Landing and Settling in Nova Scotia
Are you considering settling in Nova Scotia when you move to Canada?
Have you already decided to settle in Nova Scotia, and you want to learn more about the province? Use this CanadaVisa guide to learn about 10 crucial settlement-focused topics including housing, provincial healthcare and weather in this prairie province, Canada’s only region that is almost entirely surrounded by water.
Table of Contents
- What are the benefits of living in Nova Scotia?
- Housing in Nova Scotia
- Commuting in Nova Scotia
- Employment in Nova Scotia
- Healthcare in Nova Scotia
- Education in Nova Scotia
- Weather in Nova Scotia
- Emergency Services in Nova Scotia
- Newcomer Services in Nova Scotia
- Taxation in Nova Scotia
- Things to Do in Nova Scotia
- Contact CanadaVisa and Cohen Immigration Law for Assistance
This guide will begin by discussing some of the unique benefits that only come with settling in Nova Scotia. As an example, this guide will cover what makes Nova Scotia one of the best provinces to raise a family and showcase its low cost of living for immigrants who choose to settle there.
Following this section of our guide, CanadaVisa will continue to explore specific areas of settlement in Nova Scotia to give readers a better idea of what it is like to live there. Covering the following 10 subjects – housing, commuting, employment, healthcare, education, weather, emergency services, newcomer services, taxation and fun/leisure - this page will help you understand everything you need to know when deciding where you would like to settle (or learning more about where you already plan to settle) as a newcomer to this country.
The two most notable benefits of immigrating to Nova Scotia are the low cost of living and the province’s suitability as a place to raise a family in Canada.
Compared to many of Canada’s larger provinces, Nova Scotia has a significantly more affordable cost of living. For instance, more metropolitan provinces like Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario will require immigrants and existing citizens to earn a much higher wage to live comfortably than is required in Nova Scotia.
In accordance with the cheaper cost of living found in Nova Scotia compared to Canada’s more famous destination provinces, this province is also one of Canada’s safest and most idyllic places to raise a family. Due in large part to its family-friendly small communities, reduced commute times and more intimate environments, Nova Scotia is one of Canada’s ideal provinces for newcomers looking to raise a family away from the loud hustle and bustle of typical city life.
Nova Scotia has a smaller-than-average housing market compared to the rest of Canada. This is largely because Nova Scotia ranks seventh in population size among Canada’s 10 provinces, home to just over 1.03 million people.
It is likely that newcomers to this province will look to focus on renting a residential property upon moving to Nova Scotia. As is the case in every part of Canada, the available list of property types will vary based on two primary factors: the community you choose to settle in and the number of people in your family. These two factors will also influence the price that newcomers will pay to rent a property in this province.
This rentals.ca National Rent Report showcases average rental costs for both one and two-bedroom units in different cities across the country, including the biggest city in Nova Scotia – Halifax.
As most newcomers to Canada are most likely to settle in a given province or territory’s two or three largest Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs), it is worth pointing out that the Government of Canada identifies only one CMA in all of Nova Scotia. That CMA is Halifax, where the population is estimated at over 480,000 people.
Resources to help you find housing in Nova Scotia
Government of Nova Scotia Housing Programs and Resources: https://housing.novascotia.ca/programs-and-services
Government of Nova Scotia: https://novascotiaimmigration.com/live-here/housing/
Nova Scotia has a single international airport, located in the capital city of Halifax. For more information about the process of coming to Canada through this airport, or any of Canada’s more than 15 other international airports, please visit CanadaVisa’s page on Arriving in Canada.
Most residents (over 70%) of Nova Scotia’s only CMA, the province’s capital city of Halifax, have an easy time accessing public transportation in their community.
Note: According to Statistics Canada, this figure is defined as the number of people living in a CMA that reside less than half a kilometre (500 metres) from a public transit access point
This means that most residents of Nova Scotia’s biggest city can easily access a bus or other modes of public transportation.
Despite this, as is the trend in most Canadian CMAs, the majority of the people that live in Halifax prefer to commute using a car, van, or truck. In fact, this is true of more than four-fifths of all Halifax residents (more than 130,000 people).
