Things to Know About Ontario Canada Before Moving There
Last Updated: July 16, 2012
If you are considering moving to the Province of Ontario in Canada, this article is a concise guide to familiarize you with the basics you need to know. It includes important facts you may want to take into consideration before taking that next step.
Table of Contents
Ontario is Canada’s most populated and second largest province, covering 1,076,395 sq. km (415,598 sq. miles). It would take over 30 hours to drive from one end to the other, east to west. Home to Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, the province offers a diverse range of landscapes, from the untamed wilderness of the north to the rolling hills of Ottawa Valley in the east and rich farmlands of the south.
Ontario is dotted with small and medium towns with larger cities acting as hubs for the smaller communities. The majority of larger communities are in Southern Ontario, including Toronto, Kitchener/Waterloo/Guelph, London and Windsor.
The north is sparsely populated due to the rough terrain of the Canadian Shield which covers most of Northern and Central Ontario. While the region is not conducive to agriculture, it is rich in minerals.
Recreation spans from theatres and museums to organized sports and outdoor activities, including:
- Baseball & Softball;
- Hockey & Ringette;
- ATV trails;
- Fishing & Hunting;
- Sailing, Kayaking & Canoeing;
- Bike & Hiking trails;
- Downhill & Cross-county skiing;
- Horseback riding; and
For the more adventurous, Ontario also offers opportunities for zip lining, spelunking, rock climbing, white water rafting.
The province has several theme parks. Both Canada’s Wonderland just outside of Toronto and Marineland in the city of Niagara Falls attract masses from across the globe. Other exciting family-oriented parks include, Ontario Place, Great Wolf Lodge, Storybook Gardens, Logos Land and Santa’s Village.
The world-renown horseshoe shaped waterfalls of Niagara Falls is Ontario’s most famous natural attraction, offering rides on The Maid of the Mist, museums tours and many tourist-oriented activities.
The annual Stratford Shakespeare Festival, located picturesque Stratford, presents plays from Shakespeare and other top-notch writers.
Toronto and Ottawa both offer theatre and broadway productions, music festivals, plus a vast array of museums and cultural events. Even smaller communities usually boast local theatres and festivals.
Despite popular belief, Canadians are not snowbound year-round. No sled-dog teams and igloos for the residents of Ontario. While temperatures can plummet as far as - 40° in the northern region, summer heat can climb to 38° C (100.4 F) these are the extremes. Averages depend on the region you are considering.
Southern Ontario has warm, humid summers and cold winters. Northern Ontario has shorter warm summers and severely cold winters. Central and Eastern Ontario have hot, humid summers and long, harsh winters.
Penny for Your Thoughts
As of 2013, the Canadian government has removed pennies from Canadian currency. While folks using debit or credit cards will pay the exact amount owed, retailers round up or round down to the nearest nickel for consumers using cash.
With 5 of the world’s major automakers and the only nano-technology facility working with quantum computing, Ontario's industry is on the cutting edge. Leading companies in software, fibre optics, advanced technology and a stable infrastructure help the province attract new and foreign business. In fact, foreign countries invested nearly $550 billion in 2009.
Manufacturing sales topped $540 billion in 2010, generating $1.6 trillion in economic activity. The unemployment rate as of March 2012 was 7.4%, the lowest it’s been in years. All of this makes Ontario one of the fastest growing G7 economies.
It has been calculated that the average citizen of Ontario works 6 months of the year just to pay for taxes. Ontario has recently combined their Provincial Sales Tax (PST) with Canada’s Goods and Services Tax (GST) to create a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) of 13% which applies to almost every item or service a person can purchase. This tax is even included on utility bills.
Ontario has recently begun offering a multitude of tax rebates, credits and incentives for Ontario residents, including:
Ontario Child Benefit
Healthy Homes Renovation Tax Credit
Community Small Business Investment Fund Program
Ontario Child Care Supplement for Working Families (OCCS)
Ontario Focused Flow-Through Share Tax Credit
Dividend Tax Credit
Ontario Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS)
Political Contribution Tax Credit
Labour Sponsored Investment Fund Program
Ontario Sales Tax Transition Benefit
Ontario Sales Tax Credit
Ontario Tax Reduction
Ontario Senior Homeowners' Property Tax Grant
Northern Ontario Energy Credit
Electric Vehicle Incentive Program
Ontario Trillium Benefit
Ontario Energy and Property Tax Credit
Ontario Clean Energy Benefit (OCEB)
Ontario Opportunities Fund
As of September 2017, the minimum wage in Ontario is $11.40/hour. This will increase to $11.60 in October 2017, $14 in January 2018, and $15/hour the following year. This dramatic increase is an effort to close the gap between minimum wage (What the majority of people make) and living wage (what it actually costs to live in Ontario).
