Moving to a new country or city an be an overwhelming experience. There’s lots to do and learn and explore and things can take a toll. Your plane has landed, you’ve done your procedure, grabbed a cab and head to your accommodation. Now what?
Well to make things easier, we’ve compiled the following 13 things to do during your first week and just those! The rest can wait a week or two until you figure things out a little and have a better idea of how things work. While the below is aimed at British Columbia residents, most of the advice will apply anywhere else in the country and in all provinces.
We’re pretty sure almost every article out there tells you to rush from the airport to get your social insurance number. We did that mistake which meant we were groggy the entire time, we couldn’t focus on what the agent was doing or saying. Also, because of that delay in getting rest and recovering, it affected the entire week which meant that we weren’t too alert and were running on low energy.
For that first week, you need to have as much energy as possible. You just moved into a new country and you should embrace the excitement of the honeymoon phase instead of walking aimlessly like a zombie! Jet lag can really affect your mood and energy, add to that trying to do paperwork with sleep deficiency and after flying for several hours.
So find a bed or a couch, take a shower and a nap, get some sleep and wake up refreshed and ready to tackle the to-do list you have. You will be more focused on what you’re doing which will come in great as you’re walking around the neighborhood and exploring the surroundings.
2- Get your Social Insurance Number (SIN)
Now that you’ve rested and are ready to go, find the nearest Service Canada near you so that you can apply in person. You are able to do so by mail or online, but doing it in person will force you to start exploring your surroundings and start interacting with people.
As a newly landed immigrant, you will need to bring along your foreign passport or ID card as well as your Confirmation of Permanent Residence.
At the Service Canada, make sure to say you need a SIN number as those centers offer a whole bunch of various services. Someone will call out your name and after the employee types in your information, they will print out a document containing your SIN number.
Make sure to memorize it and then keep that paper somewhere safe. This is your identifying number for working and government programs. If it’s lost or stolen or misplaced, you will need to report it at the soonest. One of the most common phone scams will ask you for your SIN. The instant you hear someone asking for it, you should shamelessly hang up the phone.
3- Verify PR Card address information
When doing your landing procedure, the border agent will ask you for the address they will be mailing your PR card too. Usually it will take a month or two before the card is sent out. If you won’t be at that address in the coming couple of months or if you didn’t provide an address during landing, you will need to submit a change of address notification. Otherwise, your PR card may be mailed without you being able to receive it.
4- Apply to B.C.’s Medical Services Plan
Every province has its own healthcare plan you need to apply to as a new resident. In British Columbia, it’s the Medical Services Plan, also known as MSP. During your first three months in B.C., MSP will not be covering you, which is why it’s important to make sure you have some sort of coverage before you land in case of emergency. The free healthcare you’ve heard about will not cover you at the start and won’t start until the first day of the third month you’ve been a resident. For example, if you landed on October 20th, your coverage will start on January 1st.
You can apply to MSP online and it’s pretty quick and easy to do. Now while your coverage starts on the third month you’ve been a resident of British Columbia, you will still need to go to the ICBC in order to complete your enrollment. In the meantime, temporary coverage and numbers will be provided pending finalization. On your first visit to ICBC, you will also need to setup a PIN code that will be requested every time you go there or call. Your picture will be taken and your health card will be issues and mailed to you.
5- Open a bank account
It’s very difficult to move around or pay for anything before opening a bank account. Most banks provide newcomer packages with discounted account fees and offers in order to encourage you to join.
A lot of forum posts are about advice in choosing the best bank and you will find people by and swearing on every one of them.
When doing your due diligence, keep in mind that eventually you won’t be considered a newcomer and standard fees and charges will apply.
Once you’ve chosen the bank you want to open an account in, make sure to have two identifying documents with you and if you’re married or common-law that both of you are available to sign documents. Think of all the types of accounts you’d like to create especially if some or joint and finalize all your account and card applications.
6- Move your Money
If you’re moving permanently and unless you brought all your savings in cash (yes, some people do!), you will need to move your money from wherever you are around the world to your newly opened bank account.
Keep in mind that there are bank fees as well as foreign exchange fees and you may not receive the full amount you transferred. We personally use Transferwise to do transfers between countries as they save on a lot of bank fees.
7- Get a phone number
Having a Canadian phone number will make all the difference in your communication with various services. If you don’t get a phone number first it’s fine as you will be receiving emails for communications from B.C. services and bank but a phone number on your resume will reassure employers you are a resident of the province.
Telecommunications are notoriously expensive in Canada mainly due to the cost of covering areas with low density. Just like everything else however, you will find special offers and packages.
