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Planning a move to Canada? Here’s everything you need to know
The second largest country in the world, Canada is also hugely varied. There’s outdoorsy Vancouver with its mild coastal climate and mountains nearby; there’s the bustling central business district of cosmopolitan Toronto; and the oil and gas fields and wild winters of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Between the end of 2017 and the end of 2020, Canada will welcome around one million new permanent residents, the majority chosen for their experience, education level, age, language skills, and employment prospects, along with their partners and children.
The International Experience Canada (IEC) programme makes it especially easy for those aged between 18 and 35 to move there, with 10,700 of these two-year work permits available every year for Irish people. Toronto and Vancouver are the main hot spots for employment, as construction and mining activity in resource-heavy provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, which employed thousands of Irish workers after the recession hit Ireland, have slowed down.
But no matter how attractive the change of scenery or the promise of a well-paid job may be, it is important to do thorough research in advance of such a big move, whether you are travelling alone or with a family.
Many find the first six months tough. Visa rules ask a lot of newcomers. The IEC visa requires people to have 2,500 Canadian dollars (€1,611) in their bank accounts on arrival, but this can run out quickly. Statistics released by the Canadian Government in 2017 show recent immigrants are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as the Canadian-born population. Simple practical issues, such as a different style of CV or resumé favoured by Canadian employers, can be a barrier for jobseekers.
This guide gives an overview of the main points to consider, with links to official government websites and other useful online resources where you can go for more detailed information. Click on the links below to jump to each chapter.
Visa guide: Introduction to the most popular visa types for Irish workers, from the working holiday visa to options for longer stay, including employer and state sponsorship, permanent residency and citizenship
Finding a place to live: Overview of property market, short-term accommodation options, average cost of renting and buying a home in each of the main cities, and how to find cheap furniture
Which city? The most popular locations for Irish people, and what they offer in terms of jobs and lifestyle
Finding a job: Introduction to the current economic climate in Canada, examining the jobs market, what skills/occupations are currently in demand and where, how average salaries compare to Ireland in certain industries, and advice on how to jobsearch
Health and Education: Who is entitled to public healthcare, what costs are involved, and health insurance options. How the education system is run by state/territory, third-level options and costs and fees for visa holders, permanent residents and citizens
Cost of living: How much money you should bring to get set up, the cost of living by city, an introduction to the tax system, and other financial considerations
Directory: Contact details for Irish organisations, sports and culture clubs, online social networks and other useful support groups
Applying for work visas or citizenship in Canada
From the IEC working holiday visa to permanent residency through the Express Entry system, our guide will take you through your options.
While Australia, New Zealand and the US are tightening immigration, Canada is heading in the opposite direction.By 2020 the country will be home to over one million new permanent residents, most of whom will be economic migrants selected for their skills and experience.
Irish citizens intending to work, study or set up a business in Canada need to have the right visa to suit their circumstances. The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website (canada.ca/en/services/immigration-citizenship.html) has very comprehensive information on visas, including an online questionnaire to help you decide what type of visa to apply for. The list of visa types below is by no means exhaustive, but a summary of the most popular options for Irish workers. Be aware that different rules apply for Quebec.
If you’re unsure what immigration programmes you can apply for, this handy government Come to Canada tool will do the work for you. It takes about 10 minutes to fill out the form.
(Note: the information in this guide is intended as an overview. Visa regulations change on a regular basis, so candidates should check the above website for the most up-to-date information).
International Experience Canada (IEC): A working-holiday visa that allows people aged 18-35 from Ireland to work in Canada for up to two years.
A quota is set for the number of visas issued to Irish people every year. In 2019, it is 10,700 in total - 10,500 for working-holiday makers, 150 for “young professionals” (who must have a signed letter of offer or contract of employment before applying), and 50 in the “international co-op” category for full-time students to take part in internship and work placement programmes, for up to 12 months.
People who participate in this stream will also be eligible to apply for an additional two years on a second IEC visa, meaning they can stay in Canada for three years in total under the IEC.
