The main things you should sort out and get done in your first 2 weeks in Canada are:
1. Social Insurance Numbers
2. Apartment/House – a permanent address
3. Health Cards
4. Bank Accounts
5. Mobile/Internet Service
6. Visiting your local immigration services for newcomers – in our case it was MCAF
7. Driving licence and car
Social Insurance Numbers (SINs)
Since we arrived in Canada on a Sunday, we were unable to get our SINs at the airport. This is fine and you don’t have to panic. Honestly speaking, the SIN is not going to help you in the first few days unless you are starting a job immediately or want to open a bank account the next day.
Other than that, you can just go to a Service Canada office in your city on a weekday (they are open Monday to Friday) to apply for your SIN. For us, this was Fredericton, and we went there the following day to get our SINs. We went early in the morning so there were only a couple of people before us in the office. We showed them the stamped copies of our CoPRs and passports, and were asked for an address. They accepted the temporary address of the hotel for this.
After that, we waited about 5 minutes as they entered the info into the computer and printed our SINs straightaway on regular paper. They emphasised that we were not to share our SINs with anyone except government entities, our employers, and our banks, and should we ever suspect our SINs being used fraudulently we were to report it at once. So that was one more major tick on our checklist after landing.
Health Cards / Driving Licence and Car (Part 1)
We then went to Service New Brunswick (SNB) to apply for our health cards, but were told we needed a permanent address for that, same as our PR cards. If in the mean time, we needed to go to the hospital or clinic, we would have to pay in cash, but on receiving our cards, we could (and should) apply to Service NB to receive the money back. Yay for free healthcare! 🙂 We also need a permanent address for the driving test (written and road test), so that’s another thing we put off until finding an apartment.
Based on suggestions and advice from others, and also our own experience with walking around and taking the bus (walking uphill is torture when you are not used to it, and buses here are rather sporadic and don’t even run on Sundays), we decided to buy a second-hand car but to buy it closer to the winter season. This would also give us time to get the NB licence (although we were allowed to drive with our UAE licence for 6 months from the day we landed). To be able to buy a car from a dealership, we needed to get a Client ID number from Service NB, which we did. The good thing about getting a used car from a dealership is that you can buy it on lease (basically this means rent-to-own) or through financing. Please note though, as a newcomer and Canadian PR (NOT citizen), you have to pay a 25% down-payment on the car price. This is the Canadian law.
For our banking, we based our decision on two things: 1. which banks have the best packages for new immigrants (Credit Card to build history + the possibility of a car and house loan), and 2. to at least leave the bank with a debit card. We didn’t want to have all of our cash somewhere, with no way to access it. Scotiabank and TD Canada Trust Bank were the only good candidates, at least where we were. RBC had a good package for immigrants, but no debit card. They just give a temporary ATM card valid for 30 days, and you can’t even make payments with it.
Most people we spoke to genuinely advised us to go with TD, as they have had a great experience with them, so we chose to follow their advice. Of course, you should see what works best for you, depending on what you are looking for, but I can say that for now, I think we did well.
To open the bank account, we needed to call the TD call centre and make an appointment. I know some people were able to just walk in and see a consultant (not in NB but in Ontario) but when we went to the branch, we were told to call and make an appointment.
So when we went for our appointment (this was 3 days after landing), the consultant was very nice and took the time to explain all about the account we would be opening. We chose to have both a chequeing and savings account, and also applied for a TD credit card. He took our CoPR, Passports, and SIN, and entered all the info. Normally you would need a proof of address, but he accepted our temporary address for now, and told us to update it as soon as we did have an apartment.
We were each automatically approved for an unsecured CAD $1000 credit card, and could now wire money as much as we want without any hiccups, or deposit cash in any exchangeable currency. He then gave us our debit cards, set our PINs, and said we should be able to pick up our credit cards within 7 to 10 working days. We then deposited a small amount of cash into our accounts, and we’re on our way after an hour.
Before even landing in New Brunswick, we had looked at potential apartments online through Kijiji and the real estate websites for Killam, Gorham and Colpitts. But, I was not comfortable with leasing an apartment (and most required a one year lease) without actually physically having looked at it. So once we landed in Fredericton, the apartment hunting began in earnest, especially once we realised how essential a permanent address was for things we needed done (PR card, health card).
