Landing and Settling in British Columbia
Start your Canadian journey in British Columbia, renowned for its natural beauty, diverse cultures, and vibrant economy.
This webpage is a guide for newcomers looking to move to British Columbia. Discover British Columbia's vibrant possibilities—from snow-capped mountains to vibrant coastlines and bustling cities—and why the province might be the right home for you.
Table of Contents
- What are the benefits of living in British Columbia?
- Housing in British Columbia
- Commuting in British Columbia
- Employment in British Columbia
- Healthcare in British Columbia
- Education in British Columbia
- Weather in British Columbia
- Emergency services in British Columbia
- Newcomer services in British Columbia
- Taxation in British Columbia
- Things to Do in British Columbia
- Contact CanadaVisa and Cohen Immigration Law for Assistance
OverviewDiscover what British Columbia has to offer in this comprehensive guide. From housing, commuting, and employment to healthcare, education, and leisure activities, get equipped with the information you need for successful settlement in one of Canada's most beautiful and diverse provinces.
What are the benefits of living in British Columbia?
Living in British Columbia offers numerous benefits for individuals and families looking to settle in this province. One of the key advantages is the mild weather that BC experiences throughout the year, providing four distinct seasons without the extreme cold found in other parts of Canada.
The thriving economy in British Columbia presents abundant job opportunities in sectors such as technology, healthcare, film and TV production, tourism, and natural resources. This diverse range of industries ensures newcomers have a wide array of employment prospects to explore.
BC's unparalleled natural beauty sets the stage for a variety of outdoor activities. From hiking, skiing, and boating to exploring the province's many parks and reserves, there is no shortage of options for nature enthusiasts to enjoy.
British Columbia is home to cosmopolitan cities like Vancouver and Victoria. Vancouver, known for its multicultural environment and high standard of living, provides a dynamic urban experience. Victoria, on the other hand, offers an old-world charm and a mild climate, creating a unique cityscape.
The province of BC takes pride in its exceptional education system, with top-ranked universities and a reputable K-12 education system. Comprehensive language programs are also available to newcomers, ensuring access to quality education for all.
Residents of British Columbia benefit from accessible healthcare services. The province provides universal healthcare coverage, and a range of hospitals and clinics offer specialised medical care.
BC's infrastructure is highly efficient, with a well-developed public transportation system in Metro Vancouver, including buses, SkyTrain, and SeaBus. The province also boasts well-maintained road networks and numerous airports for domestic and international travel.
For newcomers, British Columbia offers a range of support services to facilitate a smooth transition. These services include language training, employment support, settlement services, and cultural integration programs, all aimed at helping individuals and families establish themselves in their new community.
Housing in British Columbia
In British Columbia (BC), there are various types of housing structures available to residents, in a variety of neighbourhoods and locations. The most common housing types include detached homes, duplexes, townhouses, apartments or condominiums (condos), and strata housing.
Strata housing is a popular choice in BC and encompasses townhouses, apartments, condos, and sometimes even duplexes and detached homes. Strata housing is governed by the Strata Property Act, which sets out regulations that owners and residents must adhere to, along with the specific bylaws and rules of the strata corporation.
Cost of housing can vary greatly within the province, with British Columbia boasting all kinds of neighbourhoods and housing options. As such, the provincial government has prepared a cost-of-living calculator, which can be used to get an idea of housing prices in different population centres within the province.
Some resources that can be used when looking for housing in British Columbia include:
- Your local settlement agency (for either permanent residents and temporary residents alike;
- BC Housing, an organization that works with the provincial government under a mandate from the Minister of Housing to provide housing options to people in British Columbia; and
- Municipal government websites that offer housing options, like the City of Vancouver page.
