Thursday, May 18, 2017

The old country, the new country

I was born more than 3 decades ago in a prosperous (at the time) socialist/communist country in Europe.By the time I was 10 it was erased from the maps by a start of a war that will turn into years and years of never ending conflicts. That is how long I was a child, 10 years.That is how long my parents were able to see the future for me and my younger sister, and be sure they will be able to provide for us.After 1991, when Yugoslavia fell apart, or was literally torn apart, my life was very weird.
After the initial disbelief that this is actually happening to us, followed the bloodshed, killings, fear and eventual collapse of economy. Factories stopped, store shelves were empty and money lost it's value due to hyperinflation.My parents navigated the chaos the best they could, they kept going to work and bringing food home. They raised chickens in our backyard, they got wood for the stove we put in the house, once we lost electricity due to power shortages,they found a way to make preserves and stock up on flour and potatoes for the Winter...they kept on living and surviving for us.
It was not fun, I don't like to go there in my memories, but at least I wasn't kicked out of my house and we had food, others were not that lucky.
At one point, the hate that had risen out of the conflict which involved 3 main religions became very loud on the streets. My parents never raised me in either of their religions, we kinda lived in a communist country where it was not required of you to believe in anything but yourself, however, all of a sudden we started getting these papers at school that prompted us to choose a side, orthodox or catholic. I looked at them with genuine disgust, I refused to choose between my parents, one being in the first and other in the second religion, we always celebrated 2 Easters, 2 Christmas and they taught us to respect other people's choices in faith.At that point in my life I started to blame religion for all the bad things and wars around the world, everyone who comes from those places where people kill their neighbors in the name of the religion will know what I am talking about.I started to feel like I did not belong there because my mind could not see things black and white the way they wanted me to do, I just could not swallow the new wave of nationalism and hate, and I did not dare say that out loud.
Fast forward to my late twenties, I have managed to finish school for Early Childhood Educator, as well as the Teacher's University and to obtain license to teach ESL at public schools.I was married to a smart, kind man who had a degree in chemistry and master in IT, none of us was able to find proper work in a post war economy.We survived on what we could find, we lived in his parents house on the upper level that we had partially finished.We couldn't plan a family like that.In 2002 the pro-change prime minister of my country was murdered by his own policemen, we realized that there is no change for the better and no future for us there, we applied for Canadian visas the year when we got enough points to get into process, it was 2006.
We waited for the process to be finished for almost 4 years, in the meantime my son was born and then we waited a bit longer for his papers and visa to be done, he was only 3 weeks old on his first passport photo.Finally, in 2010 we were ready to go.
We had until mid June to immigrate and arrive to Canada,if we did not register here by then we would loose our visas. We bought our tickets for the end of May thinking it will ok.
Then a long named volcano in Iceland erupted for weeks , it moved, and postponed most of European and overseas flights, we became desperate to find a way to come, even looked at ships but the voyage was too long to get there in time...We finally landed here in the first week of June, in an overcrowded Alitalia plane, where my husband had to walk around so I could put my baby down for a few hours, it was the worst flight of my life.I was well aware that I bid goodbye to all of my friends, relatives, family, my former life and calling, and that I am now on my own, and that there is a chance that I might never see some of them again.
We landed in Toronto with 2 of the 3 suitcases we had packed with bare necessities, the one with baby clothes and diapers got lost, my son was to turn one the next week and I had no idea where he'll even sleep, we were crazy exhausted, our luggage stank of alcohol that leaked from someone else's case...I started to cry when the custom officer told me "Welcome to Canada."
We were then detained at the immigration with a young Roma girl coming from Germany with her baby, I started to chat with her in German and shared some baby cookies, when they realized I speak German they asked me to translate for them.We left an hour or so later and walked out to the Canadian side, it was a gray, cold rainy day over Toronto even though it was June and in my mind it was supposed to be hot and nice like the Summer I have left 13 hours behind me.
I remember thinking, looking at 401 "I will never learn how do drive here, everything is so huge, it's like a Japanese video game..."

