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First steps in Ontario - A comprehensive guide

Updated: Mar 29

Welcome to Immigrant Chronicles Series. In this post, I will shortly summarize some of the most important first steps to take a newcomer in Ontario.

Navigate this post:

Understanding Your Status

Rights and responsibilities

Important documents

Bank account

Housing options

Settlement and Employment Agencies

Understanding Your Status

It is important to know your status and what it means for you in Canada. A foreign citizen can hold either a permanent or temporary status. You can become a permanent resident through economic class, family class or protected persons. Temporary status belongs to visitors, foreign workers, and international students. You need to have all the document and your passport with you at the border as well as at governmental agencies as a proof of your status.

Rights and responsibilities

As an Ontario resident, you are protected under The Ontario Human Rights Code. The Code is for everyone. "It is a provincial law that gives everybody equal rights and opportunities without discrimination in areas such as jobs, housing and services. The Code’s goal is to prevent discrimination and harassment because of race, sex, disability and age, to name a few of the 17 grounds. All other Ontario laws must agree with the Code."

Becoming a permanent resident bring a variety of rights including social benefits, living working or studying wherever you want in Canada. As a PR you can apply for Canadian Citizenship after a certain amount of time and collecting certain documents. The difference of PR's from being a Canadian citizen is that PRs can not vote or run for political office, or can not hold certain high clearance required jobs.

Rights come with responsibilities in Canada and such as obeying the law, helping others, taking responsibility for oneself and one's family as well as protecting environment and heritage to name a few.

Important documents to apply for

PR Card

This it the official proof of your PR status in Canada. You must apply for this card through here once your PR application is approved.(check my two other posts here and here on PR if you would like to have more information on this topic.)

Work Permit / Study Permit holders also have official documents as proofs for their temporary residents status in Canada, therefore they are very important documents to take care of as well.

Image: Sample PR card

SIN Social Insurance Number

Social Insurance number in Canada is very similar to Social Security Number (SSN) in the US. This number is necessary to work in Canada, receive benefits and file taxes. There is no fee to apply for SIN. You can apply from SIN online from here.

It is VERY important to remember that SIN is a very sensitive information. In case you lose it can be used part of a fraud so be very careful.

  • Do not use it as an ID.

  • Do not provide this number to anyone, unless you are at a government department or institutions where you earn money (work) and keep your money (bank).

  • Do not give this number to anyone on the phone. If they are asking for it, it is probably a scam.

Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP)

Canada has a publicly funded health care system. As an Ontario resident you are entitled to enroll for OHIP. OHIP is Ontario’s health care plan. The province pays for many of the health services you may need through this insurance. You need to apply get an Ontario health card. You’ll need to show your health card every time you see your doctor, visit an emergency room, have a medical test or go for surgery as it is your proof of coverage.

OHIP covers many health services you may need, such as:

  • appointments with your family doctor

  • visits to walk-in clinics and some other health care providers

  • visits to an emergency room

  • medical tests and surgeries

What is not covered?

  • Prescription drugs provided in non-hospital settings

  • Dental care and services

  • Eyecare, eyeglasses and contact lenses

  • Cosmetic surgery

  • Mental health care by psychologists and social workers (!)

You can purchase a private health insurance plan or employee group benefits plan for the non-covered healthcare needs.

There is a three-month waiting period for this coverage however at the moment due to Covid pandemic situation, Ontario government waived the three-month waiting period for OHIP coverage as of March 19,2020.

You need to apply in person at a Service Ontario location and your card comes into your mail. At the time of application, please make sure you take all the necessary documents with you and once your approved, your coverage starts immediately as you can use the document they give to you proof of your coverage, before your card arrives

Image: Sample OHIP card

Driver's license

For visitors to Ontario less than three months, you can use your drivers license from your state or country. If you will be visiting from another country for more than 3 months, then you will need an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) which is a special license from your own country to drive internationally. When you move to Ontario, you can use your license for 60 days then you need to switch to an Ontario license.

If you would like to get a drivers license in Ontario, it depends on which country your previous license was obtained and the length of your driving experience. If you are coming from a country that has an agreement with Ontario (like the US) that you can exchange your license depending on your experience.

If you have more than 2 years of driving experience in the US for example, you can get a full G. If you have less than two years then you can get a G2 and after you accumulate total of 2 years, you can take a road test for G license.