Still, residents of Halifax who choose to take public transportation can rely on the infrastructure put in place by Halifax Transit – which includes a network of buses and ferries – to move around the city.
Getting a Nova Scotia Driver’s License
For Nova Scotia-bound newcomers who would still prefer to drive a car to move around their community and the province generally, it is important to understand that all motor vehicle operators must be at least 16 years of age. They must also possess a valid government-issued license, valid insurance coverage and always have their ownership with them when behind the wheel.
Note: Newcomers to Nova Scotia may operate a motor vehicle using the driver’s license they obtained in their home country for 90 days. During this time, the Canadian government also recommends that newcomers to Canada apply for, obtain and carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) with them at all times.
Once these 90 days are up, newcomers to this province must apply for and receive a driver’s license from the Government of Nova Scotia to continue operating a motor vehicle. To do this, you must either obtain a driver’s license outright or go through the process of completing a Driver’s License Exchange in Nova Scotia (more information is available by clicking on this hyperlink).
Important: Not all newcomers to Canada are eligible for a Driver’s License Exchange in Nova Scotia, as each province/territory has its own set of countries with which the government has reciprocal licensing agreements. Visit the government’s website for more information.
Obtaining a driver’s license outright in Nova Scotia is a little different than it is in other parts of Canada. This is because, “in Nova Scotia, drivers are licensed according to the type(s) of vehicle(s) they are qualified to drive.” In other words, this province has eight different classes of driver’s licenses available for residents depending on the type of vehicle they would like to drive.
However, generally speaking, Nova Scotia’s licensing process contains three general stages, listed below:
- Learner's, sometimes called Beginner's (see Learner's License)
- Newly Licensed (see Newly Licensed Driver's License)
- The Restricted Individual
For more information on driving in this province, please visit this link from the Government of Nova Scotia.
Newcomers to Canada seeking general information about driving a car, obtaining insurance, renting vs buying a car, and more can visit our CanadaVisa page called Driving in Canada as a Newcomer.
Across Nova Scotia, the following sectors represent the three biggest industries in terms of employment in this province:
- Trade occupations
- Healthcare and social assistance
- Educational services
The paragraphs to follow will provide some important information regarding Nova Scotia’s three largest employment industries.
Trade occupations, which employ more than 75,000 residents across Nova Scotia, are jobs that encompass the wholesale and retail trade industries. In other words, in these occupations, employees buy goods in large quantities (or bulk) and turn around to sell them in smaller quantities. The primary difference between wholesale traders and retail traders is that wholesale traders will sell their bulk-purchased goods to other businesses and/or wholesalers while those in retail trade positions largely focus on selling direct-to-consumer. In either case, people working in trade occupations can do so in a variety of industries, including grocery, electronics, and household goods.
The health and social assistance industry is a simple one to understand. For the more than 70,000 Nova Scotians employed as doctors, nurses, social care workers or mental health specialists (among many other titles), they play a key role in the livelihood of all the people under their care through their work in this sector. All of these medical professionals are vital to keeping their communities strong, happy and healthy, meaning it is impossible to understate the role they play in helping Nova Scotians – and Canadians all across the country – live the most productive lives they can.
In much the same way as Canadians rely on the roles played by workers in the health and social assistance sector, Canadians rely on employees in the educational services industry to play their part in the growth and development of Canadian society as well. This is especially true in Nova Scotia, where over 43,000 people who reside in this province work in jobs ranging from teachers and guidance counsellors to principals and super intendants.
Resources to help you find a job in Nova Scotia
Explore Careers page by the Government of Nova Scotia: https://explorecareers.novascotia.ca/
Career Beacon: https://www.careerbeacon.com/
Newcomers to Canada who settle in Nova Scotia can access free provincial healthcare coverage after three months of residing in the province. This means that after living in Nova Scotia for three months, anyone who possesses a valid government-issued health card can receive free healthcare, which is through Canada’s renowned universal healthcare model. Through this model, Canadians avoid out-of-pocket costs for most healthcare services and items because the system is funded jointly through consumer taxes.
Note: Some medications (ex. prescription drugs) and treatments will need to be paid for out of pocket by the recipient
To obtain a health card in Nova Scotia, newcomers to this province must first contact the Medical Services Insurance (MSI) department of the Government of Nova Scotia to begin the application process.
