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11 Mistakes to Avoid as a Newcomer to Canada

Contributed by guest poster and experienced newcomer to Canada,


Recently I was searching for tips on how to support all of you who are arriving in Canada as workers, students or as new permanent residents. I admit that although I have travelled quite a bit, moving to a new country permanently is quite a different thing and it's definitely outside my scope of knowlege. However, it's important to me to be able to give my clients, who are landing in Canada as students, workers or permanent residents, some pointers on things they can do to make their transition easier. I typicaly give the usual advice to obtain a bank account, a phone, a driver's license, a SIN number, and a health card, but I know there's so much more to settling in Canada and to making the transition smoother.

In my search I came across Adobea Foli's post on Start Grow Pivot, which covers things to avoid as a newcomer to Canada. This post resonated with me, as it is written by a newcomer for newcomers, so much so that I reached out to Adobea and requested that she be a guest poster on Ask Annie. What better place to get information on this important topic than from someone who has been through this experience.

As I read this post I realized more and more how important this perspective is. It's one thing to give out the obvious directives but a whole other to be able to understand what you're experiencing when you land in Canada and have to get all of these little things done, while in unfamiliar territory. It also includes tips that would never have occured to me because I do not have that unique perspective of being a newcomer to Canada. I have realized that my guide for newcomers must be more thorough, so stay tuned for this in the future!

I hope you enjoy this read as much as I did and that it gives you a little more information that will help you with your settlement in Canada. For more information please contact us at or visit our site at

11 Mistakes to Avoid as a Newcomer to Canada - by Adobea Foli

As I’ve been living in Canada for the last few years, a lot of people reach out to me, to share my story and ask how to achieve success in Canada. Many immigrants look to Canada for a better life. This usually involves a high paying job, a great place to live and being an established member of the community. For some of us, myself included, it’s a longer road than expected to get there because we fall into the trap of making these 11 common mistakes that derail us from our path to settlement success. From my learnings and research, I want to share how newcomers can avoid these mistakes that keep them from achieving their goals.

Table of Contents:

Mistake #1 : Making assumptions about Canadian culture

Mistake #2: Not knowing your province inside and out

Mistake #3: Insufficient credit history

Mistake #4: Unprepared for the competitive job market

Mistake #5: Delay setting up crucial social services

Mistake #6: Slow to open a bank account

Mistake #7: Not developing a meaningful network

Mistake #8: Depending on a job to build Canadian experience

Mistake #9: Making high initial expenses

Mistake #10: Not seeking out free settlement services early enough

Mistake #11: Lack of a contingency plan

Mistake #1: Making assumptions about Canadian culture

Canadian stereotypes are rampant in pop culture. One clear example is the real Canadian Credit Carma commercial. Many immigrants lump all western nations in one bucket. Newcomers make the mistake of lumping North American culture in one giant bucket. Needless to say, this is not the case in any country, anywhere in the world. There is a myriad of cultural differences between Canada and the United States and there are even more differences between the provinces.

Hot tip: Making wrong assumptions about the Canadian culture will affect how you interact and relate to people when you arrive. Knowing the nuances of Canadian culture before you arrive can be crucial in your early interactions with people.

You can avoid this mistake by doing your research on Canadian culture before you arrive. A great resource to get into is Canada Guide. They have an easy to digest guide of the main categories of Canadian culture. If you are looking for bite-sized quick facts about Canada, you can visit our Pinterest board on infographics on Canada.

Mistake #2: Not knowing your province inside and out

The second most common mistake newcomers make is not knowing the province or city, they are relocating to very well. Of course, one might do some quick research and learn the basic facts about a place. However, it’s important to know key facts that will help you to make financial decisions, build a meaningful network and navigate the job market and community life. For example, you should know the provinces main bread and butter industries, the cost of living and the social culture.

Hot tip: Know that though the majority of the job growth is in Vancouver and Toronto, they are also two of the most expensive cities to live in Canada. If you plan to prioritize the job opportunity over the high cost of living, you should aim to have a contingency plan for 6 months.

A great resource to compare the costs of living in various cities is Expatisan. You may also want to look into the tax systems, and know the income tax and sales tax rate by province. On a lighter note, it is also important to know the favourite sports team, cultural attractions and what the province or city is famous for. Avoid asking questions like “Who are the canucks?” in Vancouver.

Mistake #3: Insufficient credit history

Building good credit is essential to everyday life in Canada and many new immigrants are not well versed in credit building best practices. You may arrive without a credit history record that banks and other businesses can easily access. If that’s the case, your first opportunity to build good credit is with your renter. Then you will want to head to the bank as fast as you can to learn more about your credit-building options.

