You’ve finally landed and are an official landed immigrant of Canada. Now what? There’s a few things you’ll need to take care of within the first few weeks like applying for a SIN (Social Insurance Number), signing up for OHIP (provincial insurance), and getting a driver’s license.
Just like different states in the US, different Canadian provinces have slightly different processes for each of these things, but the general idea is basically the same. Since we moved to Ontario, this will focus primarily on the steps you’d take when you move here..
Getting a Social Insurance Number
The SIN is the Canadian equivalent of a Social Security Number. You will need this number in order to access public benefits, register for the provincial insurance plan, set up some types of bank accounts, or legally work in the country.
If you’re lucky, you were able to get a SIN when you first landed at an airport. However, if you drive across the border or weren’t able to get it at the airport, then you can take care of it at any Service Canada location. You don’t even need to fill out any forms, just bring your passport and CoPR document (your landing papers) that proves you are a permanent resident.
One of the best things about getting official stuff done in Canada is that you don’t have to go out of your way to go to a specific office with undefined office hours and wait around for an extended period of time. Instead, you can pop into any Service Canada office (many of which are open on the weekends!) whenever you want and take care of it. Since government services like this are spread out all over the city, it’s less crowded and so you’ll probably be done in under 30 minutes.
One difference between the SSN and the SIN is that the Canadian government does not issue you any sort of physical card like the US does. Instead, they’ll print out a piece of paper for your reference which you’ll probably misplace, so make sure to make a note of it somewhere.
The government will automatically mail you your new permanent resident card after you’ve settled in Canada. The card will be sent to the address that you listed on your CoPR document when you officially landed in the country. Processing time varies, but is usually within about 6-8 weeks. The CIC even provides a tool to estimate the current processing time so you can know approximately when to expect to find it in your mailbox.
Just like when you move to a new state in the US, you’re encouraged to get a new driver’s license when you move to Canada. In Ontario, the official word is that you can continue to use your US license for two months, but should apply for an Ontario license within 60 days of moving. If you don’t drive or own a car then the 60 day rule isn’t super important, but it is helpful to exchange for a local ID regardless. The good news is that you can exchange your US driver’s license and automatically start off with your existing driving history from the US, so you don’t have to worry about taking any sort of written or road test.
Provinces have different type of driver’s licenses, but the general idea is about the same as in the US. So long as you have a valid driver’s license from a US state, you are automatically granted some driving experience in Canada.
Requesting your driving records
In order to get your full history you will want to contact the DMV in the US state you last lived in and request an official letter that outlines your history as a driver in that state. Most DMVs will have an option on their website where you can request your lifetime driving record, for a small fee of course. In New York state I was able to get this my driving history in that state for $10 about 3 weeks after I mailed in the completed form. That served as proof of 10 years of driving history since I had been living in New York for 10 years.
Depending on how often you move around, you may want to do the same for any state that you have ever been licensed in. You only need to prove two years of driving history in order to be eligible for a full license instead of some sort of suspended license that you’d get if you hadn’t been driving long enough. However, if you own a car you’ll want to prove your entire history as a driver in order to keep your insurance rates low. Apparently insurance rates are calculated based on the number of years you’ve been driving that are on record with the DMV. Since I don’t own a car myself, I didn’t bother getting my histories from each state I had ever lived in, but if I ever decide to purchase a car I’ll do it so that I can pay as little as possible for car insurance.
Exchanging your license
In Ontario you go to your local DriveTest centre to exchange your license. Bring your passport, CoPR document or PR card, and your US license. If you happen to have any expired licenses you should bring those too, just in case you need to be able to prove the length of time that you’ve been driving. For some strange reason I have always hung onto my expired licenses, so I brought with me IDs dating back 20 years and so was able to prove how long I had been driving just with that. If any of the names on your current or old licenses are different from your current legal name on your identity documents, make sure you also bring documentation to confirm the change of name (such as a marriage or divorce certificate).
You’ll need to pass an eye test and pay a fee, and that’s all there is to it. After dealing with DMVs in the US for so long, I expected this experience to be awful, but it was so refreshingly easy and quick.
Universal health care
Being a permanent resident means you can take advantage of one of the best things Canada has to offer: public health insurance. Since the majority of health care services are paid for through taxes, most of the services are free. Free!
Each province and territory has its own plan but most require for you to wait 3 months after moving before you’re eligible to access benefits. Regardless, there’s no need to put this off since it will take some time to process you into the system once you register.
Stop by your local Service Canada location (they take care of everything!) to sign up. Bring your passport, CoPR, and something that verifies your proof of residency (list 2 in Ontario). The proof of residency part might be tricky because a lot of the documents that validate your residency aren’t readily available if you’ve just moved to the country. The easiest things to get your hands on are some sort of utility bill, bank statement, or driver’s license.
If you bring a bill or statement make sure you also bring the envelope it was mailed in to prove that you actually received it in the mail. The envelope may or may not be required depending on the person you end up talking to at the Service Canada office. Between the two of us, only one was asked to show the “original envelope to prove that it was sent through the mail.” When all else fails, try a different Service Ontario location.
After registering, you’ll get your shiny new health card a few days before you can start using it, which will be exactly 3 months from the date that you moved to the province. Or, if you apply after that 3 month window, it will be valid as soon as you receive it. Once you have your health card, make sure you carry it with you all the time in case you ever have an emergency and need to go to a doctor or hospital, just like you’d carry your insurance card in the US wherever you go.
Canada encourages you to sign up for private health insurance so that you’re covered in the interim period before you’re able to access the provincial insurance. You can also receive basic medical care at community health centers if you’re not able to find private coverage.