Meet Samantha. An Expater born in the Netherlands, who studied in France and identifies as British, she now calls Canada home. In this post, Samantha shares her personal story on moving to Toronto from the UK, as well as her tips for anyone considering moving to Toronto too.
On moving to Canada from the UK
I met my Canadian boyfriend while studying and we did the long distance thing for two hard years. I visited initially on a visitor visa, living on campus with him. Then after completing my studies in the Netherlands, I decided to move to Canada so we could be together properly.
As Working Holiday visas for Canada are hard to obtain I first came on a visitor visa for a two-month holiday. Then, in 2018 as I was finishing off my studies in Amsterdam I finally got my work permit approved for Canada. This work permit is valid for two years.
The next challenge I had was the job search in Toronto – it was much harder than I thought!
The job search in Toronto was much harder than I thought!
Finding a job in Canada is all about connections, chats over coffee, networking and follow-up phone calls. Additionally, not having any Canadian work experience is a deal-breaker – no matter how smart, charming and educated you are. After two months of searching (and the clock on my 2-year work permit ticking), I was invited for a telephone interview. I ended up getting a job as a Travel Consultant and I worked there for the duration of my Working Holiday visa.
As the time on my Canadian work permit came to an end, I realised that I needed to figure out my next steps. So, I applied for Permanent Residency in Canada.
For the past ten months I have been unable to work for ten months while my Permanent Residency permit is processed. There are silver linings to this as it has allowed me to dip my toes into new waters and develop other skills. I have been able to reignite my passion for writing and marketing, as well as spend time with family (despite the constant COVID-19 travel restrictions).
So for now, I am enjoying life at a relaxed pace in a suburb of Toronto, while waiting out my Permanent Residency. After five years of visiting back and forth, and regularly being grilled by immigration on arrival to the country, I am looking forward to being able to travel as much as I can and be welcomed with open arms in Canada each time.
Canada vs the UK
Overall I don’t feel like there are many cultural differences and it was easy to adjust to living in Canada. It helps because I am a native English speaker and they speak English in Ontario.
Living in Toronto is like any big city – there are lovely neighbourhoods, and there are areas to avoid. As a whole, I feel safe living in Toronto, however you have to take precautions as a young female living in a city. On a number of occasions I have had uncomfortable situations on the subway. But luckily, when you are travelling during peak times there are people around so you know someone could step in if needed. Canadians are friendly like that.
Even though I am a frequent user of public transport, driving is the more popular method of getting around the Greater Toronto Area. This means traffic can get very bad all through the day, not just in rush hour.
Ontario has a similar health care system to the UK’s NHS, it is called OHIP. Having an OHIP card means you have access to many free health care services, such as doctors, hospitals etc. Just like the NHS, not all treatments are covered. While ambulance services are covered until OHIP, patients need to pay a fee of $45. However if the trip is deemed medically unnecessary, this can be as much as $240.
I’m happy to be here. I embrace the Canadian culture with open arms. I understand the quirky phrases, I appreciate the stunning surroundings and I know the best boots to wear during a -11 Celsius snowstorm.
I embrace the Canadian culture with open arms. I understand the quirky phrases, I appreciate the stunning surroundings and I know the best boots to wear during a -11 Celsius snowstorm.
What are the best things about moving to Toronto?
The biggest advantage for me about living in Canada is being in a country with such spectacular landscapes and domestic travel opportunities. The countryside in Ontario is relatively unknown compared to the famous Rockies in the western part of Canada. There is so much beauty in Ontario, no matter if you want to stay relatively local, or travel four hours up north.
There is so much beauty in Ontario
In additional to the scenery, there is new wildlife to discover in Canada. While the locals may see some of the animals as a nuisance, I still marvel when I see a racoon, skunk, or coyote in the neighbourhood. Let alone seeing more majestic creatures like bears and moose while enjoying the great outdoors.
Another huge advantage to living in Ontario is that it experiences four distinct seasons. Again, some people talk negatively about the freezing cold winters, but that only makes the warm summers so much more appreciated. What’s more, the autumn leaves are truly stunning.
