Maple syrup and Mounties, polar bears and politeness; we all think we know Canada already. It’s just like America, but with fewer guns and the Queen in charge, right?
Not quite. Canada is both booming economy and an untouched wilderness. The country manages to keep centuries old traditions alive, but also embrace waves of new arrivals to create a vibrant and multicultural community.It’s not surprising that Canada is one of the top destinations for expats looking for an improved quality of life. The Royal Statistical Society reports that as of 2013, 674,000 Brits call Canada home, with expats from around the world coming to join them, giving the country the highest immigration per capita rate of any country.
Canadians are famous for their friendly, polite demeanours and the warmth of their welcome. But even if you don’t get on with your neighbours, the country is the second largest in the world and the 8th least densely populated, so it should be easy to find a quiet corner for yourself.
Here are some of the reasons expats love living in Canada.
Canada weathered the global financial crisis well and has been steadily expanding the economy since. The number of jobs has grown at the same time, driving a demand for skilled workers across a range of industries.
Canada introduced a number of new visas to encourage expats to come and lend a hand to the economic growth. The Canadian Experience Class (CEC) visa intends to offer permanent residence to foreigners with at least one year of skilled work under their belts in the country.
A scheme known as Provincial Nominee Programme (PNP) is designed to tempt incoming workers to look for opportunities across the country rather than focus on just the cities. Launching the scheme in late 2013, then Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said, “Canada is in a global competition for the best and brightest immigrants, and this plan is crafted with attracting the people we need for Canada to succeed.”
Canada has traditionally been looking for engineers and experts to help make the most of the country’s natural resources. Whilst the oil, gas and mineral industries are always recruiting, expats can also find jobs in insurance, banking, retail, wholesale, technology and real estate.
Canada has some specific skills shortages; if you have the relevant experience you may find your visa application process greatly simplified and your chances of finding work greatly improved.
Many countries are proud to boast of their ‘melting pot’ multiculturalism, where all cultures settle in together and share their traditions. Writers have described Canada being an ‘ice-cream shop’ or ‘mosaic’ nation, where cultures sit comfortably alongside each other, retaining their identity without upsetting their neighbours.
This is probably due in part to Canada’s own multi-faceted identity, with Quebec’s strong French heritage sitting comfortably beside the British legacy and them both respecting the Native Canadian history.
Canada has always been a popular destination for immigrants, so the nation has a well-established presence from Irish, Asian, Italian and Eastern European communities. Bigger towns are equally likely to have a mosque or Russian Orthodox Church as a Chinatown or Little Italy district.
There is very little tension between communities in Canada and tolerance seems to be a national trait. With opposition to immigration rising in Europe and the US, Canadians seem to still extend a warm welcome and are keen to interact with new cultures.
This tolerant attitude helps to keep Canada’s cultural scene lively and its cuisine varied and interesting.
Giant snowdrifts, freezing winds and polar bears in the back garden might sound like the typical weather forecast for Canada, but with a country this massive, there is considerable variation.
The North of the country sits within the Arctic Circle and as such does see icy blasts whipping across the tundra. The coastal cities further south get to enjoy a warmer, more temperate climate with summer temperatures breaking 35C. The prairies can also see the mercury rise and bright sunny days, though these can quickly change to powerful storms.
The majority of Canada’s population lives close to the southern border with the USA. The cities in this region enjoy a warm, if short, summer and a winter that is colder than most European freezes.
Whilst the weather might be a bit more extreme than most expats are used to, the country is well prepared to deal with most eventualities. It’s rare to find a Canadian home that is not equipped with both air conditioning and snow shovels.
This is relative: Canada’s income tax is higher than many countries, but lower than many others. In terms of bang for your buck, the Canadian tax system offers great value for money.
The policing, education, healthcare and infrastructure that you enjoy as a resident is world-beatingly good, but taxes are certainly lower than some countries that give less in return. Canada is also a rarity in that tax rates have actually seen reductions in recent years.
It’s difficult to compare one tax system to another in definite terms, but the Canadian scheme does bear resemblance to the USA. Consumers pay a sales tax that goes partly to the province and partly to the federal government; this varies by region but never tops 15%.
Income tax is paid on a sliding scale, with the lowest earners paying 15% and the wealthiest handing over 19%. Again, similar to the USA and significantly lower than many EU countries, Canada strictly monitors the higher earners unlike many nations.
Workers in Canada will also be expected to hand over 4.9% of their income in contributions towards health and social care. Most taxpayers are happy to shell out this extra cash in return for healthcare that is free at the hospital and one of the most comprehensive social welfare schemes in the world.
Top Quality Education
Canada regularly appears toward the top of global league tables for education. Whilst there is no nationwide curriculum, a central body ensures high quality teaching as each province decides what and how to teach.
