Advice, Expat Life

How easy is it to become a citizen of Canada?

Photo by K. Sheridan

Have you ever heard someone say something like, “Oh, it’s so easy to move to Canada. They’ll let anyone in.”

I have, and it’s Canadians who say it. They were probably kidding, and it’s true that Canada is very welcoming to immigrants, but it got me thinking: Is it easy to become a citizen of Canada?

Let’s look at all the things you have to do before you can apply for Canadian citizenship.

One of the steps to become a citizen of another country as an adult is taking that country’s citizenship test.

When you’re already a citizen of a country by birth, the answers to questions on these tests are things you would have learned as a child, mostly at school, and you probably take them for granted.

But if you were quizzed on the spot (and you couldn’t ask Google!) would you pass?

Apparently, most Canadians wouldn’t pass the Canadian citizenship test.

At least, that was the headline circulating the media on Canada Day, which in case you didn’t know, is on July 1st.

There, you already have the answer to one of the possible questions on the Canadian citizenship test. You’re welcome.

Where did these results come from?

Forum Research asked 1,654 Canadians ten questions that would be found on the Canadian citizenship test and found that only 12 per cent of them got enough of them correct to pass the test.

I’m proud to say I don’t fall into this category since I got 100% on the test. But obviously that’s because I was required to take it so I had to study for it.

And in this poll, they only had to do 10 questions. The official Canadian citizenship test is a combination of 20 multiple choice and true/false questions, selected from a list of about 250 possible questions. You have to get at least 15 out of 20 correct to pass, and each person taking the test is given a different set of questions.

While I was studying for the citizenship test, I tested a few of my Canadian friends and they did pretty well. In fact, some of them helped me study by explaining why that was the answer.

I also did some practice questions from the Australian citizenship test and based on results, I would have passed. But I did get a few wrong. And I was born, raised and educated – including a university degree – in Australia.

So why is the citizenship test a requirement of becoming a citizen if so many current citizens don’t even know the answers?

Because becoming a citizen of any country is not as simple as just taking a short test.

It’s not like you just have to answer a bunch of questions correctly and voila, you’re instantly granted citizenship. It’s a long process that takes years.

The application itself takes one year to process and the test is only one part of it. I applied in October, and in December I received a notification that my application had commenced processing.

In February I received a request to get my fingerprints taken. Even though I had done that twice before, once for my second IEC visa and once for my permanent resident application, I had to do it again, because they don’t keep your fingerprints after they have cleared them, so it’s not like you can just ask them to “check the last one.” Believe me, I tried!

At the end of May, I received an invitation to take the citizenship test in the middle of June. It was scheduled for the same day as my graduation ceremony from the post-grad I had just completed at George Brown, but it’s pretty hard to reschedule the test (and my request to do so did not even get a response) so obviously I missed my graduation.

Once I did the test and completed the interview, the officer told me I would receive an invitation to attend an oath ceremony in around October. So that’s about a year from start to finish.

And that’s only one part of the journey to citizenship. First you need to be eligible to apply in the first place, which is a process that could take around 6 or more years.

Just marry someone!

Oftentimes when a non-resident is lamenting wanting to remain in a country they don’t have rights to remain in, people exclaim, “Just marry someone!”

Well, I’m sure you can predict what I’m about to tell you: Marrying a Canadian does not mean you automatically get Canadian citizenship.

The Canadian government explicitly states, ” If you want to become a Canadian citizen, you must follow the same steps as everyone else. There isn’t a special process for spouses of Canadian citizens.”

Want to know what it takes to become a citizen of Canada? Keep reading.

This information is outlined on several sites, including the Government of Canada’s site, but I’ll show you what each of these steps looks like and how I experienced them when applying for Canadian citizenship.

To be eligible to apply to become a Canadian citizen, you must meet the following criteria:

You must be a permanent resident of Canada

This alone requires an extensive application in which you are subjected to a lot of testing and background checks. You also need to be eligible to apply for permanent residency in the first place, and many people are not. Eligibility depends on many factors and vary person to person.

You also need money! The application alone is about $2000 Canadian dollars.

