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10 First things you should do when you arrive in Canada

Updated: Nov 24, 2023

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You are about to land in Canada with your study or work permit, and you have doubts about what are the steps to follow upon arrival?

In this post, you will find ten steps you should take as soon as you arrive in Canada to get settled in the best possible way.

All this information is based on the province of Ontario and my personal experience, but it can help you get started and then look for the equivalence in other provinces.

As always, I will leave an anecdote here of what happened to me on my supposedly super-planned arrival, but you can jump straight to the content if you wish with the following table of contents.

Table of contents

If you have read the about me page of my blog, you will see that I always try to be prepared and plan to avoid mishaps or improvisations.

When I travelled to Canada, there was a mandatory 15-day quarantine that I had to comply with.

So, I started preparing when I was in Chile by looking for a supermarket and decided (I don't remember why) that I would buy all the food I would need online at Walmart during those 15 days.

Well... with that in mind, I created my account and added products to my shopping cart to ensure I wasn't missing anything (not to mention that I didn't cook, so I needed to be prepared with Aldo's tips).

As soon as I arrived at the place where I was going to be for those first 15 days and connected to the Wi-Fi, I logged into my account (so proud and confident of my preparation process) and hit Check out.... my surprise was that the earliest delivery was in 3 more days!!!. I panicked for a moment because I wasn't prepared for that and only had coffee and sugar at that location.

So I had to start looking from scratch where I could buy groceries online with same-day delivery until I found it, and my story had a happy ending.


I don't want you to have these inconveniences, especially when you arrive after many hours of flying, jet lag and all.

I will give you the first ten things you should do during your first week or a little more in Canada.

Let's jump right in!

1. Get your SIN

The SIN is the Social Insurance Number, a 9-digit number that identifies you as a worker in Canada and also allows you to access government programs and benefits.

There are three ways to apply for a SIN: Online, by mail, or in person.

The online way is easy, but it takes 20 business days to receive the letter with the SIN in the mail.

The second option is to do it by mail by sending the documentation manually.

The third option and one that I highly recommend is to go in person with your documentation to Service Canada. I recommend doing this if you are free to leave because you will receive your SIN immediately.

For the documentation, see all the details on the official website here.

2. Get your Ontario Photo card

The Ontario photo card is an identity document issued by the government when you do not have a driver's license.

You can use this document as proof of identity or for everyday business transactions. It makes your life easier when you have to identify yourself, as you will not be using your passport, and in simple terms, you have your local ID.

If you know you will not apply for a driver's license; you can get an Ontario photo card.

You have to take your original ID documents to Service Ontario, they take your photo, and you will receive your card at home in a couple of weeks. It costs 35 CAD.

Here is the link to find out all the details on how to apply.

At a Service Ontario you can apply for an Ontario photo card
At a Service Ontario you can apply for an Ontario photo card | Photo by Van Tay Media

3. Get your driver's license

If the Ontario photo card is not the option you wish to use, you may apply for an Ontario driver's license.

If you have experience in your country, you can get a G full driver's license quickly; if you want to know how to do it step by step, I recommend you to read this post.

I suggest you do this procedure as soon as you arrive so you can get your driver's license soon, mainly because appointments are needed to complete all the steps, and sometimes it can take time.

4. Get a cellphone plan

If you already have a cell phone, make sure it is unlocked so you can buy a SIM card, install it, and you are ready to go.

In my case, I bought a SIM card at the Toronto Pearson airport upon arrival. I advise you to see which companies have coverage in the province and then decide.

I have mine with Chatr and have not had any problems.

Make sure your cell phone is unlocked to use other SIM card
Make sure your cell phone is unlocked to use other SIM card. | Photo by Media from Wix

5. Get a Presto card or similar

You are likely going to use public transportation in the place you choose to live.

In the case of the Toronto area and surroundings, the card is called Presto card; it costs 6 CAD; you buy it, then you can recharge the money and buy the monthly pass or whatever is more comfortable for you.

I know in the Montreal area, the equivalent is the Opus card so you can check with that name, and in Vancouver is the Compass card.

I suggest doing this because although you can pay with cash, it is usually more expensive than paying with the presto. For example, in Mississauga (Mi Way), they charge you 4 CAD if you pay with cash and 3.1 CAD with presto.

They are usually purchased at the nearest subway station, so you know which is one of the trips you have to make.

6. Activate some useful apps

When you arrive, you probably don't have any food or anything you might need in the place you rented, so you first need to find a supermarket.

If you don't have to do a quarantine (very typical these days), you can walk and go to the nearest place, but if not...

I would suggest activating Instacart if it is available in the area, that was the app I used, and I had groceries available within a couple of hours.

I would also suggest looking at these apps: Flashfood (you can use my referral code JULI36R8D if you want) and Toogoodtogo. They allow you to buy food at lower prices because they are close to the expiration date, or they are the dishes left at the end of the day from a restaurant.

I would also suggest creating an account with Amazon Canada. They can deliver within a couple of hours or the next day, which is helpful for the other things you may need while figuring out if you live near a mall or similar.

For example, if you are travelling with a pet, as was my case, I bought everything I needed on that site. I recommend you to visit 15 things your cat needs when settling in Canada so that you can have an idea.

you can activate some applications to be able to buy food
You can activate some applications to be able to buy food | Photo by Media from Wix

7. Look for a rental

Several sites can help in this search, for example, Facebook marketplace, Kijiji, etc.

In my case, and after searching several places, I contacted a real estate agent. I learned that when you are the tenant, you don't have to pay for the service; they receive a commission from the landlord directly.

I feel it is better because you can give the characteristics of what you are looking for, and they present you with several options; they schedule viewings which saves time and represent you to close the deal.

8. Look for a job

If you want to look for a job, I recommend creating a profile on the following sites: Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and Jobbank to get started and activate alerts for the jobs you are looking for.

Also, be sure to create a Canadian-style resume and cover letter tailored to each job you are applying for, using the keywords of the posted position, not including a photo, and in a brief format.

If you want more details about this process, visit How to get a job in Canada as a newcomer.

You may also find this resume builder tool helpful, My Perfect Resume.

Create a Canadian style resume
Create a Canadian style resume | Photo by Markus Winkler

9. Get winter clothes, if required

This will depend on the season of the year you arrived. For example, I arrived at the end of February 2021 (ending winter) and could buy my winter boots at a reasonable price.

So, I highly recommend looking for deals, especially as winter is ending. I would recommend Winners (I love this place - you have to go physically), Noize (vegan winter jackets), and SoftMoc (Winter boots of different brands).

You can get more information about what to wear during winter in Canada.

10. Open a bank account

This is something you will need to get your salary deposited and start building your Canadian credit score.

Some of the banks in Canada are Scotiabank, RBC, CIBC, TD Bank, and more.

Some banks do everything virtually. I use Neo Financial because there is no cost; you can have a high-interest savings account or a credit card and earn cashback.

As you do not have a Canadian credit score, the banks will likely offer you a secured credit card where you put in an amount they retain equal to the credit limit. It is a common way to get started.

Apply for a Canadian bank account
Apply for a Canadian bank account | Photo by Media from Wix

I hope this list clarifies the steps you need to take to set yourself up for success.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to write me through the Contact page.

If you are already in Canada, what is another must-do activity that you think people should do when they arrive in Canada? Let me know in the comments below.

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