When you think of Canada, you probably think of its picture postcard beauty – wide-open spaces, dramatic mountains, pristine forests and majestic lakes. What might not come to mind, however, is that Canada is a modern, progressive, open and tolerant multi-cultural society with 2 official languages – English and French.

Living in Canada is similar in many respects to living in other Western countries, however there are some aspects of daily life that are unique to our nation. This section of the website will give you a high level overview of our country as well as some helpful tips to know before you arrive to study in Canada.


Overview

Canada is most famous for its natural beauty. To many in other countries, the word “Canada” evokes images of wide-open spaces, dramatic mountains, pristine forests and majestic lakes.

Canada is also known as a modern, progressive nation with open-minded citizens. We are a multicultural society with two official languages, English and French, and are proud of our ethnic diversity.

Canadians are widely regarded as friendly, polite, well-educated, interesting and healthy. We enjoy a very high standard of living—Canada has consistently ranked among the top 10 countries in the United Nations Quality of Life Index since 2004.

Geography

Canada occupies the northern half of the North American continent, with a landmass of 9,093,507 km2, making it the second-largest country in the world after Russia. Bordered by the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, we have the longest coastline of any country. To the north, the Arctic islands come within 800 kilometres of the North Pole. To the south, we share an 8,893-kilometre land border—the longest in the world—with the United States. Most of the population live within a few hundred kilometres of the southern border, in a long band that stretches between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Distinctive features include our vast mountain ranges: the Torngats, Appalachians and Laurentians in the east; the Rocky, Coastal and Mackenzie ranges in the west; and Mount St. Elias and the Pelly Mountains in the north. At 5,959 metres, Mount Logan in the Yukon is Canada's tallest peak.

Canada has more than two million lakes, covering about 7.6 percent of the country. In total, Canada has almost 900,000 km2 of fresh water. Many large lakes traverse the Canada-U.S. border, but the main Canadian lakes are Huron, Superior, Great Slave, Winnipeg, Erie, Ontario and Great Bear. The St. Lawrence River (3,058 km long) is Canada's most important river, providing a seaway for ships from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.

Population

Canada’s population is approximately 35.8 million, with roughly 80 percent concentrated in cities and towns. The population density ratio is one of the lowest in the world at 3.7 persons per square kilometre.

As of 2014, these are Canada’s largest cities:

Toronto (6.1 million)
Montreal (4.0 million)
Vancouver (2.3 million)
Ottawa region (1.4 million)

Canada is a multicultural and diverse country. The majority of Canadians are of European ancestry, primarily descendants of the early French and British colonists, as well as later immigrants from eastern and southern Europe.

However, as patterns of immigration have shifted over the years so has the ethnic mix. The second half of the 20th century saw a great influx of people from Asia, the Caribbean and Africa. In the 2006 census, more than one third of Canadians reported having one or more of 200 ethnic origins and over 16 percent of Canadians classified themselves as a visible minority. Canada also has a diverse aboriginal population, which consists of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

Many religions are practised in Canada, while almost 20 percent of Canadians claim no religious affiliation.

Language

Canada has two official languages, English and French. In 2011, 5.8 million Canadians reported being able to conduct a conversation in both of Canada’s official languages, making up 17.5 percent of the Canadian population. All federal government institutions and many businesses offer bilingual services.

Chinese dialects are the third most common native language in Canada, followed by German, Italian, Punjabi and Spanish. The most common Aboriginal languages are Cree, Inuktitut and Ojibway.

Provinces and Territories

Provinces and Territories
Name Capital City Population
Alberta Edmonton 4,196,500
British Columbia Victoria 4,683,100
Manitoba Winnipeg 1,293,400
New Brunswick Fredericton 753,900
Newfoundland and Labrador St John's 527,800
Northwest Territories Yellowknife 44,100
Nova Scotia Halifax 943,000
Nunavut Iqaluit 36,900
Ontario Toronto 13,792,100
Prince Edward Island Charlottetown 146,400
Quebec City of Quebec 8,263,600
Saskatchewan Regina 1,133,600
Yukon Whitehorse 37,400

Source: Statistics Canada, 2015

Dedicated to international students

The college staff and professors were very supportive of international students, attentive and patient with our grammatical mistakes and language issues. International students were treated as equals, which helped us integrate ourselves in the school environment.

