While I have a wealth of practical experience, for those contemplating the move there is already a very good site that has all the information required. I recommend that you check out Soft Landings for a good idea of what to do and what to expect.
I will write the odd snippet here of some of the encounters and even problems I have had. As someone who immigrated without a job, place to stay or even much money, I have had to muddle my way through many areas. Luckily there are many South Africans out here who are more than happy to help newcomers and provide the wisdom of their experience.
For immigartion advice and help you can also try the following company. The owner is an ex-South African now living in the GTA area
Matrixvisa provide TONS OF USEFULL INFORMATION to new immigrants: buying car, accommodation, finding work, planning a holiday,getting Canada news online, etc.
Rental accommodation in Toronto is not cheap. The average for a two room apartment is $1000 a month. Housing can go up to as much as $3000 or higher depending on the area and how big the house is. Obviously rents get cheaper as you move out into the outlying towns.
Toronto also has one of the highest occupancy rates in Canada with very little free accommodation available at any time.
N.B. The above two have merged recently
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce
Bank of Montreal
National Bank of Canada
The following are smaller or investment banks which may also offer varying services
Lastly while you should bring letters of reference and any other relevant credit records from your bank manager and credit card companies, be prepared to start building a banking and credit record from scratch. Even though your credit record and banking history may have been exemplary, it will probably not count for much in Canada.
Most people have to lodge a deposit equal to twice the amount of credit required before you may open an account here.
You will find that you do not need to carry a lot of money with you on an everyday basis. Most bank machines give out $20 bills in amounts equal to multiples of twenties.
The Canadian currency is based on Dollars and cents and comes in the following coins and notes:
5 cents (nickel)
10 cents (dime)
25 cents (quarter)
1 Dollar (Loonie)
2 Dollar (Twoonie)
Note that the 100 Dollar bill is one of the most counterfeited bills around and many places will no longer accept them as tender!!
Get an international driver's license. The A.A. of South Africa can arrange this for you. In Ontario this is valid for six months.
It is advisable to take a test for your driver's license as soon as possible because it is an essential piece of photo-identification.
Ontario has a graded system of licencing when it comes to obtaining your drivers licence. Basically there are three grades. Known as the G series, there is the G1, G2 and then the full G licence. The full cost is in the region of $150.
The G1 is basically the learners, which like all learners licences allows you only to drive with another fully licenced driver. In addition you aren't allowed to drive at certain times and on highways. There is no need to book for this test. It is a multiple choice written test. You go down to the licensing department, pay your money, get the photo taken and then sit down to write the test. If you have been clever and bought the “official” drivers book then this part of the licence is a breeze. I would warn everyone however that there are some differences between signs and rules here and in South Africa.
The G2 is an interim licence designed to integrate you into the formula one type racetrack that is the local highway system, although you still aren't allowed to travel on the 400 series highways.
This is normally a half hour road test where your ability to manouevre a car is assessed.
Before you even think of taking this and the full G test it is advisable to get a few lessons. They have a very good program here called Young Drivers of Canada. It costs in the region of $300 depending on who you do it through.
Insurance being very expensive here and mandated by law it is advisable to actually do the driving school course for the simple reason that it decreases the insurance payment.
With both the G1 and G2 you are not allowed to have any level of alcohol in your bloodstream while driving. That is only allowed once you have your full G.
Technically you have five years to get your full G licence. This can be short circuited if you feel that you should be fully licenced straight away, and are prepared to travel and wait a bit. There is a fully automated phone system that you can use to check out licencing departments nearby. I know of quite a few South Africans, myself included, who have gone to outlying towns to do the test. It took me a month to go through the system. I didn't do the G2 as I already had three other licences from overseas. I am not sure whether you can still do this but I do know that if you do not pass the full G then you will have to go back and do the G2 before you can try the G again. I am reliably informed that almost 80% of South Africans who try the G fail it first time, and so it might be advisable to go through the system instead.
There is a difference driving in Canada. The major difference, of course, being driving on the right hand side of the road. It is not easy to adapt when you have been driving on the other side for a long time.
The full G licence takes about 45 minutes and includes a drive on at least one major highway. You do all the parking, three-point turning and stopping at the line that is obviously expected when you do the test. It is a lot more thorough than I expected and they really do pay attention to everything so it is worthwhile doing that brush up with a driving school beforehand.
A booklet on traffic regulations you need to know to pass your driving test is available at licensing offices and in most of the bookstores in Ontario.
