When you arrive in Canada as a new immigrant there is so much admin that needs to be sorted out, and it can be quite overwhelming in such a strange city where you don’t know how things work and where to go. But we can honestly say that getting our admin done has generally been a breeze – the city is well-sign posted and easy to navigate, government buildings and staff have been friendly and helpful, and we’ve hardly waited longer than about ten minutes in a queue.
Here are a few of the things you’ll need to sort out and how you can go about it.
Getting a SIN number
Getting your SIN number is probably the most important thing you will need to do as a new arrival in Canada. This is your personal identification number and you will need it to organise other things like your health insurance and getting a job etc.
You’ll need to visit a Services Canada office to get your SIN number and you need to take along your landing papers and passport. In some instances, you’re able to do this at the airport when you land, but by the time we had landed and gone through customs and immigration, the kids were so miserable that we just wanted to get out of there.
We went to the Services Canada office in the Harry Hayes building in down town. It’s very easy to find and, once you’re in the office, you take a number and wait to be called. We only waited about five minutes before being called by a friendly and helpful official.
Setting up a bank account
You’re going to need a Canadian bank account and it’s a good idea to sort this out as soon as you can. There are many options when it comes to banking in Calgary, and most banks offer good deals and packages for new immigrants. It’s best to do some research about this before you arrive. While it’s possible to open an account with some banks before landing, it’s also pretty easy to pop into a bank branch and sort it all out.
Getting a local mobile phone number
It’s important to try organise a local Canadian mobile number as soon as possible. Before leaving your home country, don’t forget to inform your mobile phone operator that you’ll be overseas (and cancel your contract if you need to) – also ensure that your existing handset is unlocked for use overseas.
Having a local number also helps with all the other admin you’ll need to get sorted. Getting a local number can be quite a challenge without proof of address, but there are options out there if you’re prepared to shop around. We opted for Chatr through Rogers, which offered a pretty good month-to-month option and didn’t need proof of address. The deal included unlimited phone calls and messaging within Canada and a mobile data package. We have WiFi at home and there is WiFi pretty much everywhere you go in Calgary, so there really isn’t any need to have a high-end phone contract. When we call home, we phone via FaceTime or WhatsApp, so it basically costs us nothing.
Registering for Alberta Health Insurance
Another important thing you need to do it sort out your Alberta health insurance. Again, this is quick and easy. You’ll need to go to the Licensing Company in Bow Valley Square to do this. It’s a small office which also doesn’t have a long queue, so you should be in and out of there pretty quickly. You will need to have your passport, landing papers and proof of address in Alberta. Obviously, the proof of address can be a challenge if you haven’t got a permanent place to stay yet. We used our bank statement which showed our temporary address in Calgary. Our health cards arrived within about five days of registering, so we were covered for Alberta health from the get go.
Finding a rental
Finding a place to live can be a fun, yet frustrating, task. It can be especially challenging if you’re still not sure where you’ll be working, and therefore not sure what area would be best. Before we arrived in Calgary we had done a lot of research on the different areas and had a firm idea of where we wanted to look for accommodation and where we saw ourselves living. This all changed when we arrived in the city and took a drive around the areas we had marked off and realised they weren’t what we were expecting and we didn’t really like them.
My advice is to get around the city as much as possible and visit and drive around the different neighbourhoods before you make a decision. If you’re not sure where you’ll be working, try to stay more centrally, on good transport routes and near shops, and, of course, if you have kids, look at the schools in the different areas. Before signing a lease also phone the schools to check that they have place for your kids, as some schools are oversubscribed and your children may have to go to a school in a neighbouring community.
Consider signing a short-term lease. Most landlords don’t seem too fussed if you’re still unemployed as they’re used to dealing with this situation. All they’re concerned about is that you can pay the security deposit and first month’s rent upfront, so if you’re good for this, you shouldn’t have too many hassles signing a lease. If you have pets, you’ll also need to include a pet deposit along with the security deposit. We found rentfaster.ca the best place to look – the app is great as it has an interactive map and good info on each area, and you can create a profile and contact potential landlords directly via the app. Kijiji is also a good place to look, but personally we didn’t find it very user friendly.
Getting kids into school
If you have kids, finding a good school will be a priority for your family, and this will be an important factor in your home search. There are a few options when it comes to schooling, including the Calgary School Board, Calgary Catholic School Board and private schools. We opted to enroll our kids in public school. In order to register your kids at a CBE school you’ll need to visit the CBE offices at Kingsland and fill in the relevant paper work. You’ll need to have proof of your address in Calgary in order to prove that you’re eligible to attend your designated school. If English is not your children’s first language then they will need to accompany you to Kingsland as they will be assessed by the school board to see how proficient they are in English and whether they will require ESL assistance. Once you’re done at Kingsland, you’ll take your paperwork to your designated school to complete the registration process