Back in Brazil, my Canadian diploma was recognized by employers as Canada has one of the best educational system in the world.

I work today for a big compa ny from São Paulo and I believe my Canadian diploma, my English skills and my experience abroad helped me in getting hired.

Paula Funk Szinvelski
Vancouver Community College: Diploma in Interior Design (2010)

Political system

Canada is a constitutional monarchy and a federal state with a democratic system of government. This means Canadians recognize Queen Elizabeth II as their Head of State. Canada’s Governor General carries out Her Majesty’s duties in Canada on a daily basis and is Canada's de facto Head of State. Like many other democracies, Canada has clearly defined the difference between the Head of State and the Head of Government, the Prime Minister.

Canada’s Parliament, situated in the capital city of Ottawa, consists of the House of Commons with 308 elected members and the Senate, where 105 members are appointed. On average, members of parliament (MPs) are elected every four years. The Prime Minister, who is usually the leader of the party with the largest number of seats in the House of Commons, is the Head of Government. The Prime Minister appoints 20 to 30 ministers who make up the Cabinet. The Cabinet develops government policy and is responsible to the House of Commons.

Headed by Cabinet, the Government of Canada performs its duties through the intermediary of federal departments and agencies, boards, commissions and state-owned corporations. Each province/territory has its legislature under the leadership of a premier.

A number of important aspects of daily life are the responsibility of the provincial and territorial governments, including education, health care, drivers’ licences and labour standards.

Municipal and local governments also play an important role and are normally responsible for urban or regional planning, streets and roads, sanitation (such as garbage collection), snow removal, firefighting services, ambulance and other emergency services, recreational facilities, public transportation, and some local health and social services. Most major urban centres have municipal police services.


Climate

Canada has four very distinct seasons: spring (March-May); summer (June-August); fall (September-October); and winter (November-February).

While temperatures in the far north climb above 0°C only a few months of the year, most Canadians live within 300 kilometres of the country’s southern border, where warm springs, hot summers and pleasantly crisp autumns prevail for at least seven months before winter sets in.

For average seasonal temperatures and detailed weather information by city, visit the Government of Canada's Weather website.

Winter survival tips

The following tips will help you prepare for the winter months:

Listen regularly to weather forecasts on the radio or check the Internet to avoid being caught in a blizzard or other active weather system.
Winter clothing is not a luxury. You will need it to stay warm and enjoy your time here. Invest in a good winter jacket, gloves, a warm hat, a scarf and boots.
Dress in layers so that you can adjust to the variable temperatures inside and outside.
Be sure to eat a nutritious breakfast; you’ll stay warmer outside if your body has fuel to burn.
Prevent dehydration in cold weather or from dry indoor heat by drinking water regularly and using a moisturiser on your skin and lips.
Wear sunglasses and sunscreen on clear days as sunlight reflecting off snow can be very intense.
Remember there is a wind chill factor. High winds blowing on a cold day lower the temperature further, so -20°C with a wind of 16 km/hr can feel like -25°C.
Beware of frostbite. Ears, fingers, toes or cheeks exposed to very cold temperatures for just a short period of time can become frostbitten. Should any part of your body feel numb or become pale or slightly blue, seek medical assistance immediately.

Note on home heating in Winter: Individual homes and some apartment tenants pay for the heat they use, whether it is gas, oil or electricity powered. Verify if heating costs are included in a rental unit, or whether you are responsible for your own bill. Pay heating bills on time to avoid having the service shut off.

Communications

Canada has a comprehensive and modern communications network with first-class infrastructure that offers easy access to a wide variety of technology.

Making international calls from Canada

To call or fax an international number from Canada, you will need to dial:

011 + Country Code + Area Code + Local Number

International calling cards offer reduced rates and can be purchased from most convenience stores.

