Welcome to Vancouver!
On arrival at the Vancouver airport, you are greeted by beautifully sculpted totem poles, which I learnt in the days to come are a typical sight through most of the city and across the Pacific Northwest.
You are also greeted by very friendly and helpful airport staff (volunteers wearing bright blue jackets ó young and old alike, whoíre here to make a visitorís first experience in Vancouver as smooth as possible). The volunteers assist you with the efficient kiosk-based system that ensures that you rarely see long line-ups at the Immigration counters that follow. At one of the many kiosks, you simply scan your passport and COPR doc, fill in your import declaration, submit your biometrics, get your photo clicked, and you are ready to proceed to the Immigration counter to meet with a CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) officer. As a first-time landed immigrant, the CBSA officer directs you to another Immigration desk, where you wait with other permanent residents, students, and work permit holders for a secondary interview and document verification. The CBSA officers were very friendly and welcoming, and the interview is conducted in a casual manner. You are asked to submit your passport, so that your single-entry immigrant visa can now be cancelled and returned to you. Your COPR document is signed and stamped with the date of your landing and returned to you. This is when you submit your photos (per the specifications) and provide a mailing address for your PR (Permanent Resident) card, which will typically be delivered 45Ė90 days from now. Even if you have opted for a short-term housing option, you should still specify a mailing address. You can always change this mailing address here and track the card processing times here. You also submit the Goods Accompanying and Goods to Follow lists and get your copies of them stamped by the CBSA officer at this time.
After this, you are directed to yet another Immigration desk where a representative of CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) gives you newcomer and settlement books, and shares other settlement resources to help you adjust to your new life in Canada. You can now proceed to baggage claim to collect your bags and step out into Canada as a permanent resident.
While leaving the airport, you come across a few foreign exchange counters. However, Iíd caution you from exchanging your foreign currency here because you will get more competitive rates at currency exchanges in the city.
Since I didnít know anyone in Vancouver and had two large checked-in bags on myself, I decided to take a cab ride to my homestay in Burnaby. The cab driver, who was a chatty chap from Punjab, while friendly, ended up taking me for quite a ride (literally!). Of course, I did not know this at the time because I hadnít bothered to check the route on Google Maps prior. A few months later on my way to the airport in a cab, I realized that the chatty cab driver had taken me on quite a detour and given me a Vancouver ďdarshanĒ on my very first day.
My very kind landlord/homestay host, who was working from home just so that he could receive me, helped me settle in to what would be my home in Vancouver for the next few months. I didnít have to struggle much with jet lag because of a routine that I try to follow on most long-haul flights. It involves setting my watch to that of the destination as soon as I board the aircraft, sleeping per the destination timings, drinking a lot of water and orange juice, resisting the urge to binge watch on movies and TV shows, and, most importantly, taking a few Vitamin C tablets at regular intervals an hour or two before landing.
One of the first tasks you would want to do soon after landing is to get yourself a TransLink Compass card, so that you can use public transit (Skytrain and buses) to move around the Lower Mainland. Vancouverís public transit is well connected across this region and is one of the most affordable ways to get around. You can purchase a Compass card at retail stores located close to any Skytrain station.
Next up is getting a SIM card for your cellphone. One of the issues that you could face as a newcomer without a Canadian ID proof (driverís license or healthcare card) and credit card, is getting a postpaid connection on your name. You could either opt for a prepaid connection, or do what I did ó get a postpaid connection on my landladyís name with the bills sent to my email address, and after a few months of having built credit history with a credit card, port the connection to my name.
You would next need to apply for a SIN (Social Insurance Number) at one of the many Service Canada centers across the city. Without this, you are not eligible to work nor receive any government benefits. As a recently landed permanent resident, you need to carry your passport and COPR document as identity proof. The entire process is smooth and efficient, and it took me just 15 minutes from the time I reached the center till I left with a printed copy of my SIN. You can find more information at the following website: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/sin/reports/apply.html. Also, you can use this tool to find a center closest to you.
Opening a bank account was the next on my to-do list. Since I had opted to open my account from India itself through Scotiabankís StartRight program, I visited the nearest Scotiabank branch. Once again, you carry your passport, COPR document, and SIN as identity proof. The branch I visited could not give me an appointment with the personal banker on that day, so I had to wait for a few days. Therefore, itís useful to carry a forex card with Canadian dollar currency loaded on it to meet your regular expenses till such time.