Immigration has it's traps

I've been writing about my emigration for the last 6 years (more or less), I have tried my best to translate the old posts from the original blog to English but they don't make much sense unless you come from a similar place in the world, with similar views and problems, my posts are very -how should I put this- reflective of my point of view of the world and my feelings at the time.

So forgive me as you go trough this bumpy journey of my adventures before and now melted into one post, but I hope that you can appreciate the experience and information I share.

Post from 2010 our first Summer here:

I try to think of myself as a very down to Earth, realistic person.
Once you decide to immigrate and start fighting your way trough years of bureaucracy and paper work,hoping and waiting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,all you can think about is how you will be ok and happy and relieved when you finally get here...What you don't know is this is when the actual fight and problems start, and all that paper filling and waiting, as it turns out, was not a big deal.
There are a lot of things you won't like once you immigrate to Canada, there are things that will hurt to accept ( and it will hurt a lot)especially if you don't come from US or perhaps Germany, if you come from a third world country you will feel what it means to start from 0.

I call us immigrants in the first year zero's,
because we do not exist in this country,we are not in the system, in the first months you will have no access to covered healthcare and the banks will shun you since you are not in their files either,no credit ratings lol,and most of the time we start from 0. This means your outside of Canada education is 0 here unless you were so lucky to have listened all of your school subjects in English, your driving experience is 0 (at least in the eyes of your future car insurance which will give you rates 5 times bigger than locals),your Canadian work experience (sooo necessary to get a job here)is 0 as well, your bank credit score is 0,and let's hope your language skills are not 0 because this will make your life really hard.
Add to this that the number of people I knew in Canada was 0 at the time I decided to immigrate.
The number of people who could help us here if we got in trouble (financially or otherwise) was 0 too.

You start (well, most of immigrants at least) as one big fat 0.First year is no job, no money, a lot of hopes and effort and for most in the first 2-3 months 0 success.
You won't like this at all.This is the first trap for you, high expectations.

The second one is not knowing yourself or your partner enough, the stress of immigration and being cut from the family and relatives changes how people feel, this sadness and the rest of the problems creates tensions and arguments.After a while being stuck or degraded from what you had, and where you were before you decided to come will bother either you or your partner, and none of you will like this.
You might blame the other person for your situation, you might say that out loud and turn on each other.But here is the catch, if we ever did that, we would be lost.There was no one else except the 2 of us to fight this battle for our child, and unless we worked together there was no way we could move forward, not a bit.

The third for me was the Canadian Winter.I had Winter before, usually it lasted from November till March, there was a lot of snow and cold and so on, I thought I can deal with Winter here...well, I was wrong.
I can't, and I hate it, it feels like it lasts forever and it ends sometime in June, there is no Spring for me, just a skip from Winter to Summer.But the more Canadian I become the more I understand the meaning of us being proud of our dealing with this season, yes it sucks big time, but it lights up when a neighbor cleans your walkway for you just to show they care, or when kids snuggle with hort chocolate watching a game on neighborhood ice rink we all helped to build, or when you let moms park on your drive way to drop off kids just because you live by the school...So, Winter is more Canadian than anything.

The fourth trap is the worst one.It is your assumption that this experience will not change who you are.
It will change you, it will change how you feel,it will change what you do for living and it will change what your life goals are.
If you ever decide to immigrate, please be aware of this- Immigration will break you to pieces, then it will be up to you to find the pieces that work and are acceptable in this culture and keep them, and you might find that some other things such as bad habits,some memories, cultural things and behaviors should be left in the corner.
Here is one thing I had to adjust to.In Eastern Europe, when you meet someone and he asks you "how are you?" it is quite ok to actually tell the truth, if you are sick, or have a headache or have been feeling not so well -you can share that with the person who asked the question, you can even complain a bit and he or she will nod their head in understanding and try to say something nice to comfort you.
Well, not here, unless you are seeing a nurse or a doctor, if you start complaining the person will look at you as though they are uncomfortable, all they wanted to hear is the usual "Fine , thank you" not your personal medical history and whining,in this culture you are oversharing and your personal things should stay that way, especially at work!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

