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Immigrant Questions and Answers

Immigrants have many questions about living, studying and working in BC. Search here to find answers to hundreds of questions you might have. All answers include information and links to other important sources of information and detail.

NewToBC has collected a list of questions and answers that are often asked by new immigrants and refugees. Look through the list for information about immigration, employment, education health, housing, banking, the BC legal system and transportation.

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Daily Life

Q. How can I pay for my purchases?

A. Most stores accept one or more of the following payment types: cash, debit (bank) cards, credit cards, store credit cards and personal cheques. Look for signs at the entrance or cash register to find out what forms of payment they accept.

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Q. What should I know about online shopping?

A. Many people buy goods on the Internet in British Columbia. However, since you will need to provide your personal and credit card information, you should check that the website is legitimate and your information will be protected. Try to find as much information about the online retailer as you can and read all the materials on their website.

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Q. Can I bargain or barter when making purchases?

A. In British Columbia, the prices marked in stores are usually fixed. People do not bargain for a lower price in stores that sell new products. If you do not like the price of the item, you can ask the store clerk if the product will go on sale in the near future. Second-hand and consignment stores sell used clothing, furniture and other household items, usually very cheaply. Sometimes you can bargain to bring down the price. It is also common to bargain when buying a vehicle or home.

Q. How much do I need to tip?

A. A tip is extra money you pay to reward the person serving you for their good work and courteous service. The standard amount for a tip is usually 15% of the bill. This is often done in restaurants, bars, hotels, taxis, salons and certain other situations.

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Q. What is the Goods and Services Tax (GST)?

A. In Canada, you must pay a federal sales tax of 5%, called the Goods and Services Tax (GST), on many goods and services that you buy. This tax is not included in the price and will often be added when you pay.

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Q. What is the Provincial Sales Tax (PST)?

A. In British Columbia, you must also pay a provincial sales tax of 7%, called the Provincial Sales Tax (PST), on many goods and services that you buy. In some cases, the amount may be higher than 7%. This tax is not included in the price and will often be added when you pay.

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Q. How do I make a phone call?

A. To make a local phone call, you will have to dial 10 numbers – area code + phone number (e.g. 604-555-6363). To make a long distance phone call within Canada or the United States, you will have to dial 11 numbers – 1 + area code + phone number (e.g. 1-250-555-6363). To call overseas, you will have to dial 011 + area code + phone number.

Q. What area codes are used in BC?

A. There are four area codes used in British Columbia. In Metro Vancouver, the area codes are 236, 604 or 778. Everywhere else in British Columbia, the area codes are 236, 250 or 778.

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Q. What is a toll-free number?

A. A toll-free number is a special phone number that is free for the person making the call. The company you call pays for the cost of the phone call. Toll-free numbers are usually called “1 800 numbers”. Toll-free numbers in Canada start with the following area codes: 1-800, 1-866, 1-877 or 1-888.

Q. What are N11 codes?

A. In North America, N11 codes are used to provide three-digit dialling access to special services. For example, 9-1-1 provides direct access to emergency services in British Columbia, including ambulance, fire and police. The number can be dialled for free from any phone.

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Q. What is a telephone directory?

A. There are two types of telephone directories available in British Columbia. The Whitepages are a directory of residential and business phone numbers. The YellowPages are directory of business phone numbers, organized alphabetically by category (e.g. restaurants, movers) instead of alphabetically by business name.

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Q. Where can I use the Internet?

A. If you need to use the Internet, most public libraries have computers that you can use for free. If you have a wireless device, such as a laptop, tablet or smartphone, you can find free Internet in many cafes and businesses.

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Q. How do I send a letter or package?

A. You can send mail from a regular post office or a small post office in a store. If your letter has a stamp, you can also put it in any red Canada Post mailbox on the street or in the “outgoing” slot of a community mailbox. All addresses for Canada must have a postal code. If you do not know the postal code for an address, you can look it up in a book at any post office or on the Canada Post website. The cost of mailing a letter will depend on the size, weight and where it is going. You can check the rates at any post office or on the Canada Post website. If you need to have your mail delivered quickly, you can use Canada Post or a private courier company.

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Arts, Culture and Recreation
Q. Where can I find information about arts and cultural events?

A. You can visit the Destination British Columbia website, which has information about art galleries, museums and heritage sites across British Columbia. The British Columbia Arts Council also publishes a searchable calendar of arts and cultural events in communities across British Columbia. Some places and events will cost money, but they may be free or give a discount on certain days. Some communities have their own special events, such as festivals and fairs. These are often free and give you a chance to learn about your community. You can get information in local newspapers, libraries, tourist information offices, arts councils and municipal park boards.

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Q. What is a public library and how can I find one?

A. Public libraries have books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, eBooks and more for people of all ages. Some resources can be found in different languages. Many public libraries have special services for people with disabilities, such as talking books. They have activities for children, workshops for adults, and computers that you can use to find information or send emails. Library staff can also help you find information on almost any topic. Public libraries are free to use, but you need a library card to borrow books or other items. There are 71 public libraries across British Columbia.

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Q. What is a community centre and how can I find one?

A. Most cities and towns in British Columbia have community centres. Community centres usually have swimming pools, ice rinks, tennis courts and playgrounds. They also offer classes in arts and crafts, dancing, physical fitness, computers and English as a Second Language (ESL). Each season, they publish a flyer (special newspaper) with a list of programs and their cost. To find a community centre in your community, contact your local parks and recreation board or recreation commission, or visit your municipality’s website.