Internet services

Internet service is readily available at all academic institutions and you will get a free college or university email account once you begin your studies. Internet cafés are also common, particularly in metropolitan centres, and they offer reasonable rates.

Consider bringing your wireless-enabled laptop to Canada as most colleges and universities offer wireless Internet on campus.

You can get high-speed Internet installed at your home or apartment through a telephone company; a monthly fee will apply.

Major internet service providers include

Bell
Rogers
Telus
Videotron

Postal services

Canada’s postal rates are among the lowest in industrialized countries. Mail prices are based on size and weight. A standard letter mailed within Canada starts at C$0.61 for up to 30 g. A standard international letter costs C$1.80 and takes one to three weeks to deliver.

For more information, visit : Canada Post

Make meaningful connections that span the globe

Going to Canada was the best decision of my life. My time at Ivey also gave me great friendships: my classmates became friends and family after two years of living and studying together. When I decided to move back to China in 2008, I found my current job through my Ivey alumni network.

Judy Liu - China
Richard Ivey School of Business at University of Western Ontario: MBA (2005)
Senior BD Manager, Atkins

Cell phones

A large percentage of young people have cell phones (mobiles); monthly plans start at about $20 per month, and there are pay-as-you go options. The minimum term
for most phone plans is 12 months. A new phone can be purchased for under $100.

Major mobile companies in Canada:

Bell
Fido
Rogers
Telus
Virgin

Your existing mobile phone may work in Canada if it is compatible. Check international roaming charges, which can be expensive.

Time zones

The table and maps below show Canada’s six time zones in relation to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Daylight Time is observed the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October in most of Canada.

Time zones
Time Zone Standard Time Daylight Time
Pacific (PST) GMT -0800 GMT -0700
Mountain (MST) GMT -0700 GMT -0600
Central (CST) GMT -0600 GMT -0500
Eastern (EST) GMT -0500 GMT -0400
Atlantic (AST) GMT -0400 GMT -0300
Newfoundland (NST) GMT -0300 GMT -0230

Residence/dormitory

Many post-secondary institutions have accommodation conveniently located on or near campus. Dorms generally have a shared kitchen, bathroom, and laundry facilities. Some offer optional meal plans where you can pay a set price up-front for two or three meal tickets per day.

If staying for just one semester, choosing a residence can be easier than finding your own private, off-campus housing.

For a longer period, you could choose residence for your first semester and then make alternative long-term arrangements as you become more acquainted with your area.

Staying in residence is the preferred option for a majority of Canadian students in their first and second years of study. Many international students also find it allows them to make friends and find study partners more easily, saves on transport to campus, and generally enables a smoother social transition.

Private accommodation

Check with the housing office or student union office on campus for a current list of rental units nearby. These private accommodations are not inspected by the institutions, therefore it is your responsibility to contact the landlord, inspect the premises and determine suitability for your needs.

Price, quality and availability will vary greatly. Rent can be especially high in some cities. Expect to pay from C$400-$1500 per month, depending on the city, the neighbourhood, and whether there are co-tenants. Landlords typically collect one month’s rent up-front as a damage deposit, which is returned to when you move out if no damages are incurred.

Private rentals require a signed lease, which is a legal document stating your responsibilities as a tenant, such as paying rent on time, keeping premises clean, repairing any damages caused by you or your guests, and not disturbing other tenants.

Landlords may add various rules and conditions to the lease. Read the document carefully before signing and ask for a copy.

The landlord also has responsibilities, such as keeping the premises in good repair. In emergency situations, the landlord may enter your dwelling unannounced; otherwise advance notice must be given with a reason for the request. If the landlord needs you to vacate the premises, 60 days advance notice is required. If you refuse to move, the landlord can go to court and obtain an eviction notice.

If you experience trouble with your landlord, free or affordable legal assistance may be available through your Canadian educational institution.

It is your responsibility to arrange accommodation. For more information, please contact the housing or residence office at your institution.