On top of that, the numerous tests and checks you have to do, depending on how many are requested from you by immigration, also cost a lot.

My application in total was about $6000 CAD.

You must have lived in Canada for three out of the past five years

Which means you will acquire a lot of knowledge and experience about the Canadian way of life, and you will learn so much about what it means to be Canadian; things you could never learn in a Citizenship test study book.

This also means you have to keep track of and recount your travel history to the day. Depending on your lifestyle, this may be a huge pain in the ass!

Even if you aren’t applying for citizenship, if you travel at all, I recommend you find a way to record and track all your trips. I have had to recount mine twice, and since not all countries stamp your passport on entry and exit, it can be hard to remember going back five or ten years! Going through your emails for past flight itineraries helps, but if you’ve also done land border-crossings, good luck!

You need to have been filing taxes while you’ve lived here

Living in a country means you will earn and/or spend money in that country, so you’re also contributing to the economy while you’re living here.

Paying taxes is another way to contribute to the economy and help the country to continue to supply services for citizens and residents. It’s kind of like investing in a country’s prosperity. So by the time you apply for citizenship you would have been “investing” in your life in Canada for a while.

You need to prove that you can communicate in at least one of Canada’s two official languages

If you’re 18 to 54 years old, you must show that you can speak and listen at a specific level in one of these languages.

This is done by taking a test at an approved testing centre, and it costs about $300.

I was born and raised in an English-speaking Commonwealth country, English is my first language and I have a bachelors degree from an Australian university with a major in English, but I still had to take a test to prove my English language skills. So there are no passes here!

You are also assessed on your English and/or French communication skills during your interactions with customs officials at the citizenship testing centre (such as the person at the front desk with whom you check in, and the test adjudicators).

Once you’re done the test, you have an interview with an immigration officer who checks all your documents and tells you the results of your test. In the interview, you’re asked a lot of questions and your language skills are assessed as you answer them.

The officer is behind a glass panel and the room is filled with people so it feels kind of like when you go through customs at an airport and they ask you questions before they let you enter.

There are also a bunch of reasons someone may not be eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship.

Most of them involve having some sort of criminal history, like being convicted of a crime, being on trial for a crime, being asked to leave Canada by a Canadian official, or having a citizenship application for another country refused, and other such things outlined by the Government of Canada.

So there you go. It’s not “easy” to become a citizen of Canada. They don’t just “give it to anyone”. So if you ever hear someone say that, you can just laugh in their face. Or show them this blog post!

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Advice

3 things you need to do as soon as you arrive in Canada

1. Get a SIN.

It stands for social insurance number. It’s similar to a Tax File Number, and is your most unique identifier. You can get one at the airport after you are granted your work permit by the border control officer. If you don’t, you can also walk in to any Service Canada location and get one. You don’t need an appointment, but you will need to bring your passport, your work permit/visa and any other forms of identification you have (even if they’re not Canadian).

2. Open a bank account.

The big banks here are:

All of them have “newcomer to Canada” account offers, some with perks like no fees for the first year and a newcomer’s credit card. You will need to go into a branch to open them. Again, bring your SIN and all your identification, as well as your work permit.

There are also two online, branchless banks here that don’t charge account fees.

You can’t get a credit card here without a credit score, which you can’t get without a credit card! Or some form of credit history showing you pay bills on time. If you’re new to Canada, you won’t have that yet. A newcomer’s credit card is one option. The other is to get a secured credit card such as the guaranteed Mastercard from Capital One. You pay a deposit and are given a credit card with a very low limit. Once you have proven that you are a responsible credit user, your deposit will be returned to you and you will get an offer to increase your credit limit.

3. Get a phone number

As a newbie to Canada, you will not be eligible to apply for anything that requires a credit history, because you won’t have one yet. That includes post-paid cell phone plans. It’s because without a credit history, companies don’t know if you’re reliable and pay your bills on time. So unless you can get someone to open one for you under their name, you’ll have to go with pre-paid, which isn’t a big deal as most companies have better deals if you bring your own device. Check out:

Prices vary differently between each company. And be aware that each different province/territory will have a different pricing system for phone plans , even with the same company.

