How To Survive Your First Year In Canada (8/10)

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Welcome To Canada! Welcome to my new “How To… Canada” series! In this series, I’ll try to put my knowledge to good use and shed some light on my new country: Canada. You will learn how some immigration tips and tricks, how to improve your proficiency in both official languages, how to find a job, how to settle in Canada etc. I’ll publish a new “How To… Canada” post every Saturday.

Your first year in Canada will most likely be one of the most interesting year in your life. You made it, after all! Yet, adapting to a new culture and to a new country takes patience and time. Here are my tips to survive your first year in Canada.

Surviving your first Canadian winter:

  • Buy warm clothes and dress in layers: save your money, buy winter clothes in Canada. A French jacket will never be as warm as a Canadian one… The best way to keep warm is to dress in layers: outdoor is freezing but indoor is often very well heated. The most important thing to remember when you go out is to trap the body heat: forget about these low-rise pants and invest in long shirts, sweaters, gloves, good socks etc.
  • Do check the forecast: the weather can change very fast in Canada. The first thing I do in the morning is often to check the thermometer outside, as I quickly learned that sunny days in winter can be extremely cold (we’re talking below -20C here!). You will also want to know if it’s likely to snow during the day, and if it does, how many inches are forecasted. Trust me, 30cm of snow can make a huge difference in your day.
  • Plan transportation ahead: if you drive, you may need to plug your car (block heater) in the morning to warm it up. If you take the bus, you may have to allow allow extra time to get to the bus stop during a snow storm. If there is freezing rain, you don’t want to be caught on the freeway as roads are extremely slippery.
  • Must buy winter accessories: a shovel (if you live in a house) to dig your way out. If you don’t trust me, check out Blizzard… Checked or The Weather! Keep a snow brush and an ice scraper in your car as well, because just between us, a credit card isn’t that great to scrape the ice from your windshield… no matter how good your credit is! As for clothes, gloves and a hat are indispensable. I also like large scarves that can cover your mouth in your nose..
  • Read more: on Seven Canadian Winter Facts!

If you’re homesick…

  • Read, watch TV, listen to the radio in your mother tongue: check out your local library which will probably have books in your mother tongue. You can also pick up a community newspaper, most of them are free in big cities. Alternatively, you can watch OMNITV, a channel that has a diversity programming with news, movies and documentaries in almost every language.
  • Connect with other immigrants: Canada is a very multicultural nation and chances are, you’re not alone! Some communities have their own district (like Chinatown or Little Italy). You can also visit a newcomer center (such as the YMCA) or a community center in your neighborhood… even libraries in big cities have an info desk for immigrants! You’re also likely to meet people attending a language class or a training.
  • Blog about your experience: it’s always fun to share with families and friends back home! Plus, you can interact with other immigrants in Canada. I have been virtually in touch that way with Aiglee (who is from Venezuela and lives in Toronto), with Expat Traveler (who is from Switzerland and lives in Vancouver), a US family living in Saskatchewan, Johnada (who is American and lives in Toronto)… and I also exchange with expats around the world!

Living up to your expectations:

  • Culture shock is to be expected: most people — including me — though that because Canada is a first world country, the culture shock won’t be as bad as if, let’s say, you were to move to India or China from Western Europe or the U.S.A. Truth is, Canada won’t make you “wow” right away. But this doesn’t mean you know everything about it! The culture, the people, the etiquette etc. will be new to you and you may find yourself clueless in social settings. Food is different, and so is the weather, the transportation system etc. Even English speaker may need to adjust their vocabulary to “speak Canadian”! For more details, read my Canadian Mindset, or Stuffs Canadians Like Part I and Part II article.
  • You will find your dream job: most immigrants, no matter how qualified they are, find themselves starting from zero. If you manage to find a position in your field when you arrive, you may have less responsibilities than before and a smaller paycheck. You may also have to work a “McJob” to pay the bills while looking for a better position. Don’t take it personally. We have all been there and it will get better.
  • It takes time to improve your language skills: if French or English isn’t your mother tongue, fear not: you’re not alone (see Canadian Multiculturalism). There are some great programs to help you with your language skills, but you need to be patient. It takes time to be comfortable speaking a foreign language! I had been living with an English man for five years when I started this blog and I still wasn’t confident enough to write in English (Do You Speak English). It does improve overtime though and you will swear perfectly in English soon enough!