Electrical appliances and voltage

Bringing electrical appliances to Canada requires some planning and research. Read this section carefully as the consequences can be severe.

Voltage and electrical outlets

In Canada, appliances use 120 volts with plug type B. Plugging an appliance into an incorrect voltage outlet can cause an electrical fire. Some multi-voltage appliance models can be adjusted to match the proper current. If not, a “transformer” can be purchased at any major electronics retailer to do the conversion.

Driving in Canada

If you are staying in Canada for less than three months, you can use a valid driver’s licence issued by your country. If you are staying longer than three months, you must obtain an international driver’s licence (IDL) from your country of residence. An IDL is a special licence that allows motorists to drive internationally when accompanied by a valid driver’s licence from their country of residence. You must have this licence when you arrive in Canada; you cannot apply for one once you are here.

Learner’s permits, probationary licences and temporary licences cannot be converted to a Canadian equivalent. Contact the Ministry of Transportation in the province or territory in which you will be living to find out whether you will have the right to drive.

Car rentals are available. Generally, the minimum age to rent is 21 and you must hold a valid driver’s licence. Drivers between 21 and 25 years of age may have to pay a surcharge.

Road rules and driving tips

Throughout Canada and the United States all traffic drives on the right side of the road.
Seat belts for drivers and all passengers must be worn in the front and back of the vehicle, and infants/toddlers must be strapped into a safety seat.
Speed limits in city areas are usually 40 to 60 kilometres per hour (km/h), except in the vicinity of schools where it is reduced to 30 km/h. Where no limit is posted, the maximum is 50 km/h.
Speed limits for rural driving vary, depending on the province/territory, and are set according to local conditions. Generally, speeds are between 90 and 100 km/h. Always check the speed signs when crossing into a neighbouring province/territory.
Pedestrian crosswalks are often marked with overhanging yellow signs and an X or white horizontal lines are painted on the road surface. Pedestrians have the right of way and cars must stop to allow crossing.
Turning right on a red light is permissible at an intersection in every province/territory except for the Island of Montréal in Quebec. Before making a turn, bring the car to a complete stop and make sure that there are no signs forbidding a right turn.
If a police officer signals you to stop, remain seated, switch off the engine and await instructions from the approaching officer.
Always carry your licence and vehicle documentation.
In case of an accident involving personal injury, the police must be notified immediately. They will file an accident report. It is a crime to leave the scene of an accident involving injury without first giving details to the police.
If your vehicle breaks down, roadside assistance is available. The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) will assist members of some international auto clubs. Check with your local auto club for details on coverage when driving in Canada. If driving a rental car, assistance information may be found in the glove compartment.
Ensure that your vehicle is properly equipped for winter driving. It is mandatory in some parts of Canada to have winter tires fitted by a certain deadline.

Business hours

Most businesses are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday and closed on weekends. Most retail outlets and grocery stores are open until 9 p.m. between Monday and Friday, and until 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Note that some retailers are closed Sunday.

The closing time for bars, clubs and restaurants varies from one province/territory to another.

National public holidays in Canada

The following public holidays are observed nationally:

New Year’s Day – January 1
Good Friday or Easter Monday
Canada Day – July 1
Labour Day – first Monday in September
Christmas Day – December 25

Additional public holidays are determined by individual provinces and territories.

Family Day – Third Monday in February (BC 2nd Monday in February)
Victoria Day – the Monday preceding May 25
Civic Holiday – First Monday in August
Thanksgiving – second Monday in October
Remembrance Day – November 11
Boxing Day – December 26

Personal safety

Worldwide surveys show that Canada is a peaceful, safe and orderly country [3]. Despite this, international students should follow the same common sense safety precautions in Canada as they would anywhere in the world.

Here are tips for keeping you and your belongings safe:

Register with the Embassy/Consulate

It is a good idea to register your presence in Canada with your country’s embassy or consulate.

