Country Facts – Canada
This information is provided to offer guidance to those seeking to live and work overseas. For more information we recommend that you speak with your national government Foreign Office (or equivalent).
Canada Country Guide
Welcome to the wide open spaces, the crisp cool air and snow-capped mountains of Canada. For years, the land of Mounties and maple syrup has been attracting expats. Offering, as it does, a high standard of living perfectly combined with a rich and varied outdoor lifestyle, it should be no surprise that Canada is already the fourth most popular expat destination with the British.
The classic view of Canada involves plenty of snow and arctic winter temperatures. This is certainly true in the more northerly areas where the temperature frequently drops to minus 20’C for months at a time. Living in the north is tough, with winters that go on for much longer than more southern areas, and with a short, cool summer period. That said, this is understandable when more northern parts of the country set well within the Arctic Circle.
This rather extreme weather is however largely confined to more northerly areas, while further south one will find a far more agreeable climate. While winters may still be cold and dark, summers can achieve enviable temperatures frequently topping 30’C in what is typically a long, warm and dry summer.
In this way, many expats find that Canada offers an ideal “liveable” climate; one with cold, snowy winters ripe for skiing and snowboarding, yet with warm, welcoming summers just perfect for exploring the culture-filled cities or vast expanses of wilderness.
While typically the west and south of Canada are milder than more northern or eastern parts, be aware that they do generally experience more rainfall too. As always, a compromise is required; colder temperatures up north or wetter weather down south.
Canada is a large country with a very low population density in general. While you will find a number of large, clean cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, more rural areas tend to be far less populated. This allows for a great diversity of people in Canada, and enough space for each group to fully enjoy their cultural heritage. It also makes Canada a truly cosmopolitan country, and one that is all the more fascinating and attractive for it.
When you take into account the original native Canadian aborigines, the French and later English colonists, Canada is quite a melting pot of different cultures, languages and traditions. Fortunately far from causing cultural rifts as it would in many countries, Canada seems to thrive on this diversity. Different groups live side-by-side, largely respecting each other’s cultures and helping to make acceptance and diversity key tenets of the Canadian national identity.
As a result of this, drawing conclusions about Canadian culture can be difficult due to its diversity. What holds true for one group, may not hold true for another. In general however it is fair to say that this cultural diversity has led to a progressive and easy-going attitude. Generally speaking Canadians are considered polite, relaxed and informal, with a great sense of humour and a high degree of civic pride.
There are two official languages in Canada; English which is spoken right across the country, and French which tends to be focused around Quebec. As a result, English-speaking expats are unlikely to have any communication problems.
Due to the large number of ethnic minorities present in the country thanks to a long-term, open immigration policy there are pockets of the country that speak a variety of other languages, including Mandarin, Spanish and Italian among other languages. In almost all cases though these “unofficial” languages live cheek-by-jowl with English-language media and conversation.
As a large country, the mode of transport you choose in Canada will depend on the distance you plan to travel.
For shorter distances, a network of well-maintained road criss-cross the country. Canadian drivers are generally civilized and law-abiding, and due to British colonization in the past, UK expats and visitors can drive in Canada on a UK driving license. No international driving license is required, though visitors from other countries will likely need to upgrade their license to international status,
Drivers should be aware that each area of Canada has the authority to set its own traffic laws so you should carefully consult your local government transport office to ensure you fully understand the local rules. Be aware that when passing from one province to another the rules of the road may change.
Note also the risks of winter driving in Canada where black ice and snow can make for challenging road conditions. Should you plan on driving outside major cities (where roads are normally gritted) it may be advisable to consider further driving tuition before leaving for Canada, in order to ensure you are properly prepared for the conditions.
Realistically though if you’re going to make the most of your time in Canada, you’ll want to travel over longer distances from time to time. In these cases, due to the distance involved, driving may prove impractical. Fortunately, Canada has an excellent public transport network, capable of taking you almost anywhere you please.
For one, you will find that internal flights are reasonably priced and regularly scheduled. Travelling by plane is probably the quickest and most comfortable way to get across the country and is something that many Canadians accept as part of everyday life living in such a large country.
However one shouldn’t necessarily rule out the rail system, which is extensive and well-maintained thanks to its dual-use for both freight and passengers. Some of the trains cut seamlessly through some of the most pristine wilderness in the world, allowing you to not only reach your destination safely, but to also experience jaw-dropping views along the way. Indeed, we would argue that no trip to Canada is truly complete without a train ride through the snowy mountain passes.
As you might expect, the Canadian healthcare system is exceptional and offers standards of care on par with other Western nations such as the US or UK. That said, while Canada offers free universal healthcare to its citizens, it has no reciprocal treatment arrangement with the UK or the US.
This means that when it comes to healthcare in Canada, you’re going to have to find some way of covering the cost of any treatment that you need while in the country.
Furthermore, you should be aware that the costs of healthcare in Canada are considered excessive in comparison to similar nations. Interestingly, Canada is noted as being the only country in the world whose government-funded healthcare system doesn’t extend to prescription medications. As a result even Canadian citizens normally have to pay full price for their medications.
The combination of expensive medical care and no reciprocal arrangement leads to one undeniable fact; if you’re planning to visit Canada then you’ll need to invest in some form of health insurance. Doing so will help to control your costs should you fall ill while away, and ensures that you won’t have to decline important treatment on financial terms.
Canada’s currency has a fascinating history. In the 1840’s, Canada adopted the “Canadian pound” thanks to its close ties to the British Empire at the time. The goal was to make trading between these two nations easier, something which was a key driver in the Canadian economy at the time.
Over time though, the Anglo-Canadian link started to weaken, as the United States of America increasingly became a world power. Here the currency changed again, this time to the Canadian Dollar, in order to make trading with the US simpler.
