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.

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

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Daily Life

Arts, Culture and Recreation

Statutory holidays are public holidays that consist of a variety of cultural, nationalistic, and religious holidays that are legislated at the national or provincial level. In BC, there are ten statutory holidays. These include: New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Canada Day, Labour Day, Christmas Day, Family Day, Victoria Day, B.C. Day, Thanksgiving Day and Remembrance Day. Employers are bound by the Employment Law to provide their employees with statutory holiday pay. You may ask your employer or visit the Government of British Columbia website for more detailed information. There are a wild range of events and activities hosted by governments, public and private employers during these holidays. You may visit your municipality’s website for details. There are also many events and activities to celebrate a variety of ethnic holidays in your community. Some public or private employers might also have their policy to celebrate ethnic holidays and provide additional pay leave to eligible employees. Consult your employers for details.

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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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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. Most communities with large populations have a good number of library branches to provide easy access to library services for local residents.

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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 costs. 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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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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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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Childcare

Parents who work or go to school may need someone to take care of their children. If you do not have a family member to take care of your children, there are two different kinds of childcare available – licensed and unlicensed. Licensed childcare includes group childcare centres, licensed family daycares, pre-school programs, and out-of-school care. Unlicensed childcare includes nannies, babysitters, and unlicensed family daycares.

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The Government of British Columbia has developed a Child Care Programs Map, which lists all government-funded licensed childcare facilities in British Columbia. You can also contact the Child Care Resource and Referral office in your community, and they can help you find childcare. Your local settlement agency or your child’s school may also be able to provide you with information or referrals.

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In British Columbia, childcare is expensive and the cost varies depending on the age of the child and from provider to provider. The links below give some sense of the range of costs.

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The Government of British Columbia may pay for all or part of the costs of childcare for some low-income families. This is called a childcare subsidy. You can also claim some of the money you spend on childcare on your income tax return. Families with young children under age 6 might be eligible to receive child tax benefits under the B.C. Early Childhood Tax Benefit (BCECTB) and the Canada Child Benefit (CCB). Visit Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)’s website for more information.

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Shopping

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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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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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.

Second-hand goods (also known as used goods or pre-owned goods) shopping is very common in Canada. The most common places for you to find second-hand goods are: pre-owned car dealers, Thrift Stores, Value Village, Craigslist (online), swap meets, flea markets, yard / garage sales (usually over the summer), etc. At some places, you may bargain for a better deal, e.g. at pre-owned car dealers, yard/garage sales and on Craigslist. Some second-hand goods stores (i.e. Value Village) accept donations of well-kept used items for resale at their places.

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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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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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. You don’t need to pay PST in some cases, e.g. food, books and newspapers, etc. Most PST exemptions are available to everyone, and you don’t need to apply. Some exemptions are available in certain circumstances and may require documentation. For example, adult-sized clothing and footwear for kids under 15 years of age, and school supplies for students. You will have to advise the casher to get the exemptions in those cases.

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Most retailers in BC have return and refund policies to protect consumers and maintain a good customer relations. Depending on the retailer’s policy, you may exchange an item, or return it and get a refund. However, there is no law in BC that says all sellers have to provide mandatory returns or refunds. Also, sellers often have different return or refund policies, and these policies may change during promotions and for items that are on sale. You should ask about the return and refund policies before you buy. Return or refund policies are often stated on the back of the receipt. You should keep the receipt and present it to the retailer when you exchange or return the item.

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Communication

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.

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.

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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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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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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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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Community Services

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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bc211 is a non-profit organization that specializes in providing information and referral through free 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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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 and can provide 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 place to stay.

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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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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 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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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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Emergencies

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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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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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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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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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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Immigration and Citizenship

Permanent Residence

A Permanent Resident (PR) is someone who has acquired PR status by immigrating to Canada, but is not yet a Canadian citizen. Permanent residents are citizens of other countries. Permanent residents have the right to most social benefits that Canadian citizens receive but are not allow to vote or run for political office. Permanent residents are not allow to apply to some jobs that need high-level security clearance.

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A Permanent Resident (PR) card is the official proof that you are a PR of Canada. You use this card to show that you can enter and stay in Canada when you return from another country. If you are immigrating to Canada and provide a Canadian mailing address, you do not need to apply for a PR card. It will be mailed to you after you get to Canada. If you do not provide your Canadian mailing address when you become a PR, you must send your Canadian address to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) within 180 days of becoming a PR.

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As a Permanent Resident (PR), you may travel outside of Canada. However, you must meet certain residency obligations to maintain your status. You can lose your PR status if you do not live in Canada for at least two years in a five-year period, are convicted of a serious crime and told to leave Canada, or become a Canadian citizen. Losing your PR status does not happen automatically. Unless you have gone through an official process, you have not lost or given up your PR status, even though you may not be eligible to return to Canada as a PR.

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In case your PR card has been lost, stolen or destroyed, you should contact Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) immediately to report it. To apply for a new PR card, you will have to fill out an application package and pay an application fee of $50 Canadian dollars. If you do not want to apply for a new card right away, you still need to fill out a web form on IRCC’s website to report your PR card lost, stolen or destroyed. If you are outside Canada when your PR card is lost, you should report it to the closest Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) visa office and apply for a permanent resident travel document in order to return to Canada.

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Some new immigrants to Canada choose an English first name to make it easier for others to pronounce and remember. It is important to know that you are not obligated to choose an English name. Any Canadian citizen or permanent resident can change his or her name legally. Before beginning the application process, it’s important to understand the steps required in a legal name change, the cost, and the effect it will have on your life. To change your legal name, you can apply online, by mail, or visit in-person at the nearest Services BC location. After approval, you will receive a certificate of legal name change. It is your responsibility to contact each and every government department, organization, school and employer to change your legal name on your ID and legal documents, e.g. driver’s licence, citizenship certificate, passport, BC services card, RRSP, RESP, student ID, bank and credit cards, etc.

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Refugees

Canada offers refugee protection to people in Canada who face persecution in their home country or the country where they normally live, or who would face persecution if they returned to that country. The Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program is for people seeking protection from outside Canada. The In-Canada Asylum Program is for people making a refugee protection claim from within Canada. The Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) makes decisions about refugee claims within Canada. Refugees often do not have the resources to easily establish themselves, so the Government of Canada provides support for a broad range of settlement services to support the integration of refugees.

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Some resettled refugees receive support through the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP), including assistance at the port of entry, temporary accommodation and help to find permanent accommodation, money to buy basic household items and clothing, and information and assistance to settle in Canada. They may also get a loan through the Immigration Loans Program to pay for the costs of medical examinations abroad, travel documents, transportation to Canada, housing rental, telephone deposits and work tools. However, loans must be repaid and interest may be charged. Some resettled refugees and refugee claimants are eligible for services under the Interim Federal Health (IFH) Program, which pays for emergency medical services after arrival in Canada, until they are covered by a provincial health plan. Settlement agencies in British Columbia also provide services to refugees to help them adjust to their new life.

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Immigrating to BC

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) establishes immigration policy and makes decisions about who can enter Canada. There are several programs that can help you and your family come to British Columbia. You can apply for permanent residence under the following categories: Federal Skilled Workers, Federal Skilled Trades, Investors, Entrepreneurs and Self-Employed, Canadian Experience Class, Provincial Nominee, Caregivers, Family Sponsorship, and Refugees. You can apply for temporary residence under the following categories: Foreign Students, Temporary Foreign Workers, and Visitors.

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There is no standard time for processing immigration applications. It depends on the type of application, where the application was sent, and how many applications are being processed. You can check application processing times on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)’s online processing times tool.

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You do not need to hire anyone to help you with your immigration application. The Government of Canada treats everyone equally, whether you use a representative or not. All the forms and information needed to apply to immigrate to Canada are available for free on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)’s website. If you decide to work with someone, IRCC has rules about who can help you. Only a paid representative can charge a fee or receive payment to represent or advise you on a Canada immigration application. Paid representatives include lawyers and paralegals (who are members in good standing of a Canadian provincial or territorial law society) and immigration consultants (who are members in good standing of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council). Unpaid representatives can act in the same way as paid representatives, but they cannot be paid for the service. Unpaid representatives include family members, friends, non-profit groups and religious groups.

