place to live.

Canada is home to some beautiful and very primal natural spaces. Many of these are protected by the country’s national parks, some of which it shares with the USA. So, if you’re an outdoor person, this is the place to be.

Its sheer size does more than just provide plenty of outdoor space. It also means properties are large and very reasonably priced. Even if you opt for something relatively low-key like a four-bedroom family home, the rooms will simply be much, much bigger.

When it comes to choosing the right location for a home in Canada, you have both very modern and very rural options. Its main cities (think Toronto and Vancouver) are clean and smart, utilising the latest technology to make them more efficient.

Similarly, Canada views itself as an open-minded, family-friendly country. In contrast to places like the UK and the USA, its public policies are very liberal, thanks mainly to its longstanding left-leaning government. For example, it legalised marriage equality in 2005, seven years before the UK and 10 years before the USA.

As you can imagine in such a massive country, there’s plenty of variation in the weather. However, one thing you can guarantee is that it never gets too hot.

Take Toronto, for example. Its average high temperature is around 20C but then it can drop to around -18C in the winter. Inland locations will see more extreme temperatures, and you better like snow if you’re thinking of living in Canada!

Snow can get so bad during the winter that Montreal, in Quebec, built the Underground City. It’s an underground network of tunnels that connects offices, shopping centres, and public transport over an area of 12 square kilometres. Not only is it a great attraction, but it also makes getting around much easier in the winter.

Combine all of this with its excellent healthcare system, its equally excellent education system, and its food and culture, and you end up with a country that’s an attractive relocation destination for almost everyone.

Is it expensive to live in Canada?

On a global scale, Canada is one of the more expensive countries to live in. Its cost of living is similar to the UK and USA but more expensive than most European countries. However, this potential increase in living costs is balanced out against the benefits.

On average, the cost of living in Toronto is 13% lower than in London. However, as Brits will know, this means it’ll cost more to live in Toronto than basically anywhere in the UK. For an American comparison, the cost of living is 19% lower in Toronto than in San Francisco.

Grocery prices in Canada are more expensive than in the UK (sometimes by as much as 80%), but this is typically because Canada has to import much of its fresh produce. Unlike many European countries, which can grow locally, the same model isn’t economically viable in a northerly country like Canada.

Basic utilities are around 44% cheaper in Canada than in the UK, but this difference is offset by the higher cost of internet and mobile phone bills. Of course, it’s important to note that you’ll have massive variations in speed and signal quality. Cities will have broadband, but you won’t find great internet quality in more rural areas.

House prices are generally cheaper in Canada, but this is simply because there’s more space, which helps keep costs down. Even so, in larger cities (such as Vancouver and Toronto) you could expect to pay anywhere between $700,000 and $1m for a property.

As you can imagine, this varies wildly by location. In Quebec and New Brunswick, the average house price is around $170,000. So, deciding on the right place to live is vital for making the most of your money. Luckily, you have plenty of options in this massive country!

The final thing worth noting is tax. While Canadian residents may end up paying more tax than they would somewhere like the UK, they actually end up better off.

The average salary in Canada is higher than in the UK. So, even though your tax contributions might increase, you still end up taking home more money.

In short, Canada isn’t an expensive place to live if you’re from somewhere like the UK or the USA. It might be a little more expensive in areas like food, but average wages are higher. However, if you live in a European country, the price increases in Canada might come as a bit of a shock.

How much money do you need to live in Canada?

To live in Canada comfortably, each working person should ideally have a job offering the average wage, which is $50,000. Of course, if you’re retiring to Canada, you’ll need to prove you have savings and/or income while applying for your visa.

The amount of money you’ll need will vary depending on how many people you’re supporting. It’ll also depend on where you live and what you plan to do with your life.

Even before you move to Canada, you’ll need to have enough money put by. The Canadian Visa programme gives some approximate values for settlement fees, which vary between provinces. However, you can expect to pay roughly $12,000 for one person and around $23,000 for a family of four.

There isn’t a specific answer to the question of how much money you need to live in Canada. As with anywhere else, it’s dependent on your dependents, lifestyle, and location. That said, a salary between $42,000 and $59,000 per person should be enough for a comfortable life in most locations.

The pros and cons of living in Canada

While Canada might seem like the perfect place to live, even objectively speaking, it’s worth considering any potential downsides. Granted, none of these is major, but it’s important to have a full picture when making your decision.

Here are the main pros and cons of living in Canada.

Pros of living in Canada:

Minimal language barrier

For native English speakers, one of the biggest advantages of living in Canada is the lack of a language barrier across the vast majority of the nation, give or take the odd French-speaking province of course. This means that integration can be much easier to achieve because there are minimal communication obstacles. 

This advantage should not be underestimated – and certainly won’t be by anyone who has relocated abroad to a nation where they have struggled to learn the local language. It’s worth noting that English is still spoken in provinces like Quebec, it’s just not the main official language.