In an emergency

Call 911 in any emergency situation, if you are in trouble or witness to a crime. This is a central number for police, fire and ambulance throughout Canada. You do not need coins to dial 911 from a pay phone. If English is your second language, do not panic. Interpreters are available.
If you are robbed, do not argue or fight. If you are assaulted, shout or blow a whistle to draw attention to your situation. Try to protect your body and distract the attacker so that you can escape. Call 911 immediately.
If you are a victim of a crime, no matter how small, report it to the police.
If you have a non-emergency issue or question for the police, visit or call the police station. Police in Canada are very professional and willing to assist you.

In the community and on the street

Be cautious toward strangers, just as you would anywhere.
Be aware of who and what is going on around you.
Trust your instincts and leave uncomfortable situations.
Some city areas may have higher crime rates than others. Ask advice for the best routes to take when going out.
Always tell someone where you are going and when you will return. 
Always walk on well-lit, busy streets at night. If possible, travel with a friend and avoid isolated areas, such as parks or alleys.

On campus

Most colleges and universities have campus security. This may include patrol cars, 24-hour telephone lines and well-lit areas where you can contact the campus security office.
Some colleges and universities also offer an after-dark “walk home” service where qualified students will walk their peers home or to another location.

On buses, subways and in taxis

Know your bus route and schedule before you leave.
Do not hitchhike.
Taxis are a good way to get home when it is late and dark. Keep a taxi company number handy in your wallet. Canadian taxis should all have running meters showing the cost of the ride. Taxi drivers will not expect to negotiate a price with you.
Many public transportation systems also offer special assistance for those travelling alone at night.
On the train, use the emergency phones on the platform or emergency button if you are ever harassed.

On a bicycle

Helmets are mandatory when riding a bike in Canada. At night, use front and rear bike lights and wear reflective clothing.
Bicycles must ride on the road or on a bicycle path. Sidewalks are for pedestrians only.
There are many clearly labelled bicycle paths in urban areas across Canada. Try to take these as often as possible, and remember to keep to the right side of the road. Your local government office or information centre will have maps.
Traffic rules are the same for bikes as for cars: stop signs, red lights, etc. apply to everyone. You must also remember to signal your turns with your arms.
Lock your bike when leaving it unattended.

Alcohol and other drugs

The legal drinking age varies across the country, but is generally age 18 or 19. Arrange a ride home beforehand if you plan to drink alcohol. Do not accept a ride from a stranger in a bar.
NEVER drink and drive. Doing so is not only dangerous and irresponsible, it is also a serious criminal offence.
Know your drinking limit. 
Do not accept drinks from strangers or let your drink out of your sight. If you do leave it unattended, order a new drink. Drugs can be put into drinks when you are not paying attention.
‘‘Recreational’’ drugs such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana and ecstasy are illegal and involve stiff penalties or prosecution for possession. Do not offer to carry or transport such drugs for others.

Homeless people

Street people will occasionally ask for money. If you want to help them, we suggest you contribute to a charity instead. There are many community agencies throughout Canada that help panhandlers by offering free meals, shelter, and counselling.

Accommodation

When renting accommodation, deal directly with the landlord and pay the damage deposit directly to him or her.
When possible, pay rent with a cheque to have proof of payment, and always ask for a receipt.
Do not let people into apartment buildings if you do not know them. If you are not expecting a repairman, delivery person or salesperson wanting access, refer them to the building manager.
Meet and get to know your neighbours.
Keep your door locked, even when you are home.


Entertainment and media

Like all large metropolitan areas around the world, Canadian cities offer a range of entertainment options. No matter where you plan to live in Canada, you will find many activities to suit your personal tastes. The following is a list of entertainment suggestions and the relevant contact information.

Cinema

Canadian movie theatres are typically large and modern, featuring stadium-style seating. Given the close proximity to the United States, Canada tends to receive new movies immediately following their release dates. A standard adult admission costs approximately CAD 13, though most theatres offer reduced prices on designated nights and student rates are generally available if you show your student card.

Repertory cinemas are often older, smaller venues that show second-run movies at discount prices.

