Government: Federal parliamentary democracy, constitutional monarchy
Currency: Canadian dollar ($, CAD)
Main languages: English, French
Canada is the second-largest country in the world by total area, stretching across the top of the North American continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and northwards into the Arctic region. The country is divided into ten provinces and 3 territories, and is governed under a federal system that shares some characteristics with its near-neighbour the USA, although the two countries are far more different than many people imagine.
Although evidence of the Aboriginal inhabitants of Canada can be traced back for several centuries more, modern Canadian culture owes much to the British and French colonists who arrived in the region in the fifteenth century. Despite many years of political independence from Britain, Canada remains in the Commonwealth. Continued immigration has given the country an extremely diverse culture, with over 75% of Canadians identifying themselves as of European origin.
With the fusion of British, French and Aboriginal culture as well as the distinct Canadian identity, it is perhaps not surprising that the country boasts a large number of cultural festivals and museums. During September, many of these types of activities can be enjoyed for free through the Culture Days initiative. Sports are also very popular in Canada, with ice hockey, lacrosse, baseball and basketball among the most popular spectator sports. Winter conditions in the country mean that skiing, snowboarding and other ice and snow activities also remain popular, while hiking in one of the many National Parks offers a spectacular summer activity.
Food and drink
Because of the colonial heritage of the country, Canadian food styles have a distinctly regional feel. While traditional dishes often feature the game, fish and foraged foods that are indigenous to the whole country, the styles of cooking vary more. In Québec for example, there is a strong French influence to the culinary trends, whereas the maritime areas use much more seafood and shellfish in their local dishes. Canada is famously associated with maple syrup production and there are various uses for it in sweet and savoury cooking, as well as to make maple liquor. Although not particularly renowned for either, Canada also produces beers and wines.
The official languages in Canada are English and French, and a large proportion of the population is bilingual. At a federal level, most documentation is available in both languages. Québec is the only province with French as the official language, the rest predominantly using English with the exception of New Brunswick, which recognises both.
To the untrained ear the Canadian accent is similar to the American accent. However, Canadian English is in many ways closer to British English in terms of dialect and accents – albeit with some distinctive Canadian quirks!
Canada’s education system is divided into three levels: primary school, secondary school and post-secondary level. Education is administered on a provincial level, resulting in some variations of structure. In most areas schooling is compulsory from the age of 5 or 6 up to the age of 16, but some provinces require young people to remain in education until they turn 18.
Because education is a provincial responsibility in Canada, there is no set standard for the school year. Depending on region and school type, institutions may operate a semester or trimester system, usually commencing in September. Universities tend to run two semesters from September to December and January to April, with separate summer schools or study programmes taking place between May and August.
Although the terms ‘university’ and ‘college’ are often used interchangeably, the two have different meanings in the Canadian system. Universities offer academic programmes and award degrees after successful completion of the course, whereas colleges tend to be more vocational or practical in nature, awarding diplomas in a particular field. There are over 90 universities in Canada, many of which are members of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC).
The levels of public funding available to higher education institutions in Canada is different in each province, meaning that university is much cheaper for students in some areas than others. Tuition fees are payable depending on location, institution type and course. Due to their relatively affordable fees, Canadian universities tend to attract an increasing number of international students as the cost of higher education rises globally. Depending on residency status, there are various grants, loans and funding schemes to help students pay their way through university. For more information, visit the Study in Canada website, or the Studying in Canada website
Canadian universities teach a full range of courses across various faculties. Degree courses may take different amounts of time to complete depending on the province, degree subject and any opportunities for internships or years in industry, however typical full-time course lengths are:
Undergraduate degrees – three or four years
Postgraduate degrees – one or two years
Doctoral degrees – three years
College diploma courses in Canada can last anywhere from a few months up to four years.
