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Updated 26 Oct 2011

If you are a new expat living in Canada, congratulations and welcome! You have successfully taken the biggest step towards starting a new life in this wonderful country. Let us now give you a few bits of advice that should ensure that you have an enjoyable and worry-free stay.

When you arrive in Canada, there are several important documents that you must obtain to remain in the country legally. Some of them, by order of importance, are:

  • Social Insurance Number

  • Permanent Resident Card

  • Health Insurance Card

  • Driver’s Licence

Social Insurance Number

This nine-digit number will be issued to you at a local Service Canada Centre. The number comes printed on a small plastic card for convenience and is required for every worker. A Social Insurance Number identifies employees for government services and income tax purposes.

Permanent Resident Card

Also known as a PR Card, a Permanent Resident Card is portable proof of one’s permanent resident status in Canada. PR Cards are issued by Citizenship and Immigration Canada as a part of the residency application process and are especially important for residents returning to Canada from a trip abroad. A PR Card expires in five years and needs to be renewed before the resident leaves the country because one cannot return to Canada with an expired PR Card.

Health Insurance Card

Most importantly, the emergency number in Canada is 911 or “0” (zero).

A Health Insurance Card (HIC) is your key to Canadian Medicare. Medicare is a federal service that provides healthcare funded by taxes. You can apply for your HIC at your doctor, hospital, or pharmacy, and even at an immigrant-serving organization or your provincial ministry. The province in which you live will issue your HIC form.

It’s important to apply for an HIC as soon as possible because the waiting period may amount to as long as three months. During this time, it’s a good idea to acquire temporary private health insurance coverage as a stand-in for the missing Medicare. There are companies (TIC, BlueCross, ETFS) that have products designed specifically for new immigrants.

Medicare, while very useful, does not cover all types of medical expenses. Dental care, private rooms in hospitals, prescription drugs, eyeglasses, and ambulance services require private health insurance unless you want to pay for all of these services out-of-pocket. Discuss with your employer whether there are company-wide health insurance plans in which you could partake. Remember that each family member needs her or his own HIC and the card is valid only within your home province. Naturally, an HIC from one province can be used if you are in a health emergency in another province.

Note that if, during your medical examinations before becoming a Canadian resident, you were told that you needed a follow-up medical examination in Canada, you must call your province’s public health authority within 30 days of entering the country and report to them where you live. This way, the provinces keep track of individuals with inactive infectious diseases.

For more information about Canadian life and health insurance, contact Lorne Marr, an independent insurance broker from Toronto.

Driver’s Licence

Fortunately, visitors and immigrants can legally drive in Canada with a driver’s licence from another country for 60 days after arrival. After this grace period, every driver is required to apply for a provincial driver’s licence. That’s right: every Canadian province and territory issues its own driver’s permit, so it’s important to check the rules and requirements of your home province.

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