Is Canada a Good Place to Live? (as a Foreigner)
Is Canada a good place to live? What are the pros and cons of living here?
These are the questions that you might be asking if you’re considering Canada to be your new home country.
Canada consecutively ranks in the top 10 best places to live in the world, and rightly so.
This country in the great north is known for its natural beauty – from vast forests and mountain ranges to beautiful pristine lakes and rivers. And, of course, exceptional hockey.
Canada offers a high standard of living, with modern infrastructure, a low crime rate, a clean environment, a strong economy, decent healthcare and education system.
Although Canada is a great place to live, it’s not perfect by any means.
My partner and I moved to Canada from South Africa and Slovakia, and since then, we lived in Alberta, British Columbia and Nova Scotia. After experiencing both Western and Eastern Canada, we can provide a pretty well-rounded perspective of the pros and cons of living in Canada.
Read on to find out more about why Canada is a good place to live from our expat perspective.
But we’ll look not only into the good but also the bad and the ugly.
Read more about living in Canada:
Best Province to Live in Canada For New Immigrants
Pros and Cons of Living in Prince Edward Island
List of Pros and Cons of Living in Toronto
Get ready for your new chapter in Canada with our New to Canada guide.
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PROS and CONS of Living in Canada
PRO: Friendly People
When you move to a new country, it’s normal to feel a bit isolated or lonely. One of the concerns might be how well you’ll be received by locals. But you don’t have to worry about any of that in Canada.
We felt welcomed from day one, no matter which corner of the country we explored.
The Canadians have a reputation in the world for saying “sorry” and “eh” way too often. They also love getting coffee from “Timmie’s” (Tim Horton). But all stereotypes aside, Canadians are some of the friendliest and most welcoming people we’ve ever met.
Upon arriving, we were surprised by the conversations, curiosity and hospitality we encountered from everyday people.
Whether it was our landlords who invited us for Christmas dinner or exchanging a few words with random people in the street and neighbors. We appreciate the warmth and kindness of Canadians that we experienced firsthand.
You might be interested in:
10 Easy Way to Find Friends in Canada
PRO: Recreational Centers and Lakes On Every Corner
Almost every town in Canada has a recreational center. We love spending afternoons relaxing in the hot tub, pool and sauna.
Even better is if you find hot springs. Canada has many gorgeous hot springs sprinkled across the country.
On top of that, Canada has more lakes than anywhere else in the world. 563 lakes larger than 100 km,2 to be precise.
That’s an insane amount of drinkable water (18% of the entire world’s fresh lake water supply) and a source of endless fun.
Whether you want to go kayaking, swimming, boating on the lake, or just relax and enjoy the view.
If it’s wintertime, Canadians don’t let that stop them from enjoying the outdoors — ice skating is a popular pastime in Canada, and there are plenty of picturesque frozen ponds where you can glide around with your ice skates!
Some of the most postcard-perfect lakes are in the Canadian Rockies, such as iconic turquoise blue Lake Louise, Lake Morraine or Emerald Lake.
That might be the only inspiration you need to start packing your bags to Canada.
PRO: World-Class Libraries and Education
Canada’s education system is one of the best in the world.
Over 60% of Canadians have some form of post-secondary education.
There are many reasons why the Canadian education system is considered world-class. One of them is the high standards that are set for educators. The teachers in Canada are highly qualified.
Another reason is that the curriculum is constantly being updated to keep up with the latest trends and developments in the world. For example, in recent years, there has been an increased focus on STEAM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics).
Canada’s education system also offers a lot of flexibility. Students can choose from various post-secondary programs that suit their needs and interests.
Many Canadian universities are prestigious and well-respected worldwide and have produced top scholars, scientists and entrepreneurs.
Canadian libraries are constantly innovating and adapting to new modern technologies.
For example, a library in Toronto offers 3D printing, robotic kits and even a podcasting studio, amongst many other things.
PRO: Great Outdoors
Canada is undoubtedly a beautiful country with the great outdoors. From the snow-capped Rocky Mountains to the fishing villages of the Maritimes, there’s always something new to explore.