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Arriving in BC

While you are waiting for your visa or permit, there are some things that you can do to prepare for your new life in British Columbia. You can learn about the region and community where you plan to move. You can find a place to stay when you first arrive. You can gather your documents, such as professional certificates and school records, and get them translated into an official language (English or French) by a certified translator. You can also start to learn English or French. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) offers free in-person and online pre-arrival services to immigrants abroad to prepare them for life in Canada.

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You can bring your personal and household goods with you, or you can send them later, without paying duty. To qualify, you must have owned, possessed and used the goods before coming to Canada. You will have to pay duty on some items, i.e. farm equipment, vehicles you plan to use for business, items that you have bought on your way to Canada, etc. If you are not sure whether you have to pay duty on some items, bring sales receipts and/or registration documents with you. You will need to fill out a BSF186A- Personal Effects Accounting Document, which asks for a list of all the goods and their value. When you arrive in Canada, you will need to give the completed document to the customs officer, even if you are not bringing any goods at that time. You may also bring money, but if you bring more than C$10,000 (or the equivalent in another currency), you will need to declare it and fill out a Cross-Border Currency or Monetary Instruments Report. If you do not declare the money, you may need to pay a fine or face penalties.

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British Columbia is a large province, and the climate is very different from one region to another. On the South Coast (e.g. Vancouver, Victoria), the climate is mild year-round. In the Interior and Central Regions (e.g. Kelowna, Kamloops), the summers are hot and the winters are cold and snowy. In the North (e.g. Prince George, Fort St John), the winters are long and cold with lots of snow, and the summers are short. On the North Coast (e.g. Prince Rupert, Kitimat), there is a lot of rain in the spring, summer and fall, and the winters are cold.

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You should contact your local settlement agency as soon as possible. They can help you and your family set up your new life in British Columbia. Many settlement agencies have staff members who can speak language(s) other than English. If you arrive at the Vancouver International Airport (YVR), you should find the Community Airport Newcomers Network (CANN). They are located in the immigration and customs area. They can help you with landing procedures, information and orientation on settlement in Canada, and links to settlement agencies in your new community.

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Leaving BC

If you are a Permanent Resident (PR), you will need to show that you and your family, including children, have valid PR status when you return to Canada. If you are traveling by commercial carrier, such as a train, plane, boat or bus, you need to have a valid PR card or a valid PR travel document (PRTD) to re-enter Canada. If you are traveling in a private vehicle, such as your own car, you may be able to show other immigration documents. Permanent resident status does not expire. If you still have a PR status, but don’t have a valid PR card, you will have to apply for a PR travel document or a visa to return to Canada.

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The Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP) will help pay for unexpected medical services that you receive anywhere in the world. The services must be medically required, provided by a licensed physician, and normally insured by MSP. If you are in another province of Canada, except Quebec, MSP will pay for unexpected medical services. If you are in Quebec or outside of Canada, you will need to pay for the services and apply for reimbursement. Items that are not covered include services by other practitioners (e.g. chiropractor, physical therapist), prescription drugs, ambulances, and transportation of injured people back to British Columbia. For this reason, you should consider getting additional private health insurance coverage.

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Family Sponsorship

The Government of Canada allows Canadian citizens and Permanent Residents (PRs) to sponsor the following family members: your spouse (person you are legally married to), your partner (person you have a “marriage-like relationship” with), your parents, your grandparents, your dependent children and adopted children (under the age of 19 years and not married or living with a partner) and other relatives. Immigrants who arrive under the family class must receive care and support from their sponsors.

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The Parent and Grandparent Super Visa is a temporary resident permit that allows parents and grandparents to stay in Canada for up to two years per visit. It is valid for up to 10 years.

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If your spouse sponsored you and you have separated, your right to remain in Canada depends on whether your Permanent Resident (PR) status is conditional or not. If your PR status is not conditional, you cannot be asked to leave Canada. If your PR status is conditional, you could lose your PR status if you separate from your spouse. There are exceptions in case of abuse or neglect. You don’t have to stay in an abusive relationship to keep your status in Canada. If you are a refugee claimant and your claim is based on your spouse’s situation, you might be able to separate your claim. If your sponsorship breaks down and you do not have PR status, contact a lawyer for advice as soon as possible.

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Citizenship

To apply for Canadian citizenship, you must meet certain eligibility criteria and complete an application. Eligibility criteria include: have PR status in Canada, have lived in Canada as a PR for at least 1095 days during the five years right before the date you sign your application, and meet your personal income tax filing obligations if required under the Income Tax Act. If you are between 18 and 54 years old, you are required to provide proof that you have a Canadian Language Benchmark Level 4 speaking and listening ability in English or French and you must pass a citizenship test to demonstrate adequate knowledge of Canada and the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship. A person’s citizenship may be revoked if the person obtains the citizenship by false representation, fraud or knowingly concealing material circumstances.

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If you are between 18 and 54 years old when you apply for Canadian citizenship, you must prove that you know enough English or French to understand and be understood by other people. This means that you must be at a Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) / Niveaux de compétence linguistique canadiens (NCLC) level 4 to meet the current citizenship requirements. You must be able to understand a conversation on familiar, everyday topics and simple questions, ask and answer simple questions, have enough vocabulary for everyday conversations, and demonstrate an understanding of basic grammar. Applicants under 18 years of age or over 54 do not have to meet this language requirement.

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If you want to become a Canadian citizen, you must pass the Canadian Citizenship Test if you are between the ages of 18-54 years old. Applicants under 18 years of age or over 54 do not have to take the Canadian Citizenship Test. The test is administered by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and covers many topics from Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship, such as Canada’s history, geography, political system, national symbols, identity and values, and rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

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There are different ways you can prepare for the Canadian Citizenship Test. You can take a free or low-cost citizenship class through a settlement program, community centre or public library. You can also use study tools developed by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), CitizenshipCounts.ca or the Richmond Public Library.

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Canada allows you to hold two or more citizenships, so you do not have to give up your citizenship to become Canadian. However, some countries do not allow dual citizenship and will take away your citizenship if you become Canadian. You should therefore check the laws of the country that you are from to see if it allows dual citizenship. A person’s citizenship may be revoked if the person is a dual citizen and is convicted of terrorism, high treason, treason, spying offences or served as a member of an armed force that is engaged in armed conflict with Canada.

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The citizenship certificate is a letter-sized piece of paper, which certifies that you are a Canadian. It is an official legal document that proves your citizenship status, but it is not an identity document or a travel document. If your citizenship certificate is lost or stolen, you can apply to replace it. You can apply from inside Canada or from outside Canada.

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After you have received your Canadian citizenship certificate, you are eligible to apply for a Canadian passport. You must fill out an application package, collect the required documents and submit them all by mail or in person at a local Service Canada office with the application fee. If you are an adult applicant (16 years and over), you may choose a passport that will be valid for either 5 or 10 years. The normal processing time is 20 working days. If you need your passport in less than 20 days, you need to apply in person at one of the Service Canada offices. Many offices offer pick up, express and urgent service for an extra fee. You may apply for a Canadian passport that will be valid for 5 years for your child (0 – 16 years old).

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Driving and Transportation

Driving in BC

As a new immigrant, you must be 16 years or older to apply for a driver’s licence in British Columbia. If you are under 19 years old, a parent or guardian (someone who is responsible for you) must sign the application. If you have a licence from the United States, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea or another province of Canada, you may not need to take the knowledge test or road test. You can apply for a British Columbia driver’s licence right away. If your driver’s licence is from anywhere else, you will need to take a knowledge test and a road test.

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You can apply for a driver’s licence at an Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) driver licensing office. After moving here, you have 90 days to switch over your valid licence to a British Columbia driver’s licence (unless you are visiting, a non-resident worker, or have an eligible student exemption). You will need to show your Permanent Resident (PR) card, as well as a language translation of your driver’s licence, if it is not in English, from an ICBC approved translator. Your driver’s licence and/or driving record must show at least two years of driving experience. Otherwise, you’ll be placed in the Graduated Licensing Program (GLP).

