Usually when I come to Toronto on vacation I go straight into ‘holiday mode’- that means shopping, wine, dancing and visiting some of my spots. This time though, my first few days have felt very different, and I couldn’t feel further from ‘holiday mode’.
While I am still settling in and creating my new life here, I already feel very at home, and I’m starting to find my feet in a routine similar to one I had at home. I’m very lucky because I have the support of my mum’s cousin, V, and her husband, B, who is letting me live in a beautifully comfortable basement room. I also have her oldest daughter sharing the basement with me, in her own room, which means that I always have the support of someone similar in age if I ever need to talk about anything, or go shopping (or partying!)
I think there are a few things, which were extremely important in the first few days, and will be important to anyone else on a working VISA during their inaugural days in the country.
Getting your SIN: Your SIN is your social insurance number and is vital as without one you can not work. I think, for a Brit, the best way to describe them is as similar to our national insurance number back in the UK.
Of course, like anything with me, it wasn’t straightforward in getting my SIN. I researched the location of the office, on College Street, and V came along with me. She dropped me off outside of the office and looked for a parking spot while I went in and began the process. Turning around, after stepping out of the car, I gazed up at the office. And there, in white lettering said the words “moved location” and a new address. Being that it was only my first day in the city, I didn’t have a cell phone yet, so I couldn’t contact V and let her know. And so I stood, in the cold (although thank God Toronto was mild that day) and waited for V’s return so we could try the suggested location.
With great relief we drove to the second, new location, which, as luck would have it, was just around the corner. Once again, V dropped me off and went to look for a parking spot. This office seemed far more promising, for a start it was open, and there was a couple of people inside waiting. I approached the desk and explained that I was there for my SIN. “This is the wrong office,” said the woman, not a flicker of happiness on her face. “You need to go to the office on college.” But, I had just been to the office on college. That office told me to come here!
Not one to argue, I trotted back out of the store and once again waited for V on the street. She was just as confused as I when I explained, and she went back in to query.
Turns out, we had been to a Service Ontario office- “it’s Service Canada you need”, explained the woman in a monotone voice. This made far more sense, but meant another journey back up to College Street.
I did finally get my SIN, and it was a fairly straightforward process once I actually located the right office. I was asked basic questions about my parents and my current address and date of birth, and then handed my SIN on a piece of paper. The process is nothing to worry about, and so I guess my only piece of advice, and lesson learnt from my experience is to really check the address and office and make sure it is a service Canada office!
Setting up a bank account: Of course this is one of the most important things you can do in a new country. It gives you somewhere to store and access your money, a card so that you can spend and withdrawn, and is necessary when you get a job.
Since you have to pay to withdraw cash from ATMs in Canada, unless it is your own bank, it is a better idea to set up with a bank that has a branch close to where you are living or where you are working. I picked a bank that all of my family are also with. The tellers in the bank have been extremely friendly and helpful, and since I’ve been visiting every single day to sort out depositing cash and various mishaps, they already know me by name. I think we’re going to be great friends (haha!)
The only issue I have ran into with my baking is that I haven’t yet been able to purchase things online, and some stores and establishments have declined my card, as I have a basic debit right now and am still waiting on my credit/debit which I will be able to use online. I am pretty desperate for it though because I want to set up my gym membership and honestly, I’m not sure how much longer this mild weather will hold out and allow for my morning runs before the snow hits- and when it hits boy does it hit hard!
Setting up a cell phone: A Canadian cell phone is necessary for a bunch of reasons. So you can contact friends and family without paying huge costs using your UK plan. So that you have a valid contact number when applying for jobs.
The plans in Canada and their costs vary greatly from those in the UK. In the UK you can find yourself a pretty affordable sim only plan with a great deal of data, calls and texts. However, with only three main providers- Bell, Rogers and Telus- stretching the whole of the country, plans in Canada are far more expensive, and for far less.
I went to a Best Buy cell phone store, where the guy who helped me was totally transparent, friendly and genuinely wanted to get me the best deal that was right for me. Now, most companies here want to see at least one piece of Canadian identification to set up a plan, and this does not include your SIN. Luckily, he recommended a $50 plan with Fido- a cell provider owned by Rogers- who was happy to accept me using my UK proof of identity. My phone was set up straight away and actually, despite the price, it isn’t a bad deal- just lacking a little in data, which I’ll learn to live without.
Finding the right job: I decided to start looking for work before I came to the city, both jobs relating to my journalism degree, which are a little harder to find and a bit of a longer process, and part-time jobs in retail and hospitality to give me a bit of money and something to do while I am setting up. I’m not sure I would even recommend beginning your job hunt before you come to the city. I got lucky, in that I was offered an online interview for a fashion brand, before my arrival. On my arrival I was asked to go along and meet with the manager, which I am due to do today. Who knows how it will turn out, but I think it is important not to rush into the first job you are offered. It’s probably better and to wait and make sure you find the job that best suits your personal needs and schedule. After all, in a new city and country, you want to make the most of being able to explore and meet new people, instead of working all the hours of the day.
Getting on your feet isn’t easy, and I’m pretty lucky I have a good family support system around me. I guess you just have to be organized and do your research and have your wits about you. I suppose it’s pretty lucky that the Canadian’s are some of the nicest people in the world, ‘cause there always seems to be someone ready to help.