How to save money or immigrant's budget tricks

My former country went trough a lot of "bad times", we had wars, hyperinflation ( where money lost it's value and it was useless) and economy collapse followed by embargoes and Nato bombing... You name it, we had it.10 years of my childhood and life was pretty much watching my parents trying to cope with all that and survive while raising me and my sister as normal as they could in those circumstances.I didn't understand much of that as a child, but looking back now it fills me with chills,as a parent I can feel the horror and worry that must have been in their minds every single day for years.
I'd said I have a pretty good idea on what happens when a thing like money suddenly changes or loses it's value.You have been working hard to earn for food and bills but at the end of the month you can buy a carton of eggs at the store, and THAT IS ALL, but the store has no food on the shelves and the house has no electricity because when money fails other systems soon follow. The factory production stopped, towns were unable to buy coal to produce electricity so that and the heating stopped too ( we had electricity from time to time with restrictions),hospitals are unable to restock medications,(when I got really sick one winter my dad had to buy penicillin shots on the black market to be given to me at the hospital because they had none, what followed was me almost dying from allergic shock...)and amidst all that chaos my parents and others kept going to work because it was the only thing they could do, it made life seem normal even though they got nothing at the end of the month.I went to school, we kept going, we had wood stove in the house that kept us warm and could be used to cook something, boil water for a bath (at least water was still running from time to time), my parents were magicians to fill the pantry with sacks of flour and potatoes, my mom turned every single fruit from our or neighbors back yard into preserves, she lined up the shelves with jams, tomato juice,plum juice and apple and peach juice, they traded box of soap for box of apples and laundry detergent for cartons of eggs... It kinda looked like the middle ages, where people tried to survive and swap what they had and could for what they needed.At that is not even scratching the surface on how they found ways to feed us and make our daily life look normal and also help our relatives and friends do the same.
I can say that living on a tight budget has been pretty much my whole life, immigration included.
It took us 7 years and a loan to save the money for immigrating to Canada, but we did not know that that sum can melt here in only 4 months if you are not careful.

Initial cost of immigrating and landing in Toronto can be high,you are required to bring a sum to cover first 6 months of your stay (and in Ontario your health care is not covered in the first 3 months, so you may have to take health insurance as well) but that sum of money may not be enough.
The first month melted the third of the sum we had, apart for paying for tickets 3000$, we had to pay for various other things including a used car (900$ plus registration and other fees), first and last rent around 2400$,various translating and other fees, drivers licence 500$, food, clothes and diapers for a whole month 800$,basic furniture (mattress, used furniture, ikea stuff)700$...
To sum up, we were told to bring around 16.000$ to last the 3 of us (baby just turned 1 when we landed)for the next 6 months, as we are not eligible for any financial assistance,the first month expenses were almost 6.000 $,one month- more than third of our money gone and we need to pay rent and eat the next month as well, and the following 4 months, except it will not be enough unless we started working yesterday.But as every immigrant knows the hardest part of starting is finding a decent job, and more about that hell latter.

So here are some tricks I used to stretch our budget:

1. Paying just for the basic things, we had no TV, no home phone just prepaid credit on cell phones and cheapest internet we could find.

2.Find the cheapest car insurance,if you got a car, call brokers or call at least a dozen to get better quotes,if you are not using a car for a month or two (we did live very close to work-walking distance) put it on park option (the car stays on the parking and you pay only 20$ a month).Use public transportation if possible -buy monthly passes, see if there are discounts available for students, low income, seniors etc.

3.Food- use coupons and buy on sale or clearance, look for items 50% of at the end of the day, most stores close deli section at 9 or even earlier, so meat, salads and other things like fruit trays will be half price after 8 pm, you can get a whole roasted chicken, fruit tray and sides for a whole family for under 15$ (it's a large dinner for 4 people that would cost more than that per person if served in a restaurant).Buy in bulk, especially the dry items such as pasta, cans and frozen items that can be stored.Visit your local ethnic stores such as Chinese, Polish, Korean and other because they often have much cheaper articles meat or fresh fruit in order to sell faster.As for pastry there is a shelf with half priced day old bread and other but since I love to bake my own, I buy a bag of flour on discount usually 10kg and just bake my own, (the math in here is 10 kg good flour on sale 8$ makes about 22 breads, more or less, with the average price of bread 2 to 5 $ this would cost from 20 to 50$, but that is not the only reason, the fact is I love my bread and hate additives they put in the store ones). That brings me to - cook as much as you can and know how to yourself, pack your lunches and sandwiches, don't buy prepared food (most of it is junk anyway).

