Living in Canada
Canadian Currency and Banking
It is your choice whether to open a bank account in Canada. If you do, most major banks offer great student accounts and services that can help you save on international transaction charges. A basic bank account costs approximately $5/month and most include personalized cheques that can be used to pay for large amounts like rent and bill payments. Internet banking is also quite common and has become a widely accepted method for bill payments and other transactions. To find out more about student account options or to open an account, visit any Canadian bank or go to your current bank and inquire about partnerships they may have with those in Canada.
Canada’s major banks are:
• Royal Bank of Canada • Scotia Bank • Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce • Bank of Montréal • TD Canada Trust
• President’s Choice Bank • HSBC Canada
The majority of stores accept a variety of payment methods, including cash, debit cards and credit cards. Visa and MasterCard, the two main credit cards, are widely accepted by most major businesses, however American Express is not. Be sure to check with your bank before using your existing Visa or Mastercard in Canada and be aware of exchange rates and any other foreign transaction fees.
Health & Travel Insurance
In Canada, each province or territory is in charge of its own healthcare system covering Canadian citizens for hospital and physician care. Virtually all Canadian post-secondary institutions have medical insurance plans available for international students. Contact the Canadian educational institution you plan to attend for information about health insurance coverage for you. Regardless of whether or not you plan to purchase coverage from a Canadian institution, it is highly recommended that you purchase travel health insurance. For more information on travel health insurance, contact your travel agent.
In Canada, it is customary to tip bartenders, waiters, hairdressers, concierges and cab drivers. A tip is a sign of appreciation for service provided and the amount given should reflect that. You are generally expected to tip 10-20% of the total amount of your bill, and unlike in many countries, the tip is not included in the bill amount.
In all Canadian provinces or territories, the actual price you pay at the cashier will be 5-15% higher than what is listed on the price tag, or in advertisements, due to the additional sales taxes added at the time of payment.
Canada's climate is characterized by its diversity, both from region to region and from season to season. While extreme northern temperatures climb above only 0°C for a few months every year, most Canadians live within 300 kilometres of the country's southern border, where warm springs, hot summers and pleasantly crisp autumns prevail for at least 7 months. Canada has 4 very distinct seasons: spring (March-May); summer (June-August); fall (September-October); and winter (November-February).
For more detailed weather information including average temperatures by location, please visit the Weather Office website.
Both wired and wireless Internet service is readily available at all academic institutions and you will be provided with a free university email account once you have begun your studies. Internet cafés are also common, particularly in metropolitan centres, and charge reasonable rates.
High-speed Internet at your home or apartment can be ordered through a telephone company and installed for you; a monthly fee will apply.
Major Internet service providers are:
• Rogers • Bell • Telus
A large percentage of young people have cell phones (mobiles); monthly plans, start at about CAD$20 per month, or there is a pay-as-you go option. The minimum term for most phone plans is 12 months. New phones can be purchased for under CAD$100. While you may be able to use your existing mobile phone in Canada if it is compatible and you have international roaming activated—this option could get pricey.
Major mobile companies in Canada include:
• Rogers • Bell • Telus • Fido • Virgin
Mail prices are based on size and weight. A standard letter destined for within Canada starts at CAD$1.05 for up to 30g. A standard international letter costs CAD$2.65 and takes 1-3 weeks to deliver. For more information, please visit Canada Post.
International students should follow the same common sense safety precautions in Canada as they would anywhere in the world.
Street / Homeless People
Street people will occasionally ask for money. If you want to help them, we suggest it is better to contribute to a charity. There are many community agencies throughout Canada that help panhandlers by offering free meals, shelter and counselling.
In an Emergency
• Call 9-1-1. This is a central number for police, fire and ambulance throughout Canada. You do not need coins to dial 9-1-1 from a pay phone. If English is your second language, do not panic. Interpreters are available.
• If you are robbed, do not argue or fight. If you are assaulted, shout or blow a whistle to draw attention to your situation. Try to protect your body and distract the attacker so that you can escape. Call 9-1-1 immediately.
• If you are a victim of a crime, no matter how small, report it to the police.
• If you have a non-emergency issue or question for the police, visit or call your city’s police station. Police in Canada are very professional and you should feel comfortable approaching them for help.
Register with the Embassy
It is a good idea to register your presence in Canada with your country’s embassy or consulate before you arrive.
In the Community and on the Street
• Be cautious with strangers.
• Be aware of who and what is going on around you.
• Trust your instincts and leave uncomfortable situations.
• Some areas of cities may have higher crime rates than others. Ask advice for the best routes to take when going out.
• Always tell someone where you are going and when you will return.
• At night always walk on well-lit, busy streets. If possible, travel with a friend and avoid isolated areas, such as parks or alleys.
• Most universities have campus security that includes patrol cars, 24-hour telephone lines and well-lit areas where you can contact the campus security office.
• Some universities also offer a “walk home” service where qualified students will walk their peers home, or to another location, after dark.
On Buses, Subways, and in Taxis
• Sit at the front of the bus near the driver.
• Know your bus route and schedule before you leave.
• Do not hitchhike.
• Taxis are a good way to get home when it is late and dark. Know the number of a taxi company so you can easily phone one if necessary. Canadian taxis should all have running meters showing the cost of the ride. Taxi drivers will not expect to negotiate a price with you.
• Many public transportation systems also offer special assistance for those travelling alone at night.
• On the train, use the emergency phones on the platform or emergency button if you are ever harassed.
On a Bicycle
• It is mandatory that you wear a helmet when riding a bike in Canada. At night, use front and rear bike lights and wear reflective clothing.
• Bicycles must ride on the road or a bicycle path. The sidewalk is for pedestrians.
• There are many clearly labelled bicycle paths in urban areas across Canada. Take these as often as possible, and keep to the right side of the lane.
• Traffic rules for bikes are the same as those for cars: stop signs, red lights, etc.
• You must also remember to signal your turns with your arms;
• Lock your bike when leaving it unattended.
Alcohol and other Drugs
• The legal drinking age varies from province to province, but it is either 18 or 19 years old.
• Arrange a ride home beforehand if you plan to drink alcohol. Do not accept a ride home from a stranger in a bar.
• NEVER drink and drive. Doing so is not only dangerous and irresponsible; it is also a serious criminal offence.
• Know your drinking limit.
• Do not accept drinks from strangers or let your drink out of your sight. If you do leave it unattended, order a new drink. Drugs can be put into drinks when you are not paying attention.
• Drugs such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana, ecstasy and GHB are illegal. Do not use or possess these drugs at any time, you could face stiff penalties.
It’s suggested to use tutors who are authorized by a Canadian educational institution. Some people who claim to be tutors or conversation partners may not be qualified or may seek inappropriate relationships.
Do not hesitate to report any inappropriate behaviour.
Never pay tutors in advance.
When renting accommodation, deal directly with the landlord and pay the damage deposit directly to him or her.
When possible, pay rent with a cheque, as it is easier to provide proof of payment, and always ask for a receipt.
Do not let people into apartment buildings or buzz them in if you do not know them.
If a repairman, delivery person or salesperson wants access to the building and you are not expecting them, refer them to the building manager.
Meet and know your neighbours.
Keep your door(s) locked, even when you are home.