Commuting in British Columbia
When it comes to transportation options in British Columbia (BC), there are several choices available for commuting within the province. With an “active” commuting strategy, the province puts emphasis on experiencing its favourable year-round weather —though big cities like Vancouver still offer all the commuting options of a metropolitan hub. Whether you're traveling within a city or exploring different regions of BC, here are some key commuting options to consider:
- Public Transit: BC offers an extensive public transit system, particularly in major cities like Vancouver and Victoria. These systems include buses, SkyTrain, and SeaBus, providing efficient and convenient transportation options for daily commuting;
- Cycling: BC is known for its bike-friendly culture and infrastructure. Many cities have dedicated bike lanes and cycling paths, making cycling a popular and environmentally friendly commuting option. You can also take advantage of bike-sharing programs available in certain areas;
- Carpooling: Carpooling is an effective way to share rides and reduce traffic congestion. BC encourages carpooling through initiatives like HOV (High-Occupancy Vehicle) lanes, which prioritise vehicles with multiple occupants during peak hours;
- Ferries: If you need to commute between different islands or coastal areas, BC's ferry services are an important mode of transportation. BC Ferries operates routes connecting various communities and islands, providing scenic travel options for both commuters and tourists;
- Regional Flights: BC has numerous airports, allowing for convenient regional travel. Regional flights are available for those who need to commute between different cities or towns within the province;
- Rail Services: Via Rail operates train services in BC, connecting major cities like Vancouver, Jasper, and Prince Rupert. Rail travel offers a comfortable and scenic option for longer commutes; and
- Ride-Hailing and Taxis: Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, as well as traditional taxi services, are available in urban areas, providing on-demand transportation options for commuting or getting around the city.
You can find more specific commuting information can be found at the relevant city or municipality webpage of your destination.
If you hold a valid international driver’s licence in British Columbia, you can use this as a valid driving permit for up to six months. Any restriction on your international driver’s license will apply.
To find out more about driving in Canada visit our dedicated webpage here.
Employment in British Columbia
When it comes to the major industries in British Columbia, the province is known for its diverse economic sectors. Some of the key industries that contribute significantly to British Columbia’s economy include:
- Natural Resources: BC is rich in natural resources, and the extraction and processing of resources such as forestry, mining, and energy play a vital role in the province's economy. The forestry industry encompasses timber harvesting, logging, and wood product manufacturing. Mining involves the extraction of minerals and metals, including coal, copper, gold, and silver. Energy production includes hydroelectric power generation and natural gas extraction.
- Technology and Innovation: BC has a thriving technology sector that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship. The province is home to numerous tech companies specialising in areas such as software development, clean technology, digital media, and telecommunications. BC's tech industry has been a significant driver of economic growth, attracting investment and creating high-paying job opportunities;
- Film and Television Production: BC's film and television industry has gained international recognition, with Vancouver being referred to as "Hollywood North." The province offers a favourable filming environment, including diverse landscapes, skilled talent, and competitive tax incentives. Many popular movies and TV shows are filmed in BC, contributing to its economic prosperity.
- Tourism and Hospitality: BC's stunning natural landscapes, including mountains, coastlines, and national parks, attract millions of visitors each year. The tourism industry encompasses various sectors, such as accommodation, transportation, outdoor recreation, and cultural attractions. The province's vibrant cities, scenic destinations, and cultural heritage make it a popular tourist destination.
- Agriculture and Food Production: BC's diverse climate and fertile land support a thriving agriculture sector. The province produces a wide range of agricultural products, including fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat, seafood, and wine. BC's food production industry emphasises sustainable practices and local sourcing, catering to both domestic and international markets.
- Manufacturing: BC has a strong manufacturing sector that encompasses various industries, such as aerospace, automotive, food processing, and advanced manufacturing. The province's manufacturing companies produce a wide range of goods, including aircraft parts, vehicles, packaged foods, and high-tech equipment.
- Construction and Real Estate: BC's construction industry plays a crucial role in infrastructure development, residential and commercial building projects, and urban planning. The real estate sector, driven by population growth and demand, contributes significantly to BC's economy.