4.Clothes, buy what you must and need only.Look for clearance items, when you need a good winter jacket or more expensive things go to Winners or Marshals, avoid outlets of brand names (the stuff they make for outlets is not the same quality as the other brand things, it is made cheaper for the outlets even though they will tell you it's the same thing- it is not). Sometimes is better to go looking at thrift stores for gently used quality or brand items, like Value village, Good will,and others.For kids there are also second hand or thrift stores, or kijiji and craig's list, most of my kid's stuff is not new because they outgrow things in matter of months, I prefer to buy gently used quality items for Winter at Once upon a child and other similar shops.
Also buy the most expensive things such as winter jackets or boots after the season when they are on clearance, for kids I buy 2 numbers larger sizes for the next Winter.I once bought 100$ boots for 22$ and a 200$ winter parka for 90$, I also paid 26$ for sandals in January on a store closing sale that I would never be able to buy (not even now) because they are priced at 200$ regular price.So buy off season and in advance, you are always going to need at least one pair of Summer or Winter for kids, one of mine just skipped 3 numbers in one year.The best time of year for shopping cheap is week or even day after Christmas.

5.Furniture.Don't buy, ask if someone you know has something they'd give away, ask and look for free things on facebook groups, kijiji or even around your building.I still have crib, kids bed and desk I got from someone, however I have never taken a carpet or bed or mattress or any kind of fabric covered thing in Toronto being afraid of bed bugs ( the town is infested, our building had 10 cases of bed bugs).
I tried buying something on the kijiji and I made a mistake. It was not a good idea. I bought a table and chairs, it was too expensive to buy a new furniture, I thought that I'm buying ok stuff it looked fine on the photo but when we went to pay they were not clean and I had to clean them and scrub them, I wanted to buy some other things but it did not have a car big enough to move them...At the end Ikea was the best option for us, we knew we were going to move a lot and all of their stuff is light not too expensive and easy to take apart (I had to take apart and assemble the futon we bought 6 times when we were moving around), they also have a cheaper "as is" area where you can get the best deals if you don't care that the thing is scratched, kids will ruin it anyway.
My first pots, cutlery, dishes, plates, some blankets, a crib and toys all came from people we met here and later became our friends.We spent our first night in the rented apartment sleeping on some blankets on the floor because we had no furniture at all, no bedding, nothing but 3 suitcases we came with full of papers,baby stuff,diapers and clothes.
If you really need to buy things go for the most basic, cheapest and lightest options in case you have to move.There are many decent things available on kijiji.

6. Banking, find a no fee account and cards, don't even try to get a credit card, just use debit in the first year.There is no point going into credit debt if you don't work and you will not be given one if you don't have a job or a large sum of money on your account.Credit cards are not really useful unless you want to make a huge purchase, or you are forced to use them in order to get credit score at the bank (if you wish to buy a house or a flat one day).

7. Use free resources when ever you can, there are free libraries and internet all around, free language and employment help for newcomers,subsidy for daycare and much more.Organizations that work with newcomers are a good place to get the info on what might be good for you, internet, forums and blogs too.There are free tickets to museums, free passes and different discounts available to newcomers and most residents, Toronto library had one of those programs when I lived there.

There are small things that can save you money down the road such as taking driving classes (even if you know how to drive) and getting a certificate will make your insurance rate a bit lower once you start driving in Canada.

