How is life for an Indian in Canada?

Moving to Canada:

We moved to Canada some time back. I have been thinking of sharing our experience so far so that this is handy for those who are contemplating on relocating. We are from India. We are now in Waterloo, ON which is around 100 Km north-west of Toronto. This city is part of the tri-city of Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo. This is a nice city that is not much crowded with less traffic.

Credit Card:

The first thing that we faced was w.r.t credit history. Since we were new to Canada we had no credit history. Hence not many banks were willing to provide us credit cards or a loan to buy car. However later I found that TD provides credit card. Similarly if there is a bank in Canada with whom you have a relationship back in India then they could help you with credit card. So carry the Indian bank cards and details it could be of help. I got my credit card from HSBC with whom I had a long standing relationship in India.

Bank Account:

You need to start a bank account as one of the preliminary step. This is an easy task. They will just ask your identify proof , SIN ( which you nowadays get at port of entry itself) and address proof. For address proof it can be the rental agreement. A bank account usually has a Checking account and a Saving account part. Checking account is like the current account in India. You usually take money out of checking account. For ex. if you swipe your debit card ( they call it Interac Debit here), the first prompt will be whether money has to be debited from Checking or Saving. Always select Checking, since taking money from Saving account is chargeable. You get a small percentage of interest when you keep money in Saving account whereas the money in checking account gets no interest. Usually you can move money back and forth from checking and saving online without any charges. Another thing to note is that many banks here have monthly charges which run from 4–5 CAD to 10–15 CAD/ month. So before starting an account check their charges and see whether you can get an account without these charges. There are banks that provide account without these charges. Again some banks have limited checking (aka. swipe your debit card) option for free and beyond that it is charged for each checking.

Health Card & Family Doctor:

Ontario provides free medical treatment. This includes doctors consultation and tests such as tests done in labs. These are covered under OHIP. I do not know whether other provinces have similar programs. In order to avail this facility you need to apply for health card. You need to go to Service Ontario and provide your PR and residence proof to apply for this card. However you can apply for this card 3 months after you have stayed in Canada. So for the first 3 months you will not have this facility and hence it is good to take insurance for the first three months. Here hospitalization is expensive, so ensure that you get insurance for first 3 months. You apply for a card for every member of the family that is accompanying you. Note that the prescription medicines that you will have to buy from stores are not covered by Health Card and you will have to pay for that. So it is good to have insurance to cover this. The medicines are also very expensive.

Once you get the Health Card you can look for a Family Doctor and maybe get attached to a Clinic. This helps so that you can approach this doctor in case of illness. You might have question as to what can be done for the first three months. For the first three months you can instead go to walk-in clinics where you can go without any appointments.

Driving License:

Next is on driving license. Here it is a graded license. So there is G1, then G2 and then G. G1 is equal to a learners license in India. You go to Service Ontario, pay about 150 CAD and then write G1 computer test. This is for ontario state, it could be different for other states. You have around 40 questions to answer. There are 20 in rules category and 20 in signs category.

You need to score 16 correct in each category to pass G1. Usually its a year wait after G1 to get G2. However if you have license back in India and that license is a smart card, then they will waive the requirement of 1 Year wait and you can directly go for G2 at the next available time slot. One thing to keep in mind is that your smart card license in India should have the same Name as is in your passport. Note that the name has to be exact including initial expansions as is in passport. They will not accept even if there is a letter difference. So if there is any such discrepancy then get it resolved and make it in sync with your passport name with local RTO before coming.

I learned the other day that even if there is a mis-match in name expansion between passport and driving license you can appeal to Ontario Government and go for G2 or G if they accept your documents. You might have to show some additional documents to prove that you are indeed the person mentioned in driving license. A colleague of mine was able to go for G2 this way.

Now with G2 license in hand, you can go ahead and buy a car. I forgot to mention that usually however experienced driver you are in India they will just consider you as a 1 year experienced driver here usually. So that increases your insurance premium.

Let me now let you know a better option. Even if your license says that you got the Indian license in 2000 still they do not acknowledge it here. However, if you can get a letter from the RTO in India in an official letter pad, see to it that is not just a blank paper, stating that you have say 5-10 or whatever as is in your license the experience of driving in India, you can directly go for G license test rather than G2. With G license test the difference is that you will have to drive and pass in highway. Your insurance premium will be lower if you have a G license. As far as driving G2 and G has little difference, with G2 you cannot consume alcohol and drive whereas with G there is a limit allowed for this.