The application rules changed for 2016, in order to prevent the prior annual crush for visas among Irish applicants. Under the old system, a quota of visas for Irish citizens was released in one or two rounds each year, on a first-come, first-served basis. Quotas were filled within minutes for several years in a row, leaving disappointed candidates waiting another year before they could apply again.
Under the new system, applicants for visas can begin the process now by creating an online profile, which will then be submitted into a “pool” of candidates if it meets requirements. Applicants will be drawn randomly from these pools at “regular intervals”, and sent an “Invitation to Apply” for a work permit. Draws will continue to be held until all places are filled for the year.
While the new system takes the pressure off candidates, the biggest drawback is that friends or couples cannot apply together for visas, and applicants must not be accompanied by dependents. This means one or more of a family or friendship group can be left waiting much longer than others for their application to be selected. There is no guarantee that they will get a visa before the end of the year, even if their friend or partner applied at the same time and has been accepted.
More information on how to apply for an IEC visa can be found on the Citizen and Immigration website.
You will need a scanned copy of the identification page of your passport and an electronic version of your up-to-date curriculum vitae, which must follow the format provided in a template on the IEC website, along with a fee of C$150 (€ 98).
Participants in the working holiday-makers category must also pay an open work permit holder fee of C$100 when submitting an online work permit application through MyCIC.
International Co-op (Internship) participants, including those applying through an employer-specific recognised organisation, do not have to pay any other fees, but your Canadian employer will need to pay the employer compliance fee of C$230, and complete and submit an offer of employment directly to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
Applicants now also have to complete a biometric test (photograph and fingerprints) as part of the application process. This can be done at the Canadian Embassy in Dublin. Currently the service is only offered two days per month, but his will increase to five days a week from January 7th.
Visas are processed on a first-come, first-served basis. Successful candidates have a year from the date of issue to enter Canada.
On arrival in Canada, you must have health insurance, a return flight or enough money to buy one, and proof of C$2,500 in your bank account. Irish-run information website Moving2Canada.com has a good FAQ document, and a dedicated Facebook forum for IEC applicants.
'Express Entry' system
The “Express Entry” programme allows immigrants to apply for long-stay /permanent residency visas online. Applicants for three economic immigration programmes (Federal Skilled Worker Class, Federal Skilled Trades, and Canadian Experience Class) are able to create an online profile to express their interest in gaining permanent residency (PR) in Canada.
There is no deadline to complete a profile and there are no caps on the number of candidates that will be accepted to the pool for consideration, but once created, profiles are valid for one year.
Profiles are ranked according to various factors including language proficiency, education, work experience, and age. Those with existing ties to Canada through family or previous work or study, or who have a job offer in Canada already, are also given a higher ranking.
Once a candidate receives an invitation to apply, they have 60 days to submit a complete application for permanent residence. Invitations are issued to the highest-performing candidates in draws that occur around every two weeks, meaning that the highest performers will be invited within at most a couple of weeks of entering the pool.
Provinces and territories select candidates for Provincial Nominee programmes from the Express Entry system. Successful candidates then need to complete the immigration process, which includes health and security checks.
Rather than a first-come-first-served basis, applications are processed based on score. The majority of applications are processed in under six months.
Federal Skilled Worker Class: For applicants with skilled work experience for occupations in demand in Canada.
Applicants must have at least one year of paid experience in a skilled occupation and fulfil certain criteria including a language test. Qualifications must be assessed by an independent accreditee, for an additional fee.
Federal Skilled Trades: For workers with qualifications and experience in a trade in demand, identified under certain sections of the National Occupational Classification (NOC) system, including: industrial, electrical and construction workers; maintenance and equipment operation workers; supervisors and technical workers in natural resources, agriculture and related production; processing, manufacturing and utilities supervisors and central control operators; chefs and cooks; and butchers and bakers.
Applicants must have at least two years’ paid experience in the previous five years, and have either a job offer for a full year or a certificate of qualification.
Employers can apply for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) on behalf of a worker if they can prove they cannot find a suitable Canadian candidate to fill a position. The LMIA allows the person to work for one specific employer and can provide a stepping stone to permanent residency, but does not provide security for the employee if they lose their job.
