Many of them have been asking me to write about my landing experience. Hence, here it is! Hoping you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing about it! 🙂
For the sake of easy reading, I am going to divide this entire post into bite-sized sections catering to specific topics. That will help readers to jump to exactly what they’re looking for.
Please bear in mind that my experience is that of a soft landing. However, the entire duration of my stay in Canada is way longer than most people who fly to only complete their landing formalities so it might be helpful for those moving permanently as well.
During my soft landing, I stayed in Toronto for a total of 80 days, with a primary intention of receiving my PR card before flying back and not having to file for a PRTD when I decide to move back for good.
Hope you find this post helpful. Please feel free to leave your comments below. And if you have better suggestions or ideas to contribute to this post, let me know and I will add it in.
I booked my air tickets mid-December for my travel mid-March. So that’s about 3 months prior to my travel date. Based on a ton of research that I’ve done in the past and going by the ‘x’ number of times that I’ve booked air tickets for international flights online, it works out to be the cheapest when you book your tickets between 60 to 90 days prior to your intended travel date. Some other tips that might help you get a good deal on the air ticket:
- Look for dates to fly out on a Tuesday or Wednesday (and fly in on a Wednesday or Thursday, if booking a return flight). Weekend (Friday and Monday included) flights are comparatively expensive.
- Keep an eye out for online offers. Sites like MakeMyTrip, Yatra, Goomo, Paytm, Akbar Travels constantly have offers going on. See which one suits you best and pick that. Don’t forget to weigh the options and do your math before you decide.
- I highly recommend Akbar Travels for their unbeatable prices. Their USP is refundable tickets at the lowest cost. I always think it’s better to book refundable tickets, just in case you need to cancel or re-book your flight last minute. Most other sites that show up via Skyscanner or Kayak might offer lesser price tickets but note that they are mostly non-refundable AND sometimes you might have to pay in USD which means that you incur an additional cost on the exchange rate at the time of booking. Many people tend to overlook this aspect. The system is built to trick you into believing that you’re getting a good deal but in reality, you’re not. Hence, it’s worthwhile to stick with known and trusted options.
- Transit visa is not required for stopovers in Heathrow or other European / Middle-eastern countries. You only need a transit visa if you’re transiting via the US or if you decide to step out of the airport where you have a layover. I have personally spent 7 – 8 hours on a layover in Heathrow and did not require a transit visa. I’ve also been at the Abu Dhabi airport on a layover and did not need a transit visa. With that said, most websites these days will intimate you about a transit visa at the time of booking. So pay attention to that and needless to say, avoid travel via the US mainly because of the security checks you have to undergo at the airport and the need for a visa.
- As a standard protocol for international flights, most airlines offer 2 pieces of check-in luggage – 23 kgs each and 1 piece of cabin luggage (7 kg) + 1 personal item like a laptop bag or ladies handbag. This is mentioned on your e-ticket so be sure to read that. Recently, many airlines have started altering their baggage allowances for Economy class and now permit only 1 piece of check-in luggage and 1 piece of carry-on. Hence, double check with the airlines before booking!
For initial days in Canada, AirBnB is a really good option. If traveling alone and on a budget, I’ve heard that some hostels are good too. So you can check those out. I will be deep-diving into AirBnB as an option since that’s what I booked for my stay. Mentioned below are few pointers that will help you (hopefully) book a nice place:
- When you like a place on AirBnB, first contact the host to confirm certain things such as the location, proximity to supermarkets, convenience stores, banks, public transit, etc.
- Check the laundry situation. Places that do not have ensuite laundry are slightly cheaper.
- If you’re booking a place for a longer duration (like me), ask for discounts. My host waived off the cleaning fees and also offered some additional discount because I was staying long term.
- While trying to find a place, I contacted numerous hosts on AirBnB and noticed that most of them are not comfortable having guests stay more than 20 days or a month. So it is difficult to find a good place but not impossible. You might have to be willing to go over your budget to get a good deal, holistically speaking.