Immigrating to a new country is a bold move. You will find what you are looking for but you will also experience ups and downs, like every single other immigrants.Good luck!


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. Maybe because I was a kid when we moved here, but we survived fine the first year. I often wonder how it’s like for foreigners:)

  2. Hi! Sometime ago I made up my bucket list. I mentioned that we would like to go to Ireland and France before I kicked the bucket. Having a number of friends in Canada, I would like to change my list to include Canada as it has so much in common with Australia. Take Care – Peter McCartney

  3. i love that you write so much about surviving that first winter. it brings images to my mind of canadians eating helpless immigrants because the snow is too deep to hunt moose.

  4. Hi Zhu,

    It’s so kind of you to initiate this series which I’m certain will be beneficial for a lot of people across Asia who are planning to migrate to Canada – and even for those already there and are beginning to feel lost and alone.

    I agree with Sidney, you should write a book about these things, including all the other subjects about the country you serialized in previous posts. I’m sure even Canadians may not be aware of so many things you have been able to document about the country.

    Who knows, it could be a bestseller, and the Canadian government may even initiate reforms because of what you have bees able to experience first hand. Some parts could be hilarious like a Frenchwoman having difficulty understanding and communicating in French in Quebec.

    Anyway, finish the series first okay? 🙂 –Durano, done!

  5. Great post, it applies to migrants as well. When I moved from Vancouver to Montreal, let me tell I had culture shock for months on end. I was so afraid to take the Metro for fear of getting lost and not being able to find someone to speak English to help me with my way back home. Of course I was completely wrong many people speak English in Montreal however I was completely ignorant. Clothing as well was an issue, almost nothing can prepare you for a Montreal winter, many times I would park my car on the street at night and could not find it in the morning as it was completely buried in snow. Fortunately Montrealers are neighbourly people and there was always someone around to help push me out of the snow bank!

    So to all the immigrants who read this blog, don’t feel bad we can have culture shock in our country as it is so diverse.

  6. @Bluefish – I think it all depends on how and why you immigrate in Canada… and also where you come from. I went through culture shock and I lived in China before!

    @Peter McCartney – Canada does have a lot in common with OZ, and it’s somehow at the same time the opposite. Trade beaches for forests and lakes, summer for winter etc. I loved OZ!

    @Seraphine – Nah, they don’t eat us. They have poutine and beavertails!

    @Sidney – One day, why not? 😉

    @durano lawayan – I really hope it helps some, I had trouble finding info when I first came to Canada. Besides, it’s fun to share experience and knowledge!

    @shionge – You would be just fine, you seem to love traveling and therefor, I bet you adapt well!

    @Aiglee – You seem to have survive just fine! 😉

    @Cori – Oh, I trust you on that, each province has its own culture and I bet I’d have to learn some skills again if I were to move to Alberta or Saskatchewan! I went to Manitoba last year and so many things were different: shops, companies, local lingo, weather etc. It’s really funny!

    @Khengsiong – I don’t miss French food much, except for the cheese I guess. And I can find Chinese food really easily, plus I’m living with a Chinese-Canadian so it’s not an issue. I actually get sick of rice pretty quickly! Food has never been a huge issue to me, besides, I cook a lot.

  7. Hi Zhu,
    Its nice to read some real original tips from an experienced person. I think it will take some time for a person especially Asian to adapt to the new weather and culture. I just met a friend of mine who has migrated to Toronto and came back here for a holiday, and she was trying hard to adapt back to the warm weather of this country, sweating!

  8. Very nicely written! You should do this for a Canadian gov’t website! One thing that I found difficult while living overseas, was that even in countries with much milder winters than Canada, I was always shivering inside! I sure missed central heat!