High quality healthcare and education

Education and healthcare in Canada are generally of a very high standard, with many Britons and Americans commenting that the state of medical services and facilities is better than in their home countries.

Healthcare is free at the point of use, and university fees are comparable to the UK’s. Americans, of course, will see a much greater benefit in these two points.

Strong job market

Job security is fairly strong and the average salary is higher than in the UK. What’s more, the Canadian dollar remains strong, which helps the jobs market to remain relatively buoyant, and there is still a feeling of optimism in Canada.

Polite people

There is a reason Canada has an international reputation for politeness. Canadians are genuinely courteous, polite and accepting. This means that foreign residents are less likely to face immigrant-related prejudice. 

It is considered to be a peaceful, peacekeeping, relatively neutral nation too.  I.e., it doesn’t face the same level of external or even home-grown terrorist threat as some other nations.

Excellent public facilities

Public facilities – from libraries to parks to recreational amenities – are in abundance, generally well maintained and are very welcome resources for all citizens of Canada. 

Britons may take some of the facilities for granted as they also enjoy them in the UK, but many other nations are not blessed with such an array of free or subsidised attractions and amenities.

Great for an active lifestyle

As mentioned, Canada has plenty of outdoor space. What’s more, there are four very distinct seasons in Canada, and there are outdoor activities and sporting events designed to make the most of each season.  This means that you can always enjoy life in Canada no matter what the weather, in theory, anyway. 

Living in Canada
Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, Canada British Colombia

Cons of living in Canada:

The weather

While not explicitly a deal-breaker, the long, exceptionally harsh winters endured across most Canadian provinces are something to be dreaded by many expats. 

However, you can find a more temperate place to live if you head south and west – with Vancouver’s climate rated among the best in the nation for example.

A downside of the more temperate climates, however, is mosquitoes.  This is another aspect of Canadian life to be dreaded.

Long immigration process

In terms of paperwork, moving to Canada involves a very weighty visa process. All expats can expect to encounter red tape when moving to live, work or retire in Canada.

As anyone who has been through the Canadian visa process knows, immigration can be stressful, it is time-consuming, it does require patience. Yet when it’s all done and dusted there is a real feeling of achievement.

High taxes

Taxation in Canada can be high. However, many aspects of one’s working life can be offset against income tax, for example. 

Expats who are new to the Canadian tax system will benefit from hiring an accountant and carefully research everything that can be offset against their tax bill.

However, as mentioned, you’ll often take home more after-tax than you would somewhere like the UK or USA.

The cost of living

Again, this isn’t a major issue, but the relative cost of living in Canada can be high, especially in sought after city locations.

It has a strong dollar, and its real estate economy remains strong, which equates to high housing costs in some of the most popular areas. The cost of some household goods can also be higher than you would expect to pay in either the US or UK.

Hence anyone moving to and living in Canada needs to be aware that they will face similar living costs to the UK. A good, well-paying job is therefore important. If you’re after significantly more value for your hard-earned money, a European destination might be a better idea.

Getting a Canadian visa

There are five general visa types that you can apply for if you want to live permanently in Canada depending on your status.

The first one is the most popular: the skilled worker and professionals class. Under this visa class, you can apply for a visa if you have a job offer already or if you want to move to work in Canada.

The other visa types are investors, entrepreneurs and self-employed persons – this category is for people who will start a business in Canada, employ people and generate revenue for the nation.

Family sponsor is designed for those who already have family living in Canada, as they can sponsor your relocation. If you have children who are Canadian residents, they can sponsor you to retire to Canada.

The provincial nominee’s category is for specific skilled migrants needed in Canadian regions. Each province has different requirements and jobs.

Alberta, one of the most popular provinces for immigrants, has its own immigration programme called the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP).

The Quebec-selected skilled workers’ visa is specifically for Quebec where those with French language skills are highly in demand.

The key to a successful Canada visa application is deciding what kind of visa suits you best.

Your application is scored based on a range of values, including education, job type, employment prospects, and more. The better you rank and score, the higher your chance of acceptance and ultimately, the better your chance of moving to live in Canada.

You can check out our guide on Canadian visa categories for more specific information.

Can foreigners work in Canada?

Foreigners can work in Canada providing they have the right kind of visa. Generally, a worker’s visa requires you to have a job lined up for when you move or for you to be trained in a relevant profession.

Living in Canada
Edmonton in winter

Anyone can apply for a work permit, but these are temporary and one of the conditions is that you’ll leave the country once it expires. This would cover things like temporary work, business visits, and agricultural work.

However, a skilled worker visa is a more permanent option and often serves as the first step towards residency. There are plenty of categories within this visa, but common examples include IT and data technology, science and research, and engineering.

