This is your official guide to a successful settlement in the province of British Columbia (B.C.).
Included in this landing guide you will find complete contact information for each government office and immigrant service agency that you will require to successfully begin your new life in British Columbia, whether you are moving to the city of Vancouver, the city of Victoria, or the surrounding areas.
Learn more about life in British Columbia.
In this Landing Guide to British Columbia, you'll find information on:
- General Information
- Health Care
- Getting your driver's licence
- What can I bring to Canada?
- Emergency Services
- Directory of Immigrant-Serving Agencies
General Information on British Columbia
Official provincial immigration website: www.welcomebc.ca/Immigrate
Vancouver: Vancouver Tourist Info Centre
Plaza Level, 200 Burrard St.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Canada V6C 3L6
Health Care in British Columbia
You must register for the British Columbia Medical Services Plan (MSP) as soon as you arrive in order to receive health care. For instructions, you should call the following numbers:
Vancouver: 604 683-7151
Victoria: 250 386-7171 or 250 382-8406
Elsewhere in B.C.: 1-800-663-7100
You will not be covered immediately by MSP. It generally takes three months after registration for your healthcare coverage to begin. In the interim, be sure to have temporary health insurance. You can obtain temporary health insurance through a private insurance company. You can locate one of the many private insurance companies in your local telephone book.
When your MSP coverage begins, you will receive a CareCard. You must bring this card with you whenever you visit a doctor or a hospital.
Note: MSP has a monthly fee.
Employment in British Columbia
To legally work in British Columbia, follow these steps:
- Apply for your Social Insurance number (SIN). For information, visit: www.servicecanada.gc.ca/en/sc/sin/
- Ensure your credentials are assessed at one of the follow agencies:
Canadian Centre for International Credentials: www.cicic.ca
The Open Learning Agency (OLA) operates the International Credential Evaluation Service (ICES). ICES will assess foreign secondary and postsecondary certificates for employment. This service costs between $115 and $200. To contact ICES, call 604 431-3402 in the Lower Mainland. Outside of Vancouver, call 1-800-663-1663. Website: www.bcit.ca/ices
- If you work in a trade, ensure that you have the certifications required by law in British Columbia to practice your trade. For trade certification, begin by contacting Red Seal, a nation-wide trade certification organization at: www.red-seal.ca
- Register with appropriate provincial regulatory organization for your profession (where applicable). To do so, contact your local Industry Training Authority:
- The B.C. Business Service Centre will provide you with information and advice about regulations, government help, and training. Address: 601 West Cordova Street in Vancouver. Call 604 775-5525 in Vancouver and 1-800-667-2272 elsewhere in BC Website: www.smallbusinessbc.ca.
- The Business Immigration Office at the World Trade Centre in Vancouver: call 604 844-1810.
- Register for language classes, if required to improve your English or French language skills. For English as a Second Language classes (ESL) contact your local Language Assessment Centre:
For people living in Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, New Westminster, North Vancouver and West Vancouver, call Western ESL Services at 604 876-5756.
For people living in Surrey, the Tri-Cities area and the Fraser Valley, call Timeline Data Solutions Ltd. at 604 507-4150.
Elsewhere in BC, contact your local immigrant services organization.
Finances in British Columbia
You should open an account at a local bank or financial institution as soon as possible after you arrive. Popular banks in British Columbia include: HSBC, Scotia Bank, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Bank of Montreal (BMO), TD Canada Trust, and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC).
Canadian Money is made of cents and dollars. There are 100 cents in 1 Canadian dollar. Currency is found in coins of 1 cent ($0.01) called the "penny", which are no longer used in commercial transactions, 5 cents ($0.05) called the "nickel", 10 cents ($0.10) called the "dime", 25 cents ($0.25) called the "quarter", 1 dollar ($1.00) called the "Loonie" for the Canadian loon featured on the coin, and a two dollar ($2.00) coin called the "Twoonie" as it is the equivalent of two Loonies. Bills, or paper currency, are found in denominations of five dollars ($5.00), ten dollars ($10.00), twenty dollars ($20.00), fifty dollars ($50.00) and one hundred dollars ($100.00).