These days the Canadian Dollar still survives and is regarded as a highly secure currency with very low levels of volatility. As a result it is actually one of the most held reserve currencies in the world, helping to insure dozens of countries remain on a strong financial footing.
It is interesting to note that the one dollar coin typically has an image of a “loon” on it; a water bird native to the ice-cold lakes of Canada. As a result, it is not unusual to hear the currencies referred to as “loonies” much as US dollars may be known as “bucks”.
As you might expect, Canada maintains a strong banking sector with numerous ATMs around the country. Cards are used so commonly that Canada is almost a cashless society these days. The prevalence of card payments can make life easier for expats, as there is less need to gain familiarity with a new currency.
Be aware of banking fees in Canada, which are often surprisingly steep. Check, for example, how much you’ll pay to withdraw money from an ATM as many charge a fee. In addition, long-term expats considering opening a Canadian bank account should be aware that most Canadian banks charge for accounts. Investigate the fees in advance to ensure you get the best deal possible.
Canada has invested heavily in education and now spends over 5% of its income on schooling. Typically, students enter the educational system at age five, and graduate at eighteen. Like some other countries, education is not enforced or managed by the central government, but instead is done so at a provincial level.
This explains why students in Quebec normally leave school a year before the rest of the country; quite simply because they can and the local government voted it into reality. However this “local-level” of education management means that it is critical to do your research fully before enrolling your children in a local school.
As students will generally be expected to attend a school in their local catchment area, you should make yourself aware of all the local rules and customs in order to ensure the most appropriate schooling is available. Choose your final destination wisely to ensure that you have a fair amount of control over which schools are available to you.
Schooling is free for Canadian nationals and legal residents; expats will need to present their residency paperwork when joining a school to prove that no fees are due. If no residency permit has been granted, you will need to cover the costs of tuition. There are many private and international schools also, though these are invariably fee-paying institutions.
The most important note is that education in Canada, like so many other things, is not cheap. As a result, if you are moving to Canada as an expat to work, it can be smart to try and include discussions about school fees when negotiating your salary package. Having your employer pay these fees can make a considerable difference to your financial wellbeing.
Food & Drink
As we have mentioned, Canada represents a wide diversity of cultures and languages. It should therefore come as no surprise that the cuisine in Canada is almost as diverse. Former Prime Minister Joe Clark said “Canada has a cuisine of cuisines. Not a stew pot, but a smorgasbord.”
In other words, in Canada you can find virtually any kind of food that your heart desires. From high class, Michelin-starred restaurants to hotdog carts, from American-style food to oriental cuisine.
That said, there are a number of foods for which Canada is rightly famous. The first of these is the bacon, typically served crispy and acceptable at any time of time. Maple syrup, which may even accompany the bacon, is rich and thick and is best enjoyed in moderation.
Slightly more unusually is the dish known as “poutine” which is essentially French fries, draped in gravy and cheese curds. This is, it should be said, something of an acquired taste. However on a cold day a portion of poutine might be just what is needed to keep the cold out.
Canada is generally considered to be a very safe country. As always, some petty crime exists around major metropolitan areas where pick-pockets and so on may be found. In public, and especially when travelling on buses or trains, aim to avoid temptation by keeping luggage and expensive electrical items close to hand. The problem is generally no worse than any other Western nation so you shouldn’t overly concern yourself with it.
The real dangers to health in Canada are rather more natural; namely the weather, the countryside and the wildlife. Icy roads and pavements, for example, can lead to crashes and slips so extra caution should be taken in the winter months.
In more rural areas, avalanches are also a very real threat. Generally the government does a good job of monitoring high-risk areas, particularly in more popular tourist skiing areas, so you should stick to marked areas here. If in doubt, however, try to avoid walking in the snowy mountains where regular checks are not being carried out.
It’s not just winter that brings hazards in Canada; the warm, dry summers here for famous for causing forest fires. Also, wildlife such as bears may be found prowling around in the summer months, and may prove dangerous. This is especially so if the animal has cubs, which it will seek to forcefully protect, no matter what.
The truth is that every country has its risks. Canada offers such a smorgasbord of experiences and opportunities that we would hate your visit to be limited by your fear of the risks. Rather, take steps to mitigate them where possible, then get on with your trip to one of the most fascinating and beautiful countries in the world.
Places to Visit
Canada most certainly isn’t lacking places worth visiting. From the culture-rich cities to the wide open spaces, Canada has opportunities for all visitors, no matter what your interests and tastes. Here are just a few of our personal favourites that every visitors to Canada should aim to see.
If wildlife if your thing, then a trip to Churchill can be a truly memorable experience. It is known as the “polar bear capital of the world” – and for good reason. However it’s not just bears that make Churchill special. In the right season, one can also enjoy whales surfacing in the nearby ocean and this is also one of the best places in Canada to experience the northern lights.
Banff National Park
Banff National Park was the first ever national park in Canada. While there are now plenty of others, Banff remains the largest and, as a result, the most visited wilderness area in Canada. For outdoor adventurers, Banff is something of a mecca, offering mile upon mile of walking trails, mountain bike tracks and canoeing opportunities.
The Rideau passes through Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. Beautiful at any time of year, in winter it freezes solid. The ice is so thick – and hence so strong – that in the colder months the Rideau becomes the world’s largest ice skating rink. Prepare for the most incredible ice skating experience in your life.
Whistler is now world-famous as a hub of outdoor activity. Whistler Mountain itself, after which the area is named, is one of the largest peaks around. For hiking in summer or some of the best skiing in all of Canada during the winter, Whistler has to be experienced to be believed.
For more information on moving abroad visit www.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo.
Of course, if you’re planning on travelling to Canada please ensure you have adequate expat travel insurance.