Approximately 90% of the land is uninhabited and comprises of raw wilderness with mountains, forests, lakes and hot springs. And, of course, lots of wildlife.
We’ve spent about two years living in the Canadian Rockies, and seeing a herd of elk grazing grass along the roads or having the road blocked by mountain goats was a normal everyday occurrence and part of the fun.
Canada is a paradise for outdoor activities. Hiking, camping, kayaking, fishing and skiing are just some of the many activities that you can enjoy here.
I could probably write another 1000 words just describing the natural beauty of Canada. But in short, the nature here is breathtaking and one of the main pros of living in Canada.
PRO: Abundance Of Job Opportunities
Canada has the 10th largest economy in the world, which means countless job opportunities in multiple industries, especially trades, healthcare, IT, service and hospitality industry.
We feel like Canada is a place that gives you support and many opportunities to grow, and this sense of inclusion encourages many to contribute towards making Canada a better country.
This is one of our favorite reasons for living here.
You can check the latest unemployment rate statistics here.
PRO: Cultural Diversity
Canada is truly a multicultural country that sees diversity as an advantage rather than a drawback.
Immigration to Canada over the past 100 years has shaped the country, with each new wave of immigrants adding to its cultural richness.
Today, Canada is home to dozens of ethnic groups and nationalities. Each one of these contributes to the overall mosaic of Canadian society.
Many people weren’t born here but instead chose Canada as a place to live; therefore, you rarely feel like a stranger.
You’ll find different types of international cuisines on every corner, especially in big cities like Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. Canada also has plenty of multicultural festivals that celebrate the richness of each culture.
PRO: Universal HealthCare
Canada has a universal healthcare system.
Every province or territory in Canada has its own healthcare plan, which provides all residents with reasonable access to medical services, including hospital visits and access to doctors.
Even if you’re only a temporary resident or temporary worker, you can apply for provincial healthcare.
Bear in mind that not all healthcare expenses are covered by the Canadian government, so it might be a good idea to get your own health insurance as well. The Canadian healthcare system doesn’t cover prescription drugs, home care or long-term care, prescription glasses or dental care.
Sometimes, your employer provides additional medical benefits to cover these medical expenses. But nonetheless, no one in Canada is ever denied healthcare for financial reasons, which is a big plus.
PRO: Climate with Four Seasons
I’m not sure about you, but I love the change of seasons. My favorite season in Canada is autumn. Canada in autumn is seriously hard to beat. I love the red maple leaves, pumpkin spice flavors and soups.
Some people aren’t big fans of long and cold winters, but it doesn’t really bother us.
Each season offers something unique and interesting. From spring flowers to summer festivals, autumn colors and skiing in winter.
PRO: Safety and High Quality of Life
According to the Global Peace Index in 2022, Canada was ranked as the 12th most peaceful nation in the world regarding safety. Check this link for the latest statistics on safety.
U.S. News ranked Canada number 7 in 2022.
After traveling and living in multiple countries across the globe, we understand that having a safe place to live is a big factor that contributes to the quality of life, and it’s something that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Some other factors that contribute to the high quality of living are access to green spaces, a clean environment, job security and options for entertainment.
Canada ticks all these boxes for us, and this is why we’ve decided to call it our home.
But every country also has its shadow side, and Canada is no exception. It’s important to be aware of both pros and cons of living in Canada to make an informed decision about whether Canada is the right place for you.
So let’s dive into not so idyllic part of living in Canada. Shall we?
CON: High Cost of Living
The cost of living varies considerably depending on the province and the city where you live in.
But overall, one of the biggest shocks in terms of pricing was car insurance, cell phone plans and domestic flights.
What totally sucks is that auto insurance companies often don’t acknowledge your previous foreign driving history. That means, initially, you might be considered a new driver and spend a lot more on auto insurance premiums.
What I spend here on car insurance in a month is equivalent to how much I’d spend on car insurance for an entire year in Slovakia!
Because of the long winters, a lot of food produce in Canada is imported. That also means a higher markup on food and reduced freshness.