As mentioned, one of the easiest ways to obtain a Canadian skilled worker’s visa is to have a job offer from a Canadian company. While this doesn’t completely guarantee your entry, it helps the visa people see you’ve got something lined up.

Another option is either the start-up or self-employed visa, but again these will need to be in high-demand subjects and create value for the Canadian economy.

To apply for a work permit or visa, there are various requirements.

These are fairly standard for immigration visas and include things like having the funds to settle yourself and a clean criminal record. Specific requirements for the type of visa you want will be stated during the application process.

What jobs are needed in Canada?

As with most industrial nations, the most in-demand jobs in Canada relate to science, construction and healthcare. While these aren’t the only jobs that will get you a visa, they will result in much higher scores on the application.

In 2017, Canada produced the Canadian Occupational Projection Scheme (COPS) that covers 2019 to 2028. It listed the following 16 jobs as the most in-demand during that period:

  • Truck driver
  • Registered nurse
  • Business management consultant
  • College and vocational instructors
  • Software engineer or designer
  • Aerospace engineer
  • Pharmacist
  • Occupational or physiotherapy therapist
  • Welder
  • Licensed practical nurse
  • Aircraft pilot
  • Psychologist
  • Industrial electrician
  • Steamfitter or pipefitter
  • Dispensing optician
  • Construction estimator

Even in the few years since this report was released, industries have changed. For example, there’s currently massive international demand in areas like AI, machine learning, and blockchain technology. But the jobs on the list above are all fairly sure-fire ways to get a worker’s visa in Canada.

Can I move to Canada without a job?

You can move to Canada without a job, but you’ll need to prove you have enough money to support yourself. This is a minimum of $13,000 and covers you for around 3 months after your moving date.

There are a few visa options open to those not moving to Canada specifically for work. These are points-based systems and you’ll typically need a score of around 67% to be eligible.

Other options are studying in Canada or setting up a company. While you can move to Canada without a job offer or employment lined up, you’ll inevitably need to get a job while you’re there. Unless, of course, you have enough money to support yourself indefinitely.

Can I retire to Canada?

While there isn’t a specific retirement visa programme in Canada, there are still a number of options for moving to Canada in retirement. Regardless of which option you choose, you’ll need to prove you have the funds to support yourself while living in Canada.

Living in Canada - Ottawa
Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Of course, providing you’re successful, Canada is a great choice for retirement. It might not have the draw of a Mediterranean destination, but its free healthcare and glorious wild spaces have their own appeal.

For more specific information, check out our guide on retiring to Canada.

Tax and money matters in Canada

Moving to a new country involves getting to know another taxation system and your tax liabilities. Canada taxes are complicated, so to make sure you comply but also do not overpay, you should consult an accountant who understands cross-border taxation.

For the first few months, it can make sense to leave all your existing UK bank accounts open and work through them when you need access to cash. This will give you time to familiarise yourself with the Canadian banking system before switching over to it for the day-to-day management of your money.

When you are settled, visit your preferred local bank and introduce yourself to the manager, explain the situation that you’re a newly arrived expat and establish a banking relationship. 

Opening a new account should be hassle-free; after you have opened a bank account you may want to apply for a credit card as well.

Can foreigners buy property in Canada?

Foreigners can buy property in Canada and are afforded the same rights as the country’s citizens. Nothing is stopping you from owning a second home in Canada, but without residency, you can only stay there for six months of the year.

It’s worth noting, too, that buying a property doesn’t necessarily count towards a residency application. You’ll still need to qualify for the visa application process to actually become a resident.

Some provinces add extra costs for non-residents when purchasing property. In Ontario, for example, there is a Non-Resident Speculation Tax, which adds 15% of the purchase price onto the cost.

You can still get a mortgage as a non-resident in Canada but you’ll likely have to pay a larger deposit. This could be as much as 40% depending on the type of sale and your circumstances.

If you plan on buying property as a non-resident, you must seek legal advice first. A lawyer familiar with cross-border property purchases will be able to advise you of the specific requirements for your circumstances.

As a resident or visa holder, however, the process isn’t any different than for Canadian citizens. Of course, you’ll likely still want to get a lawyer involved to ensure everything is above board, which is especially helpful in a new property market.

Where to live in Canada – a short overview of provinces and major cities

Deciding where to live in Canada can be difficult. After all, there are so many places to choose from. If you plan on working in Canada, it’ll be worth choosing somewhere with good job prospects for your industry.

On the other hand, if you’re retiring, it might be helpful to choose somewhere with a lower cost of living.

Here’s a short overview of some of the key choices for where to live in Canada. For more detailed information, check out our guide on the best places to live in Canada.

Quebec

Quebec might not be the first choice for many, but it stands out among Canadian provinces. It’s a majority French-speaking area and is a melting pot of culture. Of course, the ability to speak French would be helpful, and might even secure your chances of a Quebec-selected skilled worker visa.

