Settlement Information for Newcomers

Settlement Information For Newcomers

Settling in BC: Questions and Answers

Immigrants have many questions about living, studying, and working in BC.

The NewToBC team has collected 100s of questions that are often asked by new immigrants before or after they arrive in BC. To answer these questions, the team researched and found the most up-to-date and credible sources of information. Look through the lists of categories and questions for information about immigration, employment, education, health, housing, banking, the BC legal system, and transportation. Use the search function to find answers to your questions.

Many newcomers have shared with the NewToBC team that they wished they had known about this resource sooner!

Housing and Setting Up

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Housing Basics

There are several different types of housing structures found in BC. A detached home is a house that is not connected to any other houses and usually occupied by one family. It may be any size from a small, one-storey home to a huge mansion. A duplex is two separate housing units joined together by a common middle wall (also called a semi-detached home) or one unit above the other. A townhouse is a group of housing units in a row, often 2-3 storeys, joined together by common walls, each with its own entrance from the outside. An apartment or a condominium (usually shortened to condo) is a self-contained housing unit that is part of a building, joined together by common walls and with its entrance from a common hall. An apartment building has one owner for the whole building. In a condominium building, each unit is owned by one person or family. Strata housing is a popular choice in B.C. and commonly includes: townhouses, apartments and condos. A small portion of duplexes and even detached homes are part of strata corporations. Owners and residents in strata housing must following the Strata Property Act and regulations as well as the strata’s bylaws and rules.

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The cost of living will depend on where you live in British Columbia. The WelcomeBC Cost of Living Calculator can help you figure out how much it will cost to live in different communities in British Columbia. It compares things like housing, taxes, utilities and transportation.

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If you don’t have relatives or friends in Canada that can provide you with a temporary place to live, you may have to stay at a hotel or in a short-term rental apartment. In B.C., it is not difficult to find a hotel with a small kitchen that allows you to prepare meals. IRCC’s free online or in-person Pre-arrival Services offer information and tips about finding a temporary place. After arrival, you can contact a settlement agency in your area to get information on local housing and the rental market, and receive support to find a temporary place to live. You may also get assistance from a certified realtor.

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Renting/Leasing a Home

Rent is a month-to-month tenancy. This means that the tenancy does not have an end date. It continues on a monthly basis until the tenant or landlord gives proper notice to end the tenancy. A lease is a fixed-term tenancy. This means that the tenancy has a specified start and end date. If it does not specify what will happen at the end of the term, it is presumed to continue on a month-to-month basis.

There are many websites and publications that have been written for renters in British Columbia. They include information about residential tenancy laws, things renters should consider, important questions to ask the landlord, what landlords can and cannot do, rent increases, and more. Some publications are available in different languages.

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When you rent or lease a home in British Columbia, the tenant and landlord have to sign a Residential Tenancy Agreement. It is a contract that has the rules about the tenancy, including the amount of rent that must be paid each month, when the rent is due, and what the rent includes. Landlords are required to prepare a written agreement for every tenancy. Even if a landlord doesn’t prepare one, the standard terms of a tenancy agreement still apply. Landlords can collection some personal information when it is reasonable for making a decision if an applicant is likely to be a responsible tenant. Personal Information Protection Act for Tenants & Landlords in BC governs the collection, use and disclosure of personal information.

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You may contact your local settlement agency. They might be able to help you find a home or provide you with tips and information. You can also find information about homes available in your community on the Internet, in the “Classifieds – Rentals” section of your local newspaper, or on community noticed boards. You can also look for signs that say “Vacancy” or “For Rent” on houses and apartment buildings.

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BC Housing is a government agency that helps people in greatest need. They provide subsidized (government-assisted) housing, where the amount of rent you pay is based on the money you earn. To be eligible for subsidized housing, you must meet the residency requirements and have a total household income below a certain amount. They also manage the Rental Assistance Program (RAP), which provides low-income, working families with cash to help pay their monthly rent. To be eligible, families must have an annual gross household income of $35,000 or less, have assets of $100,000 or less, have at least one dependent child, have been employed at some point over the last year and have lived in B.C. for 12 months. Housing co-operatives (co-ops) and some non-profit groups also provide low-cost housing. There is often a waiting list for these places.

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Unfortunately, rental scams are becoming more common in British Columbia. The links provide some information on the latest scams, as well as tips when looking to rent or lease a home.

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Buying a Home

There are many websites and publications that have been written for people buying homes in British Columbia. They include information about types of housing ownership, costs, what to look for, steps to purchasing a home, and more. The Government of British Columbia offers programs and tax incentives to support first time home buyers.

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Most people hire a real estate agent to help them choose and buy a home. They are usually paid through a commission from the seller of the home. If you decide to hire a real estate agent, it’s important to do your research. Ask for referrals from family members, friends and colleagues. Conduct interviews with different real estate agents to find the person who is right for you. Also check with the Real Estate Council of British Columbia to make sure they are licensed (it’s the law in British Columbia) and have not faced any disciplinary actions. You will also need the assistance of other professionals including an insurance agent, home inspector, banker and lawyer or notary.

