Living in Canada

Canada is a very safe country, and many expats are attracted to the great quality of life it offers.

Home to Canada’s largest expat populations, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver have multicultural communities that are open-minded and used to rubbing shoulders with people from across the world. Wherever you’re based, you’ll benefit from the country’s outdoor lifestyle, relatively low cost of living and fantastic healthcare system. It also has a high standard of free education – and an open-door policy for home ownership.

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Housing in Canada is modern and comfortable, but finding a home can take time. Research the market before you move and be prepared to take a short-term lease while you look for something more permanent.

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Types of accommodation

If you want to live in the heart of a Canadian city, your home will probably be an expensive apartment with all mod-cons. Expat families usually live in cheaper houses in the suburbs or a satellite town. Most expats rent, but it’s easy for people from overseas to buy a property.

Finding property

With a scarcity of housing and a wide range of prices, it’s best to use an estate agent. They’ll charge a fee, so to avoid this, you can search online and browse the property classifieds in local newspapers.


The further you are from a city, the cheaper rents will be. Most places are partly furnished with heating and air-conditioning. Landlords are picky about who they let to, and you’ll have to pay a deposit of up to two months’ rent. Leases are usually for 12 months. And utilities aren’t usually included in your rent.

Buying property

Buying property in Canada is easy for expats. It’s best to buy through an estate agent who can also recommend a good lawyer to oversee the paperwork.

Culture changes

Canada is a montage of nationalities, so cultural differences aren’t an issue for most expats, especially if you’re from the West. But there is a historical divide between the British colonial provinces and Francophile Quebec.

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Getting around

Adjusting to Canada’s size and the remoteness of some towns may take a while. Cities are a long way from one another and driving from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast is almost equivalent to the distance between the UK and Saudi Arabia. Most of the north isn’t accessible by road.


In the Canadian province of Quebec, more than 60% of residents speak French as their first language – so there may be occasions when being fluent in French is an advantage.

The cold

Canadian winters are long and very cold – in some areas, snow covers the ground for nearly six months. Fortunately, buildings and public transport are well equipped to deal with extended periods of sub-zero temperatures.


With no nationally controlled education system, Canada’s schools are run by each province or territory. The standard of both public and private education is high and the choice of schools is impressive. Children usually must attend school until they’re 16, but some provinces have extended this to 18. The school year runs from September to June with breaks for Christmas and Easter.

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Public schools

If you have a residence permit, it’s free to send your children to a public school in your area. Classes are taught in English across the country, except in Quebec where most classes are in French, and in New Brunswick which has a dual French and English education policy.

Private schools

Most expats are happy to use the free public education system, but you also have plenty of private options, including military schools, special-needs schools and places with a religious affiliation. Fees at private schools are usually very high.

International schools

In most of the bigger cities, you’ll find international schools that follow the French and German curriculum or the International Baccalaureate. Waiting lists are long, admission policies are strict and fees are very high.

Home schooling

With so many remote areas, home-schooling is highly popular in Canada. Like the public education system, it’s provincially controlled, and there are support structures in place for parents who want to educate their children at home.

It's not what you know, it's who you know. Meet with people personally (face-to-face rather than by email or phone) and work to build relationships. Canada runs on networking and you need to get integrated as soon as possible.

Expat Explorer Survey respondent

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Keeping in touch


Bell Canada is the country’s largest landline provider. It has competitive landline packages that include local and long-distance calls, though not all companies offer good rates for both.


Mobiles are called cell-phones in Canada. There’s no shortage of providers in a highly competitive market, and most people choose packages that include WiFi and cable TV. Mobile coverage is good in all but very remote locations. International roaming rates are high, so you should switch to a local provider as quickly as you can.


Canada’s main internet providers include Rogers Cable, Distributel and Videotron. There are plenty of internet cafés and WiFi hotspots in airports and hotels, with free access in public libraries.


The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has about 24 free TV channels. You can also get satellite and cable packages that include international networks like the BBC, CNN and Russia Today.


Almost all of Canada’s cities have at least one daily newspaper and some weekly publications. Cities like Montreal have papers in both English and French. National newspapers include The National Post and The Globe and Mail.


Canada’s exceptional healthcare system is one of the main reasons people choose to relocate to the country. Standards of treatment are high across the board, although there are occasional complaints about a shortage of GPs.

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Medicare is a government-funded national insurance scheme that’s administered provincially, giving people affordable access to public and private hospitals, clinics and GP practices. Not all expats are eligible for the scheme.

Public healthcare

While Medicare covers a lot of basic treatments at public hospitals, you may still have to pay for medication, ambulances, dental work and sight tests.

Private healthcare

Most healthcare facilities in Canada are privately run. If you aren’t covered by Medicare, you may decide to take out medical insurance, although premiums are high.


You’ll find pharmacies in most Canadian towns and cities. Medicines are expensive, but you should be able to reclaim most costs through Medicare or your insurance provider.

Emergency services

Paramedics in Canada are highly trained and well equipped. You may have to pay for emergency medical services in some provinces and territories.

Getting around

Although Canada is a vast country, getting around is easy thanks to its excellent roads, railways, local and intercity bus services, ferries and dedicated cycle routes.

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Cars are the most popular mode of transport. You can use your driving licence from home or an international driving permit when you first arrive, but eventually you’ll have to take a test for the province or territory you live in.


Whether you’re commuting across urban areas or travelling long distance between cities and towns, Canada’s buses are clean, comfortable and efficient. Greyhound Canada covers more than a thousand destinations and has partnerships with independent regional operators.


Canada’s rail companies have intercity services and transcontinental routes to tourist destinations like the Rocky Mountains.


A number of Canadian cities have rapid rail transit lines, including Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Other cities, like Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton, have light rail systems in place. These metro networks are continually expanding.


Canadian taxis are regulated, with registration numbers displayed on the rear bumper. You can book one in advance, hail them on the street or go to the taxi rank at a shopping mall or railway station. You’re expected to tip your driver about 10% of the fare. Ride-hailing services, such as Uber, are also available in Canada.


With extensive inland waterways, ferries are an integral part of Canada’s public transport network. Cities like Toronto, Vancouver, Quebec City and Halifax use ferry services to transport pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles and goods. Prices are reasonable, but book in advance if you’re taking a car.


The Canadian government is working hard to promote cycling to commuters, providing hundreds of miles of dedicated cycle paths in its major cities. Wearing a helmet is mandatory in most provinces – and some places have bike share schemes.

Air Travel

Because of the vast distances between Canadian cities, flying is the most popular way to travel across the country. There’s a wide choice of independent regional and local airlines, including several low-cost options that serve the remote regions.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in October 2020. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.