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In BC, you are not required to take driving lessons to apply for a driver’s licence. However, if you are a new driver, a qualified instructor can help you learn driving skills, responsible attitudes, and prepare you for your road tests. There are many private instructors in most communities. You can also consider a driving school that offers ICBC-approved driver training courses.

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All drivers in British Columbia must have a valid (legal) driver’s licence. If you are a new resident in British Columbia and have a valid driver’s licence from your country or from another province of Canada, you can use it for 90 days. You must apply for a British Columbia driver’s licence within 90 days. If you are a visitor, you can drive in British Columbia for up to six months with a valid driver’s licence from your country. If you hold an International Driving Permit, you must carry it together with your foreign licence. 

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The Graduated Licensing Program (GLP) is a two-stage process for new drivers in British Columbia. It allows new drivers to learn the skills and attitudes needed to become a safe and confident driver. Each stage has restrictions that new drivers must obey. As new drivers gain more experience, these restrictions are gradually removed. To get through the GLP, new drivers must pass three tests – one multiple-choice knowledge test and two road tests. It takes about three years to complete the process.

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The Motor Vehicle Act defines British Columbia road laws. It outlines laws that govern the operation of motor vehicles on roads in British Columbia, defining the rules of the road and related offences and infractions. The Criminal Code of Canada defines criminal motor vehicle offences. The police enforce road laws by ticketing drivers for traffic violations, issuing sanctions for disobeying the rules (driving bans) and/or laying criminal offence charges.

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A baby or young child under 9 years old must sit in a special safety seat. A child must not sit on an adult’s lap. All babies from birth to 1 year and up to 9 kg must be in a child car seat. All children over 1 year and 9-18 kg must be in a forward-facing child car seat. All children over 18 kg must use a booster seat until they are 9 years old or 145 cm tall. Never put a child car seat in the front passenger seat.

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There are many online tools available to you to check traffic or road and weather conditions before you get into your car or while you are on the road. Before heading off to your next destination, you can visit Drive BC’s Highway Cams website to check the road conditions on many major routes across the province. If you are already on the road, you can listen to the radio to learn the latest traffic reports. In the Metro Vancouver region, News 1130 is a popular traffic station that offers traffic reports and weather forecasts every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

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Some areas of British Columbia have a lot of snow and very cold temperatures in the winter. It is important to get your car ready for winter driving. To winterize your car, you need to check the battery, keep antifreeze in the radiator, use winter windshield wiper fluid, get good tires, and keep an emergency kit in your car. In some parts of the province you will need a block heater to warm up your engine before you start your car. You can talk to people at your garage, service station or dealership for advice about winter car care.

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When a car crash occurs, there are a number of things to think through and do. If possible, you should move your vehicle safely off or to the side of the road, turn on the flashers, call 911 if anyone is injured, obtain the name and contact information of all other motorists involved in the accident (name, driver’s license numbers, license plate numbers, etc.). If possible, you should obtain the names and contact information of any witnesses and take photos of the vehicles involved in the accident. If you have purchased Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) car insurance, you can report your claim online or over the telephone. You will receive clear instructions from ICBC on how to process your claim, and how to get your vehicle fixed. ICBC also offers free, over-the-phone interpretation services in 170+ languages to support your claim if you are new to BC and English is not your first language. ICBC also has two language lines (Chinese and Punjabi) that immediately connect to interpreters in Chinese (1-855-813-2121) or Punjabi (1-866-906-6163).

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Buying a Car

If you own a car, you must register your car and buy licence plates and car insurance. The costs of driving vary, depending on the type of vehicle you drive, where you live, how much you use your car, your driving record and more.

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Car dealers sell new and used vehicles. Before you start looking for a vehicle, figure out how much money you can spend and what kind of vehicle you need. It’s a good idea to look on the Internet or go to several dealers to compare prices before you buy. You can bargain with the salesperson to get a lower price. If you are buying a used vehicle, the dealer is responsible for telling you the history and making sure the vehicle is safe. You should test the vehicle and make sure that all promises the dealer makes are written into the purchase agreement and anything you sign. Make sure the dealer you buy your car from is licensed by the Motor Vehicle Sales Authority (VSA) of British Columbia.

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Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) is the mandatory coverage you need for a vehicle in British Columbia. You can also choose to buy extra coverage for you, your family and your car with Optional Autoplan products. You can buy insurance at any Autoplan (insurance broker) office. Many things will affect the cost of your car insurance, such as where you live, the type of car you have, if you use your car for work or pleasure, and your driving record. If you were a safe driver in your country, you can ask your insurance company in that country to write a letter about your insurance claims record. This must be a notarized (official) letter in English. Take the letter with you when you buy your insurance because you may get a safe driving discount.

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Public Transportation

Most cities and towns in British Columbia have a public transit system. BC Transit is responsible for coordinating the different municipal transit systems in British Columbia, except in Metro Vancouver where it is done by TransLink. BC Transit provides bus services in over 50 communities across British Columbia. TransLink operates the SkyTrain and WestCoast Express (rail), SeaBus (boat) and bus services in Metro Vancouver. You can find local bus maps and schedules online.

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Buses, SkyTrains, the WestCoast Express and the Seabus operate on scheduled routes and timelines. Most libraries carry pocket-size pamphlets of local bus schedules and maps. In the Metro Vancouver region, you may find maps and schedules on TransLink’s website. You may also use the online tool – Trip Planner – to find the best route and timing for your trip. Outside Metro Vancouver, you can find information on BC Transit’s website. When riding on a bus, if you want the bus driver to let you off at the next stop, pull the cord above your seat or push the red button. SkyTrains, the WestCoast Express and the Seabus stop at every station along the route. In the Metro Vancouver region, you can use a Compass Card – a reloadable fare card that works on buses, SkyTrains, the WestCoast Express and the SeaBus. Outside Metro Vancouver, you need exact change in coins, or a ticket, a daypass or a monthly pass to ride the bus. You will get a transfer from the driver when you pay your fare. Check the transfer to see how long you can use it.

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The cost to use public transit varies by community. If you take public transit regularly, it is cheaper to buy a pass or book of tickets. In the Metro Vancouver region, you can pay cash or use a Compass Card, and bus transfers on the bus. You will have to use a Compass Card or Compass ticket on SkyTrains, the WestCoast Express or the SeaBus. Bus transfers are not accepted on SkyTrains or the SeaBus. You can buy a Compass Card at Compass retailers, at a Compass Vending Machine, online or over the phone. Outside Metro Vancouver, you can buy these tickets and passes at many grocery stores, drugstores and convenience stores. Bus drivers do not sell tickets or passes. Children under 5 years old can ride for free when they are with an adult. Full-time students and seniors (65 years and older) may pay a lower price with valid identification. People with disabilities also get a special pass.

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People in wheelchairs and scooters can get on all public transit buses in communities throughout British Columbia. In many cities and towns, handyDART provides door-to-door public transit for people with disabilities, but you have to register with handyDART to use their services. The Government of British Columbia has a bus pass program for eligible low-income people with disabilities. Some taxis also take wheelchairs, but you need to ask for wheelchair services when you call the taxi company.

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Walking and Cycling

You should cross streets only at a corner or a crosswalk, and obey all traffic lights. It is against the law to cross in the middle of a block. This is called jaywalking, and if the police see you jaywalking, you may have to pay a fine. Many corners have crosswalks, which are wide white lines painted on the road or a sign. Cars should stop at crosswalks to let people cross. Although pedestrians have the right of way, you should always be careful when crossing a street. Look left first, then right. Make eye contact with drivers before stepping off the curb. When walking in the dark, especially over the winter season, you should keep yourself visible to drivers by wearing bright, reflective items, or adding a reflective sticker or patch to your jacket and bag.

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You do not need a licence to ride a bicycle in British Columbia. People on bicycles must ride on the road, not on the sidewalk. You must obey the same rules as car drivers. Only one person may ride a bicycle. A small child may ride in a special seat behind the adult rider. You must have a light in front and a red reflector on the back of your bicycle to ride at night. The law says everyone who rides a bicycle must wear a helmet (except Sikhs who wear a turban for religious reasons). Where there is a bike lane, you should use it. Some community centres and bicycle shops have free clinics to teach people how to ride safely.