As far as driving is concerned with G2 also you can drive in express ways and highways so there is pretty much no difference on that aspect.

Buying Car:

Now that you have license G2 or G ( note that with Indian license or with G1 you cannot buy a car here) next is on buying a car. Here you can buy old or new cars. New cars get better finance options with lower interest whereas old cars have higher interest on finance options. However new cars depreciate value in initial years. Its your choice. Again be it new or old car there is a tax on the sale. For older cars you can get the history of the car whether it met with accidents etc. before zeroing on one. You can even get car which was used as ‘demo’ cars in showrooms so they could be not so old ones however you will get such cars at lower price. Here all car showrooms sell new and old cars. If you can pool in some money from hand, then rest could be financed even if you donot have credit history here.

Insurance & others:

In Ontario we pay high insurance premiums. I used to pay around 300 CAD/ month for the first year. However I zero’d in on a different insurance company for subsequent year which is around 190 CAD/month. I have heard that insurance premiums are higher in major cities like Toronto. If you have tickets, accidents etc against your name the insurance could bump up. Apart from insurance you pay about 120 CAD/year for the license sticker. You usually have 2 set of tires, the normal/all season ones and another set of winter tires for winter. During winter roads could be slippery and its good to drive with winter tyres.

Not Buying Car:

There are buses that ply across cities. For ex. there are buses that ply between Kitchener- Waterloo- Cambridge and you can get a monthly pass at 80 CAD with with you can commute any number of times in these buses. However if you have to commute to locations like Toronto, Brampton or Missisuaga from Waterloo the above pass that I mentioned will not help. Commute through bus takes longer time. There is a tax exemption for certain amount when you are commuting through public transport.

A car drive that takes around 10 minutes with waterloo-kitchener , in the bus it could be a 40-50 minute travel. Not buying car is also an option if you would want to stick to within the city. Also note that buses do not take you to all places or areas.

House- Rentals:

You can get apartment or houses for rent. Canada being a cold country with fair snow and winter, I would suggest that one go with apartment for first year. Apartments in Waterloo could be from 900 CAD onwards for a 2 BHK. However what you get for 900 CAD/month may not be clean or to your liking. If you would like a reasonable apartment expect something like 1300 CAD/month this could include heating, hydro ( electricity is called hydro in this part of the world ) & water. Now coming back to the point of not suggesting to go with houses for initial year, if you rent a house you will have to do shoveling, adding salt to softner, lawn mowing etc on your own. For an apartment you will not have to do these things. Its good to get used to the snow before you can start with shoveling.

Usually rental is on a month-on-month basis or on a lease. A month on month is the scenario where you can leave after giving a months advance notice. Whereas in a lease you are bound to pay rent till the expiry of the lease. Lease usually run for 12 months. When you take a house/apartment on lease the rental could be a bit lower than when you go with a month-on-month basis. However the catch is on breaking the lease within the lease period.

Furniture

You landed in this country and now you found a place to stay. You will need at least the bare minimum furniture to live. Here is how it is. Almost all of the apartments or houses come with the below 4 items – Washer/Dryer , Stove ( could be electric or gas ) , Refrigerator, Microwave. So you need not run to buy these 4 things. Usually the rental properties are not furnished. However there are furnished ones closer to universities. You can find affordable furniture at IKEA. They are not made of solid wood and will not last a life time. However they will serve the purpose for few years. They have option to transport the items to your home for a transportation cost. You can also find lot of used furniture at much cheaper price. One option is to visit site such as kijiji to look for used items if you are okay with them. Many people buy them. Transportation is expensive and so most people when they move across cities or states that are far they sell off their items and move on. Again you can also look for thrift stores such as Value Village where you can find some stuffs to your liking. When buying from kijiji etc. just donot blindly buy since item is cheap since transporting the item from far off locations could be expensive. So keep this in mind when looking for stuffs.

Moving Home

Till you buy your own small/large home its an option to not get lot of furniture. Since moving the stuffs when you change rentals will be expensive if you hire movers. However you can move things on your own. You can get a U-Haul truck or smaller vehicle on rent and move your things by yourself if the furniture is not so heavy. Usually if you hire movers they charge atleast 400–500 CAD to moving things within city. We moved our things all by ourself, just 2 of us. I rented a truck, drove it and we moved our stuffs. It cost us just 55 CAD altogether for renting the truck for couple of hours. Couple of my friends have bad experience about movers ( usually Indian movers) who over charge people. Such movers advertise that they are from your own city, however they will be from say 100 KM away and then they charge you for the hours and gas spend commuting up down from their cities. So beware. Another friend of mine had a bad experience wherein they loaded all stuffs into truck and then started to bargain over the agreed upon cost. So be careful.