Once you’re all set up, you need to find somewhere to live. Read next: Home Sweet Home: Finding Housing in Toronto

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Advice

The top things to pack when you move from Australia to Canada

When Aussies are preparing to move over here, a question that is commonly asked is “What are some absolute essentials to bring from Australia when you move to Canada?”

Honestly, the answer is nothing. Canada will have pretty much anything you need, but it will be different brands or look different. But there’s hardly anything you can get in Australia that you can’t get here. You could technically come here with just the clothes you’re wearing and your passport, then head straight to the mall (or even order online) anything and everything you can think of to get you started – from furniture to underwear!

Prices here for a lot of things are really similar. Some things are more expensive, but some are cheaper, so overall, it ends up being similar.

But you might find that you don’t like the Canadian version of some of your personal favourites, so take advantage of the generous North America luggage allowance and load up on them!

Even though a lot of the things you will need are available here, unless you’re coming with endless amounts of money, it’s a good idea to bring as much as you can to get started (and not spend your fun money on things you already own but left in Australia). On flights from Australia to North America, your luggage allowance is two bags at 23kg each. That’s almost 50kg of stuff you can move over, included in the price of your ticket. Take advantage of it.

Aside from that, there are some Aussie goodies you’ll want to bring with you because you won’t be able to find them here (or if you do, they’ll be really expensive).

1. Vegemite

Vegemite on toast

I’m aware not every single Australian citizen enjoys Vegemite. But in both the Aussies in Toronto and Aussies in Canada Facebook groups I am a member of, it is one of the most frequently asked questions. Previously fairly easy to find, it was recently pulled off the shelves and now people are clamouring for it.

It’s bad out there, guys.

But please do yourself a favour and pack the ones in the plastic containers. Unless you are a packing wizard, it’s likely the glass jars won’t hold up in your luggage. I’ve seen quite a few tragic stories of Vegemite jars travelling across the Pacific only to arrive as a gunky heap of broken glass. R.I.P.

2. A cell phone

Because buying one one on a plan is expensive here. You’re obviously going to come here with your own cell phone from home anyway, but make sure it’s a good one that you’ll want to keep during your time here. Don’t be planning to buy a better phone when you get here thinking it will be cheaper. It’s obviously a lot cheaper to go on a “bring your own device plan” especially for iPhones.

3. Lucas Paw Paw ointment

Lucas paw paw ointment

If you’re a devoted paw paw user, like a lot of Aussies are, be aware that it’s not available here (and is a god send for those chapped winter lips!) If you’re already here and you’re sans paw paw and desperate, you can order it on Amazon for a hefty mark-up.

4. Snow/Winter gear

But only if you already own it

If you are someone who goes to “the snow” in Australia and has your own collection of proper winter gear, and you are planning to continue doing winter sports when you arrive in Canada, bring it with you. Otherwise buy it when you get here. Not only is it much more affordable here, you also won’t be taking up precious space in your luggage on the trip over.

5. Aussie foods you love.

While some things are starting to appear on Canadian shelves, there are other things you’ll start craving that you won’t be able to get here- think Milo, Allen’s Lollies, Twisties, Cherry Ripes, Picnics, Shapes, etc. (Note: you will see tins of Milo on supermarket shelves but it’s imposter Milo.)

some Australian snack foods

6. A voltage converter

Not just an adapter, but a converter, unless you want to blow up your single voltage devices. The voltage in North America is only 120 volts versus the 240 volts in Australia. I did not know this and upon arrival I immediately destroyed my $300 Parlux hair dryer (and my not so expensive Babyliss curling iron). Oops. Thankfully my laptop survived.

Even then, voltage converters are generally better for short-term use. If you use your hairdryer several times a week and you stay here for 2 years, you’re not going to want to rely on a voltage converter. I’ve heard stories about devices not operating as well as they used to while using them through a converter. It’s better if you purchase appliances that are dual voltage (this way you can take them back home and use them there with just an adapter) or purchase new appliances that are rated for the North America voltage . Thankfully, compared to Australia, many of these appliances are reasonably priced for decent brands.