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If you live in Metro Vancouver, TransLink offers online cycling maps to help find cycling routes on bike paths and streets, as well as bike lockers. MapMyRide provides information about cycling routes in different communities throughout British Columbia.

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The Legal System

Police

In Canada, the police are separate from the government and the army. The police are part of the community. Their duty is to protect the people in the community. British Columbia has many types of communities, from highly populated, large urban centres to small villages. The residents of each community have different policing needs. This is reflected in how policing is delivered throughout the province. In British Columbia, there is 1 Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) provincial force, 63 RCMP municipal forces, 11 independent municipal police departments, 1 First Nations administered force, and the RCMP federal force.

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Many cities and towns have two phone numbers for the police. One is an emergency number and the other is a non-emergency number. You should call the emergency number if you or someone else is in danger or if a serious crime has just happened. In most areas of British Columbia, the emergency number is 9-1-1. 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. You can find the number in the front pages of the telephone book in your area. You should call the non-emergency number if no one is in danger or time has passed since the crime happened. You can find the number in the front pages of the telephone book in your area. If you are not sure which number to call, call the emergency number and tell them what is happening. They will be able to help you.

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Scams and Frauds

When you move to British Columbia as a new immigrant, you may not be used to how organizations or governments operate. To protect yourself, you should be aware of scams and frauds that often target new immigrants to Canada. You should visit government websites to learn about common scams and frauds as well as how to protect yourself when a scam or a fraud occurs. It is important to note that Canadian government departments will not contact you over the telephone to collect any fees or fines, be aggressive or threaten to arrest or deport you, threaten to harm you or a member of your family, or damage your home or property.

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Housing and Setting Up

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.

Education and Childcare

Early Years

A pre-school is a part-day program (maximum of four hours) that helps young children prepare for school. Children learn important skills and parents get information about how to help their children. Pre-schools are for children 30 months and older who have not yet entered grade 1. Some pre-schools serve mixed-age groups and others have separate sessions for children who are 3-4 years old. Many pre-schools are free and usually operate from September to June.

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If you would like to enrol your child in a StrongStartBC or ReadySetLearn program, you should contact your local school district. If you would like to enrol your child in an English as a Second Language (ESL) program, you should contact your local settlement agency.

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K-12

K-12 is short for Kindergarten to Grade 12.

 

In British Columbia, all children between the ages of 6-16 years must go to school or they can study at home. They can attend a public school, independent (private) school or study at home. Public schools are free in British Columbia, and every child living here is eligible to attend. Independent schools often charge a fee and offer specific religious, language, educational or philosophical approaches. Home Schooling allows students to work with their parents at their own speed to mix life and schoolwork into the family schedule. There is also an option for Distributed Learning. This means that students are allowed to learn at a distance from their teacher, whether they are at home, school or another learning facility. To graduate and receive a graduation certificate, all students must meet the provincial graduation requirements.

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To enrol your child in public school, contact your local school district. You child will attend the school located in the school catchment area where you live in. To enrol your child in an independent school, contact the school that you would like your child to attend. To enrol your child in homeschooling or Distributed Learning, visit the Ministry of Education website. When you enrol your child in school, you will need to show official documents with your child’s date of birth, your resident status in British Columbia, and the address where you live. You will also need to show your child’s immunization record, which is a paper that lists the vaccinations against diseases that your child has received. B.C.’s public K-12 schools accept mid-year admission. However, most private schools only admit students at the beginning of a school year.

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The Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS) Program is a school-based settlement service that helps the children of newcomers and their families to settle in their schools and communities. Most school districts with a considerable immigrant population have a SWIS program. Some SWIS programs are offered through local settlement agencies. You should contact your local school or settlement agency for more information.

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Most students who need help learning English will get support in their classroom. Some older students attend both regular classroom programs and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. You should contact your local school for more information.

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There are three kinds of French programs available for francophone and non-francophone students in British Columbia. Francophone education programs are designed for students whose first language is French. Instruction for all courses is in French. French immersion programs are designed for non-francophone students to become bilingual. Basic curriculum instruction is provided entirely in French during the first years, with English-language instruction added gradually. Late immersion programs are also available. Core French courses are taught in many schools and help students learn to communicate in French and experience francophone cultures.

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A few school districts in the Metro Vancouver region offer bilingual programs (English and a non-official language) for elementary and middle school students regardless of their first language. Many secondary schools have a choice of language classes in their curriculum. In order to prepare for undergraduate admission to post-secondary institutions, secondary school students are encouraged to take a language class (other than English). Your child should learn the admission requirements of post-secondary institutions and plan their courses selection starting from grade 9 or grade 10. In some communities, elementary and secondary students may also be able to take classes after school or on Saturdays in different languages. You may have to pay fees for these classes. You should contact your local school or the British Columbia Heritage Language Association for more information.

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When your child is new to BC’s school, it is important for you to communicate with your child’s school teachers, counsellors and administrators. There are many ways to learn about your child’s school and support your child’s studies, e.g. attending an orientation at the beginning of the school year, subscribing for the school newsletter, attending parent-teacher interviews, reviewing school report cards, participating in school initiatives and volunteering at your child’s school (e.g. school events, at the library and on Parent Advisory Councils). When you have a concern about your child’s education or behaviour at school, you may call or email teachers, counsellors or principals. You may also consult the Settlement Workers at School (SWIS) to learn ways and tips about communication with your child’s school.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Program is an internationally renowned program which offers a coordinated curriculum from grade 9 through grade 12 for talented and highly-motivated students. IB is recognized throughout North America as equivalent to first year university courses. Students who achieve well in IB subjects will generally receive university credit for their efforts. Most school districts in BC offer district wide IB programs to their students. It is students’ responsibility to apply for this program. To apply for the IB program, your child needs to submit an application package and write an exam. The application usually opens in December and admission often ends in February of their grade 8 school year. Most school districts offer orientation sessions to grade 8 students and their parents between October and January. If your child is interested in the IB program, your child and you may consider contacting your child’s school for more information.

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Advanced Placement is a program that allows students to take courses during high school that can earn them college credit and/or qualify students for more advanced classes when they begin college. Usually secondary students write their selected AP exams during their grade 11 or 12 school year. AP exams are usually scheduled in early May each year and registration for the exams often opens in early March. Although it is not required, students intending to take AP courses often enrol into school based Honour Programs starting from grade 9. To apply for the Honour Program, grade 8 students will have to fill out an application form and write an exam which often takes place in January. Each secondary school has their own selection of AP/Honour courses. You may consult the secondary school in your catchment area for more information.

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Post-Secondary Education

Post-secondary education refers to education beyond high school. It can be completed at different types of post-secondary schools, such as universities, colleges and institutes. Some schools are “recognized”, which means that they can grant degrees, diplomas, certificates or other qualifications. In British Columbia, there are hundreds of public and private post-secondary schools. At public universities, colleges and institutes, the government pays for most of the cost of programs, but students also have to pay some fees. Each post-secondary school and program has different fees. There are usually two main terms of study per year: September to December and January to April. Most schools also offer summer courses. Students can attend class full-time or part-time or study from home by enrolling in an online program.

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There are 11 public universities in British Columbia that offer different types of undergraduate and graduate degree programs in many disciplines and subjects. Some also offer courses and programs in trades, vocational and career technical studies that can lead to a certificate or diploma or help you prepare for other post-secondary studies.

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There are 11 public colleges in British Columbia that that offer programs in trades/apprenticeship, vocational, career, technical, and academic studies (often called university transfer). Colleges also offer developmental programs that help you prepare for post-secondary studies. They offer credentials from certificates, diplomas, associate degrees, and applied undergraduate degrees (called Bachelor degrees).

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There are three public institutes in British Columbia that focus on career, vocational and technical specialties and cover a variety of occupations. They offer credentials from certificates to degrees. One institute has an Aboriginal focus.

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There are approximately 320 private career training institutions in British Columbia, with programs ranging from sound and audio technicians to licensed practical nurses to commercial pilots. In British Columbia, any private career training institution offering a program with tuition of $1,000 or more and is 40 hours or longer in duration must register and adhere to basic education standards set by the Private Career Training Institutions Agency (PCTIA).