Part of this application process involves proving Canadian citizenship/immigration status and residence in the province. To do so, immigrants to the province must present MSI with any of the documents on the list of documentation that the Government of Nova Scotia considers acceptable. The list of acceptable documents for both cases is available at this link, where you can also find complete details about the province’s health card registration process.
Once any eligible resident of Nova Scotia obtains their health card, they can be treated under the province’s healthcare plan. It is important to note, that each province individually decides what services are offered through its public healthcare insurance package.
Nova Scotia’s provincial healthcare plan covers the following medical services.
- Addiction treatment
- Continuing care (nursing, home support, etc.)
- Physician services
- Hospital services
- Optometry services (under nine years of age and over 65)
- Ambulance fees
- In-hospital dental surgeries
- Infection prevention
- Mental health services
More information can be found at the following links:
Important: The Canadian government recommends that all residents of Nova Scotia purchase private health insurance alongside public healthcare coverage provided by their home province/territory. Due in part to the waiting period imposed on public health insurance eligibility and the need for services that are not covered by provincial healthcare, private healthcare coverage is often a necessity for Canadians. To learn more about healthcare in Canada, including how to get a family doctor, please visit Get Healthcare in Canada: A Guide for Newcomers.
Mandatory participation in the Canadian education system requires children, including those of newcomers to Canada, to begin school in Nova Scotia around the age of six.
The following will provide an overview of education between kindergarten and grade 12, as well as post-secondary education in the province.
K-12 Education in Nova Scotia
In Nova Scotia, children begin their journey through the education system in kindergarten. This is also the case throughout the rest of the country. For newcomers to the country and the province, they are now given the option to enroll their child in the public school education system or pursue private/independent routes instead.
Note: Enrolling a child in the public school system means that they can be educated for no cost (out-of-pocket) until they graduate high school, whereas private and independent educational institutions will require parents to pay out of pocket to cover tuition
This CanadaVisa resource is a general primer on the education system in Canada, which includes information on such important subjects as the school schedule in Canada, the different languages taught in Canadian schools and a discussion about how parents can stay involved in their child’s education in this country.
Nova Scotia’s education system is unique to the rest of Canada in the way that it outlines three separate educational curriculums. This includes a defined curriculum for English programs, French as a Second Language programs and French as a First Language programs. Please click on the appropriate hyperlink in this paragraph to view more about the curriculum that best suits your child and your family.
Generally speaking, the Nova Scotian educational curriculum for kindergarten through grade 12 is guided by the principles outlined in the Atlantic Canada Framework for Essential Graduation Competencies. This framework separates the following six areas as the key “attitudes, skills, and knowledge that prepare learners to successfully participate in lifelong learning and life/work transitions”: citizenship, personal career development, communication, technological fluency, creativity/innovation and critical thinking.
Note: The hyperlink included above for English programs contains a grade-by-grade breakdown – from primary school, then first through ninth grade and high school – of the different individual subjects that will be taught in English-language educational programs throughout the province
Post-Secondary Education in Nova Scotia
The province of just over 1 million people offers 40 Designated Learning Institutions (DLIs) for newcomers to Canada who choose to settle in this picturesque place. With more than half of these institutions (23) located in Halifax, while the other 17 DLIs are spread between nine other communities, residents of this province do not have many options for where they want to live if they want easy access to one of these schools.
Additionally, only a shade over one-quarter (12 of 40) of these institutions offer programs that stand to make newcomers to Canada eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). PGWPs are a valuable resource for newcomers to the country who eventually want to become permanent residents in Canada because these permits allow the holder to obtain key Canadian work experience that can impact their future eligibility for Canadian permanent residence.
The weather in Nova Scotia is relatively the same as in the rest of Canada. Please visit CanadaVisa’s page, How to Dress for Canadian Weather, to see an overview of the general weather patterns in this country, including a breakdown of clothing items that many Canadians would consider essential during each season.
Each of Nova Scotia’s four seasons is generally characterized by different temperatures and outdoor conditions, making it necessary that Canadians wear different clothes to best handle that part of the year. Still, it is important to understand that there will almost always be regional weather variances within the same season in different parts of Nova Scotia, as the parts of the province that are closer to water will be affected by conditions like wind differently than the more central parts of Nova Scotia.
