5 Things to Do When You Land in Canada (That No One Told You About)

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The Parliament of Canada, Ottawa, June 2011

It’s the end of the process and you finally received the letter saying your visa is ready to be issued. You are a soon-to-be landed immigrant and you already have a list of all the practical things you must do after you arrive.

Let me add more to your plate!

Here are 5 Things to do when you land in Canada (that no one told you about)!

Start to look for a family doctor — As a landed immigrant, most of your health care needs will be covered by your provincial health care system. Some plans, such as the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), have a three-month waiting period for new applicant, and not everyone is eligible, so buying expat health insurance is a great idea. But above all, make sure you start looking for a doctor right away! There is a shortage of family doctors and some specialists in Canada. It took me six years to find a family doctor and I’m not even sure my current one will be able to keep me. So as soon as you land in Canada, pick up the phone book, call family doctors in your area one by one, and ask if you can be put on a waiting list, if applicable. You can also sign up with free referral programs, such as Health Care Connect, but don’t expect miracles—I join the list over 18 months ago and I still have no news. Friends and new colleagues may also be able to let you know if their doctor is taking new patients, so don’t be shy to ask.

Build your credit history — After landing in Canada, you will need to choose a bank and open a checking account. Most Canadians do their day-to-day banking online, including paying bills. You will likely get a debit card for everyday’s purchases, plus a few cheques offered by the bank (if you want more, you must order them—and pay for them). Credit cards are very practical for online purchases but they are not easily available to newcomers who have no Canadian credit history. This is one of the reasons why you must start building your credit history as soon as you can. First, if you are a couple moving to Canada, make sure both partners have bills and accounts in their name. Women often discover that they have zero credit history because they have joint credit with their spouse. Second, to build a good credit history, pay your bills, rent and loans on time. Tip: if needed, you can try one of these workaround to get a credit card without a Canadian credit history.

Try new local products — The period after landing in a new country is commonly known as the “honeymoon”. You are probably happy to be in Canada (finally!) and everything is fresh and exciting. Make the most of the period because it doesn’t last forever. The “honeymoon” is often follow by a “back to reality” period during which you will have to look for work, deal with some of the unpleasant realities of American life and likely face a few challenges—fear not, it will get better again after that. Meanwhile, the “honeymoon” is the ideal time to try to local products, such as food, drinks, clothes etc. because you are not homesick yet. This will do wonders for your integration potential and for your wallet, as local goods are usually cheaper than imported products.

Start networking — The period right after you land is the best time to start networking. You will likely be curious about your new environment and will feel like meeting people. You may have more time on your hands too because most newcomers don’t find a job right away. Make the most of this period by going out, signing up for new activities and meeting new people, established immigrants or Canadians. I met some of my best friends in Canada right after they landed and trust me, years later you will look back and be happy to have such a long history together.

Record your time out of Canada — Finally, a practical tip you probably won’t think about! When you land, the immigration officer will probably inform you that, three years for now, you could be eligible to become a Canadian citizen. At the time, I shrugged it off because three years had seemed a long time from now. One of the requirements for citizenship is to have completed 1095 days of physical presence in Canada. If you exit and re-enter the country after becoming a permanent resident, do record your trips abroad! You won’t always get a stamp when you leave the country and three years from now, you’ll be scrambling to remember when and where you were absent from Canada in order to subtract these trips from your days of physical present. So simply keep a sheet of paper in your passport and record your time out of Canada to make your future application for citizenship much easier.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. What’s the deal with the shortage of doctors? Many of my Canadian blog friends seem satisfied with Canadian health care. My tea party friends here in the USA talk about horde’s of Canadians trying to escape the horrors of Canadian health care.

    Where I live finding a personal doctor seems to cycle with the economy. Sometimes its hard to find one other times they seem to be out on the street corner begging for business.

    • I’m not sure how the shortage of doctors started. I’ve been told a lot of Canadian doctors find better salary and work opportunities in the U.S but I don’t know if it’s actually the case. It could be just a myth…

      The Canadian health care system isn’t horrible, it’s very good actually. But yes, there are some issues accessing the system in the first place. Note that it also depends on where you live etc.