- Keep an eye on the refund policy for AirBnB. If booking a place for more than 27 days, AirBnB treats it as a “long-term stay”. And the first month of your stay is non-refundable in that scenario. If you want to be on the safer side and prefer to always have the option of refunds, it might be a good idea to book multiple places and cap each stay at 26 days (max). Booking more than one place is also a good idea if you’re slightly unsure of the location or the amenities or facilities offered or if you want to split the cost with another person. AirBnB now offers the option to split costs with people who will be traveling with you. This, however, is available only for stays less than 27 days.
- It’s also a good idea to pick a location in downtown Toronto or near Square One in Mississauga for the initial days as you have banks, supermarkets etc. all within walking distance.
- Pick a place where the owner is available on site or will be there to receive you. I’ve had and seen multiple instances where the host does not live on-site or even in the same city and when you face certain issues at the AirBnB, they don’t care much to resolve it for you. As a newcomer, it also helps to live with a local since you get to learn so much about the Canadian culture and way of life.
- For those on a budget, AirBnB also has options to rent a private room or a shared room. During my stay, I opted for a private room + washroom in a condo close to the downtown area and my hosts were 2 working professionals.
- When renting a condo, please check if the hosts are legally allowed to let out their place on AirBnB. Many listings on AirBnB say “do not mention to the concierge that you’re an AirBnB guest”. This is a red flag. In all likelihood, the host does not own the condo (and is a tenant) trying to make a few extra bucks by listing their apartment on AirBnB. This is not much of a problem if the condo is owned by the person renting it out on AirBnB.
- Always, always, always, read the reviews and then book a place on AirBnB.
- Ask as many questions as you can think of to your host before booking the place. Don’t pay a penny until you’re convinced. Talk to people (other hosts, realtors, friends / family / co-workers based in Canada), gather opinions, analyze your options and then decide.
- If you haven’t used AirBnB before, note that you CANNOT ask your friends / family / relatives to go and check out the place before you book it. This is NOT Kijiji or ViewIt. AirBnB works differently. Doing so can upset the host and he/she may cancel your booking.
- For those moving permanently, booking an AirBnB for the first 3 weeks seems like a reasonable option. During this time, you can go around and look at places to sign a lease. Avoid signing a lease without looking/visiting the place.
- Use Google maps and check the neighbourhood. Evaluate the travel time to the bank, supermarkets, public transit, restaurants, eateries etc. See if that is something you’re comfortable with. Tip : Download maps.me on your phone. It provides navigation options similar to Google maps but its USP is that it works completely offline. In the initial days after landing, when you won’t have internet/data connection on your phone, this is a handy app to have. I used it to get to my AirBnB from the airport after landing since my cab driver did not know the exact location. There are certain neighbourhoods which are considered unsafe or are known to be ghettos – those are the ones you want to avoid. On-ground experience can only be conveyed by someone who’s a local. Therefore, talking to others who have already landed or have been living in Canada for a while definitely helps.
- Ask your host if basic food items will be provided for the initial 1 or 2 days. Many hosts are more than willing to provide it. I think I was very lucky on that front. My host cooked lunch and dinner for me on the day that I landed. Typically you will be jet lagged and very tired to even step out and go to a restaurant to eat. It helps to have some basic things like milk, bread, eggs etc. stocked up. You can even request the host to do that and offer to pay if needed.
- When booking a place, check if there are stairs to get to your room. In all likelihood, you will have a ton of luggage with you and dragging those heavy suitcases up the stairs after a long journey is no joke. Hence, look for places that have elevators or are located at ground level. This would mostly limit your options to condos – which turns out to be more expensive than booking apartments or townhouses etc.
- June or July 2018 onwards basement listings were officially taken off AirBnB. This has created a demand-supply gap and you can expect to pay more since the options will be limited. You will also need to book way beforehand. If you wait until last minute, you may not find good deals. I booked my stay 2 months in advance.
Use my invite link (https://www.airbnb.co.in/c/nfernandes402?currency=CAD) to sign up on AirBnB and get $42 off while booking a stay over $97!