To find out what your home currency is worth against Canadian currency, talk to a representative from a local bank, or visit this popular currency exchange website: www.xe.com
Note: If you have a low income and children 18 years of age or younger, you may be eligible to receive tax benefits and/or bonuses from the B.C. government. Call 1.800.387.1193 for more information.
Education in British Columbia
All children under 16 years of age must be registered for school in British Columbia. Public schooling for all children under 16 is free and generally begins at age four or five. Most children stay in school until they finish high school, generally at 18 years of age.
The Canadian public school system is generally divided into three levels: Elementary, Secondary and Post-Secondary (e.g. college or university). Some districts or private schools may organize their grade levels differently, though education standards are regulated by the provincial government. The academic year for all levels of education begins in September and runs through June for elementary and secondary students, and to April for college and university students. Standard holidays include Christmas and New Year's holidays in December and January, and a spring break in either March or April. In addition, students have the right to observe religious holidays. Contact the local school board in your neighbourhood for information on registration.
Vancouver School Board: www.vsb.bc.ca, Telephone: (604) 713-5000
Greater Victoria District School Board: www.sd61.bc.ca, Telephone: 250.475.3212
For those who speak French as a first language, French Public schools are available.
For complete information on post-secondary education visit the Study in Canada Guide.
Obtaining a Driver's Licence in British Columbia
If you are planning on renting, leasing, or buying a car, you must have an official British Columbia driver's licence.
The process of licensing varies depending on what sort of driving experience (if any) you had previous to moving to B.C. All licensing and insurance is managed by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC). For complete information, visit their website at www.icbc.com.
Note: Every vehicle and driver must have insurance. Contact a local insurance provider to become properly insured before you drive.
Housing in British Columbia
If you have not visited your new city before landing, it may be best to rent an apartment temporarily when you first arrive, and/or hire a real estate agent to guide you through the housing process and provide you with knowledgeable advice on the best areas for you and your family. You could also work with a real estate agent before you arrive, by doing an internet search and contacting one in advance.
There are multiple different housing options in British Columbia. Below is an explanation of the most popular options:
Apartment buildings are large, multi-unit buildings owned by one person or company where each inhabitant rents a unit. Studio or bachelor apartments are generally one room with a kitchen area and bathroom and are suited only for a single individual. Larger apartments can accommodate families as they have bedrooms and additional living space.
A large multi-unit building where each unit is owned by the inhabitant is called a condominium, and each unit is called a condo. Condos can be small single personal dwellings, or large, multi-level family dwellings.
Often apartments and condos are found in homes that have been divided into separate living spaces.
Houses can be connected in a row, when they are called townhouses or row houses, or detached, as separate, individual dwellings.
Though average living costs vary given size of family, location and level of income, housing is generally more expensive in cities like Victoria and Vancouver. As a result, many families choose to live in smaller cities like Kelowna, Kamloops or Prince George. Many people choose to live in suburbs which are towns located just outside of the city limits, where housing is more affordable. Suburbs often provide good neighbourhoods, schools, shopping and healthcare, all within close proximity to the amenities of the city. Housing in the country can be even less expensive and is desirable for many families, but you will require a vehicle in order to travel for your basic needs including groceries, work, school and healthcare.
It is important that you take your family, your place of work, neighbourhood and finances into account before deciding on a place to live.
Pets: If you are renting your home or live in a condominium, it is important that you ensure pets are legally allowed on the premises before you move in with your family pet, or purchase a family pet.
Note: There are explicit rules about immigrating with a pet. Please see "What can you bring to Canada?" below.
What can you bring into Canada?
Canada has strict rules concerning what can and cannot be brought into the country. There are regulations regarding food, alcohol, nicotine products, plants, animals, cars and other products. To avoid problems, be sure to check in advance what is and what is not allowed to come to Canada, as well as what procedures must be followed to bring certain items into the country.