In Nova Scotia, just like every other part of Canada, winter is the first season that Canadians endure every year, as this season typically begins toward the end of December and ends in the middle of March. During this time, people living in Nova Scotia should expect snow and frigid temperatures, similar to the rest of Canada. Layering your clothing is a great way to stay warm during the winter.
From mid-March to mid-June June, Nova Scotia’s temperatures begin to rise during the Spring season. Although many would describe the weather in this province as “moderate”, Nova Scotia is one of the warmer provinces in Canada on average, meaning that the warm days of spring will be particularly pleasant in this province. However, residents of this province should keep in mind that Nova Scotia may sometimes also receive snow into the month of April, meaning that dressing appropriately for the season in this region will likely include a mix of snow-resistant wear (heavier jackets etc.) and rain-safe items like raincoats and waterproof shoes.
The middle of June through the middle of September marks the usual summer season in Nova Scotia. Due to the province’s warmer-than-Canadian-average atmosphere, these are the months when the weather in Nova Scotia is some of the warmest across Canada, allowing residents to wear clothes that are going to provide them comfort in the heat. This includes breathable fabrics to stay dry without sweating and footwear that keeps them comfortable.
Nova Scotia’s final season is Fall (or Autumn), which takes place between the end of summer and the start of winter. During this season, the warmth of the summer fades as colder temperatures become increasingly frequent. Especially in the parts of Nova Scotia close to the water, weather conditions begin to change from sun to wind, meaning that residents will need to bring out lighter clothing than they had for winter but still items that are able to keep them warm, including such things as wind-resistant jackets and waterproof footwear to protect against the rain.
To access emergency services, including fire, police and ambulance services, dial 9-1-1. Conversely, if you have a concern that is not urgent, the government of Nova Scotia has put together this resource, which includes numbers to contact in non-emergency situations (based on the community you reside in).
Newcomers looking for settlement services in Nova Scotia can find assistance through organizations such as the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS), which provides services ranging from help with learning the English language to help with connecting to the local community. ISANS provides such services both for people who have just arrived in Nova Scotia and those in the pre-arrival stage of their immigration journey.
More generally, Canada's immigration authority, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has this online resource, which helps newcomers around the country find organizations that can best assist them based on the type of service they need and their destination province/territory. This tool can help newcomers to any region in Canada, including Nova Scotia, find help with many tasks, including but not limited to:
- Finding a job
- Obtaining a language assessment
- Finding language classes
- Looking for a place to live
- Enrolling your children in school
- Learning about community services
IRCC also provides newcomer services tailored to specific groups of newcomers, including women, seniors, youth and members of the 2SLGBTQi+ community. Using the filters on the online resource can help narrow down settlement services dedicated to assisting newcomers who fall into any of those groups.
In Nova Scotia, like the rest of Canada, newcomers should be aware of two primary types of tax.
The first of these taxes is sales tax, which varies by province/territory in Canada. Nova Scotia has a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), which combines the Provincial Sales Tax (PST) and a Goods and Services Tax (GST). The total amount for sales tax in Nova Scotia is 15%.
Income taxes in Nova Scotia can change every year, and the amount you pay back to the government as an individual is relative to how much money you make each year. Click here to learn more about general taxation in Nova Scotia.
To learn more about how to file a personal tax return in Canada, visit this CanadaVisa page.
For newcomers to Nova Scotia looking to get involved with Canadian life by experiencing fun things to do in the province, there are many family-friendly activities you can take part in without venturing more than a couple hours from the capital city of Halifax. One example of a fun activity to do with your family as a newcomer to Nova Scotia is taking a day to visit the Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse. Click this link to learn more about this famous Nova Scotia attraction.
Newcomers to Nova Scotia also can partake in heritage months and other celebratory cultural events throughout the year. One example of this is African Heritage Month, which is celebrated annually in February.
For a complete guide to heritage celebrations and similar events throughout the year in Nova Scotia, head to Google and search for your culture’s heritage month/celebration in Nova Scotia to see different ways to commemorate your culture as a newcomer to this province.
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