The only principle that applies here is – if you see a good rate, you buy it. I chose BookMyForex and used their services to get some cash and a forex card. The forex card that they provide gives you 3 free withdrawals at ATMs but note that the bank that operates the ATM will levy their own charges in the range of $2 or $3. So technically, nothing is free. I’ve known some banks to refund this amount back to your account but can’t comment on it since I haven’t experienced it first-hand.
Health/Medical Insurance & Travel Insurance:
For those moving to Ontario, since it takes 90 days for OHIP to kick-in, one is required to have coverage for the first 3 months. I picked Bajaj Allianz for medical as well as travel insurance worth USD 200K and paid something in the range of INR 6.6K for it.
If you’re moving permanently, please note that you need to go and register for OHIP at the earliest. This can be done at Service Ontario. The insurance, however, will apply only after the 90 day wait period is over.
I have heard of some other insurance options that are available locally for newcomers and where you don’t have to pay. But I’m not sure of the details and what aspects they cover. If this interests you, perhaps you can do a bit more research on it or ask around.
If you’re moving permanently, there are some really good paid options as well. It’s also worthwhile to consider a Canadian insurance company in this scenario. From my research, Manulife seemed like a good bet.
Airline Pre-boarding Experience:
Pre-boarding experience with Air Canada was smooth. They allow online check-in 24 hours prior to departure and that’s when you can pick the seats as well. I was really tensed because one of my bags was overweight but I didn’t face any issue at check-in. I was carrying 2 check-in bags; my second bag was smaller and much lesser in weight than 23 kgs. So overall, I was still within the 46 kg limit.
Upon checking-in online, I was pleasantly surprised to find that for cabin baggage I was allowed 2 items of up to 10 kgs each. On my e-ticket, this was 7 kgs. Further, at the airport check-in counter, they did not actually measure the dimensions of the bag. They only weighed both my bags together and never spoke anything about the overweight bag. Cabin baggage was not measured or weighed. I was carrying a giant backpack and another handbag that contained 2 laptops.
I also wanted to add here that I’ve previously traveled with Etihad to the US via Abu Dhabi and I’ve traveled with British Airways to Vancouver via Heathrow. On both occasions, my check-in baggage dimensions were not measured and cabin bags were not weighed. This was, of course, a while ago. So I’m not sure how much things have changed now.
At Mumbai airport, I arrived 4 hours prior to departure and there was barely anybody there for security screening as well as immigration. I got through both in less than 30 mins. So my advice is, if you’re carrying a lot of bags (which, I presume most of you will), it’s better to arrive early at the airport.
Many people have reported that immigration officers ask you weird questions. Just wanted to let you’ll know that nothing as such happened to me on this journey. But on my previous trips overseas, they did ask me general trivia about the place I was visiting. So you never know! The immigration officer asked me a single question – the purpose of my trip. I responded with 3 words – immigrating to Canada. And that was the end of it.
Air Canada In-flight Experience (Direct Flight from Mumbai to Toronto):
The flight was decent. Plenty of food was served – 3 rounds of meals. And there were snacks and beverages available in the galley throughout the flight. So one thing’s for sure – you won’t be hungry. Children were given some toys to play with. And all the kids on the flight seemed to be very happy.
Seats were comfortable for me; I’m 5’3″. But someone taller might face issues. Cabin crew was amazing and very helpful. I don’t know why there was so much of criticism and negative reviews about this flight.
I found it to be just fine and I would totally fly with Air Canada again!
Landing Experience At Toronto Airport:
The Air Canada flight take-off from Mumbai was delayed by 1 hour 45 minutes. So instead of landing at 5:30 am ET, we landed at 7 am ET. This, if you ask me, was a blessing in disguise as I wanted to make sure that I get the SIN at the airport itself and the Service Canada counters at the airport don’t open until 6:30 – 7 am.
Landing cards are distributed in the plane itself. So be sure to fill it out if you’re landing in Terminal 1 as there are no automated kiosks there. If you’re landing in Terminal 3, it’s not mandatory to fill the card since you will have to enter that information on the kiosk and print out a receipt anyway. Air Canada lands in Terminal 1 so I had to fill out the card.