Groceries:

Indian groceries are available. You will get everything, but you pay in dollars :-). A place like Waterloo has limited outlets that sell Indian Groceries, however places like Brampton ( which is a mini India) has more options. Again price for vegetables, groceries, meat etc. are way higher than that in India.

Going out – Vacations

Summers are the time to go out. There are lot of places to visit. Usually you can cover 100 km/hr while driving.

The country is so vast that it will take a long time to see places. Restaurants are a bit expensive. Unlike India, you will not find too many budget options. So if you need to eat out for 2 , you can think of atleast spending 20-40 CAD at the minimum. If you stay overnight at hotels the cost would be between 120-180 CAD. There are no real budget options there either. In India I am used to trying out different food options however here it all are same usually.

Same chain of restaurants, same decor and same taste usually. We stay near to great lakes. These are lakes and I too thought that its just like a lake back home. However upon seeing them I found them to be mini sea called as lakes. There are waves just like in sea, just that the water is not salty. After summer is Falls and thats the time to go to parks and hills to see the colors that is really beautiful. Trees change to different colors during this short period before all the leaves fall off. Winters we usually stick to malls and enclosed space. Yes, you can go for skating and the stuffs though and I have many of my friends doing it. Spring is good to go out but not closer to the lakes as its still cold out there.

Entertainment- Indian Channels

The standard Rogers/ Bell provide a limited number of Indian Channels. But they are a bit expensive. However there are few others who give almost all the Indian Channels at about 10-15 CAD/month. They charge a one time 100-120 CAD for the set top box. So you too can opt for these.

Pets

For those who love those 4 legged friends – you can own pets here too, the difference is just that you need to pick the poop in this part of the world. Pets can be acquired from the breeders or from pet stores. Usually most cities do not allow pets to be sold through stores. So you go out to find breeders. Usually pets are sold when there are around 8-10 weeks. The price varies as much as from 400 CAD to 1800 CAD. Most cities have a licensing program for pets which you need to renew each year. Here in Waterloo it cost about 50 CAD/ year for a puppy license. I have seen more pet hospitals around than hospitals for us human beings. There are large pet stores that sell pet food, dress, toys etc. Pet items are sold at large chains such as Walmart’s and the such as well. You may or may not take insurance for pet which cost from 30 CAD/ month. Hospitals are a bit expensive costing usually 50-100 CAD per visit. There are pet resorts where you can leave pets when you go for vacations . They charge between 20-40 CAD per night for pet. Some of the hotels do allow pets. However they are limited. Again its against the law to leave pet in your car when you are out shopping etc. cops have the right to break open car and take the pet.

What is a house like:

Houses are made of concrete in basement ( like the pillar kind of thing in India) and rest all its wood. So the walls that you see above the basement is all wood. There are very old homes say 50 years or still older ones that are made of bricks. And houses here last for 100+ years or more.Every house will have a basement floor that means there is an additional floor underground. Since this is a cold place houses are insulated with something similar to sponge all over. So the layers of walls have wood then this insulation and then there is a cardboard kind of thing that is nailed on top of it. They call it drywall here. The paint is applied atop this drywall. Since the house is all wood, the prime thing that people do is to ensure that water does not reach near the home. So all water from the roof and yards are diverted via slopes etc. away from home. Usually in the basement there will be a heater (geyser) and a furnace. Unlike in India where we are used to having smaller geysers for each washrooms, here they have one mega geyser in the basement which has capacities of something about 40-60 gallon. Most of the geyser are heater through gas not electricity since gas is cheaper. There is no concept of gas cylinder here, instead its all piped gas connection here and they have a meter at the inlet which measure the usage of gas. Since it is cold during winters (drops to -20 or less) houses are heated during winters. The heating is through furnace. Furnace heats air with gas and the air is forced through vents/ducts to each rooms of the house. There are alternate means of heating using electricity etc. that are used in few homes. Since its cold, all windows are properly insulated and ensured that there is no air seepage. So there will be HVAC or similar systems that pumps in air from outside to inside to keep inside of the house fresh. Many houses have closed garages. Another thing is on the sump. I initially thought it is the sump for storing city water. However thats not the case, this is the sump to which the water from your yard or from roof comes and then the water is pumped out. This sump and sump pump is in basements. So in case of heave rains all the water will come to your basement floor sump and from there it is pumped out. Unfortunately once in few years or so some of the sump pumps fail and then the basement gets flooded. I believe they do not have sump outside the home due to the fact that in winters all the water solidifies to ice and hence water flow will be blocked if its outside the house.