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Secondary students usually start their application for post-secondary institutions at the beginning of their grade 12 school year. However, it is very important to consider and plan for their post-secondary education way ahead of grade 12, starting at grade 9. Guided by their post-secondary education goals, students will plan and select their core courses and elective courses, get involved in school and community initiatives, and be engaged in extracurricular activities throughout grade 9 to grade 12. School counsellors at secondary schools are available for students and their parents who need guidance regarding post-secondary education. Most post-secondary institutions offer a wide range of initiatives for grade 9-12 students and their parents to learn about the application and admission processes, including: orientation sessions, workshops, campus tours and open houses. Advisory offices at post-secondary institutions are also approachable throughout the school year.

Adult Education

Adult Basic Education (ABE) refers to education programs for adults who are not ready to enter directly into an academic or career program at the post-secondary level. Adult upgrading programs serve people who have basic literacy needs, did not complete high school or are upgrading so they can go on to post-secondary education and/or training. Adult Special Education programs serve people with permanent disabilities. English as a Second Language (ESL) programs serve newcomers to British Columbia whose first language is not English.

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Continuing education refers to education programs for adults after they have left the formal education system. These programs consist typically of short or part-time courses offered by post-secondary institutions and school districts in British Columbia.

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ESL Programs

Permanent Residents (PRs) may be eligible to take free English classes in British Columbia. Special pre-school programs can help young children learn English. Elementary and secondary students will learn English at school. Adult immigrants can attend full-time or part-time English classes at a college or public school. These schools may offer free English as a Second Language (ESL) classes or charge fees for classes. The Government of British Columbia may help pay the fees for students with low incomes. Settlement agencies, community groups and churches may provide free or low-cost English classes in some areas. Many private English schools and private tutors also teach English, but they may be more expensive than classes in public schools and colleges.

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The Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program is a free language training program for eligible adult learners that provides basic language skills. In British Columbia, it is generally offered in English, but there are a few institutions that offer the program in French.

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You can take LINC classes if you are a permanent resident or a refugee but not Canadian citizen yet, and 17 years or older. You will need to complete an application form and submit it with a photocopy of your immigration document. You will also need to complete a language assessment test. If you live in Metro Vancouver or Fraser Valley area, you can submit your application to an assessment and referral centre in your community. The next question has information on the assessment and referral centres in your areas. If you live anywhere else in British Columbia, you should contact the school that offers Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) classes in your area.

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Language assessment centres provide immigrants with English or French language assessment (testing) for government-funded programs. The assessments are based on the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLBs), which is the nationally recognized standard for measuring speaking, listening, reading and writing. Language assessment centres can also give information about locations and class schedules of language training programs, enrol you in a government-funded language training program, and provide you with a referral to a government-funded language training program. 

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Financial Support

A Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) is a special education savings account registered with the Government of Canada to help you save for your children’s post-secondary education or training programs. You can open an RESP at many banks and credit unions. The money deposited grows tax-free until it is withdrawn. RESPs can be left open for up to 36 years and used by beneficiaries to pay for full-time or part-time studies in a qualifying college, university, trade school or apprenticeship program.

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The British Columbia Training and Education Savings Grant (BCTESG) is a new program by the Government of British Columbia. If your child is a beneficiary of a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) with a participating financial institution, the Government of British Columbia will contribute $1,200 to eligible children through the BCTESG that can be used for post-secondary education or training programs.

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The Government of British Columbia lends money to many students who need financial help. Some students with low incomes may get help to pay their fees and some of their living expenses. To get this help, students must have lived in British Columbia for 12 months before their program starts. Most post-secondary institutions offer a wide range of scholarships and financial assistance programs to help students meet their financial needs. Contact counsellors at your high school or post-secondary institution for more information and support.

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Money and Banking

Money Basics

The monetary system in Canada is based on dollars and cents. All of Canada uses the Canadian Dollar (C$ or CAD). Canadian bills or bank notes are commonly available in $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 denominations. They are brightly coloured, making them easy to tell apart from one another. Canadian coins include the toonie ($2), loonie ($1), quarter ($0.25), dime ($0.10) and nickel ($0.05). In 2014, the Government of Canada stopped making the penny ($0.01), so purchase totals are rounded off to the nearest penny.

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Opening a Bank Account

Before you choose a place to bank, find out what kind of accounts they offer, ask about banking charges and interest on your money, and consider how far it is from where you live or work. Ask family members, friends or colleagues what banks they use and visit different banks online or in-person to find out more. The biggest Canadian banks are Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), TD Canada Trust, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), Scotiabank and Bank of Montreal (BMO). There are also many regional banks, credit unions and international banks, such as Vancity, Coast Capital Savings, HSBC, Citibank, ING and UBS.

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A chequing account is used for withdrawals and deposits. Money in a chequing account is easy to use and can be withdrawn using cheques, automated bank machines (ABMs) and electronic debit cards. A savings account is a safe place to keep money for short periods of time. You will earn a small amount of interest on balances that stay in the account. A chequing-savings account pays interest and lets you write cheques. A term deposit usually pays more interest than a savings account, but you have to leave the money in the account for a certain length of time (a term).

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You can open an account at a bank, credit union or trust company. You will need to present two pieces of identification, such as a Canadian driver’s license, Social Insurance Number (SIN) card or Permanent Resident (PR) card. You can use a foreign passport or employee identity card with a photograph as secondary identification.

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Most banks will allow future clients to start their bank account application online before they arrive in BC. Some banks that have branches overseas may allow you to open a bank account, send money and/or apply for a credit card before you leave your home country, but you will need to activate your account when you arrive in BC.

A debit card is a plastic card issued by a financial institution and used to access money from a bank account. You can use a debit card at an automated bank machine (ABM) or a point of sale terminal, such as at the checkout at a grocery store. You will be asked to swipe or insert the card into the terminal and enter a personal identification number (PIN) code on a PIN pad. Your financial institution may set a daily limit on the amount of money that you can withdraw from your account with your debit card. You may be charged a convenience fee or surcharge when you use your debit card to make purchases in stores or withdraw money from an ABM.

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Sending and Receiving Money

You can bring money into Canada in different forms, such as cash, stocks, bonds, debentures, treasury bills, bank drafts, cheques, traveller’s cheques, money orders or a transfer of funds between your bank and a Canadian bank. When you arrive, you must tell the border official if you are carrying more than C$10,000, or the equivalent in another currency. If you do not declare it, you may need to pay a fine or face other penalties. You are not taxed on the money you bring when you land in Canada as a Permanent Resident (PR).

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Canadian banks and foreign exchange companies can send money to banks in most countries. You can also mail a money order or draft, which you can get at a bank, foreign exchange company or post office. Check first that the money order or draft can be cashed in the country where you are sending it.

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Credit and Loans

A credit card lets you buy things now and pay for them later. You can get credit cards from banks (e.g. Visa, MasterCard), department stores or gas companies. If you do not pay the full amount of the credit card bill each month, you will have to pay interest. The interest on some credit cards is higher than on others. In British Columbia, most banks will not give you a credit card if you do not have a Canadian credit history. However, if you are a new immigrant, there are some ways that you may be able to get a credit card.

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A loan gives you a large amount of money at once, and you begin paying interest on the total amount immediately, regardless of when you actually use the money. A loan must be repaid with interest on or before a fixed date. A line of credit is a type of loan that lets you borrow money as needed, up to a maximum amount. You are only charged interest on the amount that you use (rather than the total amount), from the day that you withdraw it until the day that you pay it back in full. Interest rates on a line of credit are generally low and the limits are usually high.

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A credit-reporting agency will collect information whenever you take out a loan, use a credit card, or take advantage of a “buy now, pay later” offer. They will check whether or not you make your payments on time and how long it takes you to pay back money that you have borrowed. This information becomes part of what is called your credit history. Financial institutions usually check your credit history when deciding whether or not to give you a loan or credit. Landlords may use your credit history to decide whether or not they will rent to you. If your credit history is poor, a lender may refuse to give you a loan or you may have to pay a higher interest rate. In Canada, there are two credit-reporting agencies – Equifax and TransUnion.

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One of the ways to start building a Canadian credit history is to get a credit card. To maintain a good credit history, you will need to pay your bills in full and on time, including rent, utilities, cable and insurance premiums.