Next, you take the card and go to immigration in the regular visitors’ queue. There, you will be asked only one question – the purpose of visit. Again, I said the exact same thing that I told the Mumbai immigration officer – that I’m immigrating to Canada. The officer scribbled something in multi-color pens on my declaration/landing card and directed me to the newcomer arrival hall. Over there you have to stand in a queue wait your turn. I was lucky to have just 2-3 people ahead of me. When it’s your turn, you walk up to the officer and present your passport, declaration card, and COPR. The officer will ask you some basic questions that you’ve already answered on the landing card. You will then be asked to mark your initials at 2-3 places on the COPR and sign on it. You will also be asked about how much funds you have access to. Note that typically the officer won’t ask to actually see the documentation for it but better to have it handy just in case. For me, since I was carrying cash and a forex card, I told the officer that I had ‘x’ amount in cash, ‘y’ amount in a forex card, and ‘z’ amount in my Indian bank accounts. He just totaled it all up and wrote it down on one of the forms.
Since many people have been asking, I’m specifying it here – Firstly, there is no minimum or maximum limit to how much funds you need to or can carry. Just remember that as far as cash goes, you have to declare anything that’s equivalent of CAD 10K or more. Standard RBI regulations permit individuals to carry cash of up to USD 3,000 (approx. CAD 3,700) per year out of India. So as long as you’re within that range there’s no problem and you do not need to declare anything to the authorities. If you’re immigrating, you obviously can carry more than the stipulated amount in cash, the difference is just that you will have to declare it at the airport in India as well as in Canada. For Forex card, there is no limit and you don’t need to declare it. Authorities are only more concerned about hard cash. Secondly, when the officer asks you how much funds you have access to, they mean “liquid funds” that can be accessed immediately if you need it. Therefore, if you have money locked up in PF or PPF or Mutual Funds or any other investment schemes back home in India, that will not count towards your liquid funds.
Moving on, in my case, I had 2 questions for the officer. I asked him if I could use my Visitor Visa to enter Canada if I left before receiving my PR Card. And I asked him about submitting new photos for the PR card since the one on my COPR was taken more than 6 months ago and I wanted to avoid resubmitting it at a later point. For my first question, the officer actually said that I can use my visitor visa to re-enter Canada if I didn’t have my PR card. He was also not sure about accepting my new photos. I politely requested him to double-check with someone else just to be sure. He then asked me to have a seat and called me back in about 10 minutes or so. He confirmed that I will need a PRTD to re-enter Canada and that the visitor visa is now invalid. He also accepted my new photos and stapled it to my application. Then I was told the coveted words – “Welcome to Canada” 🙂 and was directed towards the SIN counter. Side Note: Experience with that officer was interesting as he didn’t seem to know some basic things. My guess is he was new on the job. So hopefully you get an officer who’s experienced enough to know what he/she is doing.
For the SIN, it’s a fairly straightforward process. You fill out a short form with your parents’ maiden names and submit that. They will generate your SIN and walk you through the do’s and don’ts.
Once this is complete, you take the filled-out Form 186 (also known as B4 or Goods Accompanied) / 186A (also known as B4A or Goods-to-follow) and go to customs. This is at the exit point of the airport. I did not have any goods-to-follow, so it was only Form B4 for me. The officer actually told me that since there were no goods-to-follow, I did not need to get the B4 stamped. But then he said that since I have it all filled out, he will stamp it for me. The officer also explained that if you’re bringing jewelry with you, that is more important to get stamped. And if you have a goods-to-follow list, that is important too.
The proper method to filling out Form B4 is to have supporting excel sheets with detailed breakdown for each category of goods. The main Form only allows up to 8 categories to be listed. So you need to club similar things together and list it as a specific category.
After this, you are free to leave the airport. I headed out and took a fixed rate cab. There were light flurries of snow and since I’d never seen snow before I found it to be very exciting. On the way to my AirBnB, I also saw a rainbow in the sky. That felt like a good sign and was very reassuring that moving to Canada was indeed the right decision.