Canadian Experience Class (CEC): Offers permanent residency to those with at least 12 months’ skilled work experience in Canada in the three years before they apply. They must pass a language and medical test. It takes six months to process but it is possible to get a bridging visa until the CEC is issued. It can cost up to C$1,200 in application and medical fees.
Provincial Nominee Programme (PNP): Workers can be nominated for permanent residency based on the immigration needs of the specific province and their intention to settle there. It is an alternative option to the CEC for those who want to stay permanently.
Business Immigration Programme: Open to experienced investors, entrepreneurs and the self-employed. In 2014 the Federal Immigrant Investor and Entrepreneurs programmes were terminated; however this has been replaced by the Start-up visa for entrepreneurs. There is also a Self-Employed Persons Program.
Permanent residents can sponsor their spouse, common-law partner, conjugal partner, dependent child or other eligible relative to become a permanent resident under the Family Sponsorship Programme.
Finding a place to live
Housing in Canada varies greatly between provinces and territories, cities and suburbs, so what can you expect when searching for a home? Where can you go for advice?
If you are still trying to decide on a province or city, the government-run Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporationhas comprehensive information on housing to buy or rent in all Canadian cities, as well as destination guides to some of Canada’s lesser known areas. It also offers a useful newcomer’s guide to Canadian housing, with advice on renting or buying for the first time.
Renting a home
Most Irish newcomers to Canada will be looking to rent rather than buy. Properties are rented by calendar month, so it is best to start looking just before the end of the month, rather than at the beginning, when choices will be more limited.
“Furnished but pricey apartments are available to rent by the week through websites such as MakeYourselfatHome.com, TorontoFurnishedRentals.comand airbnb.com, which are useful for families while they are searching for a more permanent home, but young singles and couples are more likely to stay in a hostel until they find their feet,” says Irishman Ruairi Spillane, who runs the information website Moving2Canada.com.
“Toronto and Vancouver are big cities, and very spread out. The public transport networks are good, but if a couple are moving here together, it is better for them to wait until they are set up with jobs until they decide what area to rent in.”
Toronto recently overtook Vancouver as the most expensive rental city, with the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in December 2017 peaking at C$2,020 (€ 1,326), a rise of over 15 per cent from the same period the previous year. Vancouver comes in at just $20 dollars cheaper, with the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment sitting at C$2,000.
Moving2Canada’s website has a useful section describing the different neighbourhoods in the main cities and what rent you can expect to pay in each.
With the exception of sub-lets, almost all rental properties in Canada are unfurnished, which will add a substantial amount to start-up costs. Cheap furniture can be found in thrift shops and on websites like Craigslist.ca, especially towards the end of the month when people are preparing to move house. Ikea outlets are located in, or close to, most major cities.
Cathy Murphy, executive director at the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre in Toronto, advises new arrivals to check what is included in the rent before signing a lease. “Some tenants will be responsible for paying their own utility bills, but heating, electricity, cable television, telephone and internet will often be included in the monthly rent, which can greatly reduce costs,” she says.
“If you are responsible for your own bills, it is worth checking what type of heating is installed in the building. If it is electric, your bills are going to be huge, especially when you are trying to keep your home warm during the harsh Canadian winter. Gas will be much cheaper.”
Landlords will usually ask for references, and some will request employment and income details. They are also entitled to conduct a credit check to ensure prospective tenants can pay the rent. (This is more likely to happen to those who arrive in Canada without a job set up in advance.)
“It can be useful to have references and a letter from your Irish bank prepared before you leave Ireland,” Murphy advises. “The more paperwork you can provide, the less hassle you are likely to have.”
Buying a home
For those looking at the move as long-term, purchasing a property can be a viable option. House prices in Canada have tailed off over the last 12 months, after rising rapidly during the past couple of years, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. 2017 was a peak year in terms of house prices, so even though it’s getting slightly cheaper to buy, property is still, relatively speaking, very expensive.
