Once you’ve signed a lease or bought a condo, it’s time to turn your empty place into a home. Before you move in, you’ll need light, heat, water, internet, and furniture.

a house in toronto

Utilities

Unless you’re okay with living in the cold, internet-less dark, you’ll want to set up your utilities before you move in. You can do this from abroad, but you’ll want a Canadian bank account set up already.

If you live in an apartment or condo, some or all of your utilities may be included in your rent or maintenance. This information should be in your lease.

Each area has different utility companies. You can find all of your local utility providers in the Yellow Pages. You can also just ask the landlord, previous tenants, neighbors, realtor, or condo board for their recommendations.

Creating an account

You’ll want to call the utility companies up to a month before you move in to create an account and schedule installation. Some utilities will charge you to set up an account and install service.

Some utility companies will want a previous address in Canada or an SIN. As a new resident, you may have to call around to find a service provider who will provide utilities to your home. If you don’t have a Canadian credit history, they may require a security deposit. The security deposit should be returned to you, with interest, after a year of on-time payments or when you close the account. Typically, you’ll only need a bank account and the address of your new home to set up an account with your utility company.

Paying utility bills

Nearly all utility companies bill you on a monthly basis. Some will bill you quarterly. Each bill is typically for the quantity you consumed in the previous month, although some utilities will have a flat fee paid in advance of service.

You can pay bills through the mail, on the company website, directly through your bank, automatic withdrawal, or over the phone. If bills aren’t paid on time, you’ll be charged a late fee. You’ll usually have two weeks from when you get the bill to when the bill is due. You can have paper bills mailed to you or you can have electronic bills delivered.

If you can’t afford to pay your utility bill, call the company and negotiate a payment plan, rather than simply not paying the bill. If you don’t pay your bills, they can disconnect your service and charge you fees, in addition to the money you already owe, to reconnect it.

niagara falls provides much of ontario's power

Hydro is Canadian for electric

Because so much of Canada’s electricity comes from hydroelectric sources, it’s commonly called hydro. Each province has a different amount of competition and regulation, so your options and prices can vary considerably depending on where you are.

Canada and the US both use 110 volt at 60 hertz with type A plugs. Many electrical appliances are dual voltage, so you’ll just need a normal adapter. Check the label before plugging things in. If your appliances are 220 volts, you’ll need an adapter with a transformer or down converter.

Canada uses the ATSC digital transmission standard, along with the US, Mexico, and South Korea. Check that your TV is compatible before shipping it over. DVD players need to be set for region 1 (Canada and the US) or region-free.

The Ontario Energy Board explains the process of setting up an account, how it works, and time-of-use rates.

Gas & oil

Gas and oil are used to heat your home. Even if heat is included in your rent or maintenance, gas may be metered separately for your stove, oven, grill, water heater, or fireplace. You can arrange to pay a flat fee based on estimated usage during the year to eliminate the fluctuations in costs from summer to winter.

Water & sewer

Tap water is perfectly safe to drink in Canada. Each municipality is responsible for its own water supply.

Internet & phone

Many telecom companies offer bundled deals, consisting of multiple services, including home phone, cell phones, internet, and cable TV. Both cable and DSL internet services are available. The phone, cable, and internet lines are typically owned by the main providers, but they also rent the lines out to smaller providers. Each province has different regulations for the telecommunications market.

You can compare plans at canadianisp.ca or comparemyrates.ca. Generally it’ll take a few days or weeks to get service installed and there will be a fee to do it. Companies regularly run promotions to waive install fees, provide a free modem, or offer low introductory rates. Make sure you understand the contract terms, introductory/regular rates, and cancellation fees. Any equipment provided will usually have to be returned.

Internet in Canada is billed by usage. You can get plans for certain usage levels or unlimited service. Unless you chose an unlimited package, most companies will send you alerts when you’re getting close to your maximum useage so you can either avoid the internet until the billing cycle ends or upgrade your plan. You can also choose between different speeds.

Depending on where you live, you’ll probably be able to get service from Bell, Rogers, or a third party that uses the lines of Bell or Rogers. Some third party providers, such as TekSavvy, are cheaper and provide better customer service for literally the same product.

Canadian phone numbers have 10 digits — a 3 digit area code, followed by a 7 digit local number. Canada and the US share the 001+ country code.

Domestic long distance is 1+ the number. International long distance from Canada is 011+ country code + the number.

Insurance

Even if you don’t own your home, it’s important to have insurance. Like health insurance, it can feel like wasted money — until you need it. Some leases, condos, mortgages, and provinces require insurance.

If a guest falls and is injured in your home, you let the tub overflow and it damages your apartment and the neighbor’s apartment, or someone steals your laptop, you’ll want to have insurance to cover the costs.

Each insurance policy is different, so check over the terms carefully before buying insurance. Be sure to notify your insurance company if you buy an expensive item, renovate your home, get a dog, or make other changes to your home that would impact your insurance policy.