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Q. What is a municipal park and how can I find one?

A. Municipal parks are found in cities and towns. They often have a sports field for baseball and soccer, a playground for children, and places for a picnic. For information on municipal parks, you should contact your local municipal parks board.

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Q. What is a provincial or national park and how can I find one?

A. British Columbia has more than 1,000 provincial parks and protected areas, and 7 national parks. Many of these parks are large and have beautiful forests, rivers, mountains and lakes. You can visit provincial and national parks for hiking, camping, skiing, boating and fishing.

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Q. What sports and outdoor activities are popular in BC?

A. Many British Columbians enjoy sports and outdoor activities, such as running, in-line skating, swimming, golf, tennis, yoga, skiing, snowboarding, boating, cycling, hiking and camping. Team sports, such as hockey, baseball, basketball, soccer and curling, are also popular. Students play sports at school, and community centres have many low-cost sports programs. There are also several private sports clubs that offer programs for a fee.

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Community Services
Q. What services are available for immigrants and refugees?

A. There are many settlement agencies that help immigrants and refugees settle in British Columbia. Many organizations are funded by the government and provide free services. They are excellent sources of information and advice on living in Canada. They have settlement workers who can provide you with help in many areas, such as searching for employment, finding housing, registering for free language training, finding special programs for children, youth, families, women, LGBTQ+ and seniors, and helping you with any problems you might have.

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Q. What is bc211 and the Red Book Online?

A. bc211 is a non-profit organization that specializes in providing information and referral through help lines for community, government and social services in British Columbia. If you have any questions about community, government or social services, you can call them and they will be able to help you. They have also created the Red Book Online, a searchable directory of community resources for the Fraser Valley, Metro Vancouver, Squamish-Lillooet and the Sunshine Coast regional districts.

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Q. What is an emergency shelter and how can I find one?

A. If you need to leave your home because of an emergency or because you are worried about your safety, you may need to find an emergency shelter. Emergency shelters help people who don’t have a home with a temporary bed, food and access to other supports. You should contact your local settlement agency or BC Housing and they can help you find a play to stay.

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Q. What is a food bank and how can I find one?

A. Many communities in British Columbia have food banks for people who need emergency food. Food banks are not run by the government – people in the community donate the food. Each food bank has its own rules. You should visit the food bank in your community, or their website, to learn more.

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Q. What is a crisis centre and how can I find one?

A. Moving to a new country is challenging – adjusting can be very difficult. You may feel extremely sad or upset, or may even think about suicide. In British Columbia, many communities have crisis centres to help people in emotional crisis, such as depression, suicidal thoughts or family and marriage problems. If you are in a crisis, you should call the Distress Phone Services at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or visit their website.

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Q. What is abuse and violence and where can I find help?

A. There are many forms of abuse, both physical and emotional. When one person assaults (attacks), hurts, mistreats or threatens another person, it is called abuse. If someone abuses you, it is not your fault. In Canada, all violence and threats of violence are against the law. You can get help to get away from the person who abuses you. The police can arrest someone who assaults or threatens to attack another person. The person could get a fine or go to jail. If you are a Permanent Resident (PR), you will not have to be deported if you leave an abusive family situation. Your sponsorship cannot be taken away after you become a PR. If you are not yet a PR, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will carefully evaluate your special case before making a decision.

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Q. What should I do in an emergency?

A. If you have a life-threatening emergency, call the emergency number. In most areas of British Columbia, the emergency number is 9-1-1 for police, fire or ambulance. This call is free, even from a pay phone. You can ask for help in your own language. In some communities, the emergency number is not 9-1-1, but you can find the number in the front pages of the telephone book in your area. A life-threatening emergency includes reporting a fire, saving a life, stopping a crime or any other time when you need police, fire or ambulance assistance immediately.

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Q. What should I expect when calling 9-1-1?

A. When you call 9-1-1, you need to be prepared to answer some questions. It is important to listen carefully, speak clearly and remain calm. E-Comm 9-1-1 has a 24-hour interpretation service that can be accessed in less than one minute, with interpretation available in over 170 languages.

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Q. How can I prepare for an emergency?

A. It is important to know the hazards in your area, such as earthquakes, flooding or forest fires, and take the time to make a family emergency kit. During an emergency, you and your family could be on your own for an extended period of time. Emergency services may not be able to help you right away, as they help those in most critical need first. Phones, gas, water, sewer and electrical services may also be cut off. The Government of British Columbia has prepared information about various emergency situations, including what to do and how to prepare.

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Q. What should I do if the power goes out?

A. Power outages can happen at any time. If your power goes out, you can call 1-888-POWERON (1-888-769-3766) to report the power outage. BC Hydro also has an online map that shows where all the known outages are, as well as the reason for the outages. They also provide tips about how to stay safe in case of a power outage.

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Q. What should I do if I suspect a gas leak?

A. If you smell rotten eggs or hear the sound of escaping gas, it could be natural gas. Stop what you’re doing. Do not use your cell phone or landline. Do not smoke, light matches or operate electrical switches, or any other source of ignition. Go outside and leave the door open behind you, as well as any windows that may already be open. Call FortisBC’s 24-hour emergency line at 1-800-663-9911 or 9-1-1.

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