The average house price as of March 2018 was about C$491,000 (€ 322,339), although the hugely expensive markets in Vancouver and Toronto skew the national figures. Not counting those two cities, the average price for a house is around C$383,000 (€251, 452).
Prices vary hugely depending on the province and city, with the average price of a detached home in the Greater Vancouver area clocking in at more than C$1.5 million (€ 982,000) in 2017, more than twice the national average. However this is forecast to fall around 21 per cent by 2019.
In April 2018, the average house price in Toronto was C$804,584, over 12 per cent cheaper than the previous year. Houses in Saskatchewan province, which in recent years has attracted a lot of Irish workers because of a construction boom, cost C$281,645 on average.
The Canadian Real Estate Association has a useful interactive map comparing prices over the past 12 months between provinces and cities.
Irish people with permanent residency have the same rights as Canadian citizens when it comes to buying a property. According to Michael Polzler, executive vice president of Re/Max real estates, buyers need a deposit of at least 10 per cent and proof of income to support mortgage repayments. Non-residents on a visa will need a downpayment of at least 35 per cent of the purchase price. A good financial adviser or mortgage broker will be able to talk you through your options.
When considering mortgage applications, banks will also ask for mortgage or rental payment receipts for the past 12 months, evidence that you have paid all utility and phone bills on time, copies of tax returns, and statements from an Irish bank account for the past year. These documents should be prepared before leaving Ireland, especially if you intend to buy a property soon after arriving in Canada.
Canada: Which city should I choose to live in?
Before you decide you prefer Vancouver to Montreal, read our primer to Canada's most popular destinations.
With mountains, lakes and the ocean right on your doorstep, the quality of life that Vancouver in British Columbia offers makes it an attractive location for many.
For Ruairi Spillane, watching the local hockey team, the Vancouver Canucks, is a plus of living in the city, which he says, is more suited to people who like the outdoors, while Toronto is more of an urban city.
Vancouver is not short on eating options either. As Spillane notes, about 45 per cent of the local population is of Asian descent, which means that the city has an “incredible selection” of Asian cuisine. It’s also great for outdoor pursuits.
“Hiking and camping all summer long. Summers are about getting outdoors whether it’s on the local beaches or the plentiful lakes and mountains outside the city,” says Spillane.
British Columbia residents can enjoy Vancouver’s great beaches yet can be at a skiing resort within half an hour of leaving the city centre if they wish. On the downside, there isn’t much in the way of museum culture - or pub culture.
With a direct flight from Dublin to Toronto, the city on the east of Canada is often the first port of call for Irish migrants. However it is best to be prepared for extremes of weather which can range from minus 20 degrees in winter to plus 40 degrees. So take coats and boots if it is winter - and seek out air conditioning for the summer.
New arrivals should also note that Toronto, with its population of 2.8 million, tends to be more expensive than Irish cities.
With one of the biggest film festivals in the world, a strong sporting culture, a “stunning” opera house, and one of the best indie music scenes in North America - not to mind a “magnificent” restaurant scene - Toronto is a haven for culture vultures, says resident Cathy Murphy, who runs the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre in the city.
“Toronto is a major metropolis and the most multicultural city in the world. You will hear most of the world’s languages spoken here.
It is a city of neighbourhoods which can be culturally based (Little Italy, Little Greece, Chinatown) or based on industry and history (Distillery District, Design District, Waterfront).
It’s a very green city - stand a-top the CN Tower and be dazzled by the canopy of trees that cover Toronto.”
A prairie province in the centre of Canada, Saskatchewan is vast, equivalent in size to France but with a population of a little over 1 million. Most people live in the southern part of the province and the largest city is Saskatoon.
Sask resident Mark Cooper warns that winters are cold and long, but apart from that “it’s a wonderful place to live, with lots of natural beauty”.
Despite the low population, Cooper says the region has an “unbelievable diversity of restaurants, and many great museums and art galleries”. “When you think about the cultural activities that define our province, they’re usually sport-related. Ice hockey, curling, and Canadian football are all very popular in Saskatchewan,” he says.
