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Living In Canada, A Guide For Expats

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Canada is often considered one of the best places to live globally, with a progressive and tolerant society, thriving cities, business opportunities, low crime rates and a healthy economy.

The quality of life is good, with an excellent schooling system, high average incomes, and snowy winters famous for ice hockey and winter sports.

Whether you wish to relocate to Canada to pursue a career, live in a peaceful metropolitan city, or enjoy the wide-open spaces and incredible local wildlife, you need to know about living costs, visa routes and rules to become a Canadian resident.

Canada – Quick Facts

  • The National Flag of Canada – also known as the maple leaf
  • Population: 38.25 million
  • UK expat population: 650,000
  • Capital: Ottawa
  • Main cities: Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Mississauga, and Vancouver

Visas And Residency

Travellers to Canada must complete an electronic travel authorisation before boarding a flight unless they already have a visa or permanent residency card.

There are several ways to become a Canadian resident, depending on why you wish to move and whether you have a job offer confirmed or fulfil a particular skills shortage area. Moving under a work visa is the most accessible option for many expats.

Canadian work visas

The Express Entry route is available to applicants who qualify for a permanent visa through work experience within Canada, skilled workers and professional tradespeople.

Suppose you have a particular trade or profession. In that case, you may be eligible for the Federal Skilled Trades Program, which aims to attract electricians, carpenters, welders, plumbers and other tradespeople to the country.

Applicants must first answer an online questionnaire to assess their suitability and are assigned a score based on their responses. The points-based system selects the highest scorers within each pool and invites them to submit a complete visa application.

Family visas

The family visa route is available to foreign nationals with close family living in Canada as citizens or permanent residents, including children, parents, or a spouse. The relative can sponsor your application through the Family Sponsorship Program.

Investment and business visas

The previous Canadian Immigrant Investor Program was closed in 2014. However, the Start-Up Visa Program has a minimum net investment requirement of $200,000 (£123,239) if the funding comes from a venture capital fund in Canada or $75,000 (£46,214) from an angel investor.

It is open to applicants who expect to own and manage a Canadian business and create employment positions for at least three years.

A complete list of visa categories and criteria is available from the Immigration and Citizenship service.

Proof of vaccination

Rules around the ArriveCAN app, proof of vaccination and testing on entry have all been lifted. Mask mandates have also been lifted, although the Canadian government still recommends travellers wear masks during journeys.

Passport validity

Passports should be valid for the duration of your visit. If you are moving to Canada permanently, you must bring your visa documentation or permit when you travel.

Taking medicines into Canada

If you have prescription medication, you must verify before travelling that the drug is allowed in Canada. You will usually need a letter from your doctor, a copy of your prescription, and the original packaging for inspection by immigration officials.

Some over-the-counter medications are also considered prescription-only in Canada. You can check the Prescription Drug List and the Office of Controlled Substances to see if your medicine is a controlled substance.

Police certificates

Canadian visas always require a background check, and even a minor crime on your criminal record may make you inadmissible. Crimes such as dangerous driving, driving under the influence, theft and assault are all considered unacceptable offences.

Some expats can move to Canada with a criminal record but will be assessed on a case-by-case basis by an immigration officer who will evaluate their history of good behaviour, how long ago the incident occurred, and the severity.

Safety And Security

Crime rates in Canada are low, but petty crime is possible. Travellers are advised to always keep their luggage and be cautious in hotels where passports should be stored in a safe.

There are strict rules about interacting with wildlife if you go hiking or camping in one of the national parks. You should remove any food items, keep a safe distance from animals, and be cautious about seasons where there are likely to be young animals.

Canadian wildlife includes cougars, grizzly and black bears, polar bears, wolves, moose, and elk.


UK expats can exchange their British licence for a Canadian driving licence and may need a letter from the DVLA authenticating their licence documents before they can apply.

Rules vary between provinces, and you must have a licence recognised by the local government in your territory. If you intend to use your UK licence temporarily, you will need an International Driving Permit, including a translation into French, if you move to Quebec.

To apply for a Canadian licence, you may have to pass a written exam or a practical driving test. The Driving in Canada government page has individual links to each province to check the applicable rules and application process.

Canadian drivers drive on the right, and stopping at stop signs is mandatory. Failure to stop is an offence that carries a fine. Cars must give way to pedestrians and adhere to all speed limits, with major roads monitored by speed cameras.

Cost Of Living

Living costs in Canada are slightly higher than in the UK, although much depends on where you live. On average, a family of four requires $4,453 (£2,744) per month to cover costs, excluding rent.

An individual needs a budget of roughly $1,240 (£764), excluding accommodation.

General living costs are 9.1 per cent higher, and rents are 10.8 per cent higher, although the average income is $72,000 a year (£44,366) compared to £33,280 in the UK.

Vancouver and Toronto are the most expensive places to live, where housing shortages and rental prices are much steeper than in other parts of the country.

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Buying Or Renting A Home

British expats can purchase a property in Canada, although some provinces levy taxes on non-resident buyers living there for less than six months of the year.

There is a vast choice of locations, from apartments in central city zones, spacious farmhouses in the countryside, or family properties in the suburbs.

Estate agents are called realtors, and buyers need to account for additional costs on top of the purchase price, including:

  • Property or land transfer taxes
  • Bank appraisal charges
  • Inspection costs (equivalent to a survey)
  • Home insurance
  • Legal charges
  • Closing fees, such as township levies

Prospective renters can find available properties through one of many online listing websites, including Rentals, RentCanada, RentSeeker and RentFaster.