Due to the hot Ontario summer from June to September, many houses have pools (comparatively compared to the UK). It makes Ontario a lovely place to spend the summer. If you really cannot stand the snow and cold in the winter, Ontario is only a few hours away from warmer destinations like Florida and the Caribbean. While the pandemic threw a spanner in the works, in general, if you can afford to travel, you are never too far from some winter sun.
Cost of living
I live in a one-bedroom apartment (650 sq ft) in a very nice neighbourhood (Yorkville/Annex) and pay CAD 2,700 per month (approximately £1,580). My partner and I have amenities such as a gym, concierge, indoor pool, and meeting rooms. In this case, our rent is higher than usual because there was a lot of interest in the unit, so we offered above the asking price. Our building is close to both of the two subway lines in the city (a rarity!) which is why it is worth it in our eyes.
Before moving in with my partner, I lived in a 2-bedroom apartment with a housemate. I paid CAD 1,050 per month for this one bedroom (approx. £615). This location was less central, and the building was much older.
Finding accommodation can be difficult in Toronto because there is so much demand. Whether you are looking for a sublet or a year-long lease, there will be plenty of other people looking for the same. So, when you are ready to move in somewhere, you need to be available to go to viewings at short notice and have the funds ready to send over your deposit as soon as possible.
That being said, the landlord is not allowed to ask for more than one month’s rent as a deposit. However, you can offer a higher deposit if you are trying to stand out from other renters.
The cost of groceries is higher in Ontario than in the UK, in my opinion. Items such as chicken, vegetables and cheese are much more expensive than at home. For example, I recently bought a pack of four chicken breasts for CAD 17.42, (approx. £10.90) from Sobeys in Ontario. Whereas in the UK, Sainsburys sell the same amount of chicken for £3.60.
However, using the TTC (Toronto transport) is cheaper than getting around London with an Oyster card. So I would say that while some costs are higher in Ontario, there are other costs that are lower, so it evens out.
Adapting to the Toronto climate
It is very important that you dress properly for a winter in Ontario. You need to buy a down-filled coat, bonus points if it goes past your knees. You need winter boots, not wellingtons because they will crack if it gets too cold. You need all the other essential winter items such as a scarf, wool hat and thick gloves. Good coats, that can cost upwards of CAD 200 plus tax (approx. £120), are worth the investment because they will keep you warm.
All rented accommodation by law has to keep your home to a minimum temperature, so you will not be cold in your home. The majority of houses have central heating (not radiators alone). All office buildings are well heated so you won’t be cold at work.
If you live and/or work in the downtown core of Toronto, there is a network of underground heated paths that are linked through main buildings. So if you take the train to Union Station (the hub), you can walk to a number of places using The PATH. However, if you work outside the downtown core/financial district, you will not be able to access The PATH.
To get to work I had to wait at a bus stop, for a frequently delayed bus, in -15 degrees Celsius. I usually wore thermals under my regular clothes and took the thermals off when I got to my office. I also kept some indoor shoes at my desk so I could change out of my boots when I got to work.
Moving to Toronto Immigration
There are two types of visas that I am familiar with because I have applied for them both. The most commonly known way of moving to Canada is with a Working Holiday visa, aka the International Experience Canada (IEC).
The IEC visa is available for British citizens aged 18 to 30. You must have a minimum of CAD 2,500 in the bank to help you sustain yourself when you first arrive in Canada. This visa is fairly straight forward to apply for, so you do not need an immigration consultant to apply for it. The “O Canada! IEC Discussion & Support” Facebook group is very helpful with the application process.
The other visa that I am familiar with is Family Sponsorship to become a Permanent Resident by a Canadian citizen or PR that is a family member. It can be a complex application and requires a large amount of evidence. But again, if you use Facebook groups to help, you can easily save money and do the application without an immigration consultant. I recommend “Canada Spousal Sponsorship Support Group” and “Applying for PR Common-Law/Spousal Canada” Facebook groups if you are being sponsored by your Canadian spouse.
Any moving to Toronto tips?
Unlike in the UK, the contraceptive pill is not free in Canada. So, if you are using this type of birth control and are happy on it, see if you doctor will give you a supply to last you a few months and save money when you first arrive in Canada.
