Get your cards (SIN, Health, credit)
So you’ve found a place to live, whether or not the arrangement is temporary. What next? Should you start hunting for a job?
Essential health care is available either free or at low cost, depending on where in Canada you choose to settle, but you must be registered with the provincial health care plan to benefit from this.
A word of advice: medical costs in North America are easily the highest in the world, so it is crucial that you register for a health plan soon after you arrive.
Health care in Canada is administered by provinces rather than the national government, so the type and extent of coverage depends on which city you move to.
As with the SIN, every individual in your family must have their own Health Card. There is a waiting period of about three months before you actually begin to be covered by the provincial health plan, so it is imperative to apply soon after you take up residence in Canada. The exception is in Alberta, where new immigrants can seek coverage from the day they arrive.
The health plans go under different names, depending on the province you’re in. In Ontario, for example, it is called Ontario Health Insurance Plan; in British Columbia you would sign up for the Medical Services Plan. The differences go beyond just the name. Services available for free in one province may be available for a small fee – or not covered at all – in another. (Which is why it is important to ask a physician if there is a cost involved before you receive any services).
Of the four most popular provinces with new immigrants, Ontario and Quebec do not charge for health coverage, while British Columbia and Alberta have monthly premiums ranging from about $35 for individuals without dependents to $70 for families. (You will be entitled to subsidies until you start earning income).
To apply for a health card, you will need to visit a provincial health ministry office (they go by different names depending on the province you are in). For the centre nearest you, call one of the numbers listed below:
You will typically need to carry three separate original documents that prove your immigration status, your residency and your identity. New immigrants are often thrown by this requirement as they do not possess most of the papers listed as acceptable by health authorities. (This is why we urged you earlier to open a bank account and get a driver’s licence).
Make certain you carry the following documents:
Not just yet. Before anything else, you need to equip yourself with two documents that every Canadian resident must possess: a SIN card and a Health Card.
SIN stands for Social Insurance Number, and it simply impossible to get by in Canada without one. You’ll need it for virtually everything, whether it’s opening a bank account, registering with an employment agency or even getting a paycheque. Make getting a SIN card your number one priority. (Everyone in your family will need one too, no matter what their age).
You can apply for a card at any Human Resources Centre of Canada (HRCC) office in your area. Although you can send in your application by mail, it is recommended that you (and your family) apply in person. Not only will this avoid you having to send important documents by mail, it is also much faster. Most centres will issue you your number immediately, and the card itself will be mailed to you.
For the location of the HRCC office nearest you, refer to the Government of Canada pages in the local telephone directory, under the heading Social Insurance Number.
To apply for a Social Insurance Number, you need to fill out an application form (if you wish you can download this ahead of time from here. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to open the file. Acrobat Reader is available as a free download from the Adobe site (www.adobe.com).
Along with your form, you will also need to provide original or certified copies of documents that prove your identity and status in Canada. Your passport and landing papers (stamped and stapled to your passport when you arrive in Canada), plus any one other piece of identification, are all you need for this.
There is no fee for SIN cards.
Very Important: Check that your name is spelt correctly and in full on your SIN card. This will ensure that when you start working, your Canada or Quebec Pension Plan contributions are properly credited to you.
Incidentally, you will need your SIN when you apply for a Health Card, another very important document.
Before you do that though, you should do one or both of these: open a bank account and get a Temporary Driver’s Licence. The reason for this will shortly become apparent.
To open a bank account, you will need to bring some documents proving you live at the address you provide, such as a rental agreement, a post-marked envelope bearing your name and address or a letter from the folks you are staying with.
The Temporary Driver’s Licence is also fairly easy to obtain. All you need to do is take a computerised or written test which checks your knowledge of Canadian driving laws. Pick up a copy of the widely-available Official Driver’s Handbook or Safe Driving Guide (cost $10-$12, depending on where you buy it) to get up to speed with local road regulations before you go for your test.
Once you have opened your bank account and obtained your temporary driver’s licence, you are ready to apply for a Health Card.
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