If you are planning to move to Quebec, you should certainly consider living in Montreal. It’s culturally unique, and while it’s still a major city, it’s quite relaxed and peaceful.

Vancouver

Vancouver is a very metropolitan city with plenty of outdoor activities on offer. It’s one of the highest-ranking areas in Canada for healthcare and education and is popular with expats from around the world. Vancouver is a good choice for those working in technology and engineering.

Toronto

Toronto is the capital city of Ontario and is probably one of the best-known Canadian cities.

Expats choosing to move to Ontario often make Toronto their home. It’s a good choice for its multiculturalism and work opportunities, particularly in fields like biotechnology, IT, and engineering. However, it’s also the most expensive city in Canada; the average house price is around $760,000.

Montreal

Montreal is a beautiful city with a bilingual population. However, French is the more widely spoken language, so those with no knowledge of it might struggle to integrate. It’s generally regarded as Canada’s cultural capital, and that should tell you almost all you need to know.

Ottawa

Ottawa is the capital city of Canada, which brings with it a certain expectation. It’s popular with those in the financial, technology and healthcare sectors, and is one of the most high-tech locations in North America. Ottawa is Toronto’s natural rival and the two cities often go head to head in the Ottawa Vs Toronto competition.

Canada provinces

Canada has 10 provinces, all of which offer something different. These are:

  • Ontario
  • Quebec
  • Nova Scotia
  • New Brunswick
  • Manitoba
  • British Columbia
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Saskatchewan
  • Alberta
  • Newfoundland and Labrador

Of course, some won’t have the right kind of appeal for expats. Saskatchewan, for example, is essentially a massive prairie and so would probably only appeal to those who plan on farming.

Many expats choose to live in Alberta or move to Ontario – these are the most popular provinces.

If you plan on moving to Canada for work, it’s worth researching different provinces and cities to see which caters the best to your specific field of expertise. For example, somewhere like Ottawa is ideal for tech and finance whereas Montreal would have a great appeal for artists and those in the media.

Where is the cheapest place to live in Canada?

The cheapest place to live in Canada overall is Ontario. Compared to other provinces, it offers much lower house prices for both rent and purchase. Some highlights include St Catherines, London, and Kitchener.

Living in Canada - Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls

Generally speaking, more rural locations will be cheaper in terms of property price but will be more expensive in things like groceries and utilities. Balancing these by choosing a town or city in the right area is vital.

London, for example, is a good choice because of its international connections and job opportunities. Rent on a central flat will set you back around $1,100 a month, which is considerably cheaper than somewhere like Ottawa.

However, it’s important to fully research a range of areas before making your decision. Very low property prices mean nothing if you have to pay $10 for lettuce!

Adapting to life in Canada

Canada will not be like your home country in many fundamental ways. You may feel a little homesick and lost in the beginning. 

Don’t worry; these feelings are natural and normal.  Adapting to life abroad takes time.

To help yourself, make a conscious decision to talk to people, make conversation, and join groups you’re interested in, and start meeting new people and making new friends.

Making a new life in a new country won’t happen overnight, and it’s important that you make a conscious decision to try and make new friends on an ongoing basis. 

Canadians are generally very friendly and your new neighbours and colleagues will probably be very happy to talk to you and help you settle in. 

One benefit is that the vast majority of the country speaks English, which will make integration much easier. What’s more, moving from the UK or USA to Canada will probably be a smaller culture shock than, say, France or Spain.

Whilst it is critical that you also maintain ties with your old friends and your family back home, it is as critical that you make a real effort to make new friends. It’ll be fairly easy to find groups on social media or join expat communities to ease your transition into this new way of life.

Healthcare and health insurance in Canada

Canada uses the Medicare system, which is free at the point of use. It’s based on a taxation system similar to the UK’s NHS. The government classes the system as public health insurance and you need an insurance card that you show at hospitals or clinics.

Provinces have individual health insurance plans but also provide free emergency cover, regardless of your health insurance status. There might be some restrictions based on your immigration status, but you’ll be told of these during your application.

On top of public health insurance, you might need an extended plan. These cover anything classed as not basic, such as:

  • Dental
  • Prescription medication
  • Physiotherapy
  • Prescription glasses

Your employer may offer these extra packages as part of their health plan.

You can also buy private health insurance in Canada, which is advisable during the initial waiting period for your public health card. This can be up to three months depending on the province.

Private health insurance in Canada works in the same way as pretty much every other country; your premium will be based on your age, health, and other factors.

Living in Canada – summary

Moving to a different country isn’t a light decision, but can offer plenty of benefits. Living in Canada, for example, might seem ideal due to its job security, healthcare, and overall quality of life.

Hopefully, this guide has offered some useful information that’ll help you to decide on whether Canada is the right relocation destination for you.

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