Buying house:

Maybe after a year or after few years you would want to buy a house. These are several options here. You can buy an Apartment or Town Home ( Row House in India) or Semi-Detached ( which has two houses attached on one side) or Detached. Again in detached you have multi-level house or you have old style single storey ones. The single story ones are called bungalows here. All Town Homes, Semi-Detached & Detached houses have a basement floor.

Apartments, you might find a lot of the older apartments for sale at reasonable price like say from 150 K onwards. However you need to also thing of maintenance. For most of the old apartments the maintenance could be as high as 400-700 CAD/month. So buying those might not be worth it. This is due to the reason that they might not have been properly maintained in initial years. Maybe heating is not efficient etc.

Town homes usually are of two types – Free hold and those that are not free hold. Free hold ones does not have a maintenance charge whereas the other do have maintenance. I have seen some good town houses that are not free hold.

But having a monthly maintenance charge is a dampener for selling them later if you intend to buy them now. Detached ones also are of multi-floor types and the single floor types.

You can also opt to buy newly constructed ones. New houses take about 4-5 months to construct. The houses have basement made of concrete and then its all wood through out. However houses here last for hundred years or more when maintained properly. So over a period of time, roof is changed so are other parts.

You can either check for houses in comfree kind of websites where owners will directly post or you can go through brokerages. Its the seller who pays the brokerage charges. However you will find several houses for sale through brokerages and less for direct sale by owners. Now you saw the house and liked it. Whats next? You will make an offer for the house either directly or through your broker/ agent. The offer could be lower or higher or same as the listing price.

If the market is not hot you can put a pre-condition for house inspection before buying. House inspection is usually done by home inspectors. You will pay for the inspector and he will come check the house for issues, such as roof leaks, insulation, mold, flooding, furnace functionality heating etc. Here I paid 350 plus HST (thats tax), so it was 395 CAD for home inspection. In a hot market maybe your conditional offer will not cut ice with seller since there could be others willing to buy without home inspection condition. Homes are usually expensive near good schools. Again you also usually put a condition for financial in the offer. This tells that you will go ahead with buying when you get a mortgage from bank.

Usually there will be a advance that you pay when you make the offer. The advance is not given to the seller and is kept with the sellers brokerage till your conditions are met. If your conditions such as home inspection and financial are not cleared you can demand to return the amount.

Now assume that all clauses are met. Usually you have different options for down payment here. You pay 5%, 10%, 15%, 20% or more. If you are paying anything less than 20% then the mortgage has to be insured by CMHC which will cost you an insurance charge.

The insurance is like if you pay 5% then 3.6% of the mortgage amount is insurance charge, if you pay 10% 2.8% if you pay 15% then 1.8% insurance charge. Usually the insurance is added to the mortgage amount.

You usually take mortgage for 2-5 years though the amortization is for 25 Years. So after 2-5 years you have option to re-negotiate with bank for a better interest or to go with a different bank if you choose so.

Now that all the above are through, then your lawyer comes into picture. You let your bank know your lawyer details. The lawyer charges anything from 600 to 1500 CAD. He takes care of the registration, title insurance etc. Bank gives money to your lawyer and your lawyer passes to the sellers lawyer who inturn gives it to the seller. Thats how it usually work.

In Ontario there is a 2000 CAD reduction in the registration charge for first time buyers. I think this is getting revised to 4000 CAD from Jan 2017. As soon as you bought the house you will have to changed the utilities to your name. The utilities are:

Gas, Hydro, Heater, Water, Property Tax.

Gas is used to heat the houses as well as for cooking. In this part of the world winters are really cold and you have heated air blown through vents to maintain temperatures around 20 etc.

There are houses that use electricity for heating. However gas is ideal since it is cheaper than electricity.

Hydro- is electricity.

Water- the water usually includes sanitary, water you use and SW charges. So in most cities they charge you at a specific rate per cubic meter for the water you use and at a higher rate you are charged

for same water the sewerage charges. SW is storm water charge. This is the water that is from your roof, backyard etc. that is flowing to the storm water drain of city. They charge you for that too.