7. For the ladies – Bonds undies.

Okay, this is a weird, very specific one, but it’s really hard to find 100% cotton women’s underwear here for some reason! I have seen a lot of men’s underwear that is 100% cotton in many places though. But for women, it’s a lot of microfibre, or lycra, or 96% cotton/4% spandex, or something else. Maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places, and feel free to correct me, but I’ve been here for 7 years and I still haven’t found them – not in La Senza, Victoria Secret, La Vie En Rose, Walmart – anywhere. I gave up looking after a few years. Maybe that’s why. Anyway – if you love your Bonds undies, bring several!

So there you have it. Seven things you definitely need to include in your “I’m moving to Canada” packing list!

What else would be on your list? Let me know in the comments!

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Advice, Weather

How to Dress for a Canadian Winter

Dressing for Canadian winter
Photo by Victor Duarte on Pexels.com

Well if you read my post about what winter is really like in Canada, you’ll have figured out that you need a whole lot of winter gear to survive it. 

Unless you live on the west coast, you won’t see temperatures above 20 degrees for about seven months and your wardrobe needs to reflect this.

So here is the ultimate guide to everything you need to dress properly for a winter in Canada!

The seven things you need in your winter wardrobe.

Number One: A good jacket

What is “good”? For me, it has to be down-filled, thin and lightweight.

I know, there are ethical concerns about animal cruelty here. But there are companies that source down and feathers humanely. And I tried polyester-filled jackets. They just didn’t cut it. The wind ripped right through them, while also making me overheat and sweat. Very uncomfortable. So now I won’t buy a jacket unless it is 100% down filled.

The weight of the jacket is important, because there is nothing more exhausting and uncomfortable than lugging a heavy jacket as well your hat, scarf and gloves around a mall. A thin jacket is ideal because it’s easier to carry and store when you’re not using it.

The jacket should have a good hood.

I find those jackets with the huge, fur-lined hoods look good, but are an absolute pain in the ass.

First, you don’t need all that bulk. It’s the most annoying thing when you step inside and have to take off your coat and carry it. It’s like carrying an unrolled sleeping bag around.

Second, there are times when you don’t want your hood up. And the minute you get close to someone or something, your hood is bumping into them.

Third, those fur linings are useless. All the do is tickle and annoy your face, and allow snow and ice to stick to them. I find them pointless and as soon as a buy a coat I take them off, as they’re usually detachable. This winter I finally discovered the “pack-able” down jacket and it’s the best thing I ever bought. It’s warm, waterproof, blocks wind and folds/rolls into a tiny thing that you can shove into your bag. You don’t boil when you step inside so you can usually keep it on for your entire trip on transit or while you’re indoors for brief periods.

Fourth (yes I have four things to say about hoods!) it is very annoying when your hood covers your eyes but has gaps on the sides. Not only can you not see, but the freezing cold wind will get in and burn your face. So make sure your hood can cinch closed to stop wind from getting through, that you still have room underneath it for a hat and that it hugs your face instead of flopping down over your head and covering your eyes.

Number Two: Good winter boots

I’m not talking ski boots here. You can wear them if you wish, and people do, but I don’t think you need them.

The number one concern is their sole. Do they have good grip?

My first winter, I bought $200 knee high fleece lined waterproof Pajar boots. They were warm – too warm – and slippery. It took me a few winters to learn that in Toronto, you don’t need snow boots because you won’t generally be wading through knee high snow. This isn’t Thunder Bay.

Instead, you’ll be stepping and sliding around on slushy, half melted, dirty snow that has been mixed with salt and grit and soot.

What you need are boots that are waterproof, with good thick wool socks, that will keep your feet dry, stop you from slipping and won’t make you overheat when you go inside.

In situations where you will be mostly inside, such as working in an office, it’s best to keep a pair of indoor shoes that you can change into.

You won’t be able to work inside with boots on all day. It gets too warm. Plus it’s not professional attire. Most indoor places have an area for outdoor shoes, where you can take off your shoes and let the snow and salt drip off them while you wear your clean indoor shoes inside (and keep the floor clean and dry).