The second-largest city in Canada and the largest in the province of Quebec, Montreal is a French-speaking city. More than 60 per cent of residents speak French in their homes.
This may add to the city’s charm, but it also makes visa applications more difficult, and applicants will need to demonstrate proficiency in both written and spoken French.
It is, however, cheaper than other major Canadian cities, and accommodation is also generally easier to find and more affordable.
The largest city in Alberta, just ahead of the province’s capital Edmonton, is Calgary, a city of immigrants, with 26 per cent of its population from other countries. It also has the youngest population of all the major cities in Canada, with 70 per cent of its residents between the ages of 15 and 64.
Alberta borders the US, with British Columbia to the west and Saskatchewan to the east. Calgary, the major urban centre for the southern half of the province, is home to 1.2 million people. If you remember the 1988 Winter Olympics, you will know that it is a mountain city, so expect lots of snow in winter.
With a major energy industry, Calgary is one of Canada’s richest cities.
How and where to find a job in Canada
It’s the most crucial piece of the puzzle when moving abroad to start a new life, but unfortunately it is not always the easiest. New arrivals to Canada will find a different economy from that which would have greeted them even four years ago.
With the labour market at its strongest in over a decade, Cathy Murphy of the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre in Toronto suggests there are many areas in which immigrants can find work, highlighting in particular the construction industry.
“Most of the tradespeople we see in Toronto are working steadily but construction here, like anywhere, can be precarious in terms of job security. There is still a crane on nearly every corner in Toronto. Canadian employers maintain there is a skilled trades shortage in certain parts of the country,” she says.
Over 55,000 construction jobs have been created throughout Canada during the last year, with 17,800 added in March 2018 alone. This is part of a wider upward trend in employment across the board which began in the second half of 2016. The unemployment rate now sits at 5.8 per cent, down from 7 per cent in 2016.
Beyond the obvious professions associated with construction, such as engineering, project management and quantity surveying, Ruairi Spillane of Outpost Recruitment, which focuses on the construction and engineering sectors within western Canada, says the country needs IT workers and is still in need of doctors.
“Canada is facing a huge shortage of IT workers in the next three years, and it’s expected the country will struggle to fill as many as 180,000 vacancies in the IT sector by 2019, including 50,000 in Toronto and 35,000 in Montreal. Analysts, consultants, programmers, developers, graphic designers and illustrators are all in demand,” he says.
“There is also a lack of available applicants for sales, management, and accounting jobs. And there’s still a demand for doctors in Canada, especially in British Columbia where there’s a real shortage of family GPs. This shortage is expected to worsen in the next five years, because the age profile of doctors means that many are nearing retirement.”
Given the scale of the country, it may make sense to target your search depending on what type of job you are looking for.
Saskatchewan has long been a popular location for Irish migrants and, according to Mark Cooper of the Saskatchewan Construction Association, it remains attractive, particularly for “those in the skilled trades”. This means that demand is strong for anything in the construction trades or in manufacturing.
“In particular, our province is short of equipment operators, equipment mechanics and machinists. Also there is great demand for supervisors, project managers and estimators,” he says.
Ontario is another province Irish migrants can target. Murphy says the city of Thunder Bay “boasts opportunities in trucking, medical specialisms, mining and skilled trades such as carpenters and millwrights”.
British Columbia is an area on the rise, according to Murphy. “BCjobs.ca has a number of positions listed for engineers, millwrights, and electricians and the BC Construction Association states on its website: ‘Many of our recruitment events have been focused on Ireland due to an easy match between training/certification systems and language’,” she says.
One of the most popular destinations for Irish migrants is Toronto, but job hunters should be aware the economy is “certainly not the strongest in the country”, she says.
However, Murphy says there are roles for those in IT and the skilled trades in particular.
“I have yet to meet an electrician, carpenter, or plumber who [once licensed here] cannot get work. Those in finance will find the job market more challenging,” she says.
It can be difficult to secure a job from home, and Ruairi Spillane from Moving2Canada warns that it can take from three to four months or more.