Some resources that can be used to find jobs in the province include:
- BC Tech Jobs: Specifically focuses on job opportunities in the rapidly growing technology sector in British Columbia;
- BCJobs: A valuable database that offers a wide range of job listings throughout British Columbia;
- Immigrant Employment Council of BC: This organisation connects employers with immigrant talent, offering programs, resources, and tools to support newcomers in their job search; and
- WorkBC: This comprehensive resource provides information on job opportunities, employment services, and labor market trends in British Columbia.
- Your local settlement agency, which can aid you with everything from securing employment to networking events, job-specific language training and more (for both permanent residents and temporary residents alike, depending on where services are offered);
British Columbia also has a provincial minimum wage of $16.75, one of the highest of any province in Canada.
For more information on finding employment in Canada as a newcomer, you can visit our dedicated page, here.
Healthcare in British Columbia
In Canada, public health insurance is accessible to eligible residents, including Canadian citizens and permanent residents who can apply for provincial health insurance.
In British Columbia, the public health insurance program is known as the Medical Services Plan (MSP). It is designed to cover the expenses associated with medically necessary doctor services offered by physicians, surgeons, as well as dental or oral surgery performed in a hospital.
In addition, the provincial government also runs two more medical programs:
- The Fair PharmaCare program which assists medical expenses of drugs and medical devices and supplies, based on a resident’s income; and
- The Supplementary Benefits program which provides partial payment reliefs for certain medical services such as acupuncture and massage therapy (again assessed based on a resident’s income).
The MSP is only available to British Columbia residents, which are specifically defined as:
- A citizen of Canada or lawfully admitted to Canada for permanent residence;
- Makes their home in B.C.; and
- Physically present in B.C. at least six months in a calendar year
Eligible British Columbia residents (citizens of Canada or persons who are lawfully admitted to Canada for permanent residence) who are of the province for vacation purposes only, are allowed a total absence of up to seven months in a calendar year.
Newcomers can apply for all three programs of health coverage using a single form here. Note that to avail services in the Fair PharmaCare and Supplementary Benefits programs you have to be already enrolled, or concurrently applying to the MSP as well.
To find out more about availing medical services and healthcare in British Columbia visit the government’s page here.
To learn more about availing healthcare in Canada more generally, you can visit our dedicated webpage on the topic here.
Education in British Columbia
In Canada all minors between the ages of 6 to 18 must receive an elementary and high school education.
British Columbia takes pride in its outstanding public education system, with K-12 students consistently achieving top rankings worldwide in assessments such as the OECD PISA tests. In addition to the public system, BC offers a network of independent schools that provide both day and boarding programs.
Both public school districts and independent schools in BC have a longstanding tradition of embracing and supporting international students for various study options. This includes short-term study programs, specialised summer camps, as well as longer-term studies leading to the BC graduation certificate (Dogwood diploma). Both types of schools may also offer enriched curricula options, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) or Advanced Placement (AP). As with the rest of Canada, public school is free, both a legal right and obligation for students.
BC boasts 60 public school districts spread across large urban centres, small cities and towns, and picturesque rural areas, offering students diverse study environments. School districts work with schools and the Parents Advisory Council (PAC) to oversee everything from school hours to class curriculum. Independent schools are also scattered throughout the province. It's important to note that both public and independent schools operate under the jurisdiction of the BC Ministry of Education.
Furthermore, public school districts and independent schools have the flexibility to arrange customised programs for both small and large groups. These programs can range from one to two-week programs during spring break to teacher training initiatives and engaging summer camps. This level of customisation ensures that students have ample opportunities to explore their academic interests and personal development in BC's educational landscape.
In British Columbia (British Columbia), children can begin Kindergarten the year they turn five, although attendance is not mandatory until they reach the age of six. In Vancouver, if students were not born in Canada or are in Grade 1 to 12 and do not speak English as their home language, they are required to register at the Newcomer Welcome Centre. Otherwise, enrolment takes place through the local school.