Make sure you get a Presto Pass when you arrive if you will be using public transport around The Greater Toronto Area (GTA). It allows you to tap and go on all types of public transportation around the GTA. You can set up automatic top-ups to your credit card which saves so much time instead of topping up at the station or buying a paper ticket.
If you are flexible about your timing when moving to Ontario, I would recommend moving over between April and September. It will be easier to make friends during the summer months when people are outside socialising. Plus, you will want to get out and explore your new neighbourhood and it will be much more enjoyable when there’s no ice.
Your UK winter coat will not be warm enough for a Toronto winter. Save the space in your suitcase and buy one when you arrive.
Top Tips for Moving to Toronto, Canada
Be smart when you open a Canadian bank account
All bank accounts charge a fee to use their services, even if you just want a classic “chequing” account with a debit card. The monthly fee can range anything from $5 to $15.
There are ways to avoid paying a fee. For example, on the first year after moving to Canada, you can get a “Newcomer to Canada” account and the bank gives you free banking for a year. I did this with CIBC. Another way to avoid the fee is to maintain a minimum amount of money in your chequing account every month. Some banks require $3,000 at all times and some need upwards of $6,000.
I would definitely recommend opening a Canadian bank account if you are moving to Canada in the long term. You will get stung with fees on every purchase from your UK bank card and many institutions require a Canadian bank to pay money to you, such as your employee or for your tax return.
If you are looking to send over money from the UK to Canada you can use a transfer website, such as Wise. It is also easy to pay in cash once you have a Canadian bank account set up.
Beware of mosquitoes
I have never received as many mosquito bites as I get during a summer in Ontario! Sometimes I will have 20 bites all over my legs. However, strangely, my Canadian friends are hardly affected by them and will come away with only one or two. The mosquito season is usually from June to September.
So, my advice is to make sure from June until September you wear insect repellent and bring some lightweight layers for the evening to cover your body. Avoid the temptation of wearing perfume or scented body lotions because this will attract the bugs even more. The mosquitos are definitely more prevalent by the water, so be aware if you are near any lakes or ravines (which are abundant in Ontario).
Check mobile phone plans carefully
The cost of phone plans in Canada are the most expensive I have experienced, compared to England, Netherlands and France. There’s no such thing as a £10 a month sim-only plan with unlimited data and calls, like the one I had in England. You are looking at paying around CAD 80 a month for unlimited data and calls with a “bring your own phone” plan (£40 – 50).
If you do not need unlimited data, you can opt for a sim-only plan with 3GB of data and unlimited calls and texts for approximately $45 + tax. I had this when I first arrived in Toronto, but I would frequently use up all of my data because I needed to use a transportation app and Google Maps. I didn’t have enough data to use social media.
Remember tax & tips
This is a common mistake by foreigners coming to North America – forgetting that the final price on all goods doesn’t include tax. After living in Ontario for a while you will get better at remembering to factor in the tax when you are purchasing items. Tax in Ontario (commonly noted as GST or HST) is 13%.
The majority of services in Ontario and the rest of Canada expect a tip. This includes restaurants, hairdressers, food delivery, taxis, beauty salons etc. Servers, for example, typically earn less than minimum wage, but it is their tips that help them make a good living. If you do not tip for a meal in a restaurant or after a beauty treatment staff will think that they did a terrible job and will be offended. For a sit-down restaurant, the minimum you should tip is 15%. The amount varies across services. If in doubt, check with locals.
All of these service establishments have card machines that give you the opportunity to tip when paying by card. The machine will give you the option of tipping a certain percentage, so it is easy to tip. You do not need to carry cash for a tip, unless you would like to.
Do your best to make friends
Making friends in Canada has been the biggest difficulty for me as a naturally reserved person. I am lucky to have moved here to be with my Canadian boyfriend who has many friends. Therefore, I have been able to meet people this way. However, I also wanted to meet my own friends and I found that it was easier to make friends that are also expats.
My advice for someone coming to Toronto without knowing anyone is to join clubs. If you are into sport, you can find team sport groups and join them. I joined the Brits in Toronto Facebook group and went to several meet-ups pre-pandemic. It is a great group to join because you can get tips about living in Toronto and arrange to meet up with people who live locally.