You can exchange an out-of-province license for an Ontario license, if you are re-locating from:

  • any Canadian province or territory

  • Canadian Armed Forces

  • U.S. States

  • Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Isle of Man, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Switzerland, Taiwan

If you are going yo exchange your license, make sure that you also bring documents to . You a DriveTest center. prove your driving experience as well as your drivers license (for the US, document from DMV) There is an eye exam you have to take at the center and fee that you need to pay. You can check details from here.

If you are a new driver, there is a graduated licensing system in Ontario to get full G license. Please check here for details.

Image: Sample Drivers license card

Ontario photo card

You can also apply for an Ontario photo card as a resident in case you don't want to apply for a drivers' license yet. It can be used as a photo ID and you will not have to carry your passport. In order to apply for this card, you need to prove your legal name, date of birth and signature and have to pay a fee of 35$.

Bank account

It is necessary to open a bank account as soon as possible as eventually you will need to keep your money safe in Canada or provide a bank account for your employer. The five largest banks (Big Five) in Canada are listed below as RBC, TD, CIBC, BMO and Scotiabank.

Image: Logos of Big Five

It is a good idea to check all these banks online as during Covid times especially, some banks can offer opening new accounts online and some can have special newcomer packages.

It is very important to get a credit card as soon as possible as building a good credit score takes time. A good credit score is very important for future loans and mortgages, basically it is your financial credibility. There are different credit card options, depending on your legal status (PR or temporary) or your employment status (student or have a job). Some of them have annual fees others may not. I strongly suggest you do your own research and decide for your own needs.

In case if you don't have a job yet and not able to show salary, there are secured credit card options offered by some banks to get started, again I recommend you to research and consider them. You need to put in security deposit (200-500$ range) as collateral kept as long as your account is open. These cards are great option for those who don't have credit history yet and show that you are a responsible user.

Settlement agencies (see below for more) offer financial literacy workshops and money management webinars which can be also helpful for newcomers.

Housing options

It is the most important thing to consider probably and counterintuitively comes at last in my post. I am writing down another post in detail to share our journey to rent our first place. Here briefly I will explain housing options in Ontario. Please check my post for the detailed information on how to rent a place in Ontario.

There are different types of housing places available in Ontario of course depending on the region that you choose to live. There are detached houses, semi-detached houses, townhouses, condominium and apartments. It is very important to consider the neighborhood and your budget while renting an place.

Below I listed few important things to ask to your landlord or their agent at first glance:

  • Whether the utilities are included in the rent or not,

  • What kind of services are included (amenities in condos)

  • What type of lease? weekly or monthly?

  • Do they need pre-paid checks or not?

Please keep in mind this is a shortlist and make sure you do your due diligence before you rent a place.

It is important to keep in mind that it is AGAINST THE LAW to discriminate anyone depending on your ethnic background, religion, age, sex, family or immigration status. (Remember the Ontario Code?)

"The Code also protects you against discrimination in buying a condominium, in renting for a co-op or in purchasing a home. For example, a condominium cannot refuse to approve your purchase because you are a recent immigrant. A vendor cannot refuse to complete a house sale because you are a racialized person."

Therefore, the landlords ARE NOT allowed to ask, ethnic background or religion, age, sexual orientation, Canadian citizen or nor, pregnant or expecting child. If they do, just move on to another place.

If you believe you are harassed by a potential or current landlord, it is not your fault. What they are doing is illegal, make sure you file a complaint here.

Settlement and Employment Agencies

As a newcomer, there is a lot of help available in Canada for us. There are so many different settlement and employment agencies offering variety of services that will be tremendously helpful for a newcomer I believe.

  • Settlement agencies are are funded by government and help one on one counselling, information and referrals, form filling, translation and interpretation services, group activities. As they are funded by the government, they would like to see your PR proof or permit papers.

  • Employment agencies can help with assessment of skills and experience, help develop job search strategies, job search workshops, employment and training opportunities as you are looking for a job in Canada.

You can check www.settlement.org as a start to find a settlement agency and many more helpful information about settlement.

You can also call 211 Ontario to search for settlement and other community services all over Ontario.

A shortlist of settlement and employment agencies for newcomers in Ontario Peel Region below,

Settlement agencies and Newcomer Services for New Immigrants and Refugees

Employment Focused Resources and Training Programs


​Please check the resources part in my blog from from here for more mental health and newcomer resources for newcomers.

*I would like thank YMCA Newcomer center for the great webinar on February 23.2021 "First Steps in Ontario" and helping me to conceptualize this post with all the information they conveyed.

Photo credit: Unsplash Anwaar Ali


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