Theatre

Most Canadian cities have wonderful theatres showing a range of musicals and theatrical performances. Broadway shows, such as Cats, Phantom of the Opera and Mamma Mia! circulate through the larger cities such as Vancouver, Toronto and Montréal. Tickets for such productions can be quite expensive.

Major cities usually have a very active amateur theatre community. For those who enjoy drama, theatre is an excellent way to get involved in the local scene and meet new people. Shows are often advertised in local newspapers and tickets for the productions are reasonably priced. Contact your local playgroup or theatre for more information.

More information on major events

Ticketmaster

Television and radio

There are a number of television and radio stations in Canada catering to a variety of tastes.

The major Canadian TV networks in English:

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Canadian Television
Global Television

Canada’s major Francophone TV networks are:

Radio Canada
TVA (Quebec, French only)
TFO (Ontario)
TV5 (French only)

Newspapers

Newspapers, particularly their entertainment sections, are a great way to find out what is going on in a city.

Canada’s two national daily papers:

The Globe and Mail
The National Post

Leading French language newspapers in Canada are:

Le Devoir (French only)
La Presse (French only)
Le Droit (French only)

Visit the Canadian Newspapers Association web site to see a list of daily newspapers in the cities that interest you.

You can buy newspapers at convenience stores and other retail locations, as well as from boxes on streets and campuses.

Alternative newspapers offer a unique perspective on local happenings, featuring classified ads, inexpensive things to see and do, and stories relevant to young people. Look for these publications in the Canadian city where you will live.

Sports and recreation

Canadians love playing and watching sports. Popular sports include hockey, cross-country and alpine skiing, snowboarding, swimming, baseball, tennis, basketball, golf, soccer and curling.

Professional sports

Canada has a number of high-profile sports teams competing in various Canadian and North American leagues. Going to see a live sporting event is a popular pastime for many Canadians. Tickets can be costly.

Major professional sport leagues in Canada include:

The National Hockey League (NHL)
The National Basketball Association (NBA)
The Major League Baseball League (MLB)
The Canadian Football League (CFL)
Canadian Soccer League (CSL)

For more information on tickets to major events visit: Ticketmaster.

Recreational sports

Many Canadians play sports in recreational or competitive leagues throughout the country. Most universities hold their own house leagues for a variety of sports. Joining a sports league is a great way to get involved in university life and stay fit. For information on how to get involved, contact the Sport and Recreation Office at your Canadian institution.

Skiing and snowboarding

Skiing and snowboarding are both popular Canadian pastimes—give it a try!

Canadian ski resorts are renowned worldwide for their quality and beauty and are generally quite accessible from major cities. For example, there are three local mountains within a half-hour drive from Vancouver—Mount Cypress, Grouse and Seymour, while world-famous Whistler-Blackcomb is about two hours away. Quebec boasts excellent skiing at Mont Tremblant, Mont Sainte Anne and others. Collingwood’s slopes are popular in Ontario, just a three-hour drive from Toronto.

The ski season tends to run from early November to April, depending on weather conditions.

Full-day, half-day and night ski lift tickets are available and, although prices vary from resort to resort, they all offer special rates for multiple days pass. For a full-day adult pass expect to pay anywhere from CAD 45 (Mount Seymour) to CAD 90 (Whistler-Blackcomb). All established resorts offer equipment rentals and lessons. Contact the resorts you plan to visit for more detailed information.

Note that proper ski attire will be required to stay warm and enjoy this fantastic winter activity.

Hiking

Hiking is a popular sport in Canada, particularly in the southwest of British Columbia where the climate is conducive to this activity virtually year-round.

The Trans Canada Trail, as the name implies, is a recreational trail connecting every province and territory in Canada. It is open to all cyclists, joggers and cross-country skiers in winter. The trail covers a large part of the country and is constantly being expanded.

Visit the local tourist office in Canada for help choosing hiking trails. Local bookstores sell trail guides that are good sources of information. For your own safety when hiking, let others know when and where you are heading and do not trek into unknown territory. Many universities have hiking clubs, which offer a safe and fun way to explore the Canadian wilderness with knowledgeable guides in a supervised environment.


Overview