Moving to Canada from the UK: A starter guide

Zorica Lončar
11.05.21
7 minute read

If you’re thinking of moving abroad, Canada is an excellent choice. The world’s second-largest country boasts beautiful scenery and breathtaking natural wonders, along with diverse and vibrant cities.

Brits feel particularly at home in Canada, thanks to an overlap in cultures and English being one of the country’s official languages. Canada is also known for being democratic, liberal and very welcoming to foreigners, which is why people from all over the world have chosen to settle there.

In this guide, we’ll help you plan your move to Canada by covering all the essentials you need to know. This includes visas and residency, money and bank accounts, jobs, places to live and much more. We’ll even look at options for UK retirees.

Plus, a handy tip for UK expats needing a cost-effective way to manage their money internationally - open a Wise multi-currency account. With this super-convenient account, you can cover relocation costs and receive UK income in Canada for tiny fees and the real, mid-market exchange rate. Plus, you can spend like a local using your Wise debit card from the moment you arrive.

Learn more

We’ll look at how Wise could work for you later in this guide. Let’s start with some basic facts about living in Canada as a UK expat.

Living in Canada - what you need to know

First up, some handy at-a-glance facts to know about Canada if you’re considering moving there:

  • Currency - Canadian Dollars or CAD
  • Main languages - English and French
  • Population - approx. 37.52 million¹
  • Number of British expats - approx. 531,000²
  • Most popular cities for expats - Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver³.

Cost of living in Canada⁴

One of the most important things to know before moving to a new country is how far your money will go. Prices in Canada are broadly comparable to the UK, except for groceries which are around 20% more expensive.

To illustrate, here are some average prices:

  • A three-course meal for two people is around £44 in Canada, compared to £50 in the UK.
  • A monthly public transport pass is approx. £52 in Canada, compared to £65 in the UK.
  • A loaf of bread is £1.71 in Canada, compared to around £0.98 in the UK
  • Rent for a one-bedroom city centre apartment is around £775 in Canada, compared to £745 in the UK.

However, it depends where you live and of course, what you buy.

When it comes to purchasing property, you could find that Canada is the cheaper option - with the price per square metre for a city centre apartment being around 20% lower than the UK.

Healthcare system⁵

Citizens and permanent residents in Canada have access to the country’s excellent universal healthcare system through public health insurance. If eligible, you’ll need to register for a health insurance card and show it every time you access healthcare services.

But if you’re a newcomer and haven’t yet achieved permanent resident status, you’ll need to take out private health insurance in your province or region. However, you can still access emergency medical services for free.

Bank accounts⁶

Newcomers and non-citizens can open a bank account in Canada. You don’t necessarily need a job or regular income, but you will need to meet the identity requirements and open your account in person. You can find more information on this here.

Many of the major banks even offer dedicated accounts just for newcomers, with low or no fees, or other special offers. For example, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), TD Bank and Bank of Montreal (BMO).

Finding somewhere to live in Canada

The most popular destinations for newcomers to Canada are its big cities of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. But there are plenty of other options, and you could find it more affordable to head out of the city to places like New Brunswick or Newfoundland. The Quebec province and Ottawa in Ontario are also popular with expats.

To find a place to rent, consider taking a look at the listings on rentals.ca, Rent Canada or a site or rentals agent specialising in the local area you’re looking at.

You don’t have to be a permanent resident or Canadian citizen to buy a property, nor do you need a visa⁷. A good place to start if you’re considering buying your own home in Canada is the realtor.ca website.

Finding a job in Canada

Before you can find a job in Canada, you’ll need to apply for your Social Insurance Number (SIN). It’s a good idea to do this almost as soon as you arrive.

Once you have your SIN, it’s time to start job-hunting. The Canadian Government website has lots of tips to help you find a suitable role, but here are a few places to start your search:

You can also access newcomer services in your local province, including advice and resources to help you find a job.

Moving to Canada requirements - what do I need?

The first and most important thing you’ll need to move to Canada is a visa. Let’s take a look at a few options that could suit your circumstances.

Working holiday visa⁸

If you’re aged between 18 and 30, you can apply to the International Experience Canada (IEC) programme. This lets you live and work in Canada for up to two years.

But you’ll need to meet certain requirements, such as having health insurance and enough money to support yourself during your stay. You’ll also need to be lucky, as your application will be entered into a pool of eligible candidates and successful applications are selected at random.