Taxes can be pretty steep too. (But more on that later.)
That said, you also earn more here, so the higher living costs would be balanced by having a higher income. If you’re savvy and know how to budget, you’ll be just fine.
CON: Overpriced Cell Phone and Data Plans
There are only three major phone service providers in Canada – Rogers, Bell and Tellus. Koodoo is owned by Telus. Fido is owned by Rogers.
Due to a lack of competition, each of these main phone providers offers almost identical services for almost identical prices.
According to CanSumer, Canadians pay 20% more than Americans and 170% more than Australians on their cell phone plans on average.
For this reason, it might be better to opt for pre-paid sim cards, such as Lucky or Virgin Mobile.
CON: Hassle with Foreign Credentials
Resuming your professional career in Canada might not be as easy as you expect.
Get ready to start from scratch, as it may be difficult to have your previous qualifications and credentials recognized.
In Canada, about 20% of jobs are regulated. This includes jobs such as nurses, teachers, engineers, psychologists, accountants, lawyers and many others.
If your profession falls under the regulated category, you’ll need to redo your licensing or obtain a new local accreditation. Every province has slightly different regulations, so it’s best to double-check that, depending on where you choose to live.
On top of that, you might have to go through the hassle of getting your foreign qualification verified.
An Educational Credentials Assessment (ECA) will be necessary for this qualification recognition process.
An ECA is also frequently needed for immigration applications, so you may already have one on hand before moving to Canada.
There are a few agencies that can help you with this verification process. I used World Education Services (WES).
If your profession is unregulated, you might find it a lot easier and smoother to transition into your job field here in Canada.
Still unsure about where to lay your roots in Canada? Check this article about best province to live in Canada, where we go into the pros and cons of each province.
CON: Expensive Domestic Flights
In Europe, you get spoiled with an abundance of low-cost flight options.
We used to go on spontaneous weekend getaways to Amsterdam, London or Barcelona, and the flights would cost us less than $50.
This is, unfortunately, not the case in North America. Due to Canada’s large size and lack of budget airlines, domestic flights will cost you an average of 400 CAD roundtrip.
Sometimes it’s cheaper to fly from Toronto to a city in the USA than to take a direct flight from Toronto to Vancouver.
These inflated prices put a damper on spontaneous travel adventures.
With that being said, Canada is perfectly suited for epic road trips. We’ve loved road-tripping in British Columbia and the Canadian Rockies. A road trip is one of the best ways to explore Canadian natural beauty and cover large distances.
In this article, we share all the tips for van life in Canada.
CON: Government Overreach
Although Canada is a highly organized and functional country, a lot of Canadians and expats alike feel that there are way too many regulations and restrictions.
For example, when it comes to building permits.
Many required building permits make it much more difficult and more expensive to build a home.
This also significantly slows down the entire house-building process.
Just for comparison, getting building permits in Canada takes, on average, three times longer than in the United States.
CON: Price Tags Without Tax
What may come as a surprise to many newcomers is that in Canada, the price tags don’t include tax.
I remember shopping in the supermarket for the first time and thinking at check out that the total doesn’t seem right.
This was simply because I didn’t take into account the added sales tax.
What makes it even more complicated is that each province has its own sales tax.
This can be super confusing to newcomers who are used to prices that include tax.
But once you get used to it, it’s not a big deal. It’s just something to keep in mind when you budget.
CON: Inflated Housing Prices
In recent years, Canadian housing prices have skyrocketed, making it increasingly difficult for people to afford a home, especially in major Canadian cities like Vancouver in Toronto.
Many Canadians spend a larger percentage of their income on rent or high mortgage payments, which puts strain on families and individuals.
Due to inflated housing prices, it’s especially challenging for first-time home buyers to enter the real estate market.
We will just have to keep our fingers crossed that the housing market doesn’t continue to spiral out of control.
Fortunately, you can still find a few cheaper options in certain provinces or outskirts of towns, so it’s not totally hopeless.
CON: Harsh Winters
It’s no secret that Canada has some of the coldest and snowiest winters in the world. If you’re not used to freezing temperatures, it might be a bit of an adjustment.