Hope this helps, if I missed something I will add it latter :)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Everything is different, I am getting used to it - June 2010

Aca passed the test for G1,the total cost was about 130 $ plus some papers we had to get from the embassy and translations.The car must then go to the safety and emission test and if it passes we can register it, you have six days after the purchase to do this.You should inspect the car before you pay for it or take it to the mechanic to see if it has some problems, because if the car cannot pass safety and emission test you can not drive it.The guy who sold us the car wrote a note on a torn piece of paper, saying I sell this car to "other guys name" at this price $ and signed it, we did not have any contract or anything, we registered the car to our name with that piece of paper, got the new plates and drove it.
There are also some taxes to be paid, it is difficult for us to get used to the fact that the tax is added to the price later, in my former country what you see is what you pay, but not here.The bill at the end of shopping can be much higher after the taxes are added, some things like cosmetics and clothes or luxury items have higher taxes while food is usually tax free, but not all of it, I am still trying to figure out how this works.In Ontario we have HST- harmonized tax of 13%, that means that if you think you have item in your cart that cost 100$ you will pay 113$ at the register, if the item is electric appliance or computer you will also pay environmental tax.
We bought a lap top computer, it was advertised at a price of 450$, after the taxes, environmental fee and such were added we ended up paying 560 $, this was a bit unexpected because we thought we were going to pay the advertised price, but this is how Canadian prices work.
Alcohol is sold at Beer store and LCBO it is much more expensive here, cigarettes are sold at a gas station or in special shops, you will not see them advertised or displayed anywhere because it is not allowed, rarely anyone smokes here, again coming from a country where everyone smokes even some kids and you can buy alcohol anywhere you want this was a huge surprise.One pack of cigs will cost from 7$ and up, they are expensive.
I don't use them so I don't really care, I actually like that I can breathe freely everywhere I go, and I totally agree as a mother that minors should not have access to alcohol as they please.
Another big surprise was the price of real estate here, omg the houses cost a lot, in Toronto houses cost millions in smaller towns the average for a single house is 300.000 $ if you are lucky.You can see this on MLS or realtor canada

The food costs pretty much the same as in my former country, which is crazy knowing that average income there is maybe 500, 600$ a month and here about 2000$.There you do not have enough money to cover food, utilities and living, and here if the whole family is on one minimum wage and they have a car it is not enough at the end of the month.The car is like one more child, that is what people say, you pay hundreds of dollars for gas and insurance, you pay maintenance, it takes a lot of money away from the monthly budget.
It is really hard to get somewhere without a car because in large cities like Toronto it can take more than an hour to get to somewhere, one street in Toronto can be 50 km long, I could have never imagined this before I came here.The public transportation is reliable, nice and clean and the kids don't pay up to a certain age, but it is not convenient for grocery shopping, if you plan to use it get a grocery bag that has wheels or a small pull cart.

In Kitchener and Waterloo we have a couple of markets that I really love, my favorite is St Jacobs farmers market.The food is fresh from farms and there is also eggs, meat and dairy products. I grew up getting my stuff from the market and I don't really like superstores and their unknown origin foods,I love Summer when we can go to the market on Saturday.
Shopping here is a bit like cavemen hunting around for food, except we hunt for good price, there is so many stores and they all have different prices for the same product.Sobeys is the most expensive one, Shoppers and Rexall are more expensive when it comes to some products than the other stores, what I mean is we buy Head and shoulders shampoo, in walmart it costs about 4 $, in PC stores about 5.5 to 6 $ at Shoppers it is 6.99 $ and so on, each item has different price in different store, you get store flyers weekly and you can see the prices and discounts there.We usually buy stuff at Fresco which has cheaper prices and Presidents choice stores that have a reasonable priced quality products.
Moving to Canada has been a huge cultural shock and an eye opener to me,I keep comparing my previous place and this every day.
There all houses are made of bricks to last hundred years and for next generation, here it's all made of lumber and plywood, you can hear every step and it all echoes and squeaks under your feet, it is so unpleasant.If someone sneezes on the top floor you can hear it in the basement.We do not have basements like this in our homes, they are not built because of ground water that floods them, but here the basement is actually another room in the house.
There people make their own house by themselves and fix stuff, here you are not allowed to do that because you do not have school for that or paperwork etc. everything needs to be done by a contractor who is licensed to do that work.
Garbage disposal is different, we stuffed everything in one sack and throw it in a bin, here everything is separated and recycled, there is even a compost bin.
The vehicles do not make smoke and pollution like as was used to in my other home, here when you walk by the road you can actually smell the flowers and clean air, not stench and fumes.
There is social assistance and welfare, families with kids get monthly financial support from the government, this is something new to me, but a really welcome change for us having a small baby.
Old people in Canada have a good quality of life, unlike in some other countries, they socialize and travel and they have good health care.
I am surprised that I can barely hear English on the streets, I do hear a lot of other immigrant languages, chineese, spanish, portugese,russian,indian, polish and other.
There is this one thing that I don't like though, people who come from somewhere tend to form ghettos,they cluster in one area of town because friends bring them there or find them rent and they get stuck in their own group and don't bother much to learn English and have better language skills.This does not help them to find a better job at all.They integrate into their own community and stay there.I did not want to go this way, because I am trying to escape from narrow minded people you meet in such ghettos and from the way of thinking filled with hatred and politics a lot of people from my former country still have in Canada, that was the main reason that made us leave the country and run away from wars and crises.
It's like living in that country all over again except here, no way and no thanks!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Health care in Canada, find a doctor in Ontario