“Canadian employers tend to be very slow about hiring from abroad despite the labour shortage in western Canada. They place great emphasis on local Canadian experience and can be slow to acknowledge international experience,” he says.
Recruiters don’t seem to value foreign experience. Murphy says this is particularly an issue for those working in business. “New arrivals, particularly those in the corporate sector, need to mitigate expectations with respect to the time it takes to get employed in Canada. Those in business (banking, accounting, marketing, sales etc) may need several months to land a career role. Networking will be crucial.”
Spillane from Moving2Canada agrees that networking face to face can be “crucial” in securing a job. “We always encourage people to conduct informational interviews with locals to learn more about similar job roles in Canada before they approach employers. It’s crucial that they don’t make the mistake of assuming that things are done the same way as Ireland.
“Canadian employers tend to hire internationally for construction but it’s not overly common for other sectors,” he says.
Get out there and meet people before the interview stage. You may find out about openings through referrals or just meeting people for a coffee.
It is worth joining networking associations such as the Vancouver Irish Business & Enterprise association (Vibe).
When it comes to how much you might earn, Spillane says salaries in general are comparable with those in Ireland.
“Alberta offers the most competitive salaries and lower living costs due to low sales tax and low energy costs,” he says.
Salaries across the country are on the rise. A report recently published by Statistics Canada showed that average weekly earnings were up 3.2 per cent compared with the previous year.
The industry with the highest increase was accommodation and food services, which saw an increase of 8.2 per cent, bringing the average weekly wage to C$399. Those in the public sector saw their weekly earnings rise 4.5 per cent to C$1,303. As of January 2018, the average Canadian earned C$996 per week.
For more detailed information on salaries, check out canadavisa.com which has a Canada Salary Calculator for every region listed under its immigration tools section.
Searching for a job, writing a Canadian resumé
Unless you have skills that are in demand in Canada or manage to secure a job at a recruitment fair in Ireland, it can be difficult to apply for jobs before leaving for Canada, as employers usually want a Canadian address on an application. But there is still a lot of preparation jobseekers can do before moving.
Tradesmen need to take accreditation papers and graduates should have copies of academic transcripts. Applicants will be expected to have “Canadianised” their CV, which can also be done using the examples and templates here.
“Canadian employers are very particular about how a resumé is laid out and the typical Irish CV is nowhere near the standard they expect,” says Spillane. “Also, you are entering Canada as an immigrant, which means you need to work harder to impress employers as you are competing against candidates with local experience.”
Across all sectors, networking plays a much bigger role when it comes to finding a job in Canada than in Ireland. Spillane estimates that more than half of all vacancies are not advertised online, so making contacts is vital. “If an employer needs to hire someone, they will ask their employees if they can recommend someone first,” he says. “Irish people tend to waste their time applying for jobs on busy jobs’ boards but you’re competing with the rest of the herd. We have great personalities so networking is much easier.”
Jobseekers should have their resumé on LinkedIn, join industry groups online, go to conferences for their sector, and attend networking events. “Get comfortable telling people what you do and how they can help you. Your goal is to find a job, but don’t get lost in that. Your focus should be to build contacts and learn more about how you can improve your employability.”
The Ireland-Canada Chamber of Commerce, which has six branches, holds events to help the Irish community to connect. The Irish Canadian Immigration Centre (ICIC) website has a comprehensive list of Canadian job websites, while Irishjobs.ca, also run by ICIC, has advertisements targeted at Irish workers, as well as a guide to applying for jobs.
Healthcare: Entitlements in Canada, and insurance
Canada is renowned all over the world for its free healthcare system, and each of its 10 provinces and three territories finances and runs a state-wide health insurance programme, Medicare, which covers most basic medical services, such as doctor visits, diagnostic tests, hospital stays and most surgeries.
You may find the system is not as comprehensive as you would like, however, as it is up to each province to decide whether or not to cover supplementary services, such as dental or drug cover, or even maternity services. As a result, many Canadians face additional expense.