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If you own a house, land or buildings in British Columbia, each year you must pay property taxes. Your city or town will send you a bill once or twice a year. If your property is outside of a city, the Government of British Columbia will send you a bill. The amount of tax you need to pay will depend on the community where your property is located and how it is being used. You will receive a penalty if you don’t pay your property taxes before the deadline. British Columbia also has a home owner grant program to reduce the amount of property tax paid by eligible home owners. Contact your municipality to learn about eligibility and how to apply for the grant.

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Unfortunately, real estate scams are becoming more common in British Columbia. The links provide some information on the latest scams, as well as how to avoid them when buying a home.

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Mortgages

A mortgage is money you borrow to buy a home. There are two types of mortgages available in British Columbia. A conventional mortgage allows you to borrow up to 80% of the purchase price or appraised value of the home, whichever is less. A high-ratio mortgage allows you to borrow more than 80% of the purchase price or appraised value of the home, whichever is less, but the borrower must pay a mortgage default insurance premium to protect the lender in case payments are not made.

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It’s good idea to get pre-approved for a mortgage to figure out how much you can afford to own a home before you start looking for a home. Most people get a mortgage from a bank, credit union or trust company to buy a home in British Columbia. You will have to pay interest on the mortgage, which will be added to your regular payments. Interest rates may vary, so it is important to check around for the best mortgage. A mortgage broker can help you choose a lender and find the best mortgage for you. If you have not yet built a Canadian credit history, it may be difficult to get a mortgage. Most banks require new immigrants to pay a higher percentage down payment to get a mortgage. You may contact banks for details.

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The B.C. Home Owner Mortgage and Equity (HOME) Partnership program is a program of British Columbia which provides first-time home buyers with a loan that is interest-free and payment-free for the first five years. If you are a first-time home buyer, the B.C. HOME Partnership program will meet your contribution up to 5% of the home’s purchase price, to a maximum purchase price of $750,000. After five years, you can either repay your loan or enter into monthly payments at current interest rates. Loans through the program become due after 25 years. Visit the government website to learn information of eligibility and restriction of the program.

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Setting Up Your Home

Once you move into your new home, you will need to set up your utilities, such as natural gas, electricity, telephone, Internet and cable. You will also need to notify your bank, credit card, financial companies, medical plan, Driver Licensing Centre, Canada Revenue Agency, work and children’s school of your new address, as well as any individuals or organizations from whom you regularly receive mail.

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If you are a homeowner, you must get home insurance in British Columbia. It protects your assets, such as your home and contents, from fire, theft, windstorms and other unexpected problems. If you are a tenant, you do not have to get tenant insurance, but your landlord may ask you to get it. Tenants are responsible for any damage that they cause to any part of the building that they are living in. Tenant insurance covers personal belongings and liability insurance.

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If you are a homeowner, you will have to set up and pay for electricity and/or natural gas. If you are a renter, you may or may not have to set up and pay for electricity and/or natural gas. Check your tenancy agreement to see if these costs are covered by your rent. Not all properties use natural gas in British Columbia, so ask your real estate agent or landlord if you need it. BC Hydro is the main distributor of electricity in British Columbia. FortisBC is the largest distributor of natural gas in British Columbia.

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There are several phone, Internet and cable television providers in British Columbia. The major service providers include Bell, Rogers, Shaw and Telus. You can find information about these providers, as well as others, by searching online. It is a good idea to research different providers before signing a contract. Some providers offer “bundling” services or discounts to people who order their phone, Internet and cable television services through the same company. Do not sign a contract unless you understand what services you are getting, how much they cost, and how long the contract will last.

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In British Columbia, municipalities are responsible for managing household waste, such as garbage, recycling, compost and yard trimmings. Each municipality has different schedules and rules, so it is important to learn about them. For example, many cities and towns have rules about what you can put in the garbage and how much garbage you can put out each week. If you live in an apartment building, there will usually be a dumpster where you can throw out your garbage, as well as bins for recycling, compost and/or yard trimmings. If you live in a house, you will usually need to have separate bins for garbage, recycling, compost and/or yard trimmings. In some communities, the municipality will arrange a regular pick-up. In other communities, you will need to drop off your items at a local facility. It is important that you do not litter (throw garbage on the ground), as it is dangerous for both people and animals. In British Columbia, it is against the law to litter and you could be fined up to $2,000. You can visit your municipality website to learn more about garbage collection and waste recycling in your community. You may also call the Recycling Council of British Columbia (RCBC)’s toll free recycling hotline at 1-800-667-4321 to learn what to do with any type of household waste.

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In most BC cities, both owners and tenants are responsible to clear the snow and ice from their driveway or walkways within 24 hours after a snow. In most cities in the Metro Vancouver region, residents (owners or occupiers) are required to clear snow from sidewalks around their property before 12 noon after a snowfall. Failure to remove snow and ice may result in fines. Some cities have a “Snow Angel” program that helps residents (i.e. seniors) to remove snow and ice around their property. Visit your municipality’s website to learn more about the bylaws related to snow removal.