I’m obsessed with Timberland teddy fleece boots and I buy a new pair every year. This is not a sponsored post, but I find them very comfortable for walking long distances, they’re warm enough without being too hot when you’re inside, and they have decent grip. I haven’t tried every single boot that’s out there, but I’m a “if you’re on to a good thing, stick to it” type of person. The only downside is that they’re lace-up boots, which means they take time to get on and off – annoying since you’re expected to remove your shoes half the places you go. There are plenty of other winter boots that are zippered or slip on.

It’s a good idea to buy ice grips.

Even the best-soled shoes won’t save you from icy sidewalks. Temperatures fluctuate in Toronto winters. Some days are -30, some days are +11 and everything in between. Because of this, snow melts and refreezes, and you get a lot of icy walkways and most shoes have rubber soles which are slippery. You will slip and fall if you step on ice, which you often can’t see until it’s too late. A lot of people slip on ice in the winter and get wrist injuries and even concussions. Ice grips that you attach to your shoes will help you not to fall.

Number three: Warm socks

If you’re wearing really good socks, then you can survive most of winter in average fall boots. Wool is the best option here, but if you’re allergic, look for non-wool thermal socks (but make sure they fit into your boots if they’re the really thick kind).

Number Four: Wool, wool and more wool

When I discovered this, I bought wool everything, and that’s all I will wear in winter. Wool socks, wool hats, wool gloves. Everything else was a waste of money and did nothing to keep me warm, and I was miserable.

My sincerest apologies if you are allergic to wool, because that is the one and only thing I found that would keep me warm while regulating the heat so I didn’t end up sweating and then freezing.

Number Five: A good scarf

A scarf is useless if it’s not worn correctly. It is not a fashion statement here, it is an necessity. It’s purpose is to keep the space between your coat and your ears covered and warm. It should not be too long or thick. You want to be able to wrap it around your neck then tuck the tails into your coat and zip your coat closed. Infinity scarves are great for this because often the tails of your scarf get caught in your coat zipper.

On the coldest days, the scarf alone will not be enough, nor will zipping your jacket all the way up. You need the double-layer protection.

Long-haired people, watch out for your hair getting caught in your zipper too. OUCH. You’ll want to have your clothes on correctly before stepping outside, because it is no fun if you get out there in the cold and your fumbling with your hair, trying to tuck it under your hat, away from your face, away from your zipper, with the wind whipping everywhere, all with gloves on.

Number Six: Invest in a face mask

Or, you can use your scarf. If you’re wearing it correctly, you should be able to pull it up out of your coat and over your nose. But there will definitely be days where you need to cover all of your skin except your eyes, because it gets that cold. A face mask doubles as a neck warmer, so in theory you can ditch the bulky scarf. I found I always needed both.

Number Seven: Gloves

I found the standard polyester finger gloves okay for the tail end of the season, but when it’s below zero, my fingers hurt when I only wear those. The problem with gloves is that you also need dexterity while wearing them, to do things like unzip your coat, get your keys out, unlock your phone, use your wallet, etc etc. I found the mittens with the flip top finger cover the best. They keep your hands warm but you can free your fingers for a minute when you need to do something.

Ok but what do you actually wear under all that?

Everywhere you go will be heated indoors, to around 20 to 23 degrees. Some people keep their homes a little cooler, and some warmer. So you have to figure out something that will keep you warm while outside but comfortable while inside. I’m usually okay in jeans, a cotton tank top and a wool sweater inside. But be prepared to take your shoes off indoors. If you’re okay walking around barefoot you can do that, but I hate it. I always take slippers with me and change into those. Your legs will be cold if you are only wearing jeans when you are outside, unless your coat is ankle length. I get around this by wearing thigh-high wool socks over my jeans on the coldest days. When I’m inside I can fold them down or take them off. Thermals underneath work too if your jeans are baggy.

If you’re going out to a party or a club, simply wear your outfit of choice under your winter gear, which you will take off and store while inside, either in a designated coat check (sometimes for a fee, or at least a tip), or on a huge pile of everyone else’s coats. You can put your hat and gloves in the pockets and shove your scarf in the hood (or around the coat hanger in coat check).

So there you have it. How to dress for a Canadian winter, from this frozen Australian.

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