Hot tip: Avoid signing up for easy-to-get department store credit cards at all costs. These have hidden high fees and none of us have time to read the small print.

Your first credit card ideally should be with your bank. A secure credit card, with a manageable limit that you use to pay your necessary bills. This should be just what you need for the first few months. Pay your credit balance in full and pay your bills on time. Set up auto-payments to decrease your chances of defaulting. Don’t just take my word for it, many of my solid credit education advice I get from greedycreditrates blog and Canadian podcaster Mo’ Money Podcast with money expert Jessica Moorhouse.

Mistake #4: Unprepared for the competitive job market

For many newcomers getting ahead in the competitive job market depends on how prepared you are. Newcomers make the mistake of not knowing the job market very well. The most recent study by stats Canada on the Canadian immigrant labour market shows that the employment rate is higher for immigrants who have been in the country for 5 years or more. Newcomers have an employment rate of 69.8% compared to 82% for immigrants who have been living in the country for close to a decade.

It’s important to understand the role that slowly adapting to a new country plays in finding a job. Check out our post on 9 essential tips to accelerate your job search as a newcomer. The Canadian job market is competitive, and it is vital to understand the labour trends especially as it relates to immigrants. Follow the government of Canada’s Job Market Labour Trends and News. The unemployment rate in Canada has increased to 5.9% as of October 2019. There was a larger loss of both full-time and part-time jobs. In addition to reading Canada’s labour force survey, you can check out Moving2Canada’s Job Report.

Hot tip: To start, know the industries you want to work in, where the opportunities are and keep up to date on labour trends and news in your chosen province. Find out the best organizations to join to get you closer to meeting people in that industry.

Avoid this mistake by studying Canada’s job market. You can also establish credibility early on by joining industry associations. Canadian experience is highly valued by many employers. If you’re looking to work in mining, join or follow the mining association of Canada or if you are an accountant join CPA Canada if you work in Project Management become a member of the PMI.

Mistake #5: Delay setting up crucial social services

While finding a place to live and securing a job can be top of mind for many newcomers. Newcomers make the mistake of delaying setting up social services. Not setting up your services in the right order can lead you to make double trips to some places. The first order of business when you arrive is heading straight to Service Canada to get your Social Insurance Number. This is similar to a national identification number and required to open bank accounts, apply for jobs and more. Next, apply for your provincial health coverage, it usually kicks in after three months so you may want to apply for interim private insurance. Getting started on getting a Canadian drivers’ license should be more top of mind, as some jobs require you to have a drivers’ license.

Hot tip: Service Canada has a wide network of offices and despite the dreadful experience in some of our home countries, getting your SIN number can only take 30 mins.

Setting up your SIN should be priority number one, as that number validates your presence in Canada and is required for you to receive all government services. Temporary residents SIN number starts with a 9, this helps identify which of the services you qualify for. Your SIN letter, yes it is a letter and not a card, will show the expiry date that matches your immigration documents.

Mistake #6: Slow to open a bank account

You should choose a bank and open an account within the first week of arrival. Newcomers assume that they need more documentation to be eligible to open a bank account. Once you have two pieces of ID you are eligible to open a bank account. When you open a bank account you can get your debit card and secure credit card. This will help you secure your finances, curb your spending and start building your credit. In the process of opening a bank account, you gain access to their entire repertoire of resources.

Hot tip: You should also look into opening a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) as soon as possible, as most temporary residents are eligible.

Banks can be a wealth of information and some banks are more equipped than others to serve new immigrants. You can find out about saving for your child’s education, investments, loans, and programs specific for newcomers.

Mistake #7: Not developing a meaningful network

My observation is that in general Canadians value genuine social connections more so than in the US. For a high context culture, Canada leans more to the middle among the western countries. This could be because 1 out of every 5 Canadians was born outside Canada. Having a meaningful network in our home country is important in establishing roots, finding job opportunities and integrating into the community. It is equally important here and as a newcomer, you cannot succeed without a meaningful network. See our blog post on 7 do’s and don’ts to building a meaningful network. Having 500+ LinkedIn connections and over 1000 Facebook friends does not a meaningful network make. You need to have social capital with people and building it is simpler than most people think.

Hot tip: Start with who you know, ask for referrals and always keep the relationship warm. If your intention from the get-go is not to get something out of every new person you meet, you will have a better chance of making genuine connections.