School education in Canada is provided by a public state schools, private schools and international schools. Canadian state schools are freely accessible to foreign nationals who live in Canada, but non-residents may have to pay a provincially administered tuition fee in the region of $8,000 (≈£4,394.66) to $14,000 (≈£7,690.66) per year. Private school fees start from around $4,000 (≈£2,197.33) for a year, while the most prestigious boarding schools might charge upwards of $40,000 (≈£21,973.32) per year (source: www.expatarrivals.com, accessed June 2014). Secondary school students usually complete a diploma-type qualification awarded by their province, although some international qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) are also available. To find a school in your region, visit the website of your local provincial schools directory.
Preschool and childcare options
Kindergarten or other education for older preschool children is popular in Canada. Most preschool institutions are either government administered or regulated by the state. However, home day care centres, where several children are looked after by a care giver in his or her home, are also common. Parents usually have to pay for preschools. Various funding schemes, subsidies and tax credits are available to help with these costs, so check the rules in your local province for details. To find childcare in your area, visit the Canadian Childcare Directory website.
Canada is generally considered to have a lower cost of living than much of Europe. As with many places there is a degree of variation between cities and rural areas, with Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa among the most expensive places to live. However, the Canadian government estimates that household expenses such as accommodation, utilities, food, clothing, health insurance and transportation can be covered by approximately half the household income. With good infrastructure and government-funded services to support residents, Canada can be a good place to work and save, provided you budget carefully.
Rental accommodation is widely available in Canada and depending on the location there are some bargains to be found, but bear in mind that the majority of properties are let unfurnished. An increasingly popular choice in Canada is condominium living in a range of different property types. Property rentals are well-regulated, with standard agreements outlining essential details. Contracts are usually 12 months initially and it is not advisable to terminate early as you would be liable for loss of rent.
If you choose to buy a property in Canada, there are no federal restrictions on foreign nationals purchasing property, and only minor limitations at a local level. For more information on mortgages in Canada and general accommodation advice, visit the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation website.
Security deposits in Canada are typically two weeks’ rent. The legal maximum that a landlord can request as a deposit is one month’s rent, except in Québec where rental deposits are not allowed. The laws surrounding deposits are quite strict. In some provinces, the deposit is held by the authorities rather than the landlord, while in others landlords must return the deposit within a certain number of days after the let ends.
Local property tax is charged by provinces and will depend on the location and value of the property, so make sure you find out the cost when you have a viewing.
Utility management in Canada varies depending on the type of supply and the area you live in. Water is normally the responsibility of provincial or municipal services and tariffs are low compared to the rest of the world. Gas supply is a competitive marketplace, but there are nowhere near as many providers as there are for electricity, telephone or internet services. Be aware of the increased bills in winter if you choose to live in a colder area of the country.
Perhaps because of its links to Britain, many people are surprised to learn that in Canada there is no cost for owning a television.
Healthcare and medical costs
The Canadian public healthcare system is funded by taxation and administered on a provincial level. To access services you must have health insurance, although all Canadian citizens and permanent residents are eligible for public health insurance. If you move to Canada on a permanent basis there may be a three-month wait before you are able to access this scheme, so apply for a health card through your local provincial website as soon as you are able to and purchase private cover to avoid high treatment costs in the intermediate period. If you are not a permanent resident or your province will not cover you for treatment in other areas, private cover may also be a good idea.
Although groceries in Canada are not considered cheap, they are usually less expensive than in Europe. Food is a little more expensive than in the USA, while alcohol and cigarettes are heavily taxed. Branded clothing and accessories are as expensive as elsewhere in the world, but cheap foreign imports and increased competition between retailers has led to more affordable items appearing in wholesalers and factory outlets.
Canada’s sales tax system has three types of tax that apply differently on a province by province basis:
Goods and Services Tax (GST) – levied by the federal government
Provincial Sales Taxes (PST) – levied by the provinces
Harmonised Sales Tax (HST) – a combined tax which replaces GST and PST in certain provinces
Canada has an extensive road network covering the entire country, including the famous Trans-Canada Highway, which crosses all ten provinces in its 8,000 kilometre route from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island. Driving is probably the best way to explore the rich natural landscape of Canada. However, there are potential hazards, including difficult rural roads and occasionally even the risk of wild animals such as moose or bears in the road! In winter, some provinces require drivers to use winter tyres or snow chains.