Brace yourself for temperatures below -10C and stock up on warm winter clothes. You’ll also need to get used to chipping the ice off your car windshield and shoveling your car out after a blizzard.
Winters can be quite long, often lasting from November to April, especially out west (Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan)
The Canadian climate may not agree with everyone, but if you love winter and winter slopes, it’s pure joy.
If you don’t like chilly weather, you can escape to Vancouver, Halifax, or the Okanagan region, which have some of the mildest climates in Canada.
CON: High Taxes
The downside of Canadian social welfare is paying high taxes to fund all the social benefits.
As a Canadian resident, you’ll pay income tax, property tax, provincial tax, sales tax and more.
Your taxes are calculated depending on how much you earn. The higher the income, the higher the tax bracket you fall under.
Some of the highest taxes are in Quebec, while some of the lowest are in Alberta.
In Quebec, people who earn over CA$225 000 a year pay a whopping 53.3 % income tax. That’s half of the total income!
To be fair, most Canadians don’t fall into this tax bracket. The typical Canadian family pays, on average 24 percent tax, according to Broadbent.
CON: Poorly Connected Cities Across Canada
Outside cities, public transport is almost non-existent in Canada. If you travel long distances, you don’t have many other options besides a car or plane.
Canada is the second-largest country in the world by landmass (after Russia), with a relatively small population of 38 million.
It’s quite financially challenging to put together a solid public transport infrastructure for this level of vastness. It’s likely that even with more buses and trains, people would still choose to drive a car instead. Simply because it’s more convenient.
But, if you live in one of the major Canadian cities, the public transit is decent.
Every major city has a public transit system in place, and there are also many bike rental and ridesharing companies that make it easier to get around.
What I don’t like is that you need to have an exact amount in cash to buy a bus ticket directly on the bus.
Nevertheless, having a car is a necessity. Even better is to get a camper van to save on accommodation when you go on adventures.
CON: High Banking Fees
Banking fees in Canada can be significantly higher compared to many other countries anywhere else in the world.
The monthly fees just to keep your money in the bank account are pretty high. Not to mention other fees for banking transactions, overdrafts or ATM withdrawals.
But luckily, this doesn’t need to be your reality.
The good news is that there are other affordable banking solutions for newcomers, as well as zero-fee online banking alternatives.
Foreign transaction fees are also pretty ridiculous. Paired with the poor exchange rates that standard bank offers, you might lose a significant portion of your hard-earned money just on the conversion to Canadian dollars.
There is a solution for that too. After researching multiple platforms for moving money between different currencies, we love Wise the most. The transaction fees are small and transparent, and the exchange rate is exactly what you see on Google.
CON: Long Waits For Medical Care
Until recently, I was convinced that Canadian health care rocks, but I had to remove my rose-colored glasses. It turns out it isn’t as great as I initially thought.
It also isn’t as “free” as you read on many blogs, as healthcare is funded from taxpayers’ money.
Sure, smaller health issues are an easy and quick fix. But, if you have a serious medical condition that requires a specialist, get ready to be put on a lengthy waiting list.
Yes, you can get private healthcare, but if you want free medical coverage, it might take a while to get seen by a doctor.
My partner recently had a serious injury at the workplace, and it turns out that unless you have a heart attack, you often won’t be able to receive immediate medical attention. The wait times can be unreasonably long, and if you’re in pain, every minute seems like an eternity.
Additionally, depending on where you live, it can be very difficult to register with a family doctor. We noticed this problem, especially in Nova Scotia. However, anyone can access the Drop In Clinics located in most rural hospitals.
The downside of the free healthcare system is that doctors and health care providers are often underpaid and therefore leave Canada to work in the United States. Or they simply aren’t willing to take on extra shifts. Hence, the long wait times.
CON: Political Correctness
To give a better picture of what I mean by political correctness, I’ll share an example of when political correctness has gone too far in North America.
Professor Greg Patton of the University of Southern California was removed from his position because of teaching his students a simple Chinese word that they found offensive.