While jobs in the IT, service and hospitality sectors are increasing, manufacturing has been on the decline. This has been creating an increase of workers in the job pool that have a lower education than is needed in the job market, because many dropped out of high school to begin work at a factory. The province offers apprenticeship incentives, education upgrading and specialty programs to help workers transition to new careers, free of charge.
Ontario is experiencing a shortage in many of its skilled trades. As Baby Boomers retire, there are few experienced workers to take their place. The biggest gaps in skilled trades include:
- Registered Nurses
- Registered Practical Nurses
- Advanced Care Paramedics
- Personal Support Workers
- Certified Welders
- Civil Engineers
- Licensed Engineers
- Stationary Engineers
- Engineering Techs
- Industrial Electricians
Many foreigners believe that Canada has universal healthcare which covers all medical procedures and medications. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The term "universal health care" does not mean that it covers everyone for all things. While Ontario residents are covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) and receive a health card, what is covered by OHIP has been steadily decreasing.
Medication is not covered. Not even for cancer patients. In fact, some medical treatments are not covered by OHIP. Eye exams, glasses, and dental visits are no longer covered under OHIP.
There are separate drug programs you can apply to. For more information on Health Care Credits and Benefits, click HERE
Need to see a doctor today? Most likely, your family doctor doesn’t do same-day bookings. If you need to see a doctor right away, you’ll have to visit the walk-in clinic (if your community has one) or hospital and wait 3-6 hours. Monday and Tuesday are the busiest days, so try not to be ill at the start of the week. If it’s an emergency, get yourself to the hospital where the wait is 4-8 hours.
The province is experiencing a doctor shortage which is felt much more in rural communities where options are limited. In fact, some rural areas forbid citizens from seeking doctors outside their community to avoid overburdening the doctors that are available. This can be very frustrating if you would like the freedom to choose someone with expertise in the field you need (ie. high risk pregnancies or pediatrics), the gender of your physician, or simply find someone suited to your personality.
The Cost of Living
No joke about it, things are expensive in Ontario. Everything from groceries, clothing, gas (petrol), housing, and taxes will shock a lot of foreigners. It is extremely difficult for the average family to live on the income of one person. Almost all families have both parents working full-time.
Major service providers for phone, cable, electricity, and even internet have a monopoly in their field. They commonly “rent” out services to smaller companies so that customers feel they have a choice in service providers. For example, all phone service is run through Bell Canada. Smaller companies, such as Distributel can rent from Bell to provide customers with phone and internet service, however they are still bound by Bell’s service, pricing and infrastructure.
Hydro Electricity Time-of-Use Pricing
Electricity is provided by Hydro One which charges Time-of-Use pricing, ranging from 5.3¢ per kilowatt hour (kWh) to 9.9¢ and changes seasonally. Charges also include a delivery fee (which is generally more expensive than your actual hydro usage) and a debt reduction fee where Hydro One charges its customers to reduce the debt they created before they switched over to the name Hydro One.
Even communities that have their own power generation supplement their supply with power from Hydro One and, of course, are subject to the Hydro One fees. Customers living in those communities are doubly charged for delivery as they have to pay the fee for both Hydro One and their local provider. Hydro bills can quickly get out of hand in these communities, skyrocketing to hundreds of dollars each month.
Cell Phone Services
Foreigners who are used to Pay-As-You-Go cell phone service will no longer have this option. While cell phone providers in Ontario may call their service Pay-As-You-Go or something similar, they each operate on monthly fee services that may or may not have a term contract attached.
Also be aware that some companies only offer service within the metropolitan areas, such as Toronto or Ottawa, but not outside of their city limits. Always check their coverage maps and the details of the plans.
A quick note about milk ...
Canadians mainly drink cow's milk. Goat's milk is considered a specialty food and can cost almost $6 CAD for a 1 litre carton.
Unfortunately, locally grown foods are generally more expensive than food shipped in from outside of the country. Even if bought directly from local farmers, the prices are set to be on par (at the very least) than what you'd pay at the grocery store.
Fruits and vegetables arrive before they are ripe and mature in the stores without the benefit of the sunshine or nutrients necessary to create the proper flavor and nutrition value.