Start-up Visa Program⁹

If you have an innovative business idea which has the potential to create jobs for Canadian citizens, and you can get the backing of a qualifying Canadian organisation, the Start-up Visa Program could be the ideal option.

There are lots of requirements to meet, including having a qualifying business, letters of support and having enough money to settle in Canada. There’s also a fee of around $2,075 CAD to pay and the process can take up to 16 months.

But if your application is successful, you and your family will have the legal right to settle in Canada and get a brand new business off the ground.

Work permit

Another route into Canada for UK residents is with a work permit. There are two kinds - an open work permit and an employer-specific work permit. In both cases, you’re likely to need a valid job offer in place.

Open work permits are only issued in specific circumstances (you can find some examples here)

How to move to Canada from the UK permanently

If none of the visa options above are suitable for you, the best option is to apply for permanent residency. There are many immigration programmes to choose from, including Express Entry as a skilled worker.

You’ll need to meet tough criteria for skills, experience and education, as well as language proficiency, criminal records, proof of funds and medical exams. All applicants are required to submit lots of supporting documents, and are scored using a points-based system. Your application will be entered into a pool, then ranked on your score - this determines who is granted permanent residency¹⁰.

It all sounds very time-consuming, but Express Entry applications are submitted using an efficient online system and tend to be processed within 6 months or even less¹⁰.

You can also be sponsored for permanent residency by a family member who is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.

A quick guide to retiring in Canada from the UK

If you’re approaching retirement age, you may well have an eye on Canada as a potential retirement destination. It’s easy to see why, as Canada offers great healthcare facilities and a high standard of living.

But how easy is it to retire in Canada? Here are the essentials you need to know:

Visas for UK retirees

Many of Canada’s visa programmes focus on people who are most likely to contribute to the country’s economy, which unfortunately doesn’t include retirees.

But you can apply for permanent residency through family sponsorship, if you have a family connection to Canada. There’s also the Super Visa¹¹, a multi-entry visa valid for up to 2 years for UK citizens with children or grandchildren in Canada.

If you’re not yet retired and have the right skills, you could also apply for one of Canada’s work-related visa or permit programmes and settle in the country through that route.

It’s also useful to know that UK citizens can live in Canada for up to 6 months a year without a visa¹², so you might want to split your retirement between the UK and Canada.

Pensions

You can receive your UK state pension in Canada, and you may also be able to transfer other personal pensions. Just make sure you choose a Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (ROPS) to transfer your pensions to, or you could face a large tax bill.

Save on your relocation costs to Canada with Wise

Moving abroad will always involve lots of costs and fees, and many of these payments will need to cross borders. Use your bank for international transfers and you could be stung by high fees and terrible exchange rates.

Luckily, there is an alternative. Open a Wise multi-currency account and you can send money between the UK and Canada, and all over the world, for tiny fees and the real, mid-market exchange rate.

And once you’ve moved, Wise keeps on working for you. From the moment you step off the plane in Canada, you can spend in CAD using your international Wise debit card. This clever contactless card automatically converts to the local currency in 200+ countries, at the fairest exchange rate. There are no foreign transaction fees, only a small fee to convert the currency.

So, while you’re waiting for your Canadian bank account to be set up, you’ll still have a convenient and low-cost way to cover your everyday expenses.

Join Wise and start saving today


So, that’s it - all the essentials you need to know about moving to Canada from the UK. We’ve covered visas, permanent residency and other moving to Canada requirements, along with jobs, money, property and healthcare.

You’re likely to have lots more research to do to plan your move, but hopefully this has been a solid starting point. The best of luck with your Canadian adventure!


Sources used for this article:

  1. Statista - total population in Canada
  2. MoveHub - top countries Brits choose
  3. Canada.ca - choosing the right city in Canada
  4. Numbeo - the cost of living in Canada vs. UK
  5. Canada.ca - healthcare in Canada
  6. Canada.ca - opening a bank account in Canada
  7. WorldFirst - retiring to Canada
  8. Telegraph.co.uk - moving to Canada from the UK
  9. Canada.ca - start-up visa Canada
  10. Canada.ca - express entry Canada
  11. Canada.ca - super visa Canada
  12. Canada.ca - Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA)

Sources checked on 5th May-2021.


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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