This has been my constant grudge over the years, Canadian healthcare is free and it's working better than US, but omg it is slow...
I once got very sick, vomited blood all day, ended up in Emergency after work, got there at 7pm, got admitted at 9pm, spent there whole night hooked to the IV with terrible pain in my abdomen and the doctor finally came to see me 12 hours later at 9am the next morning, just to tell me that I should not eat for 3 days and to go home and come back if I start vomiting blood again.
Since then I really, really try to avoid ER and Hospital any way I can.
On the other side they have separate boot for babies and small kids, so the average wait in ER in Kitchener for my kids was only 2 hours to be seen by a doctor, yes that is being lucky if you wait only for couple of hours...You can feel how badly health care is understaffed anywhere you go.
If you have previous appointment and you are coming during the day, you will rarely wait more than 1.5 hour.

As a newcomer your first option is a Walk in Clinic, you can go there even if you don't have yet Canadian health card and pay for your visit.
All provinces have their websites on how to find health care provider that you need, this is for ontario

Then you will need to find a doctor aka family doctor, this is what you can do
go to ratemd website, see the closest doctors to where you live and call as many as you need to see who is taking new patients, then for each member of your family you need to make first appointment and go there to fill out the forms...Stupid me thought that family doctor will take my whole family right? noooo, I went there only to find out that each and every member needs to make an appointment, then come and wait, then fill the papers and then go home...and sometimes the doctor will take one member, and other doctor will have to take another member and so on...really frustrating if you have small kids or babies.

The other option in Ontario is health connect, fill the online form here

and they will contact you as soon as they find a doctor near to where you are who is taking new patients.

If you just need medical advice, or are not sure what to do you can call for free telehealth

another useful link for Ontario

The other provinces should have similar websites to help you find a doctor you need.

What you should know as a newcomer

-Canadian vaccination for kids is different than some other countries, you and your kids need to take you records of health and vaccination to your new doctor, he should make a copy and return it to you.
You or your kids may need to be vaccinated, it is possible to refuse, however some vaccines are mandatory for school kids.

- Your doctor will see you for the first time in his life, it is VERY important that you tell him honestly your health history and all of your issues and complaints so he or she can help you.

-If you are not sure about something ASK, always ASK if you don't understand or don't know what something is, ASK if you want to know about side effects or consequences of a surgical procedure, ask about the risk involved too, ask if there is a different approach or treatment if you don't like the idea.

-If you need to see a specialist, the usual way is to be referred by your family doctor, but if you feel like you don't have time for that you can call and make the appointment yourself.

-In Canada family doctors take care of pregnant women up to a certain point in pregnancy, however you can ask to be referred to an OBgyn or find one yourself, you can also choose to have a midwife take care of you, I did this with my last pregnancy.
Women can also choose to have a baby at home with their midwife to help with the delivery.

-If a doctor orders a blood test, urine test, ultrasound or X-ray you will have to go to a specialized lab to do that, and sometimes these test have to be paid by you if they are not covered by provincial health insurance.

