Get to Know Canada

Canada may be very different from your home country, which means there is going to be a lot to learn and explore before you arrive in Canada as a newcomer.

Geography: Ottawa is the capital city of Canada and is located on the Ottawa River between Ontario and Quebec. Canada has 10 provinces and three territories, each with its own capital city. These provinces and territories are grouped into five regions:

Atlantic Provinces:

  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Nova Scotia
  • New Brunswick

Central Canada:

  • Quebec
  • Ontario

Prairie Provinces:

  • Manitoba
  • Saskatchewan
  • Alberta

West Coast:

  • British Columbia


  • Nunavut
  • Northwest Territories
  • Yukon Territory

Most people live in southern Ontario and Quebec, southwest British Columbia and Alberta. Much of the north has a very low population because of the cold climate.


Canada has three levels of government:

1. federal

2. provincial or territorial

3. municipal (city)

Federal government

The Prime Minister heads the federal government based in Ottawa. It deals with national and international matters, such as:

  • mail
  • taxes
  • money
  • banking
  • shipping
  • railways
  • pipelines
  • foreign affairs
  • national defence
  • employment insurance
  • Aboriginal lands and rights

Provincial and territorial governments

A Premier leads each province and territory.

The provincial and territorial governments have the power to change their laws and manage their own public lands. They are in charge of:

  • education
  • health care
  • road regulations

Municipal (City) Governments

Mayors lead municipal governments.

Municipal governments run cities, towns or districts (municipalities). They are in charge of things, such as:

  • parks
  • parking
  • libraries
  • roadways
  • local police
  • local land use
  • fire protection
  • public transportation
  • community water systems

Housing in Canada

After you get to Canada, you’ll need to find a temporary place to stay until you can rent or buy a home. One option is to stay at a hotel or hostel.

You can also contact an immigrant-serving organization in the city or town where you plan to settle. Ask if there is temporary housing for newcomers and how much it costs.

The Canadian Government help refugees find temporary housing as part of the Resettlement Assistance Program

Types of housing in Canada include:houses, such as:

  • detached houses with property around them
  • semi-detached and townhouses where each house shares a wall with another
  • condominiums (condos)M

rental apartments, including:

  • apartments with 1-3 bedrooms
  • “bachelor” units made up of a single room as a living area and bedroom
  • rental rooms, which are usually large homes divided into private rooms you can rent

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is Canada’s national housing agency. Their Housing for Newcomers section has information about:

  • >buying a house
  • renting an apartment

Driving/Drivers License

To legally drive a car in Canada, you’ll need a driver’s licence issued by the government of your province or territory. You must have it with you whenever you’re driving. With it, you can drive anywhere in Canada.

If you have a valid licence from your home country, you’ll probably be able to use this to drive in Canada for a short time after you arrive. Check with the government of your province or territory for details.

If you plan to use a foreign driver’s licence in Canada, you should get an International Driving Permit (IDP) in your home country. An IDP will give you a translation of your licence into French and English.

The process to get a driver’s licence in Canada depends on the province or territory where you live and on your driving background. It may include:

  • a written exam on the rules of the road (you can get a study guide to help with this)
  • one or two driving tests


In Canada, parents have to make sure their children get an education. Provincial and territorial governments set up and run their own school systems. They’re much the same across Canada, but there are some differences among provinces and territories. Canada does not have a federal department or national system of education.

Elementary and Secondary Education

By law, children in Canada must go to school. Depending on the province or territory, children may start at the age of 5 or 6 and continue until they are between 16 and 18.

Schools in Canada:

  • start with kindergarten and continue to grades 1 to 12
  • usually begin at the end of August and finish around the end of June
  • run from Monday to Friday during the school year (except during holidays)
  • give high school diplomas to students who successfully complete secondary school (high school)
  • can be found in English-language and French-language across the country (even in areas where one language is more commonly spoken than the other)

If you and your family arrive in Canada during the school year, contact your local school board to find a place for your children.

It’s up to parents to choose the type of schooling for their children, such as:

  • free public schools
  • paid private schools
  • at-home education
  • English or French schools (in many areas)
  • Post-Secondary Education

In Canada, there are different types of post-secondary schools:

  • universities
  • colleges
  • institutes


Universities offer programs that lead to different types of degrees in many disciplines and subjects. There are three types of degrees:

  • bachelor’s degree: a basic degree given by Canadian universities that takes three to four years to complete.
  • master’s degree: a more advanced degree that usually takes one to three more years of study.
  • doctoral degree: the most advanced degree offered by Canadian universities. It generally requires three or more years of study and research following a master’s degree.
  • In regulated professions, such as medicine, law and education, students must complete an internship or pass a standardized examination in addition to completing their degree. They must complete all these steps before they can become licensed to work in their profession.

Colleges and Institutes

There are many types of colleges and institutes. Some are formally recognized by governments. They are known as:

  • colleges
  • community colleges
  • colleges of applied arts or applied technology
  • institutes of technology or science
  • colleges d’enseignement général et professionnel in Quebec.

Other colleges and institutes are entirely private and are usually called career colleges.Colleges and institutes usually offer one to three year programs. They issue diplomas and certificates that qualify graduates to work in specific jobs within many different fields. These fields include:

  • business
  • computer and mechanical technologies
  • health
  • social services
  • agriculture
  • trades (such as carpenter, electrician and plumber)
  • many others

A growing number of recognized colleges also offer bachelor’s degrees and, in some cases, master’s degrees

School Life in Canada

Teachers: Teachers usually have a university education.