While teaching a standard lecture, he spoke of how different cultures use different “filler” words. In the English language, it’s “um”, “uh”, “you know”, “like”, etc.
He then mentioned that in China, they commonly use “na-ge” which translates into “that”.
Several of the students found that offensive because the Chinese word “na ge” sounded similar to another English word that has a condescending meaning.
After they complained to the university, Patton was forced to step down.
The university then released this statement in the press:
“It is simply unacceptable for the faculty to use words in class that can marginalize, hurt and harm the psychological safety of our students.”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to be tolerant, but when you have to constantly walk on eggshells just so people don’t get offended, it probably went a bit too far.
Things We Wish We Knew Before Moving to Canada
–> International Driver’s License
Before you leave your home country, apply for an international driver’s license. With an international driver’s license, you can drive in Canada for up to 1 year.
It’ll give you more time to get all your ducks in a row and convert your foreign license into a Canadian license.
In order to get a fully converted driver’s license right from the get-go, you’ll need to prove your driver’s history. It might be a good idea to get this document before you arrive in Canada.
If you’re from a non-English speaking country, get your license translated as well.
Some languages are less common, and it might be a challenge to find someone qualified to do a certified translation for you in Canada. Check this article for more info on how to convert your foreign driver’s license.
–> Car Insurance And Driver’s History
If you buy a vehicle in Canada, it’s a legal requirement to get auto insurance.
If you can’t prove your auto insurance history, you’ll be registered as a new driver.
An auto insurance policy for a new driver is significantly more expensive than insurance for an experienced driver. If you can prove that you have a clean driving record and previous driver’s and auto insurance history, it might help you land a much better auto insurance quote.
Many auto insurance companies won’t acknowledge your previous driving history, no matter how many documents you provide to prove it. So it’s best to shop around and find the ones which will.
Be prepared and get these documents ready before you move to Canada.
–> Transferring Funds From Overseas
If you’re transferring funds from your home currency into Canadian dollars, utilize a platform like Wise.
Many traditional banks will rip you off by charging exuberant fees (3-6%) to handle your international currency exchange and transfers. A solution like Wise charges a small flat fee and offers the Google spot exchange rate.
This makes a significant difference in saving. The more you intend to transfer, the more you’ll save!
–> Building Credit Score
Coming from Europe, credit was quite a foreign concept to me. I mean, you have to borrow money and make purchases with money that you don’t have to prove that you’re good with money? It seems a bit back-to-front to me.
I was always a firm believer that you should avoid debt at all costs. If I don’t have money for it, I don’t buy it. Simple.
However, even if you’re not a big fan of credit, it can work to your advantage to build up your credit score in Canada.
You might decide a year into your visit that you would like to settle in Canada permanently and buy a home for yourself and your family.
If you apply for a credit card as soon as you arrive, you’ll have more time to build your credit history.
You also need a credit card if you want to rent a car. Some landlords or car insurance companies might require a credit check.
So don’t be stubborn like me and get a credit card.
As long as you use it responsibly and always cover your credit on time to avoid unnecessary penalties, you’ll be fine. I barely use my credit card, but I do have one just in case I’ll ever need it.
–> Education Credential Assessment
Education Credential Assessment (ECA) is often required for the immigration process to Canada. If you have higher education, it’ll give you some extra points on your visa application.
Sometimes those few extra points can make a big difference in reaching your eligibility to apply for Express entry or the provincial nomination program.
You’ll need to get your education documents sent directly by the University where you studied to a designated education credentials verification agency in Canada. I used World Education Services (WES) for this process.
Trying to arrange any paperwork in Slovakia to be sent to Canada turned out to be a complete nightmare.
So if you’re planning to first arrive in Canada on a temporary work permit but intend to transition into permanent residency, it’s a good idea to get your education credentials verified before you leave your home country.
It’ll save you a lot of time and headaches.
This brings me to my next point.
–> Power of Attorney
Arrange for a power of attorney and leave it with a reliable family member or a friend before you move to Canada. If you ever need to get some paperwork sorted in your home country from a distance, it’ll be invaluable.