In Canada, you can open two types of personal banking accounts ó a savings account and a chequing account. Prior to my appointment with the personal banker, I had done some online research to understand the differences between the two and also decide which type of savings and chequing account to open at Scotiabank. Another point to keep in mind is that apart from Scotiabank, Canada has some other major banks, such as TD (Toronto-Dominion) Bank, RBC (Royal Bank of Canada), CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce), and BMO (Bank of Montreal) that you can also consider for your banking needs.
Now that your bank accounts are opened/activated and you have got a debit-cum-ATM card, you are good to go. Your credit card is usually mailed to your address after two to three weeks.
As a landed immigrant, you are eligible for government-sponsored healthcare; however, in the provinces of British Columbia and Ontario, I understand that the wait time to get enrolled in the system is 90 days. So, you need to purchase private health insurance to cover any untoward incident till your government-sponsored healthcare benefits kick in. I used the following website to compare insurance quotes of multiple providers before deciding on a 90-day package: https://arbetovinsurance.com/new-immigrants-canada-insurance/.
That said, you still need to apply for and enrol in the MSP (Medical Services Plan) soon after landing, so that you get your PHN (Personal Health Number) and BC Services card soon after your wait time passes. Applying online is the easiest and fastest way. See the following website for more information: https://my.gov.bc.ca/msp/application/prepare. A few weeks after applying online, you will receive a letter asking you to visit an ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia) center to have your photos clicked for your BC Services card. Remember to carry your passport and COPR document as ID proof whenever you visit the ICBC center. After you receive your PR card, you will need to once again visit the ICBC center for them to release your BC Services card.
Speaking of ICBC brings me to the topic of driver licensing. Please note that the driver licensing process varies in each province. The process I am about to outline is for British Columbia. However, once you get a BC driverís license, it can simply be exchanged for the driverís license of any other province that you wish to move to.
As a permanent resident, you are allowed to use your international driverís license for 90 days. After that, you will need to surrender that license and apply for a BC driverís license. The process of getting a BC driverís license varies depending on which country you are from. For those with driverís licenses and two yearsí driving experience in the the US, Australia, Europe, and some other countries, you can simply surrender your driverís license along with a driving record extract (to prove your driving experience) and get a full-fledged Class 5 BC driverís license. For more information, see the following website: http://www.icbc.com/driver-licensing/moving-bc/Pages/Moving-from-another-country.aspx.
For those of us with Indian driverís licenses, the process is longer and two step ó Knowledge test followed by a Road/Driving test.
The Knowledge (read theory) test essentially tests your knowledge on Canadian road rules, signs, signals, and so on. You can pick up a copy of the Learn to Drive Smart booklet from an ICBC center, or simply download a PDF of it online. I found this book useful and informative, and I would recommend it if youíre looking to pass the Knowledge test in your first attempt. Once you pass the Knowledge test, you get an Interim Learnerís license (yellow sheet of paper), which is valid for one year. With this license, you are allowed to drive a car, but only with a supervisor, who should be 25 years or older and possesses a full-fledged Class 5 driverís license. At this stage, I would recommend enrolling for a few driving lessons from an ICBC-approved driving instructor. You can supplement your lessons with the Tuning Up for Drivers booklet. Based on recommendations in a Vancouver Indians community on Facebook, I decided to take driving lessons from Vancouver Driving School, because I read that their instructors had a good track record. While my instructor was quite strict and set a high bar for his students, his patient demeanor and keen sense of Canadian driving rules, coupled with his extensive driving experience in Canada helped me pass my Driving test and get the full-fledged Class 5 BC driverís license.
If you already have your PR card at the time of passing the Driving test, you will be mailed your BC driverís license card to your address. However, if you are still awaiting your PR card, you will be given an Interim Class 5 driverís license (similar yellow sheet of paper), which is as valid as the card, but you will need to exchange it for the card once you get your PR card. I would recommend getting your driverís license while you are waiting for your PR card and before you complete 90 days of living in BC, because you can continue to use your Indian driverís license to drive alone and get as much driving practice as possible till then.
For those from India without two years of driving experience, you will need to participate in the ICBC GLP (Graduated Licensing Program). This involves getting an L (Learnerís license), followed by driving experience and a driving test to get an Class 7 N (Novice license), followed by a driving test to get the full-fledged Class 5 license.
And with this, weíve come to the end of this post. I hope you have found this as informative as the others. As always, feel free to reach out to me. In my next post, Iíll cover schooling and how it impacts your housing options. I will also share some words of wisdom on my job hunt experience in Vancouver. Until then, cheers!