We chose to keep our own phones instead of enrolling in a two year contract as we can eventually change our mind that way, but not the other way around. Contracts can be more expensive in the long run too so due your due diligence and prioritize. If you don’t care much about getting a newer phone, keeping your own will be enough.
Once you get a phone number, make sure to update it everywhere you’ve created an account in order to keep your information up-to-date.
8- Get a transit pass
In order to get around Metro Vancouver, you will need to get a transit pass. As a newcomer with not much going on, you can stick to just filling your card with top-up amount instead of a monthly pass. If you end up commuting daily using transit especially over multiple zones, then a monthly pass will be more cost-efficient.
You can purchase your Compass card from machines available in drug stores or at SkyTrain stations and add your needed amount directly there. When making that first purchase, keep in mind that the card itself costs a one-time fee of 6 CAD to avoid surprises at payment time.
Make sure to register your card online too to protect your stored value and cancel it if you lose it, but also to setup autoload and avoid uncomfortable situations when you don’t have enough balance.
9- Identify your surroundings
Doing all of the above will be great to allow you to start exploring the city you’re in. Take it a step further and look around to see if where you’re at, especially if temporarily, is where you’d like to live on a longer term.
Look at the distance from your residence to transit, whether the neighborhood is quiet or not and whether the nearby neighborhood might be better suited for you.
Figure out where you will be getting your groceries from and whether the stores near you have everything you will need for your day-to-day or if you’ll have to walk far carrying groceries.
Keep an eye on street names and look out for how the areas are organized. If you enjoy going for walks or runs, look out for nearby walking areas like the seawall in Stanley Park. If you’re a gym buff, look out for the nearest gyms, if you’re a foodie, make sure you’re in an area with various restaurants to choose from. If you finished your essential paperwork and have a quiet afternoon, take the bus or Skytrain and take a look at some of the other residential areas to get a feel of what they’re like.
Doing research online will never give you the same experience as when you physically are there. This is particularly important to do if you haven’t signed a long-term lease yet as you don’t want to commit to an area only to realize it doesn’t work for you.
10- Find a settlement agency
There are a lot of settlement agencies targeted at newcomers and that are funded by the government. While we personally didn’t have a good experience with them, it doesn’t mean they’re not good for everyone else. If you feel your language skills could need the improvement, then you can take advantage of some of the free classes. They will also be great to help you meet other newcomers and who knows, maybe build friendships. Settlement agencies will also provide you with advice on housing and career.
However, be mindful of the one size fits all approach they often have. Not all newcomers are the same and if you don’t believe they’re bringing you any benefit, you are not required to follow their advice to the letter. One issue we had with those agencies is that we felt they pushed the newcomers-aren’t-as-good narrative and encouraged us to downgrade our resumes to find jobs easier as this is how they report success to the government.
That being said, they have helped a lot of immigrants who needed their skills and languages upgraded and provided guidance and support to those who felt overwhelmed and confused after arriving.
11- Find a WorkBC near you
We went to WorkBC during our first week and signed up to all their workshops. The WorkBC you will be going to will also be dependent on your age, whether you’re over or under 30 so make sure you’re going to the right one. They were a very useful introduction in to the Canadian job market as well as more importantly resume creation. You will also be assigned a counselor with which you can meet once a week for career guidance and advice as well as general support.
It’s important to note that WorkBC will not find a job for you as they are not a recruitment agency but will be providing you with resources to help you in your job search.
12- Start apartment hunting
While sites like Kijiji and Craigslist have a lot of apartments online for rent, when looking for housing, walking the streets is your best bet. The more you walk around your neighborhood, the more you will find vacancy signs to call. Those are often not listed online.
While there is no need to rush into the first apartment you find, keep in mind that vacancy rates are very low in Vancouver for example and what’s available today won’t be tomorrow.
Take the opportunity to have a better idea on what the market rate is and what will be the monthly cost and take the time read up on what your rights are.
13- Start job hunting
Just like the above point, it’ll be very difficult to find a permanent full-time job within your first week. However, you can find a part-time entry level job as a cashier or in retail pretty fast which will help you start having an income while job hunting.
At the same time, start studying the job market, there are a lot of resources online on the WorkBC websites as well as at the Vancouver Public Library that will give you information on income, job market and future career options. Start creating accounts on online job hunting sites as well as reaching out to recruiters and temp agencies.
There you have it
As you may know, there will be a lot to do when you first arrive in a new country, but doing the above during that first week will help clear a lot of things out of the way. With that done, you will be able to fully focus on getting settled and finding a job and apartment.