You must be at least 16 years old before you take a test for your drivers license.
The demerit point system operates in Canada where you lose points for driving offenses. Penalties range from a warning letter to a suspension of your license or fines if you go above a certain limit..
Be advised that by law any car on the road must be insured and papers to this effect carried in the car. As such you can't buy a car unless you can show that you have insurance or can buy insurance.
Insurance is very costly here so do everything to try to cut the amount you will be charged as a new citizen. Bring a letter from your insurance company setting out your claims history. A good history may entitle you to substantial discounts on your premiums. In most cases however you will be starting your insurance history over again.
If you consider hiring a car for a week or two after arrival or until you are able to decide what vehicle to buy please note that it is not cheap. Even the lowest quoted prices DO NOT take into account taxes and other little incidentals. Read the small print carefully!
It's almost impossible to hire a car without a credit card and acceptable identification. I also found that my International Licence was less important than my South African Drivers licence. Some rental companies are prepared to accept a cash deposit instead of a credit card.
Leasing can be very expensive in the long run. Again I urge you to read the small print especially when it comes to the incidental expenses that can be tagged on when your lease is expiring.
Leasing a brand new car starts in the $200 dollar per month range. A new Van type will range from $350 upwards depending on the type.
Looking for some information on the local education system?
There are two sites to start at:
The Canadian Government site which has information for newcomers and potential immigrants is found at this page
Because I have been involved in a the usual round of agency hopping while looking for work (yet again!) I decided that there might be many of you out there that could benefit from a little help as well. I have put up a list of agencies that act as recruiters locally. It is not a definitive list but should give you a number of options to start with. Just click on the link alongside or HERE and start your hunt.
Persevere and Good Luck!!
I find that food in this country is NOT expensive except when it comes to red meat. Red meat is grossly overpriced and means that for newcomers you will definitely have to change your lifestyle a bit. Especially if you are a typical South African!
One piece of advice I can give you is to shop around and get to know where you can get specials. Every store has specials on at different times and you will be bombarded with weekly fliers that show which store has what available at a good price that week. I make a habit of looking through these fliers and structuring my purchases so that I can take advantage of the specials. Most stores in the area are within driving distance and you really aren't "spending more" on petrol (or time) if you do parts of your shopping at different stores. The "specials" are just that. Special! Prices can vary from 10 to 15% off up to almost 75% off so keep an eye open for those bargains!
Here are some comparative prices. Please note that this is for what I call immigrant friendly prices. i.e. the cheaper varieties! :
1Litre milk $1.20 (sold in 3x1l bags so $3.49)
Brown bread/White bread $0.99c - $1.29
1Kg dry cereal $5.00
1 dozen eggs $1.89
600g sausages $5.00
500g stewing steak $12.00
2kg sugar $1.99
600g chedder cheese $5.00
Oranges per Lb. $0.99
Bananas per Lb $0.59
Apples per Kg $0.99
Yogurt 500g $2.00
Nescafe 200g $4.99
Ground coffee beans/pd $3.99
2L coke $0.99 to $1.59
Chicken breast per Lb. $3.00
Tin of tuna $0.89
Toilet tissue (24 pack) $5.49
Colgate toothpaste $1.50
Obviously there are many more types of essential food groceries that can be covered but this will give you an idea of general costs. If there is something you feel should be up let me know and I will add it to the list.
Health - OHIP
Here is an excellent Government Link for advice on healthcare. It covers every Province.
Some Advice on OHIP - the first three months health cover
South Africans making Ontario as their choice for settling need to know that, while the Ontario Health Insurance - OHIP , is pretty good when you are at last eligible to receive it, for the first three months after you have landed you will not be covered.
For more information on the whole issue with regard to coverage and buying insurance my suggestion is that you go to the SoftLanadings site and check out what they have to say, and to offer.Once you are in the menu click on the Health link.
You can also e-mail Soft Landings at :
Thanks to Brian Purvis I have two new sites for newcomers to peruse:
Learn everything about courses to teach you English and French at this Government site
Social Insurance Numbers
Here is the Government website that explains all the necessary steps you need to take to ensure that you get your SIN Card.
Some Advice on the first few years
There are different types of immigrants that move to any new country. Those that have a lot of money, which is used to buy some sort of business, and which allows them to carry on as they had before. In Canada this has generally been some sort of franchise setup. Not that this is always the right way to get involved, as franchise business is one of the areas that has a high failure rate.