To drive in Canada, you must carry your driving licence, vehicle registration documents and car insurance certificate. The speed limit is 100 kilometres per hour on motorways and 60 kilometres per hour on main urban roads, and you drive on the right. Most foreign nationals are allowed to drive on a licence from their home country for 90 days before they must apply for a Canadian licence through their local provincial centre.
Most Canadian cities have several different taxi companies. Taxi drivers must have official identification to show that that their activity is legal and that their taxi complies with road safety regulations. Fares are metered and prices are regulated by the district. Negotiation is not usually an option, but some companies will allow you to agree a fixed-rate fare up front.
Buses can be a great option for getting around in Canada’s most congested cities such as Toronto or Vancouver. For local route information and timetables in each province, visit the Canadian Tourism Commission website.
Coach travel offers an economic means of travel around Canada. Like in the USA, Greyhound is the largest operator of intercity services in Canada, and it also offers cross-border routes to major cities in the northern states of America.
Like its road network, Canada’s railway system spans the width of the country. With a large land mass to cover and no high-speed rail services at present, the trains are considered relatively slow and are more typically used for freight than for passenger services. However, the railways are another excellent way to see the sights of Canada, particularly as the main passenger route operator – VIA Rail – offers some very reasonably priced multi-journey tickets.
Trams and underground rail
Most major cities in Canada have numerous public transport options, including urban railways and subways in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton. For more information, consult your local transport commission.
Canada has several international airports as well as a large number of smaller domestic and private airstrips. Domestic flights are the quickest way to travel long distances within the country and for some of the more rural and isolated parts, private planes are a necessity for access. Although there are many airlines operating in Canada, the commercial market is dominated by Air Canada. The busiest international airports in the country are Toronto Pearson International Airport, Vancouver International Airport and Calgary International Airport, however with such large numbers of airports in the country, it is often worth looking to fly through a smaller airport to find a cheaper or more conveniently located flight.
Other ways to get around
As much of Canada’s wealth depends on the export of its natural resources, sea ports are important freight hubs. You will also find ferries connecting provinces on the Atlantic coast, as well as providing vital routes to the islands off the coast of British Columbia. The main operators are Bay Ferries, BC Ferries and Traversier. There are also a range of commercial and recreational routes along the famous St Lawrence Seaway.
The standard working week in Canada is 40 hours. Typically people work Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, but flexible working systems are quite common so employees often enjoy at least a degree of freedom in their allocated hours. Under the Canada Labour Code the maximum working time per week is 48 hours, however the code only applies to federally regulated professions.
Paid holiday leave entitlement is determined by provincial law, with most employees allowed between 15 and 25 days off each year. If your profession is covered by the Canada Labour Code, you are also entitled to various other forms of leave including sick leave and parental leave.
Canadians generally enjoy between five and ten statutory holidays per year depending on their province. Not all the statutory holidays are observed nationally, so it’s best to check on your local provincial website.
Statutory holiday dates
New Year’s Day: 1st January
Family Day: 18th February
Good Friday: 19th April
Easter Monday: 22nd April
Victoria Day: 20th May
Canada Day: 1st July
Civic Holiday: 5th August
Labour Day: 2nd September
Thanksgiving Day: 14th October
Remembrance Day: 11th November
Christmas Day: 25th December
Boxing Day: 26th December
Visas and eligibility to work
Canada is a popular destination for foreign workers but has fairly strict immigration laws. Depending on your nationality and intended length of stay in Canada, you may need to apply for a visa, a work permit or both before travelling. You can also find out if you are eligible to apply for entry under a specific immigration scheme by taking a questionnaire on the Canada.ca website. For some professions, employers must complete a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to prove that it is necessary to take on a foreign national rather than a Canadian worker. If you become a permanent resident, you will also need a PR card
Tax and Employment Insurance
To work in Canada, you must apply for a Social Insurance Number (SIN) to enable your employer to make the correct tax payments on your behalf. Income tax is paid at federal and provincial levels at various rates depending on your earnings. Tax is deducted directly from wages in Canada along with other ‘pay cheque deductions’ such as Employment Insurance, pension contributions or union fees. In total, these deductions can reduce your income by between 25% and 35%. You may also be required to complete a tax return form at the end of the tax year, which runs from 1 January to 31 December.