Primary and secondary education are free to all with a residence permit; expats without the right paperwork can expect to pay a fee that varies by territory.
Private and international schools are also available. These options can add up to be very expensive and not necessarily much better than Canada’s world-beating public schools.
So it’s not surprising that 51% of Canadians aged 25 to 64 have some post-secondary study under their belts. Canada has more graduates per capita than most developed countries. This isn’t just due to the excellent schools, but also the financial assistance on offer.
University study in Canada isn’t free, but there is plenty of assistance available for students from low-income families. Federal and provincial assistance takes the form of loans, grants, fee waivers, bursaries and scholarships.
Much like Canada’s multi-cultural mix, the country has a strong tradition of mixing the two national languages. Although more prevalent in Quebec and New Brunswick, it’s not unusual to find French and English used in combination throughout the country.
About 17% of Canadians are able to speak both of the national languages fluently. There is a push in most skills to improve language teaching, with New Brunswick school committing to making 70% of its students bilingual before graduating high school.
Canada would be a great place to adopt a second tongue, with government-funded courses available to new arrivals and plenty of evening classes available to those keen to learn. There should be no shortage of opportunities to practice.
Adventure And Excitement
There’s no excuse to be bored in Canada. Even the smallest town is likely to have arts, music and cultural events packing the calendar. The more active expat can get stuck into the host of sports that Canadians enjoy: baseball, ice hockey, lacrosse, Canadian football, soccer, basketball and rugby. Even quidditch, a magical game inspired by the Harry Potter books, has taken hold amongst sports-mad Canadians
And if those aren’t enough to get your heart pumping, try exploring the country’s incredible landscape. Hit the slopes of Whistler and enjoy some of the world’s best skiing and snowboarding. Kick off your skis and jump on your horse to channel your inner cowboy and gallop across the prairie.
Feeling saddle-sore? Then hit the trail and hike through Canada’s forests and mountains, enjoying the solitude and untouched beauty. Try kayaking on the picturesque lakes try sailing around the coastal bays, or simply grab a rod and catch your supper from the shore. Nic Ollier, a Brit living in Whistler, told The Guardian, “there are endless adventures to be had and never a dull day. You can’t decide whether to go mountain biking, hiking, swimming in the lake, fishing or all of the above.”
Canadians enjoy being fit, active and social, and with a landscape that lends itself to adventure and excitement, it’s hardly surprising.
Of course, this depends on the industry you are in, but many expats report that their take-home pay in Canada is higher than for equivalent jobs back home. This is partly due to slightly higher wages and a cost of living that is lower than most of Europe.
The bigger cities can be expensive in terms of rent, but food, clothing, transport and utilities are usually cheaper than in the UK. Costs do vary across the provinces, so research carefully in order to avoid any surprises.
The friendly, red-suited Mountie is the iconic image of Canadian law enforcement. It’s not far from the truth, although the Royal Canadian Mounted Police only wear their famous tunics on special occasions. The approachable, community-led policing has worked well in Canada.
Canada is significantly safer than the USA, where 4.7 Americans in every 100,000 are murdered. Only 1.3 Canadians suffer the same fate. Canada beats its American neighbours on just about every crime statistic and is on paper one of the world’s safest countries.
The most commonly reported crime amongst visitors is having luggage or valuables stolen from vehicles. Even this crime has seen a decrease since police started handing out fines to motorists who left vehicles unlocked.
Health And Social Care
Canadians can look forward to some of the longest life expectancies of anywhere in the world. Children of the 1980s can expect to reach 72 for males and 79 for women; 90s babies will be living for even longer.
This impressive longevity is due in part to a healthy, active lifestyle, but also to Canada’s famous healthcare system. Any permanent residents are granted full, equal and free access to the healthcare system.
Taxpayers’ funds go toward Medicare, which pays the largely commercial hospital and doctors’ fees on behalf of the patient. General Practitioners can be busy and there can be a wait for consultations or for surgery, though the system is very efficient at prioritising the most important cases.
It’s not unusual for Canadians to hold private health insurance in addition to Medicare, using private clinics to skip inconvenient queues for non-essential treatment. Expats need to make sure they know if their visa status entitles them to the Medicare system and adopt the appropriate private insurance to avoid any nasty surprises should they fall ill. Private insurance can be costly, but it is fairly common for employers to pick up the tab.
The Canadian government runs an impressive number of Social Programs, covering everything from pensions to income support. Access to these schemes may vary by province, but the majority of residents qualify for monthly payments to stave off poverty if their income dips below a certain level. The Government also makes provisions for subsidized or free housing for those who need it.
In 2009 the Canadian government paid over CAD$176.6 billion in social payments to residents. Whilst expats might not be entitled to all of these if on temporary visas, it’s great to know that these safety nets exist once they become fully fledged Canadians.
Article by Andy Scofield, Expat Focus International Features Writer