Heater- In Ontario the heater ( usually there is one heater ( 40-60 gallon) in basement for heating water for wash rooms & kitchen) is usually rented one whereas in Alberta heaters are always owned.

Property tax- You have option to pay this monthly or quarterly or annually.

Now some idea of the cost:

Gas – 50-70 CAD/month ( this is average. During summer months it could be as low as 20-30 CAD and during winters it could be 100-120 CAD/month)

Hydro – 100 CAD/month

Water – 50 CAD/month

Property Tax – 300-400 CAD/ month ( usually its 1% of the price of the property)

Home Insurance – 50-90 CAD/month

Cellphone:

Cellphone you can either get it with a plan or you can purchase outright. I bought it with a plan. With a plan you don’t pay upfront for the phone, but you pay monthly for about 2 years and you are in a post paid plan. I later realized that this was a mistake. Post paid plans are expensive and I do not use my cellphone for so much data or local calls. My plan ( the cheapest that I found) was at 50 CAD/month for Samsung S4 with 300 MB Data and 300 minutes talk time. After realizing mistake I bought the phone outright and switched to a pre-paid plan which is around 16 CAD/month and I can topup the data and talk time as I use. They both don’t expire with certain providers such as Koodo. However with some other providers even the data and talk-time expire. So I would suggest that you too can go for the non-expiring pre-paid option which is far better.

Calling to India:

I use Vonage. They are VOIP and provide option to install the app in your cellphone. As long as you are in wifi you can pick or make calls from cellphone from anywhere in Canada. Again you get fixed line at home too.

And you get unlimited free calls to around 100 countries. It is around 10 CAD for first few months and then around 30 CAD.

Weather:

There is 4 distinct weather patterns here. You have winters from December to March. From March to May its Spring, From May to Sept Summer and from Sept to December Falls. Though above is the expected pattern cold months extend a bit to the either sides. So it will be cold from November to April usually with November to December being bearable with light woolens , January and February being really cold (you will not be able to go out without real insulated ones) , March and April being light cold. Summers are hot though it might hover around 20–32. All the trees will have leaves from May to November. Thereafter most of trees will shed leaves and it will be like that till May. Falls are really beautiful with leaves in multiple colors.

Clothes:

As mentioned above, light warmers should be enough for October and November. Maybe the ones from India will suffice for this period. Donot buy anything for heavy winter from India. Those will not help at all. You can buy them once you are here. There are jackets and shoes with temperature markings such as -20, -40 , -60 available here which should help you tide over the winters. The ones from India will be of no use here . So get woolens, not too many, since they will be of less help.

Safety:

It is really safe in the part of the Canada that we live in. Unlike US , guns are not found in Canada. People are polite. I have not heard any violence or burglary in this side. Be it night or day its safe to venture out. Once I heard in FM a news about someone scaring walkers with a mask or something in a park, and that was a big news :-). Cops were investigating those small things. So you can assume the level of safety. Its absolutely safe.

Labour:

Usually people try do things by themselves at home – DIY ( Do It Yourself) if possible. Labour is expensive compared to India context. So if possible people try to do things on their own. Be it fixing a leak at home, or maybe repairing a fence, or caulking windows etc. A professional will do a better cleaner job, however sometimes it might be ok to do things on your own. A friend of mine had to fix a leak in the basement and he went with a professional and they did a wonderful job however it cost him around 650 CAD. Stores such as LOWES , HomeDepot, RONA etc. have all Home Improvement things (lights, flooring, roof, garden, lawn, tiles, machines etc.) and they might even guide you how to use to a certain extend. You can also rent equipments/tools from these stores if you need to do a DIY job.

Jobs:

I was lucky since I moved on a work permit. So I never had to look for a job. I have heard stories of people finding it difficult to find jobs. I have met people who are really successful as well. I met a person who migrated at 50. He is here for last 15 years and he is happy and successful. There is another friend of mine who was doing family business back in India, he is now a real-estate agent and really successful and happy. So it is not necessary that you get white-collar jobs or specific jobs in your area of expertise, you can be successful if you try. Be open to work in any field.

I have put together my experience so far in Canada based on the place that I live which is Waterloo, ON. The experience could be different in other areas of Canada.

We have found this to be a nice place to live with no pollution, clean public places, less organized traffic, extremely safe and straight forward deals be it for buying or selling anything. I think I have shared all that I have to share for now. Hope this helps those who are thinking of moving here. This is a nice country to live and lead a good life.