We made the choice of looking for apartments on Fredericton South side (remember, Fredericton is divided by the St. John river into South and North side), as this would make it easier for my commute to work (walking or bus – we didn’t plan to get a car straightaway, as I said). Let me tell you, trying to get an apartment in summer is a headache, because lots of people are coming into the province at this time, including students who would be starting their studies at the University New Brunswick or St. Thomas University in August/September. Most of the real estate companies were only offering leases starting in August or September. Some were even offering leases starting only in October. The few that were available immediately or starting 1st July were not what we wanted or needed.
But eventually, after about 5 days of searching (and LOTS of walking!!!) we managed to find an apartment with Killam Properties that was a convenient walk/bus ride to my office, as well as to Regent Mall/Walmart and other areas in Fredericton. Although the rental price was advertised “without utilities”, when we signed the contract, we were able to add a fixed value for utilities as part of the rent we will be paying every month.
A good thing about renting with Killam is that you are allowed to move between different Killam properties should you choose to do so. Of course a few terms and conditions apply, but it is a possibility. Another good thing is that Killam has a deal with Bell Aliant for the internet and telephone line, so you get a discount when you apply for your connection with Bell Aliant, if you show them you have rented with Killam.
Health Card / Driving Licence (Part 2)
Now that we had a permanent address, the first thing we did was update CIC online (through the web form) with our new address to receive our PR cards. About 5 days after submitting the web form, we received an acknowledgement email from CIC informing us that the address has been updated and we should receive our PR cards in 6 weeks. Please ignore the 6 weeks timeline as nowadays the PR card processing takes between 10-14 days. However, I will update with the actual time it took for us to receive ours.
Next on our to-do list was to sort out the health card application and maybe the written test for the driving licence, both of which can be done at Service NB. So for the written test, you just walk into Service NB anytime, tell them you are here to write the test, and then go write it (you have to pay CAD $28 each for the test). That’s pretty much it. For the health card application, we were given a token number and waited around 45 minutes before our number was called.
Note: although the processing time is pretty quick (the few times we were there, everything was done in 10 minutes, maximum), the waiting time can be pretty long unless you go early in the morning. Don’t even think about going during lunch time or after 4pm, you will probably end up waiting for over an hour.
Once we gave them our application, CoPR, and proof of address (lease agreement), they simply made copies of all the documents and entered the info in computer. We were told we should receive the cards in the mail in 6-8 weeks, however our health card numbers should be emailed to us in a couple of weeks.
Mobile/Internet Service Connection
We got our Canadian SIMs the day after we landed in Fredericton, at Walmart. You can choose between Bell Aliant, Rogers (the 2 main networks), and Telus, or any of the networks that work off these 3 e.g. Koodo, Fido, Lucky and Chatr. We chose Lucky for our mobiles because they work off Bell Aliant (who seem to have better coverage) and also they were having a special at the time. We got 3GB mobile data and unlimited free calls and texts to all Canadian numbers for CAD $30 a month.
UPDATE: One thing we found out with Lucky mobile (I am not sure about the other networks), is that if you use up all your data before the month, you CAN’T top-up until your next month’s cycle starts. Usually this shouldn’t be an issue, but it is something to keep in mind.
For our internet, home phone and TV line (this came as a package deal, but you can choose to only have an internet connection), we went with Bell Aliant because, as stated earlier, they have a discount deal with Killam property renters. Sadly though, we will not be getting our home connection until 8 July, due to the Canada Day long weekend and available dates for the service installers afterwards. Oh well, we’ve managed to survive 2 weeks without wifi, I’m sure we can manage another week. Free wifi at Tim Hortons, and Regent Mall (and at work) certainly helps. 😀
Visiting Immigrant Services for Newcomers (MCAF)
It is recommended in your Planning for Canada session, as well as generally, that once you land in your chosen city, you reach out to the local immigration services for newcomers.
These institutions are extremely helpful in terms of integrating into your new home, getting help with settlement and employment services, finding out about schools and child benefits (if you have children), joining community programs and events, financial know-how in Canada, and language classes (English and French).
I would definitely recommend you visit and try to participate in as many of the sessions for your particular interests and/or concerns as possible. At the Multicultural Association of Fredericton (MCAF), most of settlement workers are immigrants themselves, and so can give you first-hand advice and information from their own experiences. There are also groups like the Pinoy NB group, Bangladeshi NB group, African NB group, etc. to meet all your cultural and community needs.
So those are the few main things you should try to get done in your first 2 weeks in Canada. Of course, there are other things you can and will get done in that time as well, but these things are the “big items” on your checklist that should be completed once you have landed, to give yourself a smoother transition into Canadian life.