Destination Spotlight: A Canadian Overview for Expats 11.15.2016 | Laura Levenson

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Canada is the second largest country in the world by area, but has a population of only 36 million people. With a relatively small (and aging) population, Canada’s need for expats to fill key roles continues to pose challenges, a problem exacerbated by governmental roadblocks to immigration.

Companies are required to complete a rigorous process to prove the need for expats to fill positions, with significant penalties leveled against any corporation or company that tries to circumvent these rules.

The CERC (Canadian Employee Relocation Council) continues to be a strong advocate for the Mobility sector in Canada, and is working actively with the Canadian government in trying to streamline the process and removing some of the obstacles present so as to make it easier for companies to attract and bring in foreign workers to Canada.

So what should an expat expect to find in Canada? Read on to find out.

People and culture

The most populous cities are Toronto (in the province of Ontario), Montreal (Quebec), Vancouver (British Columbia), Calgary (Alberta), Ottawa (Ontario, and the nation’s capital), Edmonton (Alberta), Winnipeg (Manitoba) and Halifax (Nova Scotia). It is estimated that 80% of the population of Canada live in a concentrated area of cities and towns within 100 kilometres of the U.S. border. Immigration remains a significant driver of Canada’s population growth. China and India are Canada’s two largest sources of immigrants, but others include Korea, the Middle East and Western Asia. The country’s official policy of multiculturalism allows people to celebrate their ethnic heritage as well as promotes racial and social harmony. The effect has created a diversity of cultures, with people of all ethnicities and religious backgrounds living together. Vancouver and Toronto are the two most culturally diverse cities in Canada.


The Canadian economy is stagnant at the time of this writing, with minimal growth of .5-1%. The largest sectors in the Canadian economy are natural resources, manufacturing and services.
Mining and Forestry have typically dominated British Columbia and the west coast. Alberta has massive amounts of oil and natural gas, and has been reliant on the energy sector for some time. However, the downward spiral in oil prices has rocked the Alberta economy, and as a result has stalled the Canadian economy, overall.

The prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and parts of Alberta produce more than 20% of the world’s wheat. Alberta is also a large producer and exporter of Beef.

Ontario and Quebec are the industrial centre of Canada with a variety of manufactured goods, including paper, technological equipment, automobiles, food and clothing. The Niagara region in Ontario is also world famous for its wine production.

The maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland rely heavily on fishing and natural resources (timber, off shore oil) for their economies.

Real estate has become a huge challenge in Toronto and Vancouver. Housing costs have reached astronomical levels, largely in part to foreign (and non-resident) investors from abroad. Vancouver has instituted a 15% non-resident tax on home buyers, which has seen a decrease in house prices in Vancouver. A similar plan is being considered in Toronto, as condominium construction is at an all-time high. On the flip side, housing costs are dropping in Alberta, most significantly in Calgary as a result of the dramatic drop in the price of oil.

The good news is that temporary accommodations and rental housing are readily available for most parts of Canada, especially in all metropolitan centres. Due to good inventory levels, expats can expect to find competitive pricing for their choices and budgets, but challenges can still exist when trying to nail down the perfect space for one’s lifestyle and budget, especially for longer-term residences. For families with children, school boundaries often become the priority in determining which neighbourhood to live in, as that will dictate the schools their children can attend.


Canada has a good (and improving) education system. Education is provided for children from kindergarten to Gr. 12 at no extra cost (paid for through taxation) to families.

There are an increasing number of cultural and other private schools aimed at catering to particular cultural, religious and ethnic segments of the population, especially in larger city centres.

Canada also has a number of International Baccalaureate schools that are available to expat children that allows them to gain their education based on worldwide specifications, thereby allowing for a smoother transition to similar schools in other countries.

Lastly, Canada has a vast and well recognized community of Private and Boarding schools. Fees for these can be quite expensive, and acceptance is often based on academic performance, and not simply ability to afford.

Health Care

Health care is provincially administered and is available to all residents of Canada. For expats, there is typically a 3 month wait, for which time companies usually provide private coverage for their employees. Canada’s health care system is generally admired by others, as it is largely free to all its citizens and legal residents in the country. As with all public services, and with an ageing population, demands on the system are increasing but it is still considered as one of the best in the world.

Surprises when moving to Canada

  • Housing budgets: Housing budgets are key. Often times expats have unrealistically low budgets set for what they are looking for. Of course, Canada is a large country and this will vary by region, but realistic budgets need to be set for most metropolitan centres, especially Toronto and Vancouver. For families with schooling considerations, one can expect to pay more for housing in sectors with better rated schools. Proximity to roadways, transit and city centres will also drive pricing higher, both for rentals and purchases.
  • Cost of Living: While Canadians consider their cost of living to be high, expats often have mixed feelings and it is dependent on where they come from. Some feel it is lower, others higher. But all need to be made aware that Canadians incur heavy taxation on the goods and services they purchase. The stated price of goods do not include taxes, and the final price can be as much as 15% higher after taxes, depending on location. For some commodities like gasoline, taxes are already included in the posted price at the pumps, but generally expect to pay extra when checking out.
  • Drivers Licence: There are about 18 countries (including the USA and Great Britain) that Canada has reciprocal agreements that allow drivers licences from those countries to be exchanged for a valid provincial drivers licence in Canada. For all others, drivers from other countries are required to go through a driving and other tests in order to get a valid Canadian driver’s license.
  • The Metric system: Canadians have generally combined the metric and imperial systems. Distances are posted metric units (Kilometers), temperatures in Celsius, gas pumps in Litres, but Canadians typically discuss weights in Pounds, height in Feet and Inches and sizes of homes in square feet. And to firmly demonstrate this hybridization of the two systems, most cooking ranges and ovens use Fahrenheit, and TV set sizes are stated in inches, but temperatures on those TV channels quoted in Celsius. Expats should take this into consideration, checking on sizes and electrical currents when bringing any appliances into Canada.

In Summary

Canada is an advanced nation that excels in technology, manufacturing and has an immense wealth of natural resources. It boasts some of the largest banks in the world, and is generally seen as having a stable (if currently somewhat stagnant) economy. It is a very diverse and multicultural population, especially in the larger cities, and a country embracing and tolerant of people of different races and ethnicities, as well as a recognized haven for the LGBT community.

Canada is still considered extremely safe, but with increasing gun and other violence challenges as are being experienced the world over. Canada is continuously surveyed to be among the top places in the world to live.

Thanks to WelcomeHome Relocations for their assistance in gathering much of the information presented here.

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Written by Laura Levenson


Laura Levenson is a Practice Leader in Weichert Workforce Mobility’s Advisory Services group. She has worked in management capacities for workforce mobility and Big Four firms, and is well-versed in bringing clarity to the most pressing global talent deployment challenges. She brings over 25 years of experience to her role and is a frequent speaker on the mobility conference circuit.

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