British Columbia has different district school boards responsible for establishing school catchment areas (which they are responsible for). Generally, students are only allowed to attend schools in the area where they reside. To find your relevant school district you can use the School District Contacts Map.
To enrol your child in a school in British Columbia, first establish your relevant catchment area. Then, visit the local school board corresponding to your catchment school and follow the provided directions to register your child online. If your child will be attending school in Vancouver and was not born in Canada or does not speak English as their home language, registration should take place at the Newcomer Welcome Centre.
During the enrolment process, you will need to complete an application form, which includes questions about your child, home address, parent contact details, emergency contact information, and any relevant health considerations. It is important to provide proof of your child's identification, proof of residency, proof of home address, and a copy of their immunisation record as part of the application.
Immunisation is a requirement for school-aged children in British Columbia, and it is essential to follow the British Columbia immunisation schedule to ensure your child meets the necessary requirements.
Much like it’s K-12 education system, British Columbia also boasts some of Canada’s most premiere post-secondary institutions.
Post-secondary education systems, programs, and credentials vary across different provinces in Canada. In British Columbia (B.C.), the post-secondary education system is characterised by integration, which entails the following:
- B.C. has a well-established transfer and articulation system that facilitates the smooth transition of students among post-secondary institutions;
- Colleges and institutes in B.C. have the authority to offer degree programs, providing additional options for higher education; and
- Various types of institutions exist in B.C., offering a diverse range of education and training opportunities.
B.C. encompasses different types of post-secondary institutions, each with its own regulatory framework:
- Public post-secondary institutions are authorised by provincial legislation to provide post-secondary education and training within B.C.;
- Private and out-of-province public degree-granting institutions are authorised under the Degree Authorization Act to deliver degree programs in B.C.;
- Private training institutions are regulated by the Private Training Act, overseen by the Private Training Institutions Branch (PTIB), which ensures compliance with standards for these schools;
- Theological institutions in B.C. possess statutory authority under a Private Act to offer specific programs; and
- Aboriginal-controlled post-secondary institutes offer courses and programs specifically tailored to adult Aboriginal learners.
It is important to note that language training institutions have the option to voluntarily apply for regulation if they wish to host international students studying under study permits.
For more information on studying in Canada, visit our dedicated webpage here.
Weather in British Columbia
British Columbia is a vast province, and its climate exhibits significant variations across different regions. This diversity is highlighted by the fact that British Columbia. experiences both some of the wettest and driest climates in Canada, as well as a wide range of temperature extremes. The province's climate is greatly influenced by the presence of the Pacific Ocean and its majestic mountain ranges.
Regional climates within British Columbia can be described as follows:
- South Coast: This region enjoys a mild climate throughout the year. Summers on the coast are warm, with daytime temperatures typically reaching around 20°C. B.C.'s coastal areas experience the mildest winters in the country, with freezing temperatures being a rarity;
- Interior and Central Regions: These areas have hotter summers, often exceeding 30°C in July. Winters in the interior and central regions are colder and snowier compared to the coastal areas; and
- Northern Region: The north experiences long, cold winters with significant snowfall, while summers are short. Along the north coast, rainfall is abundant during spring, summer, and fall, with cold winters prevailing.
British Columbia’s diverse climate allows residents to partake in a wide array of outdoor activities throughout the year. During the warmer months, many people engage in biking, hiking, swimming, sports, and boating. In winter, areas with snow offer opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and ice skating, providing a multitude of recreational options to enjoy throughout the four seasons.
For more information on dressing for Canada's weather, visit our dedicated webpage here.
Emergency Contacts in British Columbia
Below is a quick overview of essential emergency contacts in British Columbia:
- Emergency Services: In case of life-threatening emergencies or when immediate assistance is needed, dial 911. This number connects you to police, fire, and medical services.
- HealthLink BC: For non-emergency health-related inquiries, you can contact HealthLink BC at 811. This service provides 24/7 access to registered nurses who can offer medical advice and information.