Cost of renting and buying a home

Property TypeAverage Rental Cost Per Month
One-bedroom city centre apartment$1,640 / £1,011
One-bedroom apartment elsewhere$1,389 / £856
Three-bedroom city centre apartment$2,621 / £1,615
Three-bedroom apartment elsewhere$2,284 / £1,407
Property TypeAverage Purchase Price Per Square Metre
One-bedroom city centre apartment$8,858 / £5,458
One-bedroom apartment elsewhere$6,606 / £4,071

Where Do British Expats Live In Canada?

British nationals live across Canada, primarily in the larger metropolitan cities. Some of the most popular destinations include:

  • Ottawa, Ontario
  • Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Edmonton, Alberta
  • Oakville, Southern Ontario
  • St Albert, Alberta


There is no reciprocal healthcare agreement between Canada and the UK, so foreign national expats must have comprehensive medical insurance before travelling – this is an obligatory requirement during the visa application process.

Expats who work and pay social security contributions and taxes may be eligible for the Medicare system, which provides health insurance for basic treatments. However, clinics, doctors and treatment centres are private.

Waiting times are long, so most citizens opt for private healthcare coverage even if it isn’t required to ensure they can see a doctor quickly if they have a health concern.

Temporary residents cannot use public healthcare services, although permanent residents are generally eligible.

Working In Canada

Most UK nationals who move to Canada for work live in one of the cities with countless employment opportunities, multinational employers and hubs in healthcare, education, infrastructure, and environmental services.

Vancouver, Toronto, and Calgary are all ranked among the world’s most liveable cities. To take up an employment offer, you must have an appropriate visa, which will depend on the entry route you follow.

Employers may require a police or background check before hiring a foreign national.

Businesses are only allowed to hire expats if they cannot fill the role locally, normally because they need a skilled professional or tradesperson. In these cases, the expat can apply through the Express Entry route.

Prospective applicants can register their details and skills through the Job Bank, which matches them with employers looking for particular skills, qualifications, or experience.


The Canadian tax office is called the Canada Revenue Agency, and all taxpaying residents need to pay income tax and social security contributions. If you move to Canada permanently, you are liable to pay tax on all your worldwide income, whereas non-residents are taxed only on income derived in Canada.

Some taxes vary between provinces. For example, Ontario and British Columbia charge foreign buyers a tax on property purchases, excluding permanent residents, based on 15 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively.

Employees and employers contribute to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) based on 5.95 per cent, although residents in Quebec pay 6.4 per cent to the separate Quebec Pension Plan (QPP).

Income taxes are split between federal and provincial tax rates. In 2023, the lowest national tax band is 15 per cent, based on income up to $53,359 (£32,879), although taxpayers will add a further provincial tax charge of up to 10.5 per cent on income up to $49,720 (£30,637) in Saskatchewan, and 10.8 per cent up to $36,842 (£22,702) in Manitoba.

The lowest local tax rates are in Nunavut, with a four per cent charge on income of up to $50,877 (£31,350). Full tax tables are available through the CRA.


Permanent residents who have made sufficient contributions to the CPP or QPP may be eligible for a social security pension, depending on the amount contributed through workplace deductions.

Expats can also normally continue to claim the UK State Pension, although the amount received will not increase annually.

There are several Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes (ROPS) in Canada, where foreign nationals can opt to transfer a UK pension to another country, according to HMRC requirements.

Local Laws And Customs

  • Foreign nationals cannot bring food or dairy products into Canada without submitting a customs declaration and banned imports can attract a fine.
  • Cannabis is legal for recreational use, although local laws apply to different territories and provinces.
  • Guns are not illegal in Canada, but ownership rules are much stricter than in the US. Owners must hold a licence, and criteria are carefully monitored.

Education And Schooling

Most children in Canada start kindergarten from age four or five, although this is optional. School is mandatory from grade one, which begins at age six, and schools teach up to grade 11 or 12 until students are 16.

Pupils must attend education for at least ten years and complete high school. Further schooling is optional, and there are several high-quality universities, including the University of Toronto, the University of Montreal, and McGill University, also in Montreal.

The public education sector is well funded but can vary between provinces where local governments make decisions – although the federal government oversees education standards.

Expats can choose to send their children to a private international schools at an average cost of between $4,000 and $26,000 (£2,465 – £16,021) a year in tuition fees. However, most opt for the public schooling system because standards are high.

Schools in Quebec often teach in French, and learning the language is obligatory under The Charter of the French Language until the end of secondary school. Therefore, private education is more likely for UK foreign nationals in this province, although independent schools will still teach French.

Living In Canada FAQ

What is the currency in Canada?

The currency is the Canadian Dollar – Canada uses the same $ sign as the states, but a separate currency which is designated CAD. The exchange rate is currently around $1 to £0.62.

Is Canada a cold place to live?

Some Canadian provinces have among the coldest winters in the world, and it can get extremely cold away from the warmer British Columbian west coast. In the winter, rural areas can dip as low as -30°C and -40°C. The coldest weather ever recorded was in Yukon when it reached -63°C.

How can British nationals move to Canada?

There are several immigration programmes, including an Express Entry visa for skilled workers, schemes for caregivers, and those with family members already living in Canada.

Is Canada safe for foreign expats?

Canada is considered one of the safest places in the world, with low crime rates.

What is the best way to apply for a Canadian residency visa?

The most straightforward entry route for many expats is to apply through a work visa programme, with various visas available depending on your profession, education level, and demand for work in the province you intend to move to. The application eligibility tool on the Immigration and Citizenship page can help you identify which visa is best suited.

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