Specialty foods such as Halal meats, gluten-free and lactose-free foods are becoming more available outside the metropolitan areas.
Some school boards have started to implement full-day kindergarten and a staggered bells system where different grades start (and end) the school day at different times. These new systems have received mixed reviews from families. Some parents and students find that these systems work well with their family dynamics while others find them stressful.
There are many post-secondary options for those wishing to or further their education, plus apprenticeship incentives available from the government for those who want to train in a skilled trade.
Many communities also offer adult learning opportunities for those who need to upgrade and classes for new Canadians who need to learn English or French and support adjusting to their new communities.
Smoking in Public
It is illegal to smoke in public places, such as restaurants, stores, offices, hospitals and other places of employment. This also includes public or shared areas of apartment buildings and rental complexes. If you smoke, the only places you can now enjoy your nicotine is in your own living space, your vehicle (unless you have a minor with you - more on that later) and in the great outdoors.
If you are coming from another country, it is very important to know that Canada does not have the “Castle Law” (a.k.a Defense of Habitation Law) which permits citizens to defend their home or property against trespassers. Law enforcement encourages citizens to retreat and call 9-1-1.
If someone breaks into your home, you can prevent the trespasser from taking your belongings or take it back from from them, as long as you do not “strike or cause bodily harm to the trespasser” (section 38.1). So, how does one stop a trespasser from entering a home or stealing your belongings? Canadians are still trying to figure that one out.
You may use “reasonable force” to stop an invader from trespassing, to detain or to remove them from your home or property and to protect yourself from assault. “Reasonable force” does not include the use of any type of weapon, mace or pepper spray (both of which are illegal in Canada).
On the up-side, if you are attacked first, the law permits you to defend yourself, so long as you do not cause grievous bodily harm or use force “more than is necessary.” In fact, “reasonable force” must be the MINIMUM amount necessary, otherwise you will find yourself arrested and charged with serious criminal offences. For those with martial arts training in Ontario, the law requires you to inform your attacker of your training before you use it in self-defence.
You have been warned.
Day Passes and Free Rides for Prisoners
Prisoners are permitted “day passes” to go see their doctors outside of prison and are released, unattended into the streets with the expectation that they will return faithfully to the prison when their doctor’s appointment is over. Not only that, but when criminals have completed their jail term and are released from jail, they are given money and a bus ticket to the community of their choice.
Canada does not allow public assess to the sex offenders registry list maintained by the Royal Canadian Military Police (RCMP). Family Watchdog in the USA started a petition to encourage the Canadian government to open the Canadian Sex Offender Registry to the public, however nothing seems to have come of it.
Most drivers don't realize that it is required by law to flash your high beams once when you are passing another vehicle at night. I personally think it's idiotic and dangerous to blind the person in front of you as you're passing, but it's stated very clearly in the driver's handbook to do so. Most drivers don't do this.
On the other hand, if someone coming toward you is flashing their high beams at you, check your light setting. it usually means you have your high beams shining in their eyes. If they flash their lights off and on, it's a warning to slow down. There is either an accident ahead or a police patrol.
Rules of the Road
Over the past few years, several Ontario laws pertaining to driving have changed.
Smoking in the Vehicle
It is illegal to smoke in your vehicle if there is a child under the age of 16 with you. Because second-hand smoke can cause serious health problems in children (ie. asthma, SIDs, cancer and cardiac disease when older), this activity is considered a form of child abuse. The fine is up to $250 CAD.
It is also illegal to use your hand-held cell phone or other communication device while driving. This includes talking, texting, emailing and dialing. This also includes the use of entertainment devices. If caught, you risk a fine of up to $500. Of course, if not caught, you risk killing yourself or someone else, hence these new laws.
Drinking and Driving
Recent changes to the drinking and driving laws state that a novice driver or anyone 21 years of age or under, regardless of licence class, who is caught with any alcohol in their system will have their driver's licence suspended immediately for 24 hours. If convicted, the driver is facing a fine of $500 and a minimum of a 30 licence suspension.
All drivers in the "warning range" (0.05 - 0.08 Blood Alcohol Concentrate) will lose their licence at roadside for up to 30 days. Anyone caught more than once will have to attend mandatory alcohol education or treatment programs and ignition interlock.
Like all places, Ontario has many wonderful points as well as its downsides. I hope the content of this guide will be of value when weight the pros and cons of moving to Ontario. The key is to assess what standards you are comfortable with.
© 2011 Rosa Marchisella