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Credit card fraud is a growing trend in Canada. You can protect yourself from credit card fraud by keeping your credit cards and credit card numbers secure, being careful when using your credit card online, shredding anything with your credit card number on it, only giving out your credit card number when necessary, reporting suspicious activity immediately, and reviewing your billing statements each month.

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Identity theft is a growing trend in Canada. It occurs when someone steals your personal information, such as your name, address, Social Insurance Number (SIN), banking information or credit card information. Thieves are able to use the information they steal to open new bank accounts, order cell phones, take out mortgages on the victim’s property, and buy cars and furniture.

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Savings and Investments

There are different types of savings accounts available in British Columbia. You can save money in a savings account or Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA). You can also save money for your retirement in a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) or for your children’s education in a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP). With a TFSA, RRSP and RESP, you will not have to pay taxes on the interest that you earn, but there is a maximum amount that can be invested each year. Your financial institution can help you choose the best option.

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There are different types of investments sold by banks and other financial companies in British Columbia. Low-risk investments include Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs), treasury bills and government and corporate bonds. High-risk investments include stocks and shares. Mutual funds and exchange-traded funds are also common investment options, but it is important to know what types of investments are included in these options because it will affect the risk level. When considering investments, you should look at the fees that apply because they will have an impact on your return.

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Taxes

In Canada, the federal, provincial/territorial and municipal governments collect money from individuals and businesses to help pay for government programs and services, such as roads, parks, community centres, schools, health care and welfare. Common taxes include income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes and business taxes.

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In Canada, residents must pay income tax on the money that they earn, which is collected by the Canada Revenue Agency. If you have a salary, taxes are taken off automatically throughout the year. If you are self-employed, you will have to pay your income tax in a single payment or in several payments. Each year, you must submit an Income Tax and Benefit Return to tell the government how much you made and how much tax you paid. On this return, you list your taxable income, deductions and tax credits to calculate how much tax you owe. If you paid too much tax, you will get a refund. If you paid too little tax, you will have to pay more. You will also need to file a tax return to qualify for government benefits, such as the Canada Child Tax Benefit, Universal Child Care Benefit and GST Credit. In general, you will want to file a tax return even you don’t have any income. For example, you could claim a GST credit even with no income.

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If you are a resident of British Columbia, you must fill out an income tax form each year and send it to the federal government by April 30. Even if you have no income in Canada, you must still report your income from outside Canada. You must also report and pay tax on any income you receive from investments. If you are self-employed or own a business, you must fill out and send in an income tax form by June 15, but you still have to pay any taxes owing by April 30. You can submit your income tax form in different ways – by mail, phone or online.

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During March and April, many community and settlement agencies offer free help to newcomers with filling in income tax forms. Contact local settlement agencies for more information. You can also pay someone to help you, such as an accountant or a tax preparation company.

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Employment

Finding a Job

You need to apply for a Social Insurance Number (SIN) in order to work in Canada or to have access to government programs and benefits. Finding a job in Canada may be different from finding a job in your home country. You may face challenges at the beginning to get a job that matches your qualifications and interests. It may take time to build your qualifications and gain Canadian experience before finding the job you really want. However, there are several resources that can help you understand what to do to find a job.

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You can find information about job opportunities using government and non-government job search websites, industry-specific job boards, classified sections of national and local newspapers, and social media (e.g. LinkedIn). You can also research companies where you want to work and check their websites for job postings. You can attend a job fair – a place where employers and people looking for jobs meet and discuss jobs. You can ask family members and friends if they know about available jobs. Some jobs are not advertised and you may learn about them by asking people.

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There are different employment services available to help you look for a job, plan your career, or start your own business. They include self-service tools and resources, workshops and one-on-one counselling on various topics, sometimes in a variety of languages, depending on the geographic location. You should contact your local settlement agency or WorkBC Services Centre to find out what is available in your community. You may also choose to hire an employment agency or recruiter. However, in British Columbia, you are not required to hire employment agency or recruiter to find a job.

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To apply for a job in British Columbia, you will need to send a résumé (also known as curriculum vitae or CV) and cover letter to the employer. The employer may also ask you to complete an application form, or to see your portfolio or a sample of your work. Job postings usually have instructions about how to submit your documents – by email, fax, mail or online – and the deadline to apply for the job.

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Your résumé and cover letter are an employer’s first impression of you. A résumé is a list of your qualifications and work experience. A cover letter is a short description of what makes you a strong candidate for that job. Everything matters, including spelling and formatting. Based on your résumé and cover letter, the employer will decide whether to invite you for a job interview. It’s a good idea to have someone look over your résumé and cover letter before you apply. Many settlement agencies can help you with this.

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The job interview is very important part of the job search process. The employer will decide if you have the skills and attitude they are looking for and if you will work well with other employees. It’s also a chance for you to find out if the organization is a place you would like to work. It’s a good idea to practice your interview techniques before you go to an interview. Depending on the job, you might also have to prepare some work to bring to the interview or be ready to demonstrate a skill.

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You may be asked to provide the names of references that a potential employer can contact to find out more about you. References are people who can talk about your work experience, work habits, character and skills. It is a good idea to choose people who can speak favourably about you and your work. This will improve your chances of getting the job.

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Professions and Trades

In Canada, there are two types of occupations – regulated and unregulated. Regulated occupations are also called professions, skilled trades or apprenticeable trades. If you want to work in a regulated occupation and use a regulated title, you must have a licence or a certificate or be registered with the regulatory body for your occupation in the province or territory where you plan to work. About 20% of Canadian jobs are in regulated occupations. Each regulated occupation sets its own requirements for obtaining a licence or a certificate, usually through the provincial or territorial regulatory body or professional association. These jobs are regulated to protect public health and safety and to ensure that professionals meet the required standards of practice and competence.

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Over 200 occupations are regulated in British Columbia. Some fields where regulated occupations are commonly found include health care, financial services, law and legal services, and engineering. If you want to work in one of these professions, you will need to be certified and registered for the occupation. Each regulated occupation has different standards, and each one has a regulatory authority to establish and uphold these standards. The regulatory authorities will assess your qualifications for certification and registration. This is called the Foreign Qualifications Recognition (FQR) assessment process.

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Over 100 skilled and apprenticeable trades are regulated in British Columbia, including Red Seal trades. Red Seal trades are specific trades that some provinces and territories have jointly agreed on specific standards. In these trades, you may work in multiple provinces or territories without having to write examinations or get further certification. The Industry Training Authority (ITA) is responsible for leading and coordinating the skilled trades training and credentialing system for the province. ITA sets program standards, maintains credential records, and issues Interprovincial Red Seal and British Columbia Certificate or Qualifications credentials.

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A non-regulated (unregulated) occupation is one you can work in without a licence, certificate or registration. Most jobs in Canada are in non-regulated or unregulated occupations. Some occupations allow you to register with a professional body or association on a voluntary basis. Requirements will vary between employers, so you will need to be prepared to show that you have the education, skills and experience to do the job. Employers may also be interested in the Canadian equivalency to your international educational credentials or qualification, but it is up to the employer to decide whether the qualifications you have earned outside Canada are equivalent to the Canadian qualifications needed for the job.

It will depend on your occupation and the country where you obtained your qualifications. If you want to work in a regulated occupation, you will need to become certified and registered for the occupation. Each regulated occupation has different standards, and each one has a regulatory authority to establish and uphold these standards. If you want to work in a non-regulated occupation, it will be up to the employer to decide whether or not your qualifications will be recognized.

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International Credential Evaluation Service (ICES) evaluates the credentials of people who have studied in other provinces or countries and determines comparable levels in British Columbian and Canadian terms. The results of an ICES assessment are provided in evaluation reports that are objective, consistent and reliable. Many new immigrants have their credentials evaluated to determine equivalencies in Canada. There is a fee associated with this service.