Setting-up A Bank Account:
First and foremost, you need to make an appointment before visiting the branch. Most of the bank websites give you that option. Try to set up an appointment at least 2 weeks prior to the intended visit date. For supporting documents, you will need passport, COPR, and SIN.
I opened an account with RBC. Based on the research that I did, it was the best option. For those interested, here is the spreadsheet I made that provides an in-depth comparison of Canada’s Big 5 banks.
RBC offered me a credit card of $2,000 (which will take up to 2 weeks to arrive), a temporary debit card on the spot which can be used to withdraw money at an ATM (I received the actual card, also known as “client card” in the mail within 5 business days; the temporary debit card cannot be used for online shopping or cannot be swiped in stores. It is meant for use only at RBC ATMs to withdraw cash). They also provided a virtual debit card (without the magnetic strip) which can be used for online shopping. I received this card in about 20 days from landing. My banking advisor also set up my online banking account and it was fully functional in real time. Since I was carrying a Forex card, I was advised to do a ‘cash advance’ so I don’t have to withdraw the money from an ATM and then deposit it into my account. Overall, I spent about 2 hours at the bank but walked out as a happy customer.
I was told that I should consider associating my monthly phone bill with my credit card so that the credit history starts to build up. I’ve elaborated more on this in the “Getting a Canadian Phone Number” section below.
Getting a Canadian Phone Number:
Rogers, Bell, and Telus are the Big 3 telecom providers in Canada. They have a bunch of sister companies that offer low-cost alternatives. I will provide more details on Rogers since that’s the one I opted for.
Rogers has 2 other low-cost alternatives viz., Fido and Chatr. Rogers is the most expensive, mid-tier option is Fido and the cheapest one is Chatr. This information is based on what the in-store salesperson told me.
As far as data connectivity goes, Rogers provides LTE speed. Fido provides 3G/4G speed and Chatr provides 3G speed with occasional 4G connectivity in specific areas. This is the differentiating factor when it comes to the price point and why they are cheaper than Rogers. If you’re all about speed and super fast connectivity, you need Rogers. If you’re on a budget and don’t mind the 3G/4G speed, then pick Fido. For network coverage, you don’t need to worry because Fido and Chatr, both operate off Rogers’ towers so the coverage is more or less the same. The salesperson also told me to avoid Freedom since their coverage is spotty.
I wanted to provide some advice here – in Canada it’s worthwhile to build loyalty and relationship with your service providers. Over 1 or 2 years, you will start to reap the benefits. This was told to me by my bank advisor as well as the in-store salesperson at Rogers. Rogers’ systems were down when I went to get the SIM, so I spent more than 1.5 hours over there. I utilized that time to ask questions, make small talk, and understand how things worked over there.
I learned that if you opt for a (postpaid) month-to-month plan and change your mobile plan before 3 months, that can negatively affect your credit rating. So be very careful with which plan you choose and stick to it for at least 3 months. Then you are free to switch. This does not apply to the pay-as-you-go plans. If you choose pay-as-you-go (prepaid plan) option, it won’t help you build a credit history. For newcomers, a phone bill is something which can easily help you get started with building a healthy credit rating. So opting for the monthly plan seems like a good option.
For those who are curious, I picked the $80 a month business plan by Rogers that offers 2GB data and Canada-wide and local unlimited calling and texting. My plan is to slowly and steadily build good credit. All the chit-chat while waiting at Rogers actually helped and they gave me a business account even when I am not a business customer. Having a business account has certain perks that normal individual accounts do not have; especially when you’re spending the same amount of money on a plan.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to be able to strike a conversation and make small talk over here. You will find everyone is very talkative and to some, it might come across as a culture shock. In all my interactions thus far, at the bank and the phone store, I spent more than 15-20 minutes just talking about the weather, my previous visits to Canada and what I plan on doing in the next few weeks.