There are many meetup groups by common interests that you can join through the meetup app. You can also reach out to 2nd-degree connections on LinkedIn, join Facebook groups and professional bodies. If you are coming to the country as a student, your classmates are a wonderful place to start. You grow with a cohort of people on the same journey to success.

Mistake #8: Depending on a job to build Canadian experience

After 40 years of existence, the MOSAIC organization leaders shared at their IPC conference in October 2019, that lack of Canadian experience is still the number 1 reason for job rejections for most immigrants. When I first heard that employers would tell immigrants who have just arrived in-country that they were looking to hire someone with Canadian experience, alarm bells were set off in my head. Some argue that that line is a mask for discrimination. However, I learned the hard way that it was all about trust and connection. This is usually more relevant to qualitative jobs, as you need to show a deep understanding of the company’s culture, values, and their clients.

Hot tip: Start volunteering right away when you arrive in Canada as well as embed yourself in the local community services. The libraries and community centers are a great place to start. You may also consider volunteering for a political campaign office, as you get a chance to go door to door and speak with locals.

You certainly don’t need to give up or get alarmed by the ‘lack of Canadian experience line. Once you have started volunteering and working in the local community, that should be added to your job profile right away. Look out for my blog on Strategies to do thorough company research in less than a day.

Mistake #9: Making high initial expenses

It is doubly hard to search for a rental in Canada oversees. In our eagerness to secure a place to say, many of us rush to pay high rent to secure a place. Requests for credit reports by landlords and months of rent in advance can lead to high initial expenses. In addition to securing a place to stay, getting a cellphone plan to stay in touch with loved ones back home, taking cabs, ordering takeout food until we get settled and the expenses pile on.

Hot tip: Make a 30-day plan and plan out all your expenses. Consider starting with a one-month AirBnB or staying at a hostel and that will give you the flexibility to look for shared living spaces and advertising for a roommate. .

Staying with family where possible and buying some time to do more research on phone plans, public transit, grocery stores and others. This is where newcomer Facebook communities are indispensable. There is always someone who has travelled the path before you and you can connect and learn all the tricks from them.

Mistake #10: Not seeking out free settlement services early enough

Seeking out the immigrant settlement services, job services are also crucial in the first 30 days. There is a myriad of free programs for immigrants. Since I came in as a student, I sought out none of them, as there were some resources provided by my school. A lot of the services out there are free and catered towards permanent residents. However, temporary residents can also take advantage of some of the programs.

Hot tip: The Canadian government announced a 700 million investment into programs specifically targeting immigrants and so there is a growing opportunity that immigrants will receive even better quality service from 2020 and beyond.

For many permanent residents, the government has pre-arrival services that you can take advantage of even before moving to the country. For some temporary residents, you will have to seek these out. There are flagship organizations in every province and there are free programs provided by the libraries and community centers. Check out my resource guide coming soon.

Mistake #11: Lack of a contingency plan

The saying, ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’, rings especially true here. What is your backup plan and what is the back up to your back up plan? The reality here is, it takes on average 6 months for a newcomer to find a job. It can take up to a year or more to find a job in their chosen field and at their desired skill level. I recommend you hope for the best and plan for the worse. If you are not finding the right opportunity in one province, what considerations do you need to make to move to another province. When your savings go below a certain threshold, which levers do you need to pull and what impact does that have on your future?

Hot tip: Have a detailed and well thought out contingency plan. You should have 6 months to 8 months of living expenses covered in your savings. Before you arrive you should have your backup options, if you go past 8 months without finding a suitable opportunity.

Ask yourself the tough questions according to your financial means and goals and have a backup plan for your backup plan. A lot of newcomers are targeted by scam companies via LinkedIn and through phishing emails and calls. Having a backup plan and savings to cover 6 to 8 months will help avoid rushing to decisions based on desperation. Check out our blog post on knowing when to pivot in your job search for ideas on contingency planning.


About Immigration Station Canada

Immigration Station Canada is a dedicated, professional Canadian Immigration firm practicing out of Northumberland County, just east of Toronto, in Canada. We serve clients from Kingston, Belleville, Brighton, Cobourg, Oshawa, the GTA, Guelph, Milton, Stratford and St. Catharines and around the world. Our Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant, Anne C. McCaughey (Annie) is an experienced immigration services provider and a fifth-generation Canadian who values the immigration process and the unique individuals who immigrate to Canada to become part of the fabric of this wonderful country. If you would like to submit a question to Ask Annie, please email it directly to Annie at

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