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Business and Self-Employment

There are three main options for starting a business in British Columbia: build a new business from ground up, buy an existing business or start a franchise. If you decide to build up a new business, you will have to come up with an idea and business plan, marketing strategies for your product(s) and/or service(s), and establish your clientele and credit. You should also consider different business structures – Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, and Incorporation – each have different implications for liability and taxation. If you decide to buy an existing business, you will have some advantages, such as an established clientele and existing business method. However, you will have to figure out why the business is for sale and what it is really worth. If you decide to start a franchise, it combines the freedom of running an independent business with the advantages of working for a large business. There are many rules about starting a business. Businesses must be registered and, in some cases, licensed by the government. You may contact “Small Business BC” which is a key resource centre with comprehensive small business information and services to help you start your business.

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There are different funding options available for people interested in starting a business in British Columbia. It’s a good idea to fund at least 25-50% of your business from your personal savings. It shows investors that you’re willing to assume risk to achieve success and it will be easier to raise funds from other sources. There are some grants available to help those starting a new business, as well as options for commercial or government loans.

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There are many government funded self-employment programs that offer free services, loans and other financial support for people to start their small business. “Small Business BC” offers various workshops and seminars for small business owners to learn skills and knowledge about marketing, accounting, sales, etc. You may also consider connecting with the BC Chamber of Commerce which is the largest and most broadly-based business organization in British Columbia. The BC Chamber of Commerce and local Chambers of Commerce or Boards of Trade provide their members with various resources, workshops and networking opportunities to expand business networks and boost business opportunities.

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Social Insurance Number

A Social Insurance Number (SIN) is a nine-digit number that you need in order to work in Canada or have access to government programs and benefits. Children aged 12 years and older may apply for their own SIN. Parents and legal guardians can also apply for a SIN for children under the age of majority in their province. Each SIN is issued to one person only. It cannot legally be used by anyone else. You are responsible for protecting your SIN, so it is important that you keep it in a safe place.

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You will need to visit a Service Canada Centre to apply for your Social Insurance Number (SIN). You will need to show certain documents, depending on your status in Canada. If you are a Permanent Resident (PR), you will have to show your PR card, confirmation of PR and Visa counterfoil in your foreign passport, or confirmation of PR and Visa counterfoil on Single Journey Document for Resettlement to Canada. If the name on your primary document is different from the name you currently use, you will also need to show one supporting document. All documents must be written in English or French or be accompanied by an official translation attested to by the translator before a notary public, or prepared by an officer of a foreign government or an official of the British or Canadian Consulate.

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Your Social Insurance Number (SIN) is a confidential number, so you should only provide it when it is legally required. Only some government departments and programs are allowed to collect and use your SIN. However, there is no law that stops organizations from asking for it. Store any document containing your SIN and personal information in a safe place. Do not keep it with you and never use it as a piece of identification.

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Worker Rights and Responsibilities

Most occupations in British Columbia are covered under the Employment Standards Act of British Columbia. The Employment Standards Act of British Columbia sets out a minimum standard for employment and workplace safety that employers and employees must follow. These standards include wages, overtime, breaks, vacation leave, wage deductions and more.

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Some occupations in British Columbia are covered under the Canadian Labour Code and not the Employment Standards Act of British Columbia, such the federal government, bank and airline employees. The Canadian Labour Code sets out a minimum standard for employment and workplace safety that employers and employees must follow. These standards include wages, overtime, breaks, vacation leave, wage deductions and more.

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WorkSafeBC is a public agency that promotes workplace health and safety for workers and employers in British Columbia. WorkSafeBC also provides injured workers with compensation, medical benefits and help returning to work safely after their injury.

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Employment Insurance (EI) is a program run by the Government of Canada. It provides temporary income support to residents who are looking for work or cannot work. There are different types of benefits. Regular benefits are for people who lose their job through no fault of their own. Special benefits are for people who are sick, injured, pregnant, caring for a newborn or adopted child, or caring for a family member who is seriously ill with a significant risk of death. The requirements depend on where you live and what kind of benefits you apply for.

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Volunteering

Volunteering is an important part of Canadian life. Many Canadians volunteer for non-profit organizations, charities or other organizations. Volunteering is an excellent way to gain Canadian experience, practical knowledge of the Canadian workplace, and references. It is also a great way to meet new people, develop new skills, and learn about issues that affect your community.

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You can find information about volunteer opportunities on different websites. You can also contact your local settlement agency and they will be able to help you. Most municipal governments also have well-developed systems and resources to help you volunteer in the community. Visit the website of your municipality for more information.

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It is important for you to know what you are committing to when you volunteer. You can ask the volunteer centre or organization that you are interested in volunteering with what they expect and what they can offer you.

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Health

BC Health Insurance

The Government of British Columbia has a health insurance plan called the Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP). It is only available for residents who are Canadian citizens, Permanent Residents (PRs) or Government Assisted Refugees (GARs) and who have lived in British Columbia for three months. Post-secondary international students with study permits and people with work permits for six months or longer can also get MSP. Some refugee claimants may also qualify for MSP.

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The Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP) pays for most health costs, such as doctors, most medical tests, and treatments. Some health costs are not covered by MSP, such as dentists and physiotherapists. MSP might cover some unexpected medical services while you are temporarily absent from BC. The cost of medical care outside BC or Canada can be higher than the amount covered by MSP. Visit the Ministry of Health’s website for more information about exclusions and limitations about medical benefits covered by MSP.

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The Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP) is not free. You must pay a monthly fee (premium), depending on your income and the number of people in your family. If you have a job, MSP premiums may be paid by your employer. Ask your employer about this. If your income is low (an annual adjusted net income of $26,000 or less), you may be eligible for premium assistance, which means that you may be able to pay less or get free MSP coverage. To be eligible for premium assistance, you must have lived in Canada for the last 12 consecutive months (one year) as a Canadian citizen or Permanent Resident (PR).

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You should register for the Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP) as soon as you arrive in British Columbia. All residents must register for MSP. There is a waiting period, which means that you will not get MSP coverage for up to three months. When you apply for MSP, you will need to give your name exactly as it is on other official documents. If you are applying for a self-administered MSP account, you must complete and submit an Application for Enrolment form. If MSP is available through your employer, ask them for information about group applications. You may need to visit an Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) driver licensing office to complete enrolment in MSP. If this is the case, you will receive a written notice with next steps in the mail.

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The BC Services Card is a secure government-issued identification card that eligible residents of British Columbia can use to access provincially funded health services under the Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP). There are three versions of the card: BC Driver’s Licence and Services Card, Photo BC Services Card, and Non-Photo BC Services Card. BC Services Cards expire every five years and need to be renewed before the expiry date. You do not need to pay for the BC Services Card.

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PharmaCare and Fair PharmaCare help residents of British Columbia with the cost of eligible prescription drugs and certain medical supplies and pharmacy services. They provide assistance through several drug plans. To be eligible for PharmaCare, you must be enrolled in the Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP). Once you have PharmaCare coverage, any portion of your prescription covered by PharmaCare is calculated at the time of purchase. You pay only the costs not covered by PharmaCare. Assistance through the Fair PharmaCare plan is based on income from the last two years. The lower your income, the more help you receive. There is no cost to register and there are no premiums. If you are a new resident of British Columbia, you can register for Fair PharmaCare as soon as you receive your BC Services Card. All family members on the same MSP account will be registered together.

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The British Columbia Healthy Kids Program helps families who are partially or fully eligible for Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP) premium assistance with the cost of basic dental care and prescription eyewear for their dependent children under the age of 19. Once your MSP premium assistance application has been approved, the BC Healthy Kids Program begins at the start of the next month. No separate application is necessary.

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The Interim Federal Health (IFH) Program is a program that pays for medical services for a short period of time for some refugees and refugee claimants. It is not designed to replace provincial health insurance and does not provide the same extent of coverage as the Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP). Refugees and refugee claimants may be eligible if they cannot afford to pay for medical services and are not covered under MSP or private health insurance. After receiving coverage under MSP, refugees and refugee claimants may still be eligible for partial benefits under the IFH program for up to 12 months after arrival in Canada.

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Some employers offer extended health care benefits to their employees. These benefits are designed to help promote the continued health and wellbeing of staff. Benefits include coverage for a wide range of services not included under the Medical Services Plan (MSP) of British Columbia, such as prescription drugs, vision care, emergency medical care while traveling, sessions with registered clinical psychologists and massage therapists, and medical equipment purchases.

The Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP) does not cover all medical costs. If you do not have extended health care benefits through your job, you can buy extra insurance from a private company. MSP only provides coverage for emergency hospital care when traveling outside Canada, with a limit of $75.00 a day in Canadian funds. You should consider additional private health insurance when traveling abroad. There are three types of private health insurance agency: for-profit, not-for-profit and co-operatives. In B.C., Pacific Blue Cross is the dominant non-for-profit private insurer.

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The Provincial Health Services Authority provides free interpretation services in over 150 languages. The services include: onsite spoken language interpreting for immigrant and refugee populations, remote interpreting by phone or video conference for immigrant and refugee populations, and online booking, schedule changes and reporting. The services are provided to health-care professionals who work for any agency or service under the BC health authorities. Doctors and other health care professionals are not required to use the interpreting service and they might not even don’t know that these services exist. You should consider mentioning the interpreting services to your doctor or health care provider if you need this service.

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Medical Services

HealthLinkBC provides free non-emergency health information and referral services any time of the day or night, every day of the year. You can learn about health topics, check your symptoms, and find the health services that you need. You can also search the online directory to find health services in your community. To access HealthLinkBC, call 8-1-1 from anywhere in British Columbia to speak with a nurse. On weekdays, you can speak with a dietician about nutrition and healthy eating, and at night, you can speak with a pharmacist to answer medication questions. It also provides access the BC HealthGuide Handbook, which has information on common health topics, and HealthLinkBC files, which are easy-to-read factsheets on public health and safety topics.

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A Community Health Centre (CHC) is a non-profit, publicly funded health services centre. Family physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, dieticians, dental hygienists, health promoters, community health workers and other care providers and health program staff all work as a team to deliver care and support.

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Many communities have Public Health Units. Public Health Units are medical offices where nurses and doctors give free health care information. They are experts in immunization, communicable disease control, maternal and pregnancy health, early childhood development, speech therapy, audiology, nutrition, dental health and other public health topics. You will need your BC Services Card to visit a Public Health Unit.

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If you do not have a family doctor, you can go to a walk-in clinic. You do not need an appointment. These clinics have nurses and doctors who see patients in the order that they arrive. Service hours vary and can change at any time. Some are open late and many are open seven days a week. Most large communities have walk-in clinics. You can find the walk-in clinic(s) in your community on the HealthLinkBC website.

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If you have a serious accident or suddenly get very sick, you should go to the emergency department of a hospital. Many emergency departments are open 24 hours a day. If you are taking prescription medicine, you should bring it with you. There is at least one hospital in every community. You can find the hospital(s) in your community on the HealthLinkBC website. You do not have to pay for hospital costs if you are covered under the Medical Services Plan (MSP) of British Columbia.

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You should only call for an ambulance if there is a health emergency and you need immediate medical assistance. If you need an ambulance, call 9-1-1 or the emergency phone number in your area. This number is usually at the front of the telephone book. Ask for an ambulance. The ambulance will take you to the emergency department of a hospital. The Medical Services Plan (MSP) of British Columbia will not pay for the ambulance. If you go in an ambulance, you do not have to pay right away. You will get a bill later. If you have a low income, you may receive financial assistance.

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You must have a doctor’s prescription (written permission) to buy prescription drugs (medicines). If you are prescribed medication from your medical doctor, you need to take it to a pharmacist to have it processed. Most medical clinics have a pharmacy located in the same building or nearby. You can also find pharmacies in large supermarkets or drug stores. You will need your BC Services Card the first time you fill your prescription. The pharmacist will explain how often and how long you must take the medicine. PharmaCare may pay for some of the cost for prescription drugs you buy in British Columbia.  Pharmacies also charge a dispensing fee for each prescription they dispense. PharmaCare covers up to $10.00 in dispensing fees. If a pharmacy charges higher than a $10.00 dispensing fee, you will need to pay the difference.

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You can buy some medicines without a prescription. These are called non-prescription (over-the-counter) drugs. They are usually for less serious problems, such as common colds or headaches. If you have a question about non-prescription drugs, you can ask the pharmacist.

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If you are traveling overseas with a prescription or even over-the-counter medications, you should plan ahead. Prior to your trip, you should consult with your physician to identify your healthcare needs. Usually you are permitted to bring a single course of treatment or a 90-day supply, whichever is less based on the directions for use. Your prescription medicines and even some over-the-counter medication might be illegal at your destination. You should consider visiting the government website of your destination to make sure your medication is legal in that country. Be mindful that being authorized to possess or produce marijuana under the Canada’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations does not allow you to carry marijuana in or out of Canada.

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Find a Doctor or Medical Professional

There are two types of doctors in British Columbia: family doctors (general practitioners or GPs) and specialists. Your family doctor takes care of most medical problems and looks after your everyday health needs or concerns. Medical specialists are doctors in a specific area of medicine, such as cardiologists, ophthalmologists, hospitalists and surgeons. If you are sick, you will go to your family doctor first. Your family doctor will refer you to a specialist or a hospital when needed. However, you don’t need a referral from your family doctor to see a dentist or an optometrist. The Medical Services Plan (MSP) of British Columbia will pay for most expenses of your visits to family doctors. To find a family doctor, you should visit the website of the College of Physicians and Surgeons to check the list of doctors who are taking new patients. The waiting time can vary depending on the availability of doctors in your community. While waiting for a family doctor, you can visit a walk-in clinic if you feel sick. If you would like to have a doctor who speaks your home language, you can contact your local settlement agency; they may be able to assist you.

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There are different ways to find a dentist in British Columbia. You can ask family members, friends, neighbours, co-workers and other people if they can recommend a dentist who is accepting new patients. You can contact your local settlement agency – they may be able to tell you about a dentist who speaks your language. There are also some websites that provide information about dentists in different communities. The Medical Services Plan (MSP) of British Columbia will not pay for dental services, only medically required dental surgery performed in a hospital. The British Columbia Healthy Kids Program helps low-income families with the costs of basic dental care for their dependent children under the age of 19.  

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In most communities in BC, there are many optometry clinics that offer a wide range of optometry services including: regular eye exams for health and vision problems, diagnosis and treatment of eye disease, emergency treatment for eye accidents, prescription glasses or other devices for specialized vision needs, etc. You can contact your local settlement agency – they may be able to tell you about an optometrist who speaks your language. The Medical Services Plan (MSP) of British Columbia will not pay for optometry series except medically required eye examinations. However, the British Columbia Healthy Kids Program helps low-income families with the costs of prescription eyewear for their dependent children under the age of 19.

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Mental Health

Mental health involves how you feel, think, act and interact with the world around you. It is about recognizing your potential, coping with the normal stresses of life and making a contribution to your community. Good mental health isn’t about avoiding problems or trying to achieve a “perfect” life. It’s about living well and feeling capable despite the challenges.

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Mental illnesses can take many forms, just as physical illnesses do. They can reduce your ability to cope with daily life. They can affect people of all ages, ethnicities, religions, occupations, levels of income, and levels of education. About 1 in 4 Canadians experience mental illness at some point in their life. Mental illness can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. It can also be caused by environmental factors, such as stress and lack of support of family and friends. Examples of mental illnesses include: depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychosis and schizophrenia. If you or someone you know is experiencing any symptoms, talk to your doctor or contact the BC Mental Health Support Line at 310-6789 (do not add the area code before the number).

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People can have an addiction to many different types of legal and illegal substances, such as alcohol, caffeine, illegal drugs, over-the-counter medication, prescription drugs and tobacco. It can become a problem if it begins to affect any part of your life, such as relationships with family and friends, physical, social or mental health, employment, finances, safety or legal status. Addiction can affect anyone – people of all ages, ethnicities, religions, occupations, and levels of income and education. Many people develop an addiction to cope with life’s problems.

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Moving to a new country can be challenging – adjusting can be 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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Disabilities

In Canada, the word “disability” includes many different types of physical, mental or intellectual conditions, such as mobility impairments, vision impairments, hearing impairments, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities and metal health (psychiatric) disabilities. In British Columbia, it is against the law for anyone to discriminate against you if you have a disability.

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The Government of British Columbia offers a variety of programs and services for people with disabilities. The Disability Alliance of British Columbia also provides one-to-one assistance, programs and advocacy for people with all disabilities.

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