On top of that, they have some of the longest wait times in the world. A 2016 survey from the Commonwealth Fund found that one in five Canadians reported waiting over seven days the last time they needed medical attention. At the ER department, a third of patients waited over four hours, while 1 in 2 had to wait over four weeks to see a specialist.
Despite all this, two-thirds of Canadians say they received excellent or very good care from their regular doctor.
You may also find that you don’t qualify for your province’s health system. For example, Ontario imposes a three-month wait on health cover (from the date you establish residency there), and to be eligible for the cover you must be a Canadian citizen, permanent resident or among one of the newcomer to Canada groups who are eligible for insurance as set out in Ontario’s Health Insurance Act.
Given the time-lag, and the possibility that you may not qualify - as well as the shortfall on expenses they might face - new arrivals are encouraged to take out private health insurance cover when they land.
If you are going to travel regularly across the country, remember that your health benefits may not travel with you. While most of your Ontario health coverage benefits can be used across Canada, for example, not all provinces operate on the same principle.
Before you travel you should also get insurance cover (it is essential for those arriving on an IEC visa. You will not be permitted entry into the country without it, and if you wish to stay for two years, or return to work in Canada again before the two-year time is up, you will need insurance for the full two years). One option is VHI International, which is aimed at people who intend to return to Ireland to live at a future date, as it helps you to avoid waiting periods for cover when you return, and covers you when you come home on holidays.
Unlike VHI Healthcare’s domestic plans, this policy is risk-rated; therefore the price differs according to age band. For 22- to 24-year-olds, the premium on VHI International Level 1 Area2 (which is the area of cover that would be needed to provide cover to a customer travelling to Canada) is about € 2,160 annually. This provides cover for up to € 3 million in medical expenses each year, including cover for pre and post-hospitalisation costs, cancer care etc.
A cheaper option is the Usit IEC Canada Insurance, a product which is designed specifically to suit the needs of people taking the two-year IEC visa. Costing € 349, it covers emergency medical treatment and repatriation and travel insurance cover, as well as allowing for up to five trips home.
Education: Schools and student fees
Much like the health regime, there is no federal department of education and no national system of education in Canada. Instead, each province and territory has its own system of education, although they are similar.
Education is generally free for residents at both primary and post-primary level, and children must start school at the age of five or six until they are between 16 and 18, depending on the province or territory.
As Canada is a bilingual country, French language schools are available across the country, so even if you are not living in Quebec, this is an option.
Private schools are also available at varying costs. While many Canadian public schools accept non-resident international students, you may have to pay fees.
Unlike in Ireland, where many students will benefit from free fees (with a sizeable contribution nonetheless), Canadian residents will have to pay tuition fees for third-level education.
For international students, the average fees are C$25,180 a year, but if you are resident, fees can drop to about C$6,000, depending on what course you study and where. The University of Toronto for example, charges fees in the range of C$6,400 to C$14,300 for domestic students, and C$29,740 to C$55,900 for international students.
At the other end of the scale is Memorial University of Newfoundland, which charges just C$2,550 for residents and C$11, 460 for international students.
Internationally, Canadian universities have a good reputation, with four in the world’s top 100, according to the QS World University Rankings 2017/2018. Those universities are McGill University (32nd) in Montreal, the University of Toronto (31st), the University of British Columbia (51st), and the University of Alberta (90th).
Lifestyle: Prepare for cold winters and long distances
With a total area of almost 10 million sq km (Ireland by comparison is just 84,431sq km), Canada is the second-largest country in the world - yes, it’s bigger than the United States and China, though not Russia.
The distance from the tip of the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador (the closest point to Ireland) to the western tip of Yukon territory on the border with Alaska is 5,514km. It takes seven hours to fly from Halifax to Vancouver, or seven days to drive. The country spans six different time zones.
Because of the distances involved, it is worth considering carefully where you want to live. The climate varies between provinces and cities (see the climate table below).
Of the provinces most popular with Irish workers, winters are harshest in Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, with temperatures sometimes dipping below -30 degrees Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) in parts. Vancouver in British Columbia, by comparison, has its own coastal microclimate, with temperatures rarely falling below zero during the rainy winter season.