The pandemic rules have been very strict, so it has been difficult to make new friends or meet up with existing friends for the past year. However, I saw a few members of the Brits in Toronto group arrange to go for a socially distanced walk with each other when we were allowed to do so. Additionally, if you are moving to Toronto during the pandemic as a solo individual, I would recommend that you find accommodation with housemates. Again, you may find accommodation on Brits in Toronto Facebook group with fellow expats. Or you could join the Toronto Home Zone Facebook group where there are a mixture of locals and expats offering rooms or apartments to rent.
I also encourage you to get to know your colleagues, given that you will be spending the majority of your time with them. If some of them are going to after work dinner or drinks, join them!
Job hunt smart
Without the proper papers and being physically in Canada, your options for securing employment are limited. Many job applications ask you if you are already in Canada, and if you are not, they won’t even consider you. Companies will not offer to sponsor you before you arrive in Canada unless you have extremely rare talents or are entering an industry in desperate need of workers. This is the same if you list a foreign phone number on your CV. So, make sure you get a Canadian phone number as soon as you can.
The first work permit I applied for was the working holiday visa, and they are famously unpredictable. You are put into a lottery and you do not know when you will receive yours. Therefore, the difficulty I found before I arrived in Canada was that I didn’t know when I would be able to start working.
My advice would be if you want to start your job search before you get to Canada is to start tailoring your CV to the Canadian market. Your CV, or resume as it is known as in Canada, should be results focused. So when you list a job, include a sentence that says what you accomplished and put a numerical figure to that. For example, your social media strategy helped increase sales by 13% in 2020.
You can also start looking at the type of company you would like to work at. Look on LinkedIn at their employees and what experience they have and their industry background. If you have a connection with these people, it would be a major perk. The best way to get a job is by networking and using any contacts you may have. Before you arrive, you could organise phone calls or coffee meet-ups with people in your industry as a way to get to know the Canadian market.
Canadian employers prefer those with Canadian experience in terms of work and education from universities they know. This is a hard barrier to cross as an Expat. However, you can use an employee agency and they will help out. If you are applying for a job in a speciality industry, make sure your qualifications are accepted or find a course/certification that will help you to become the same standard as the Canadian equivalent.
Strive for work-life balance
In North American the work-life balance is very different to Europe. There is a general expectation that you should work longer more your contracted hours, particularly if you are a young professional with no children. This was a shock to me because I have worked jobs in England and the Netherlands where my colleagues and I left as soon as our day was over in order to get valuable time at home.
The way I have managed this in Toronto is by being efficient during my day and completing all of my work so that there would be no reason for me to need to stay later. I also asked my manager to change my hours to work from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm so that I could have a quiet first hour and get lots of tasks done before the majority of the office arrived.
Some jobs are commission based, and here there would be a benefit to working late if you were able to clinch more sales.
It is also very typical to only receive 10 vacation days a year. As you are employed at a company for longer, they will reward your loyalty and give you an increasing amount of annual leave. Ontario does make up a few of these days by having frequent public holidays. Therefore, in order to make the most of my 10 days off a year, I would book time off around the public holidays. However, many people try to do this, so you have to arrange this with your manager way in advance.
Be mindful of Canadian driving
I have found motorway driving quite a different experience in Ontario. Drivers don’t follow the rule of the fastest cars drive in the inside lane and to overtake cars rather than undertaking. I also find that cars drive very close together and use their horn much more than in England.
Canada is the same as the US in that you are allowed to turn right on a red light. You must always carry your driver’s licence when driving otherwise you will be fined. If you are under 21 years old, or are a new driver, you are not allowed to have any presence of alcohol in your blood at all.
The UK has a reciprocal agreement with Canada that you are allowed to swap your licence over if you have two years of driving experience. You are not required to take a test to prove you can drive. However, in order to get an Ontario driver’s license you need to surrender your British driving license. You are not allowed to hold both at the same time. You are allowed to drive in Ontario on your British driver’s licence for 60 days before you would be required to change it to a local one.
I am not the most confident driver on a normal occasion; therefore, I use public transport to get around. To go further distances between cities, you can take the GO Train and within Toronto there is the subway and buses. Sometimes I need to take an Uber to get to the train station.
For more advice on moving to Toronto, and for Samantha’s adventures in other countries too, visit www.continuousroamer.com