Using Indian SIM in Canada:
I have an Airtel pre-paid SIM and it’s working fine in Canada. Airtel latches on to Rogers or Bell network and their network coverage anywhere is excellent. Hence, nothing to worry about. I’ve turned off data so I don’t incur any additional charges. I did some utility bill payments online using my Indian bank accounts and I had no problems in receiving the OTP. So far I haven’t been charged any roaming fees. But few people have reported that there is an (approx.) INR 100 fee per month that gets deducted from your balance. So better to have a decent balance. To know for sure, I guess, I’ll have to wait and watch. I will update this post when any such thing happens.
For those moving permanently and wanting to keep your Indian SIM active, it might be worthwhile to check this article. It’s dated (written in 2011) but gives you the gist more or less. According to it, prepaid customers need to do a recharge at least once every 2 months to keep their connection active. Certain revisions were made to this regulation, and the latest one (published in 2013) is currently in effect. You can read details about it on the TRAI website. According to the revised regulation –
- The telecom provider cannot disconnect your connection for “non-usage” in a timeframe less than 90 days or 3 months. Within this 90 day period, there has to be some activity on your phone number. Things that constitute “activity” are: incoming or outgoing voice call / video call, outgoing SMS, data usage, or usage of value-added services, and
- There cannot be a deactivation if the prepaid balance is INR 20 or more.
So basically, to keep your connection “active” while in Canada, all you need to do is show some activity and maintain a balance of more than INR 20. That’s it!
Using the Public Transit (Street Car):
I got a Presto card on the second day of landing. It’s available at Shopper’s Drug Mart. The card costs $6 and you can top it up with whatever amount you like. Comes across extremely handy while using public transport. Be sure to register it online so you can manage your account from there. And save the receipts for tax purposes. Apparently, there’s some kind of refund / rebate that you can claim for using public transit. I read that there are some changes regarding the refund that have been implemented. You can read more about it here.
Tracking the Status of your PR Card Application:
Ever since I landed, I’ve not been able to link my PR card to my CIC account. Note that this is perfectly normal and not a cause for concern. I interacted with a few others who happened to call CIC in this matter and they were told that newcomers are not required to link their first PR Card application to their account online. There are some merits to linking the application online such as getting to know when your card has been “approved” and dispatched. But unfortunately, not everyone is able to link their applications. Photo re-submission requests are also very common and you would typically receive that via email about 5-8 days prior to the average processing time denoted on the CIC site. I received my PR card within 55 days and did not get a photo request. I did submit new photographs at the time of landing since my original photos on the CoPR were over 6 months old and there was a slight discrepancy with the photo specs. However, CIC used my original photo on my PR card and not the new ones that I had submitted.
Driving License / Photo ID:
I do not have much idea on this topic as I’ve not gone through the whole process myself. I’ve been driving for less than 2 years in India so didn’t think it was worthwhile to get the license extract and then speed up the process here. Part of the reason is also that I am looking at settling in the downtown area and won’t be needing a car. Therefore, for now, I decided to not invest time and money in getting a local driving license.
If you intend on getting a driving license in Toronto immediately after landing, and if you have sufficient driving experience back home, you might want to consider getting the driving extract. It will allow you to skip the lower levels in driving and directly apply for the G test.
One thing what I would like to point out here is that it’s important to have a photo ID. And there are 2 well-recognized photo ID proofs here in Ontario viz., driving license and the Ontario Photo Card. So if like me, you don’t plan on getting a driving license soon, you might want to get the Ontario photo card which is available at Service Ontario. It costs $35 and is delivered between 4 to 6 weeks by mail.
To sum it all up, I’d like to say that go through all the experiences that you read online on Facebook forums or WhatsApp groups and elsewhere and use that to create a rough plan of what you need. Then once you get to Canada, go to the banks / stores and talk it out with the agents there. Then decide what’s best for you. Believe it or not, the salespeople here actually want to help you out. So let them. Choose professional advice over amateur ones. For instance, don’t pick a phone plan just because someone else did and they paid peanuts for it. What works for them might not work for you. So read, understand, discuss and make an informed decision.
Wishing you all the very best with your move to Canada! And if there’s anything I can assist you with, please do reach out. 🙂