The availability, cost and duration of flights to Ireland is also worth considering. Toronto is 5,250km (3,100 miles) from Dublin, and direct flights with Aer Lingus or Air Canada take a little over seven hours. St John’s in Newfoundland is just 3,288km from Dublin, and a direct flight by WestJet takes just five hours.
Vancouver is more than 7,000km from Dublin. In June 2016 Air Canada began the first direct flights from Dublin to Vancouver, which is a 10-hour flight.
Cost of living in Canada
First things first. Canada may be a popular destination for Irish migrants, but this doesn’t mean it’s cheap, although if you are moving from Dublin you may find it compares well.
A worldwide cost of living survey from Mercer, for example, ranks Vancouver as the most expensive Canadian city, at 107th place, but Dublin, which is much more expensive, at 66th place.
Nonetheless, you will need to do your sums and try and get some savings together before you travel.
“Newcomers will find it tough at the start,” warns Cathy Murphy of the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre in Toronto, adding that the C$2,500 (€1,640) recommended by International Experience Canada (IEC), is simply not enough. “New arrivals must come with more.”
Since the financial crisis, the Canadian dollar has strengthened significantly, but is currently experiencing another drop in value. From January 2018, for example, it has hovered at an average of around € 0.66, with a dip in March to € 0.61.
It currently stands at € 0.65 meaning that rent of C$1,000 a month will equate to about € 656 and a C$3.50 cappuccino comes to € 2.30.
If you intend to buy a lot of Canadian dollars, it may be worth your while keeping an eye on the exchange rate (see oanda.com).
How much you will need in your bank account will also depend on where you go. Urban areas such as Toronto can be expensive compared with more rural locations.
According to government statistics from 2016, the average household can expect to spend about C$8,784 a year on household groceries, or C$168 a week. In Alberta this rises to C$187, but falls to C$162 in Quebec.
Food, drink and energy
The cost of living in Vancouver, for example, can be high. Good quality is expensive and if you want to buy organic, it will cost far more than at home. Fast food is not especially cheap either. A McDonald’s Big Mac, for example, costs about C$6.80 (€ 4.46) in Canada, compared with about € 4.20 in Ireland.
Alcohol is more expensive too. A decent bottle of wine will set you back at least C$18 and C$10-13 for a six-pack of beer, while bars are also expensive, “although the introduction of happy hour laws has improved things somewhat”.
Energy is one area where you might save. In Montreal, for example, expect to pay around C$80 per month consuming 1,000kWh. Petrol is also cheap, but buying a car can be expensive. You will pay at least C$2,000 for a 15-year-old car.
Tax and child benefit
Tax is another factor you will need to consider. If you are going to Canada to escape Ireland’s tax rates, you might want to think twice or try to earn more.
Tax rates vary depending on the province. On a single income of about € 35,000 (C$51,730), for example, you will take home between € 25,473 (Quebec) and € 26,604 (Nunavut), according to figures compiled by PricewaterhouseCoopers. In Ireland, you will take home €25,310.
Increase your income, however, and Canada comes out on top. Indeed a salary of € 50,000 will leave you with take-home pay of € 36,270 in Ireland, compared with € 39,465 in Quebec and € 42,451 in Nunavut.
On € 100,000 you will get to keep between € 70,039 in Quebec and € 78,105 in Nunavut, compared to € 60,871 in Ireland.
Whereas child benefit used to be divided into the Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB), which was tied to income, and the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB), it has recently been changed to be entirely means-tested. It is affected by how many children you have and how old they are, and the province or territory of residence. No child benefit is available if your income exceeds C$200,000 per year.
Irish organisations in Canada
While you may be planning to embrace Canadian life and culture, you might also find yourself more willing than you thought to seek out the Irish community in Canada. Facebook groups are a great way to connect with other Irish people online, and can be a good source of tips. But for authoritative advice, contact the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre.
The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs recently published The Global Irish Diaspora Directory, a great resource for people looking to connect with Irish communities around the world. The majority of organisations listed below were found with the help of this document.
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