1. Apply for your Social Insurance Number
In Canada you must have a Social Insurance Number (SIN) in order to work and to receive services and benefits from the government. Each person who is a citizen or immigrant must have a SIN. You should apply for your SIN as soon as possible after you arrive in Canada. The process is easy and you will need to attend at a Service Canada Centre and provide documents to prove who your are (e.g. Your passport that you used to land in Canada) and confirm your immigration status. Since you will not yet have your PR Card (it takes several weeks for your PR Card to be mailed to you), you can use your Confirmation of Permanent Residence form that was given to you as part of your landing process to prove your status in Canada.
Your SIN is issued to you as a 9 digit number. You will need to provide your SIN number when you start to work (it is not legal for an employer to pay you without this number) and when you apply for some government services and complete your Canadian tax returns. You should protect the number and keep it in a safe place because if someone gets your SIN they can commit fraud or you could become a victim of identity theft where the person may use your information to get credit or other financial benefits in your name. To help protect your SIN never use it as a form of identification, do not write it on job applications or give it out to other people in person, by phone or in emails. If you are asked to provide your SIN by a business, always ask why they need it, how it will be used and whether it will be shared with anyone else.
2. Apply for Health Insurance in your province
Across Canada each province has its own health insurance program. In Ontario, we have the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). OHIP pays for most basic and emergency health care services that you may need. This includes visits to the doctors, hospitals and walk-in clinics. There are exclusions as well - OHIP does not pay for the cost of medication or dental services.
Each province has its own rules for when you become eligible for their health insurance plan. In Ontario you cannot get a OHIP card until after you have lived in Ontario for 3 months (although there are some exceptions). During your first week of living in Ontario you can apply for your Ontario Health Card. However, the Health Card will be sent to you after the 3-month waiting period.
For the three month gap in coverage, I advise clients to obtain private health insurance to give them the necessary coverage if they need medical services before their OHIP coverage starts. You can contact insurance companies to obtain coverage as a new immigrant and it is best to do so before you arrive in Canada.
3. Driver's Licence
Each province in Canada issues driver's licences to residents in the province. In Ontario, you must have a valid Ontario driver's licence in order to drive. Ontario has a graduated licencing process and so the process for getting your Ontario driver's licence will depend on whether you are a new driver or if you have had a driver's licence before.
As part of the licencing process you will need to provide proof of your name, date of birth and a document with your signature – typically this can be your passport and Confirmation of Permanent Residence document. You will also need to undertake an eye exam and have your picture taken for your Ontario driver's licence. Depending on whether you had a previous driver's licence, and from where, you will be required to do a written test as well as one or two driver's tests.
If you have a driver's licence from a country that has a reciprocal agreement with Canada, such as the US or Australia, you do not need to go through the driver's licencing process and can typically exchange your foreign licence for a local Ontario licence. However, if you have a driver's licence from another country, you will need to provide specific information and documents, and depending on how long you have previously been a driver you may be able to go through the Ontario licencing process faster.
4. Open a bank account
In order to open a bank account, you will need to go into a local branch and provide original identification documents. There are five big banks in Canada: Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD), Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank), Bank of Montreal (BMO) and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC). These banks have branches throughout Canada and for the most part provide similar services to all customers.
When you attend to open your bank account you can ask the account manager helping you to explain the difference between chequing and saving accounts, and how you can track your account activity. And do not forget to ask them to tell you about any special programs that they have for new immigrants such as free banking, free cheques or an initial credit card.
5. Get a cell phone plan
When you are buying a cell phone or selecting a service provider you should be aware of the different services available and also your rights as a consumer. There are a lot of options available but generally you will be able to choose between:
a) prepaid service – you will pay ahead each month for a certain number of minutes of airtime, number of text, and data usage.
b) postpaid service – you will be billed after your use each month, depending on how much you have used. These can also include different packages in terms of number of minutes of airtime, text messages and data usage.
You should also be aware that if you enter a two or three year contract, particularly one in which you receive a new phone, that the contract is binding and may have significant early cancellation policies. If you do not pay your monthly fees throughout the contract or pay the early cancellation fee, it can adversely affect your credit score and cause you problems when you later want to rent a house or get financing to buy a car or house. So make sure to shop around and fully understand the plan and commitments before signing up.
One final note:
You will undoubtedly have many questions in your first week and beyond about your status, the steps you must take as a new immigrant, what your rights and obligations are, and so on. My word of caution is that while you may speak with other newcomers or to family and friends who have been here for many years, you should be aware that the advice you receive from non-professionals based on their own experience may not apply to you. For example, if a family member applied for citizenship ten years ago their experience may not be very useful for you to understand what the requirements are now. Take the advice you receive from others in consideration but in important cases make sure to reach out to a professional to verify the information and advice based on the specifics of your case.