For automobiles, contact:
Place de Ville, Tower C
330 Sparks Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N5
Weather in British Columbia
Most of British Columbia enjoys very warm summers where temperatures can go above 30 degrees Celsius. Vancouver and Victoria are popular destinations for Canadians and newcomers because of their temperate climates. Unlike most of Canada, they experience very little snow in the winter. However, it can get very cold in almost all other parts of British Columbia in the winter, when temperatures can go below -20, and sometimes even -30 degrees Celsius. It is very important to ensure that you are prepared for the cold weather. Invest in warm winter clothing, including sweaters, winter jackets, boots, hats, scarves and gloves or mittens. If you do not dress warmly in the winter you will risk becoming ill or getting frost bite. Frost bite is severe damage to the skin caused by winter wind exposure.
British Columbians keep candles and matches, warm blankets, flash lights, first aid kits, and small snow shovels in their cars and homes in case of emergencies. In most parts of B.C., your car must have specially designated winter tires in order to legally, and safely, drive in the winter.
Emergency Services in British Columbia
In emergency situations dial 911. By dialling 911, you become connected with an operator who will assist you and dispatch emergency services if needed.
In non-emergency situations, if you only require the police, you can find contact numbers for major cities below.
Vancouver Police: (604) 717-3535
Victoria Police: (250) 995-7654
Canadian Human Rights Commission: (604) 666-2511 or 1-800-999-6899
Directory of Immigrant-Serving Agencies in British Columbia
It is important to visit an immigrant-serving agency that can answer your questions and provide you with guidance in the future.
Chilliwack Community Services
46293 Yale Road
Chilliwack, B.C. V2P 2P7
Tel: 604 792-7376, Fax: 604 792-6575
Burnaby Multicultural Society
6255 Nelson Avenue
Burnaby, B.C. V5H 4T5
Tel: 604 431-4131, Fax: 604 431-4137
Abbotsford Community Services
2420 Montrose Avenue
Abbotsford, B.C. V2S 3S9
Tel: 604 859-7681, Fax: 604 859-6334
Langley Family Services
5339 - 207th Street
Langley, B.C. V3A 2E6
Tel: 604 534-7921, Fax: 604 534-9884
CIC call centre
Vancouver, call: 604 666-2171
anywhere else in B.C., call: 1-888-242-2100.
Surrey-Delta Immigrant Services Society
1107 - 7330 137 Street
Surrey, B.C. V3W 1A3
Tel: 604 597-0205, Fax: 604 597-4299
Richmond Multicultural Concerns Society
210-7000 Minoru Blvd.
Richmond, B.C. V6Y 3Z5
Tel: 604 279-7160, Fax: 604 279-7168
Pacific Immigrant Resources Society
Suite 205 - 2929 Commercial Drive
Vancouver, B.C. V5N 4C8
Tel: 604 298-5888, Fax: 604 298-0747
Options: Services to Communities Society
100 - 6846 King George Highway
Surrey, B.C. V3W 4Z9
Tel: 604 596-4321, Fax: 604 572-7413
Progressive Inter-Cultural Community
109 - 12414 - 82nd Avenue
Surrey, B.C. V3W 3E9
Tel: 604 596-7722, Fax: 604 596-7721
Immigrant Services Society Welcome House
530 Drake Street
Vancouver, B.C. V6B 2H3
Tel: 604 684-7498, Fax: 604 684-5683
Vancouver and Lower Mainland
Multicultural Family Support Services Society
306 - 4980 Kingsway
Burnaby, B.C. V5H 4K7
Tel: 604 436-1025, Fax: 604 436-3267
2nd floor, 1720 Grant Street
Vancouver, B.C. V5L 2Y7
Tel: 604 254-9626, Fax: 604 254-3932
Inland Refugee Society of B.C.
101 - 225 East 17th Avenue
Vancouver, B.C. V5V 1A6
Tel: 604 873-6660, Fax: 604 873-6620
Immigrant Services Society of B.C.