  9. I recently received an email from a guy in Spain interested in moving to Canada, and I directed him to your site!

    You know, I tell newcomers that the best guides are not really the native (as in, born-and-raised local) people, it’s the other newcomers who arrived recently and the experiences are fresh.

    I’ve expatriated myself several times (Australia, UK, and USA), and wasn’t born in Canada, so I know the feeling of being foreign even though I didn’t have to learn a new language. (Although, in Australia and the UK, it was like learning a new language!) It’s a feeling of isolation, but eventually you figure out how to get around, make some friends, and it gets easier.

  10. Hi, I lived in Toronto 26 years ago when my children were small and my husband had a great job. Returned to Ireland when dad died to be with my mother. Now she has passed and I’m so homesick for Canada, but my children are all married with children and not prepared to come back with us. We are all Citizens, we lived there for 10 years. I would love to go back but am scared, of being lonely, the winters, the cost of living ( we are retired now and on a strict budget). Looking at some expats blogs electricity, insurance, heating bills, it seems to be really expensive now, so don’t know if we could afford to live there again. Anyone able to enlighten me re: cost of living. I am in a real quandry, we have the opportunity to move to Spain, which is closer to my kids and grandkids, warmer climate, cheaper flights, yet I loved the Canadian lifestyle. Please give me your honest thoughts about this what would you do if in the same position, is that an unfair question, I would really welcome some honest opinions.
    Thanking you Denise

  11. @Annie – Thank you Annie! Hope you found it useful.

    @zunnur – It takes time to everybody actually… I mean, even Americans or British, who are closer to Canadian culture, experience come culture shock.

    @Brenda – Granted, Canada has the best heat system!

    @Gail at Large – And it’s fascinating too, I find. Yes, adapting is tough but at the same time, it’s such a cool and unique experience…

    @Celine – Sure, I’d love to share!

  12. Hi Denise,

    Thanks for your question!

    As for standard of living, I haven’t live in Europe in a few years myself but each time I go visit my parents in France, I notice that prices are generally higher there. Groceries, housing, insurances etc. is cheaper in Canada.

    Yes, heating bills are more in the winter. However, we try our best to reduce it by adding a few blankets, not using the air-con too much in the summer etc.

    It also depends where you plan to live. Toronto is always more expensive. Ottawa is a bit cheaper but it’s still a bubble, since a lot of people living there have a steady and relatively higher income thanks to government jobs.

    Money-wise, I’m pretty sure that if you can survive in Europe, you can survive in Canada. But the psychological aspect of moving back to Canada may be tougher.

    I’m sure the country changed since you lived there, and it hasn’t, well, you may have 🙂 You are bound to feel some disappointments because you may feel your dream life there may not be as good. It’s basically a new experience for you.

    If I were you, I’d come here for a little trip, see if I can meet some old friends, check the standard of living etc. And then I’d make a decision. Places change, people change…

    Good luck!

  13. Hi ZHU im aplyin for student visa there. Can u tell me in which part of canada I find indian or nepalese so tht I could easily be familier with these people. Im from Nepal

    • Honestly, there are immigrants from all over the world in Canada. I know Toronto has a large Indian population and so does Ottawa to a lesser extent. Big cities (which typically have universities welcoming foreign students) have the largest immigrant communities.

      I also know a few blogger from India who settled in Canada, you may want to check this blog and this one

  14. hi i am john from cochin, india got hooked by your site and pics….
    now it is 1:55 am and feeling energetic and blessed to view your site…
    all the very best… keep writing… john

  15. Hey,
    Just discovered your blog. It is so helpful for students like me. Planing to come to canada coming january. Any advice on finding a part time time in that season. Have heard it is vey difficult to even step out sometimes. 🙂

    • Yes, January can be bitterly cold in most of the country! That said, it’s business as usual around here. As for advice, well, it depends on what your visa status will be and on the kind of job you are looking for 🙂

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