Insurance policies can be paid annually or monthly. Make sure you’re not getting charged interest on that monthly payment option. It’s a good idea to review your policy and update it each year.

As a new resident, quite a few insurance companies wouldn’t offer me coverage. Square One Insurance offers policies to new residents. They also offer flexible options, like covering people doing short term rentals.

What’s covered

Insurance will be for either the actual cash value (ACV) of an item (which considers depreciation) or replacement value. If you have an old TV, ACV insurance will pay for what it was worth, which may be much less than the cost of buying a new version of the same TV.

Look over the policy and make sure it covers what you own — and doesn’t charge you for coverage on things you don’t. If your kitchen is ready to be torn out, don’t pay for more coverage than you need. You can save money by increasing your deductible or opting for a plan that pays the ACV.

There are different levels of coverage. Basic coverage is known as fire coverage, since that’s basically what it covers. Mid-range and top-of-the-line policies cover much more. Sewer backups and theft can be expensive without insurance, but some people are comfortable with that level of risk.

Electrical appliances in Canada need to be Canadian Standards Association (CSA) approved. Home insurance will typically not cover damage caused by appliances without CSA approval.

Insurance will only cover what you can prove you owned. I periodically take photos of everything in my home — including under the sink and inside my closets — to have a record of what’s where and what condition it’s in. I also keep photographs of receipts for expensive items. If you imported things from abroad, your B4 is a good record of everything you brought into Canada and its value. These photos and documents are a huge help if you have to file a claim.

Tenant insurance

If you rent your home, your landlord’s insurance covers the apartment itself, but not your things. Tenant, or renter’s, insurance will cover damage to your possessions, accidental damage you cause to the apartment, injury to visitors, and personal property that’s stolen outside of your home.

Homeowners insurance

Home insurance typically covers damage to your personal possessions, injury to visitors, and accidental damage to others property.

Don’t insure more house than you own. When you bought your home, you paid for the land, too. Pay to insure the replacement value of your house.

Walls with one side of plaster removed, showing white black and green mold.

If you find mold in your walls, you’ll be glad to have insurance.

Condominium insurance

Condominium insurance covers damage to the interior structure of your unit, damage to your belongings, unit improvements, injury to visitors, and accidental damage to other units or the common areas. Anything that’s not included in the standard unit will be covered by your personal insurance. The definition of the standard unit for your building will be in your purchase documents. The condo will have insurance for the building itself and common areas.

IKEA

Canada isn’t known for its excellent online shopping. I knew I wanted to buy a condo and furnish it so I could move in immediately, months before I shipped anything from my old apartment in Brooklyn. I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of trying to find good deals on a million websites or coordinate pickups from kijiji. Which is how I ended up furnishing my entire apartment from IKEA.

There’s a certain beauty to being able to buy furniture, mattresses, linens, kitchenware, and pretty much everything you need from a single store. We were able to look at items in the showroom in Brooklyn and place an order from one of the Toronto stores. If you’re in a time crunch to get everything set up in a weekend, this is the way to go.

Even with IKEA’s new higher priced lines, there were still plenty of attractive, inexpensive options. The desk I wanted at one store was $300. The one I liked at IKEA was $40. Easy decision. In the end, I sold my beautiful wooden desk in Brooklyn because I liked working at the IKEA desk better. We kept a lot more of the IKEA than originally intended.

I placed a single order online and had it all delivered. Having everything delivered in one go was a little overwhelming — so many boxes of things to assemble! — but went smoothly. One piece of furniture was damaged, but in the end I opted to keep it rather than re-box it and have them pick it up and replace it.

IKEA periodically has sales, either store-wide or on certain categories of items. I saved big by placing my order when there was a sale going on.

an ikea bed, lamp, and dresser

Other big box stores

West Elm, CB2, Urban Outfitters, H&M and other stores sell furnishings and have stores in Canada. Their offerings are typically the same everywhere, so you can get an idea of what you want to buy while you’re still abroad.

Trying to order things online from international chains was kafka-esque. I tried to order a rug online from West Elm and eventually gave up after my support ticket was open for a month. They theoretically ship to Canada, but their online ordering system was down for weeks and they don’t take international orders over the phone. Most stores are more open about not shipping to Canada, even if they have stores in Canada.

Canadian Tire is trying hard to fill the gap left by Target’s departure from Canada. Their latest furniture lines are much more stylish. Home Sense is essentially the same as Home Goods. Walmart is self explanatory.

Other options

Despite Shopify’s best efforts, most Canadian stores don’t sell things online. It’s best to just walk into local stores and see what they have. Many places are happy to order things for you. Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver all have design districts with fantastic furnishing options.

Kijiji, Craigslist, Krrb, and endless local Facebook groups all sell furniture.

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