There are two public schemes providing support for older people in Canada, and unlike in many countries they are generally accessible to foreign nationals. Old Age Security is a non-contribution scheme that offers a pension to those over the age of 65, including foreign nationals provided they have lived in Canada for over ten years. The Canada Pension Plan is the contribution-based equivalent, which almost all workers in the country pay into at varying rates. Some employers will also offer private pensions as part of their remuneration package.
Canada has an extensive legislative framework to protect the rights of people with disabilities against discrimination, including in the workplace. For more information, visit the Employment and Social Development Canada website.
Canadian society in general is considered quite egalitarian, and flat organisational structures are commonplace in Canadian businesses. Some multinationals might be more hierarchical in nature, but the opinions of employees are considered important by managers and team members of all levels are encouraged to contribute to decision-making processes. Organisations in Québec tend to be the exceptions – these are often more hierarchical than businesses in the rest of Canada.
In Canada, teamwork is key and people are used to collaborating on projects as a group. The role of the manager is to motivate their team and get the best out of the people around them. Staff members are expected to contribute their specific talent or skill set, and will expect their manager to give them the freedom to operate to their full potential. Individuality is valued, with more respect paid to those who express themselves than those who simply conform to the majority. At the same time, honesty is appreciated on both sides, so when opinions differ the point may be hotly contested, but only to reach the best possible conclusion.
Canadians are stereotyped as polite and unassuming, and while this is certainly a generalisation there is also an element of truth to it. People tend to be quite formal with strangers, so use titles and surnames initially then follow the lead of your hosts as to when to drop the formalities. If you are conversing with French-speaking Canadians, use the more formal ‘vous’ pronoun rather than the familiar ‘tu’ form. Unlike in the USA, people tend not to be overtly physical in a professional environment, so you should always respect personal space and also avoid over-the-top gesturing.
As relationships develop with your Canadian contacts, you will find that they become far less formal and more familiar. Trust is important, and honesty is vital in gaining and retaining the trust of your colleagues and contacts.
Written correspondence is important in Canadian businesses, especially as some are still required to write a letter of invitation to host foreign guests. Letters remain the most formal type of correspondence, but like verbal greetings emails should also initially be formal and then drop the formality as the relationship develops.
There can be some regional variation in dress code, particularly between Québec and other provinces. The majority of businesses describe their dress code as business casual, but interpretations of this directive are inconsistent. If in doubt, stick to the formal side – usually a business suit with shirt and tie for men, and a conservative dress or suit for women.
In most of Canada the common greeting is a handshake, although in Québec people may offer a continental style cheek kiss. After the greeting, you should withdraw slightly to respect personal space. Business cards are usually exchanged immediately after greeting, but with little or no ceremony.
In Canada people are expected at the agreed time, not early or late. If you are late, an explanation will be expected as a matter of courtesy. It is worth noting that some Canadians refer to fifteen minutes past the hour as ‘a quarter after’ rather than ‘quarter past’, which sometimes causes confusion for British English speakers.
Tact and diplomacy are important when conducting business in Canada. There is usually some brief small talk before you get down to business – often Canadians will ask about your job as work is important to them. Communications should be relatively low key as negotiations and aggressive sales tactics are not appreciated. Business decisions are usually made according to logic and rationale, so a well-constructed argument with supporting evidence is the best approach for success.
Remember that Canada is a series of provinces. Community and local identity are important to people. Always avoid confusing Canadian culture with American culture as the two countries have a complex relationship and usually neither will appreciate this kind of mistake. Taboo topics include politics and religion, and some Canadians will also avoid discussing their home or personal life with business colleagues.
Although English and French are both official languages in Canada, the two are largely separated by region. Many French speakers do understand English very well, but prefer to work in French. It may be useful to find out your contacts’ preferred languages before meeting so that if necessary you can translate written materials to respect their choice.