Mixed classes: In most schools, boys and girls learn together in the same classroom. Some private schools are for boys or girls only.

School curriculum: Every province and territory has official course work that students will be taught in each grade.

Religion: Some provinces have separate Catholic public schools and students of any religion can attend. Most communities also have private religious schools.

Textbooks and school supplies: Schools lend textbooks to their students. You will have to buy school supplies like pencils and paper for your children.

Special needs: Students can get help if they have special needs including:

  • physical
  • cognitive
  • psychological
  • emotional
  • behavioural
  • linguistic

Report cards Children get a report card several times during the school year that tells you about their progress.

Missing school: Children must go to school every day. If they are absent from school because they are sick or for personal reasons, you must tell the school.

Getting to school: Children can travel to and from school:

  • with their parents
  • on their own
  • by school bus

Ask the school for information on school buses and public transportation.

Dress code: Children must follow the school dress code. Some schools require children to wear a uniform.

Extracurricular activities: These are activities that take place before school, after school or during lunch. They include sports, arts, hobby clubs, etc. Each school offers different extracurricular activities to students. These activities can help your child:

  • make friends
  • get used to the Canadian school system
  • have interests in areas outside school

Health care in Canada

Canada’s universal health-care system

If you are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, you may apply for public health insurance. With it, you don’t have to pay for most health-care services. The universal health-care system is paid for through taxes. When you use public health-care services, you must show your health insurance card to the hospital or medical clinic. Each province and territory has their own health insurance plan. Make sure you know what your plan covers.

All provinces and territories will provide free emergency medical services, even if you don’t have a government health card. There may be restrictions depending on your immigration status.If you have an emergency, go to the nearest hospital. A walk-in clinic might charge fees if you don’t live in that province or territory.

Waiting Period to Get Public Health Insurance

In some provinces you must wait, sometimes up to three months, before you can get government health insurance. Contact the ministry of health in your province or territory to know how long you’ll need to wait. Make sure you have private health insurance to cover your health-care needs during this waiting period.

Getting a Health Card

You need a health insurance card from the province or territory where you live to get health care in Canada. You must show this card each time you get medical services.



Canada’s official currency is the Canadian dollar ($). There are 100 cents (¢) in a dollar. Coins have different sizes, shapes and colors. They have nicknames that Canadians use in everyday life. The Bank of Canada prints all paper money. Each bill is the same size but a different color.

Exchanging Foreign Money into Canadian Money

Before you come to Canada, it’s a good idea to change some money from your home country into Canadian dollars. You can also exchange money after you arrive. Most airports have foreign exchange offices. You can also use a foreign debit or credit card to get cash from automated banking machines (ABMs), also known as automated tellers.

Banks in Canada

In everyday commerce, the banks in Canada are generally referred to in two categories: the five large national banks (the "Big Five") and smaller second tier banks (notwithstanding that a large national bank and a smaller second tier bank may share the same legal status and regulatory classification).

The five largest banks in Canada are:

  • Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)
  • Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD)
  • Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank)
  • Bank of Montreal (BMO)
  • Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)


A tip is extra money you pay to reward the person serving you for their good work and courteous service. The standard amount for a tip is usually 15 percent of the bill.

Giving a tip for good service is often done in:

  • bars
  • taxis
  • hotels
  • restaurants
  • certain other situations

Improving your English and French

Canada has two official languages: English and French. English is the most commonly spoken language in most provinces and territories. French is the main language spoken in Quebec and in some areas of Ontario, New Brunswick and Manitoba. There are also francophone communities in all provinces and territories across Canada. Quebec has a large minority of residents who speak English. We offer all official federal government services, publications and documents in both English and French. Strong English or French skills will help with

  • getting a job
  • going to school
  • accessing services
  • helping your children with school work
  • meeting and talking to people
  • getting your Canadian citizenship

Tips on Living in Canada as an Newcomer

There are several small concepts in Canada that may not be natural to your home country. These tips will help you adjust to live in Canada.

1. Smoking - Smoking in Canada is banned in indoor public spaces and workplaces (including restaurants, bars, and casinos), by all territories and provinces, and by the federal government. This also includes public or shared areas of apartment buildings and rental complexes. Smoking is also banned in private vehicles occupied by children.

2. Taxation - Under Canada’s decentralised federal system, taxes are levied at multiple levels. Income taxes are collected by both the federal and provincial governments. Depending on your status and terms of employment, you may be entitled to a tax refund at the end of the fiscal year.

3. Tipping - Bartenders and servers generally earn minimum wage, which, depending on the province, is around $10 per hour. You may come from a country where workers in the service and hospitality sectors earn a guaranteed livable wage with additional benefits, and therefore tipping may not be a part of your culture. Tipping is essential for service workers in Canada to earn a livable income.

4. Weather - Canada is appealing during the summer but winters here are absolutely beautiful and can be easily enjoyed once you are prepared for the weather. The winter weather can last 8 months which can be difficult and hard to adjust to for many people. There are many outdoor activities to pass the winter months away – ice-skating, tobogganing, snowboarding and hockey.

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