Top of main content

Living in Canada

Your guide to expat life in Canada

Want to live in Canada?

Canada is a very safe country, and many expats are attracted to the great quality of life it offers.

Home to Canada’s largest expat populations, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver have multicultural communities that are open minded and used to rubbing shoulders with people from across the world. Wherever you’re based, you’ll benefit from the country’s outdoor lifestyle, relatively low cost of living and fantastic healthcare system. It also has a high standard of free education – and an open-door policy for home ownership.

Accommodation in Canada

Housing in Canada is modern and comfortable, but finding a home can take time. Research the market before you move and be prepared to take a short-term lease while you look for something more permanent. Expat families usually live in houses in the suburbs or a satellite town. Most expats rent, but it’s easy for people from overseas to buy a property.

With a scarcity of housing and a wide range of prices, it’s best to use an estate agent. They’ll charge a fee, so to avoid this, search online and browse the property classifieds in local newspapers.

The further you are from a city, the cheaper rents will be. Most places are partly furnished with heating and air-conditioning. Landlords are picky about who they let to, and you’ll have to pay a deposit of up to two months’ rent. Leases are normally for 12 months. Utilities aren’t usually included in your rent. If you’re looking to buy property in Canada, it’s best to buy through an estate agent who can also recommend a good lawyer to oversee the paperwork.

Local culture in Canada

Canada is a montage of nationalities, so cultural differences aren’t an issue for most expats, especially if you’re from the West. But there is a historical divide between the British colonial provinces and Francophile Quebec.

In the Canadian province of Quebec, more than 60% of residents speak French as their first language – so there may be occasions when being fluent in French is an advantage.

Adjusting to Canada’s size and the remoteness of some towns may take a while. Cities are a long way from one another and driving from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast is almost equivalent to the distance between the UK and Saudi Arabia. Most of the north isn’t accessible by road.

Education in Canada

With no nationally controlled education system, Canada’s schools are run by each province or territory. The standard of both public and private education is high, and the choice of schools is impressive. Children must attend school until they’re 16, but some provinces have extended this to 18. The school year runs from September to June with breaks for Christmas and Easter.

Public schools

If you have a residence permit, it’s free to send your children to a public school in your area. Classes are taught in English across the country, except in Quebec where most classes are in French, and in New Brunswick, which has a dual French and English education policy.

Private schools

Most expats are happy to use the free public education system, but you also have plenty of private options, including military schools, special-needs schools and places with a religious affiliation. Fees at private schools are usually very high.


With so many remote areas, homeschooling is highly popular in Canada. Like the public education system, it’s provincially controlled, and there are support structures in place for parents who want to educate their children at home.

International schools

In most of the bigger cities, you’ll find international schools that follow the French and German curriculum or the International Baccalaureate. Waiting lists are long, admission policies are strict and fees are very high.

Keeping in touch in Canada

Mobiles are called cellphones in Canada. There’s no shortage of providers in a highly competitive market, and most people choose packages that include WiFi and cable TV.

Mobile coverage is good in all but very remote locations. International roaming rates are high, so you should switch to a local provider as quickly as you can.

Canada’s main internet providers include Rogers Cable, Distributel and Videotron. There are plenty of WiFi hotspots in airports and hotels, with free access in public libraries.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has about 24 free TV channels. You can also get satellite and cable packages that include international networks such as the BBC, CNN and Russia Today.

Almost all of Canada’s cities have at least one daily newspaper and some weekly publications. Cities like Montreal have papers in both English and French. National newspapers include The National Post and The Globe and Mail.

Healthcare in Canada

Canada’s exceptional healthcare system is one of the main reasons people choose to relocate to the country. Standards of treatment are high across the board, although there are occasional complaints about a shortage of GPs.

Medicare is a government-funded national insurance scheme that’s administered provincially, giving people affordable access to public and private hospitals, clinics and GP practices. Not all expats are eligible for the scheme. Also, while Medicare covers a lot of basic treatments at public hospitals, you may still have to pay for medication, ambulances, dental work and sight tests.

Most healthcare facilities in Canada are privately run. If you aren’t covered by Medicare, you may decide to take out medical insurance, but premiums are high.

You’ll find pharmacies in most Canadian towns and cities. Medicines are expensive, but you should be able to reclaim most costs through Medicare or your insurance provider.

Paramedics in Canada are highly trained and well equipped. You may have to pay for emergency medical services in some provinces and territories.

Getting around in Canada

Cars are the most popular mode of transport in Canada. You can use your driving licence from home or an international driving permit when you first arrive, but eventually you’ll have to take a test for the province or territory you live in.

Canada’s buses are clean, comfortable and efficient. Greyhound Canada covers more than a thousand destinations and has partnerships with independent regional operators. As far as trains are concerned, Canada’s rail companies have intercity services and transcontinental routes to tourist destinations like the Rocky Mountains. That said, because of the vast distances between Canadian cities, flying is the most popular way to travel across the country. There’s a wide choice of independent regional and local airlines, including several low cost options that serve the remote regions.

A number of Canadian cities have rapid rail transit lines, including Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Other cities, like Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton, have light rail systems in place. These metro networks are continually expanding.

With extensive inland waterways, ferries are another integral part of Canada’s public transport network. Cities like Toronto, Vancouver, Quebec City and Halifax use ferry services to transport pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles and goods. Prices are reasonable, but book in advance if you’re taking a car.

Canadian taxis are regulated, with registration numbers displayed on the rear bumper. You can book one in advance, hail them on the street or go to a taxi rank. Ride-hailing services, such as Uber, are also available in Canada. The Canadian government is also working hard to promote cycling to commuters, providing hundreds of miles of dedicated cycle paths in its major cities. Wearing a helmet is mandatory in most provinces, and some places have bike-share schemes.

Cost of living in Canada

The cost of living in Canada’s big cities is high – Vancouver and Toronto are the most expensive. But cars, petrol, groceries and eating out are all cheaper than in Western Europe. Your biggest expenses will be rent and utilities – heating your home during the long, cold winters can be very costly.

Top tips for Canada

See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in Canada.

It's not what you know, it's who you know. Meet with people personally (face to face rather than by email or phone) and work to build relationships. Canada runs on networking and you need to get integrated as soon as possible.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

You might also be interested in


Opening an offshore account, can be an effective way to save, invest and manage money while abroad.


Steps to build a better financial future abroad.


Read our 10-step guide to moving abroad to make sure you've got everything covered.

Listening to what you have to say about services matters to us. It's easy to share your ideas, stay informed and join the conversation.