-Health care is free, but medications are not, if you do not have insurance that covers these expenses try to work with your doctor to find the best option for you, or just find additional insurance that covers dental work and medicines.
As long as my husband was working we have been covered for medical expenses with his company insurance, one day I got prescribed a special face cream (after I had surgery) that cost 100$ a tube, there is no way we could have ever pay for this without the

- Dentist is not covered by provincial health card, you have to pay them yourself and they will cost a lot, before you do any work ask for a fixed estimate and be sure you have dental plan or insurance to avoid bills that can ad up to thousands of dollars.
They can be very unprofessional when it comes to money, I once walked in with estimated 300$ cost for 2 tooth and when he finished my bill came to 640$ for 3 teeth! I had to pay, even though I didn't agree to that before he started to drill my teeth.

All in all I am happy that if I go to the hospital I won't have to sell all I have to pay for the bill, and that my kids will have a really good care, but I honestly try to avoid doctors and hospitals any way I can, we do not smoke,we eat healthy, we take vitamins,we walk a lot and take care of our health.

Renting in Canada - June 2010

Depending on the area or the size of the town, the average rent in Ontario goes from 500 $ for the room to 1200 for one or two bedroom apartment or more for the house.
Basement apartments are usually small and not very warm, ideal for a single worker, they tend to be noisy too because the floor is made of wood and footsteps echo in the night.
One bedroom includes kitchen, living room, bathroom plus one room for sleeping, rent is from 650 to 1200, in large towns like Toronto or closer to city center it can be more than that.
Two bedroom apartment has two rooms plus living room, kitchen, bathroom- rent is from 750 to 1500 $, but these are just some prices in Ontario, there are cheaper or more expensive places too.
Usually the lease is signed for 1 year, the landlord can ask you to pay the whole year if you decide to move out before the end of one year lease, but you can ask them to let you move out if you find someone to take over the lease or you can sublet it.

It is a custom in Canada to pay first month and a last month rent in advance after signing the lease, be prepared to pay this amount when renting your first place.
As a newcomer you will be asked if you can provide someone to sign for you as a warrant in case you cannot pay the rent, usually a friend that lives here or a relative.

If you need to move and you have signed a lease, you have to let your landlord know 60 days before with a written notice or whatever period is in the contract, please read all carefully before you sign, and then afterwards read it again!

If you have any issues with management go to tenant rights board here
or one with tenant rights for your province to find out more.

What you can lease/rent

Basement apartment or room,

you will negotiate conditions with the house owner.
If you plan to rent a place for just a couple of months this is a better option because you can make a deal and don't have to sign a full year lease.

Apartment in a building

Buildings are run by a management, they will want you to sign a one year lease, if you for whatever reason decide that you need to move after 6 months they can demand that you pay for the full year, or they will give you the option to sublet the apartment.
If you are taking over a sublet this means that you are not the primary signer of the lease, someone else is,and that you will be sharing the place or renting from him, not from the management, if you decide to sublet a place it would be wise to create a sublet contract and sign it with a person who is taking over the room or apartment, otherwise you will be responsible for damage they make and have to pay for it to the management.

A house

You can rent a house from the owner or from the management corp., this will cost more than an apartment, you will need to pay the utility bills, but you are not responsible for repairs and maintenance unless the damage is your fault or the contract doesn't specify that, always read the contract carefully and thoroughly.

You can find a sublet- a room, an apartment or a part of the house can be sublet.

Types of property in Canada

freehold- usually this would be a house that is owned by the owner, where he is a sole owner and pays bills and taxes etc.

condo- in most cases apartments are condos, or condominium that means that the owner is required to pay a condo fee monthly for maintenance to the condo corporation who is the owner of the building where you are the owner of the apartment unit or the land on which you buy your house. Condo can also be a house or a townhouse.Condominiums exist in most parts of Canada though more common in larger cities. They are regulated under provincial or territorial legislation and specific legal details vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In most parts of Canada, they are referred to as Condominiums, except in British Columbia where they are referred to as a strata and in Quebec where they are referred to as syndicates of co-ownership.