Then there are those that have a skill which is in short supply and which will allow them to quickly gain employment and become productive members once again as they had been accustomed to before. Doctors and Pharmacists used to belong to this group. Interestingly for some time now that has not always been the case
The vast majority of immigrants come over with the belief that what they have to offer is what was really wanted, as outlined by the authorities. Full of hope, enthusiasm, and clutching their qualifications, they embark on the “great job search”! At which stage the shock is probably more hurtful than helpful.
Having gone from being high up in the corporate world to having to start all over again in a new country maybe I should point out a few of the areas of concern when you do actually make that big move.
Here's the first bit of advice on what to watch for. Canadians, as with most other countries, suffer from a degree of xenophobia that is prevalent but not necessarily prominent. As such all sorts of obstacles are placed in the way of newcomers that seem both stupid, and counter productive, to the long term goal of a thriving economy. I think you have to realise that the emphasis is on ensuring that the youth is well placed for long-term tax paying employment. This means that, where there are positions available, people in the age group 18-30 are more likely to be offered employment. It has more to do with paying lower wages, and the ability to control, than with gaining experience that may benefit a company.
If you, as an immigrant, are in this younger age group then whatever I have to say will be of no use whatsoever. If you have a fortune, and have a company or two lined up to buy, the same applies.
For those of you who are older, less affluent, and need a bit of advice….keep reading. Maybe I can help you weather the storm you are about to encounter.
First of all be very aware that it will take you at least 5 years to establish yourself in your new chosen country. I make this comment up front so that you will be aware of the length of time needed to re-establish yourself and, unlike some South Africans, won't get totally dejected and return, having lost a small fortune in the move. If you have to start at the bottom all over again then grit your teeth and bear it! In the long run South Africans have the guts, determination and common sense to actually come out the other side better for the experience. When I look at the standard of living, and opportunities that there are here, then having a long-term plan and working toward it is probably the best piece of advice I can give you. If you have to take a lower paying job to establish yourself then “go for it”! Pride doesn't put food on the table!
One of the more interesting blocks that I keep coming up against is the “two years Canadian experience” excuse! Believe me it exists! I have had that thrown at me more than once. The best being time being when I was informed that my Diploma was not relevant as I still needed to have the Canadian knowledge. As it was in Visual Basic programming I was a little taken aback as to how Canadians programmed computers differently to the rest of the world. I suppose I should not really have queried the supposition either but we learn in the long run. What I can tell you is that having been in Canada for over two years now I definitely get a lot more interest in my resume than I ever got in the beginning.
Which brings me to the next bit of advice. Get someone to help you redo your resume. Canadians do not go for the South African version of the standard CV. There is a way to write your resume that is more simple and effective than what you are used to. Get help! Redo the resume to obtain maximum impact. When I first sent out my 12 page CV, I wondered why I never had a response. Now two years and many rewrites later I have gone from about 1 percent response to having over 60% response when I send out the two page achievement highlight that currently masquerades as my working history.
Oh and whatever you do don't fall into the trap of downplaying your achievements. Being modest is not a quality much applauded here. I am aware of the BBB syndrome (Bullshit baffles brains) but North America is one area where telling everyone how absolutely fantastic you are is expected. So be prepared to extol your virtues!
The main piece of advice I can give is to expect to be used and abused for a while until you prove yourself. It's not nice and can be soul destroying. Understand that in the long run it will be for the better. While working at Future Shop I noticed that in my department almost all the sales people were immigrants and without exception all of them had qualifications and experience far above the position that they were hired for. Including, I may add the South African Dentist that I was in touch with from another store.
Doctors drive taxis. Engineers sell coffee at Tim Horton's. Nurses work retail at Sears. Know that this is a possibility and never give up on the belief that one day the menial position that you had to start out with will give way to that job that puts you back on the road to success and you will be halfway to a comfortable future in this country.
At the very least you know that the chances are that you will still be alive to see that happen and the choice you have made will seem much more intelligent. It is hard. It is annoying but what you need to do is pretend that you are in your early twenties again and starting out a new life and career. Just don't be too surprised if you get treated as a twenty year old without experience. Technically you don't. Well in Canada at least. Remember that you have that experience and the skills to project you above the competition and you will make it!
If you are here and need to talk to someone about how you feel then, give me a shout and we can commiserate. I'm nothing if not a good listener. I might even have the odd bit of advice to make you go back out and conquer the market.
Always support your local South African Community Business First!!