501 - 333 Terminal Avenue
Vancouver, B.C. V6A 2L7
Tel: 604 684-2561, Fax: 604 684-2266
SUCCESS Tri-City Office
2058 - 1163 Pinetree Way
Coquitlam, B.C. V3B 8A9
Tel: 604 468-6000, Fax: 604 464-6830
SUCCESS Richmond Office
220 - 7000 Minoru Blvd.
Richmond, B.C. V6Y 3Z5
Tel: 604 279-7180, Fax: 604 279-7188
SUCCESS Burnaby-Coquitlam Service Centre B - 435 North Road
Coquitlam, B.C. V3K 3V9
Tel: 604 936-5900, Fax: 604 936-7280
5836 Fraser Street
Vancouver, B.C. V5W 2Z5
Tel: 604 324-1900, Fax: 604 324-2536
28 West Pender Street
Vancouver, B.C. V6B 1R6
Tel: 604 684-1628, Fax: 604 408-7236
SUCCESS Surrey-Delta Service Centre
A7 The Boardwalk Place
10160 - 152nd Street
Surrey, B.C. V3R 9W3
Tel: 604 588-6869, Fax: 604 588-6823
CANN (Community Airport Newcomers Network)
Located in Vancouver airport to greet new immigrants
CANN is located at #280, 8191
Westminster Highway, Richmond,
B.C. V6X 1A7
Tel: 604 270-0077, Fax: 604 270-6008.
Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society
114 - 285 Prideaux Street
Nanaimo, B.C. V9R 2N2
Tel: 250 753-6911, Fax: 250 753-4250
Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society
3rd Floor - 535 Yates Street
Victoria, B.C. V8W 2Z6
Tel: 250 361-9433, Fax: 250 361-1914
Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria
930 Balmoral Road
Victoria, B.C. V8T 1A8
Tel: 250 388-4728, Fax: 250 386-4395
Campbell River and Area Multicultural and
Immigrant Services Association
43 - 1480 Dogwood Street
Campbell River, B.C. V9W 3A6
Comox Valley Family Services Association
1415 Cliffe Avenue
Courtenay, B.C. V9N 2K6
Tel: 250 338-7575 Fax: 250 338-2343
Comox Valley Multicultural and Immigrant
Tel: 250 338-2838 or 250 703-063
The Rest of B.C.
Kitimat Multicultural Society
P.O. Box 16
Kitimat, B.C. V8C 2G6
Tel: 250 632-6846
Multicultural Society of Kelowna
100 - 1875 Spall Road
Kelowna, B.C. V1Y 4R2
Tel: 250 762-2155, Fax: 250 762-8155
Kamloops Immigrant Services
110 - 206 Seymour Street
Kamloops, B.C. V2C 2E5
Tel: 250 372-0855, Fax: 250 372-1532
Penticton and District Multicultural Society
508 Main Street
Penticton, B.C. V2A 5C7
Tel: 250 492-6299, Fax: 250 490-4684
Cowichan Valley Intercultural
and Immigrant Aid Society
3 - 83 Trunk Road
Duncan, B.C. V9L 2N7
Tel: 250 748-3112, Fax: 250 748-1335
Vernon and District Immigrant Services Society
100 - 3003 - 30th Street
Vernon, B.C. V1T 9J5
Tel: 250 542-4177, Fax: 250 542-6554
Trail and District Multicultural Society
201 - 1504 Cedar Avenue
Trail, B.C. V1R 4C6
Tel: 250 364-0999, Fax: 250 364-0945
Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society
of Prince George
1633 Victoria Street
Prince George, B.C. V2L 2L4
Tel: 250 562-2900, Fax: 250 563-4852
Disclaimer: This guide is a compilation of information from multiple sources. Though the information is maintained and updated regularly, the law firm for Campbell, Cohen is not responsible for information that may have changed. This is not a government document. Neither the federal nor the provincial governments were involved in the making of this guide.