  2. I don’t think finding a family doctor is important unless you have recurring health problems. Even if you find one, doctors still move around, they go on holiday, they retire. Sometimes they even land in jail! (Yes, I know of one who did.) You can’t rely on one person for all of your health needs, and you can’t guarantee that person will always be available to you 24/7.

    A checking account is in the U.S., in Canada it’s a chequing account.

        • You are right to be confused because there is no consistency! Plus, we get so much American media and their commercials as well, it tips the balance of usage over to American standards.

          ‘Checking’ is a pet peeve of mine, however, I’m not as bugged by ‘center’ or ‘neighborhood’ or even ‘color’ but I find ‘checking’ and ‘jewelry’ and ‘traveling’ totally distracting!

  3. I meant to add, registering with a clinic that has a team of doctors is more beneficial, in my opinion. Your records are still in the same place, it’s the same point of contact, and the doctors communicate with each other if that’s necessary. To me, that’s a better solution than finding a family doctor.

    • That’s a good point! (Eek for the doctor who landed in jail!)

      But no matter what you decide, I guess my point is, newcomers should start looking into the health care system as soon as they arrive – i.e. how it works, the options they have etc.

  4. Wow….very informative indeed, I don’t think I’ll stand a chance to be a Canadian citizen but still, I shall refer my friends to your blog if every they need help.

    I reckon the medical cost is very expensive in Canada huh?

  5. Zhu,

    A very useful tip, no doubt.

    Another thing immigrants usually do: they arrive in the host country and socialise with people from their own community – big mistake. Integration is the key word (as you so well pointed out).


    • Yes, I believe so too. It’s only natural to find comfort with friends from home but it’s important to discover the new culture by mixing with locals.

  6. Great tips. I would never have thought about tracking how many days you were outside of Canada, but that makes sense if you’re trying to get a permanent residence permit. I also really agree with start networking asap. Making friends takes time and the sooner you get started on it, the sooner a place will feel like home.

    • The networking point is commonsense but I was slow to make friends here and I regretted it. I hope others won’t make the same mistake!

  7. I cannot stress on the importance of building credit history and I know the experience first hand because I bought a house recently. It is extremely important to get a credit card and start using it even if occasionally. As long as the amount is paid off by the due date, credit cards are like angels and will help drive your credit score north.

    • That’s very true! I always pay off my credit card and I’m glad to have a great credit history, plus some occasional freebies that comes with the credit card.

  8. Thanks for the nice post, Zhu. I landed in Canada this week, will be studying for a masters degree for next two years. I’m not earning anything at the moment, hopefully in future. Would you suggest a student like me to get a credit card ?

    • If you are able to get a credit, definitely do apply for one! It’s sometimes easier to get student credit card. That’s how I got my first Canadian credit card actually. The limit was low, $500 I think, but it helped my credit history. I believe I got mine from CIBC… maybe they still have that “deal”. And welcome to Canada!

  9. Sally A. Bonsra on

    Guys what if I have lived in Canada for 4 years n have applied for PR under FSW… At the moment I am back in Europe waiting for THE LETTER to confirm my entrance.
    I don’t have 10.grand as a young single person but I used to work with a Canadian company…
    They have asked for my bank statements ….could that be enough?!
    Aeo was applied n approved at the very beggining stage of my application but I no longer work for that company… What should I do…? Pof is my nightmare now a days…
    Please help with info.


    • Well, it’s really hard to help without much background info regarding the category you applied in. But you will need to show proof of funds.

  10. I started my process to move to Canada a few months ago, and knew that this would be happening about a year ago. I have tried to look for info regarding creating and building credit in Canada, and this is the first time I have seen that the SIN number is not needed. How do they run the credit check without the SIN? I am American, and even if you apply for a store credit card your SSN is needed. I do have a secured credit card, and a bank account, but it is taking forever to build any credit. Can I really just walk into a Future Shop and apply for a store card? What credentials will be asked of me?

    • I’m not sure, really. I think you may be able to apply for some credit card (the one with the highest interest rates) but your options are limited as a non-resident.

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