For example, I had to organize my police clearance back home, and leaving a power of attorney with a family member helped tremendously.
When you fill up your Canadian visa application, make sure to include your common-law partner in your family history section. You should do the same when you file your first taxes in Canada.
This is important if you want to immigrate to Canada with your partner and only one of you attains permanent residency.
If this happens, then the other partner can still apply for Canadian residency as a common-law partner.
Having your common-law partner indicated on your application right from the get-go makes the immigration process smoother and easier to prove that you’re in a relationship.
Final Verdict: Is Canada a Good Place to live?
Living in Canada has a lot to offer. We spent our first year in Canada on a working holiday, where we were able to explore the country.
The longer we stayed, the more Canada grew on us. (I bet we aren’t the only ones who feel that way!)
So what is our final verdict? Is Canada a good place to live? And should you move here?
Canada has been very good to us so far, and we like living here. We feel like Canada gives a good balance between city life and nature, as well as the opportunity to contribute and become part of the Canadian mosaic of different cultures and nations.
We hope that after reading this post, you will have a better understanding of the pros and cons of living in Canada.
Looking for more tips before moving to Canada? Check our New to Canada guide.
Is it better to move to Canada or US?
While in the USA, the salaries are higher, Canada has better healthcare, more maternity leave and other social benefits. Overall, expats often prioritize Canada because it has more immigration-friendly policies than the US. Both Canada and US have a good standard of living.
Is it easy to get a job in Canada?
While finding a job in Canada is not necessarily easy, it’s definitely doable. There is a high demand, especially for skilled professionals and blue collar workers. That’s why Canada continues to attract foreign workers every year in thousands. A job offer from a Canadian employer can significantly increase your chances of receiving an invitation to apply for permanent residence.
Which is safer, US or Canada?
The U.S. News 2022 Best Countries Report gave Canada position number 7 out of 100 when it comes to safety. This ranking puts Canada significantly above the United States, which landed at position number 47.
Is it hard to get citizenship in Canada?
To meet the residency requirement, you must be physically present in Canada for at least 730 days (two years) in every five-year period after you become a permanent resident. Canadian citizenship is much easier to acquire compared to many other first-world countries, such as New Zealand, Australia or the US.
Is college free in Canada?
Unfortunately, Canada doesn’t offer free college education. However, there are various ways to reduce the cost of tuition in Canada. The tuition ranges between 550 – 30,000 CAD per year.
As an international student, you’ll have to pay double or triple the amount that residents and citizens of Canada pay. Many foreign students choose to study in Canada despite high tuition fees because it’s one of the ways to immigrate to the country and get their permanent residency.
How to immigrate to Canada?
There are multiple options to immigrate to Canada. It’s best to set up a meeting with a qualified immigration consultant that will analyze your specific situation and advise you on the most suitable options to immigrate for you.
But overall, you can start your research by looking into:
- Work and Holiday Program (the easiest route)
- Express Entry
- Provincial Nomination Programs
- Student Visa
- Temporary Worker’s Permit
Getting a visa to work in Canada is a lengthy process, and the immigration process and visa fees can add up quickly. Therefore, it’s best to plan ahead.
Which city is best to live in Canada?
The best city to live in Canada will largely depend on your preferences. But here are a few suggestions based on multiple different factors:
- Best cities for foodies – Vancouver, BC; Montreal, QC; Halifax, NS
- Best city to live in Canada for families – Charlottetown, PEI
- Best city to live in Canada for a strong economy – Calgary, AB
- Best cities for outdoors – Vancouver, BC; Canmore, AB
- Best city for cheap rent – Edmonton, AB
- Best cities for job opportunities – Moncton, NB; Toronto, ON
- Best city for fun and culture – Montreal, QC
- Best city to buy a house affordably – Saint John, NB
- Best city for a low cost of living – Winnipeg, MB
- Best city to live in Canada overall – Quebec City, QC (if you speak French)
- Best place for climate – Okanagan, BC
- Best up-and-coming city in Ontario – Hamilton, ON