Co-op real estate- A housing cooperative, or co-op, is a legal entity, usually a corporation, which owns real estate, consisting of one or more residential buildings; it is one type of housing tenure. Housing cooperatives are a distinctive form of home ownership that have many characteristics that differ from other residential arrangements such as single family ownership, condominiums and renting.
The corporation is membership-based, with membership granted by way of a share purchase in the cooperative. Each shareholder in the legal entity is granted the right to occupy one housing unit. A primary advantage of the housing cooperative is the pooling of the members’ resources so that their buying power is leveraged, thus lowering the cost per member in all the services and products associated with home ownership.

Types of housing


Row house or townhouse

this is a house in a row of other units that look like houses, attached to each other. In each you share a wall on either side with the people who live beside you. Often, especially in cities, there may also be a smaller unit above each townhouse, so there could also be someone living above you or below you. Townhouses (sometimes called row houses) are usually 2 or 3 levels tall (each level is called a ‘storey’).

Detached House

This is a house that stands on its own. It is often referred to as a ‘detached’ home and tends to be the most expensive type of home to purchase due to the land costs. You own both the house and the land it is on. When your house needs repair or maintenance, you must pay for it yourself. House owners must also pay the monthly bills for water and heat, as well as their other bills (like telephone and cable television). Owners are free to make changes to their house, inside and out, but they must obey local bylaws and apply for renovation and building permits when necessary. Single houses appeal to a wide array of people, including families with children and generally provide more space and privacy than other unit types.


This is a home joined to another on one side. Owners are only responsible for the care and maintenance of their own side, just like a detached house. Owners of semi-detached homes own their side of the property, including the land it is on, and are responsible for its care and maintenance, according to local bylaws.Semi-detached houses are usually less expensive than fully detached houses, although, like all real estate, this depends on the area.


A duplex/triplex is a building that is divided into multiple units, each household has its separate entrance and is responsible for the care of its own unit. Typically, you would buy the entire property and rent a unit to help offset your mortgage payments. Types of homes that are ‘duplexed’ or divided into two or more separate living units may be detached homes, semi-detached or even row houses.

useful links

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Driving in Canada-June 2010

Here's the thing,
I keep blaming myself for being too lazy to translate my huge Canadian immigrant experience blog into English, by now there are some 200 posts...and it's been here for the last 5 years but in my first language.I keep feeling guilty because I know there are so many things I needed to know and there was no one to tell me, to make my path and new life a little bit easier...and now I am not finding time to share them with other newcomers who will benefit from the things I have learned.
By now it has almost 400.000 visits, and it has brought some great people in my life and I know that it has helped many coming from my former country or neighborhood, so I decided not to translate all the posts, just to try to sum up things I found useful and important over the last couple of years.

Getting a drivers license in Canada

If you have driving experience from your former country you will need to bring a proof of that like your old driving license translated to English, you might be asked to get a letter from your embassy that you have a certain number of years of driving experience in order to get a chance to get full G Canadian driving license, you will need a certified translation of your driving document, a passport and PR card,as well as some money.
You can buy a car right away but you cannot register or drive a car without Canadian license, the international one is valid for only 2 or 3 months and you would have to rent a car.
More about that here

When buying a car you should know that a car here has to pass safety and emission test first and then it can be registered to your name.

Basically you can call and ask which papers you need to bring and then go and take the test - examples here, the price in Ontario is less than 100$ there is more info here

You can take the test and the driving on the same day if you are ready, however keep in mind that the car insurance for newcomers is relentless and very expensive, as newcomers we used to pay up to 400$ per month sometimes, while an average Canadian driver pays about 100$ or even 80$. If you do the driving course with an instructor and he signs that, your insurance rate can be up to 30% lower in the future.It will cost you a couple of hundred dollars to take classes but it will be a good investment in the long run if it can keep your car insurance rate lower next couple of years.

The cost of insurance depends on where you live, where you work and who is driving the car beside you, also which insurance company you choose.Our best so far was TD.
Drivers handbook here

As you won't be able to have your own car for the driving test, consider renting one or renting from your driving instructor or if you have friend or family here borrowing from them.