- Poison Control Centre: If you require assistance regarding poison exposure or poisoning emergencies, you can contact the Poison Control Centre at 1-800-567-8911. Experts are available to provide guidance and support.
- Crisis Lines: If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis or in need of emotional support, several helplines are available. The Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of British Columbia can be reached at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433), while the BC Mental Health Support Line is available at 310-6789.
- BC Hydro: For electricity emergencies or power outages, contact BC Hydro at 1-800-BCHYDRO (1-800-224-9376). They can provide assistance and updates regarding power-related issues.
- Emergency Social Services: In situations where temporary assistance is required due to emergencies like wildfires or floods, Emergency Social Services can provide support. Contact your local authority or visit the Emergency Management BC website for more information.
Newcomer services in British Columbia
Newcomers in Canada can receive settlement services to aid them in adapting to aspects of Canadian life. These services can encompass everything from employment help, language training, and daycare to community and cultural events, legal help, and more.
In British Columbia, settlement services are managed under the British Columbia Settlement and Integration Services (BCSIS) program. While newcomer services are usually open to permanent residents and some temporary residents, eligibility depends greatly on who the service provider is. Thus, depending on your location of residence, and legal status in Canada, you may be eligible for some services and not others.
To learn more about the BCSIS and to find settlement services close to you, visit the provincial government page here.
To learn more about settlement services for newcomers to Canada, you can visit our dedicated webpage here.
Taxation in British Columbia
Taxation in British Columbia is beholden to both provincial and federal tax rates. In relation to income taxes this combined tax rate is between 20%-53% depending on one’s tax bracket, with the marginal tax rate increasing as your income and corresponding tax bracket increases.
In addition, the province charges both a Provincial Sales Tax (PST) and the federal Goods and Services Tax (GST) separately on taxable goods and services. At present the current PST is 7%, while GST stands at 5%.
To learn more about personal income tax rates in British Columbia, click here. If you would like to learn more about sales taxes in British Columbia (like GST and PST), you can visit the provincial webpage here.
To learn more about filing your taxes in Canada, visit our dedicated webpage here.
Things to do in British Columbia
Often noted as a tourist hotspot in Canada, British Columbia has a wealth of attractions and sights to offer. Some of the most popular activities for those exploring the province include:
- Visiting Stanley Park: Explore the scenic Stanley Park in Vancouver, which offers picturesque views, hiking trails, gardens, beaches, and the Vancouver Aquarium;
- Experiencing Butchart Gardens: Wander through the stunning Butchart Gardens in Victoria, known for its vibrant flowers, serene atmosphere, and impressive displays;
- Discovering Whistler: Enjoy outdoor adventures in Whistler, a world-renowned mountain resort. Experience skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, and take in the beautiful alpine scenery;
- Exploring the Capilano Suspension Bridge: Walk across the thrilling Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver, surrounded by lush forests and offering breathtaking views;
- Taking a Whale Watching Tour: Embark on a whale watching tour from Vancouver Island or other coastal areas to spot whales, including orcas, humpbacks, and gray whales;
- Visiting the Royal BC Museum: Immerse yourself in history and culture at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. Explore captivating exhibits showcasing British Columbia's rich heritage;
- Enjoying Wine Tasting in Okanagan Valley: Visit the beautiful Okanagan Valley, known for its vineyards and wineries. Take part in wine tours and tastings, surrounded by stunning landscapes;
- Going Wildlife Viewing in Great Bear Rainforest: Discover the Great Bear Rainforest, home to diverse wildlife, including grizzly bears, eagles, and salmon. Experience guided tours and eco-adventures;
- Experiencing the Sea-to-Sky Gondola: Ride the Sea-to-Sky Gondola in Squamish for breathtaking views of mountains, forests, and Howe Sound. Enjoy hiking trails, suspension bridge, and outdoor activities; and
- Exploring the Historic Gastown: Wander through Vancouver's historic Gastown district, known for its charming cobblestone streets, Victorian buildings, unique shops, and restaurants.
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