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Only an immigrant to Canada would be astonished that it takes nearly a week to drive across this vast country. And only an immigrant would be surprised to discover that most of the 33 million residents of Canada live within a few hundred kilometres of the American border. Canadians take such facts for granted.

Also, only immigrants would be surprised at how easy it is to leave Canada and cross that boundary to the United States, which is often called the longest undefended border in the world. Of course, border security has increased since September 11, 2001 and identification, such as a permanent resident card or passport, is required. But it’s still fairly easy — border crossings in many countries aren’t quite so straightforward.

Immigrants might be shocked at the variety of government services available in Canada. There are many government departments, and the services they offer often differ from province to province.

The aim of this book is to simplify the newcomer’s first year in Canada. We answer many questions and address some of the dilemmas that may confront newcomers to this incredible country. This book is more than just the result of research, however; it is based on my wife Sabrina’s and my own experiences as immigrants, as well as many stories that we have been privileged to hear. This book was originally written a year after we migrated. What you now have in your hands is the product of many years of experience.

I moved here in November 1998, three months after Sabrina and our two kids came to pave the way. The problems Sabrina had to face were very different from mine; I simply followed along. However, I have used our collective experience, and the experiences of many other immigrants, in the writing of this book.

We were raised in Bombay, which is now called Mumbai, on the west coast of India. Although we loved it and still have many relatives and friends there, we wanted to explore the world. In 1992, we moved to the Middle East, where we lived until we moved to Canada in 1998.

I have worked in advertising and marketing for 22 years. This field, in which my wife and I believe I excel, is really nothing more than finding an ideal match between a product and a consumer.

In much the same way, this book is also a match between a product and the consumer. The product is the information we have gathered on how to settle in Canada. The consumer is you, the new immigrant or the potential immigrant.

There are many, many surprises you will face once you land in Canada. Take the health care system, for example. We had heard that Canada was very generous with its health care services. This is appealing when you’re approaching middle age, as I am, and it played a role in our decision to choose Canada as the country in which we wanted to live.

To my surprise, I learned that in Canada, like everywhere else, you only get what you pay for. Just one month after we arrived, my rambunctious 14-year-old son, Dan, took a tumble while rollerblading and ended up with a sprained wrist. We hustled him off to the hospital, expecting the country’s health care system to cover the expenses. Judging from the reception we received, it seemed that the hospital staff thought we had just arrived from the planet Mars. As it turned out, we weren’t covered by the Medical Services Plan of BC.

The Medical Services Plan is the all-encompassing health care plan that British Columbia’s residents support with monthly payments. Since the plan doesn’t actually activate until three months after the applicant applies, we had to cover all the medical expenses for Dan’s wrist. Our bill for that small accident was $500; this was much less than it would have been in many other countries, but was still substantial.
My first word of advice for immigrants is to contact your provincial health care supplier immediately upon your arrival in Canada — the first day, if possible. And obtain private medical insurance for the period before your provincial health plan kicks in. Medical services in Canada, which vary from province to province, will be covered at length in Chapter 4 — Medical Coverage.

My lawyer in Dubai helped my family get to the shores of this country. But when I arrived, I still didn’t know how to rent an apartment, get a job, buy a car, get a credit card, obtain car insurance, or open a bank account.

While the answers to those questions are free for the asking in Canada, you have to know whom to ask. There is no one source that compiles answers in one easy-to-read, practical format.

Until now.

This book will cover survival basics for new immigrants: how to select a place to live, find work, and get health care coverage. It will also explain a little bit of the history of Canada and some of the strange customs Canadians have. Take, for instance, the Polar Bear Swim: people in many Canadian cities celebrate the first day of the New Year with a loud and lively party on the shore of a very cold body of water into which hundreds of rum-soaked citizens plunge themselves.

The book will also cover some basics of Canadian law — your rights, your responsibilities, and the best course to follow in the event of, say, a minor traffic accident or a break-in at your house.

It will include information on settling in this country, on the various tax structures, on registering your child for school, on taking night school courses, on obtaining financial assistance from the government, on Canada pension plans, and much more.

It is based on my own challenging and sometimes frustrating experiences as a newcomer. If it helps you to eliminate the stress from your experiences, then I’ll be happy.

As well, the book shares the personal stories of many other immigrants in Canada, from Senator Mobina Jaffer, to Olympic wrestler Daniel Igali, to immigrants from all walks of life.

After writing this book, I wanted to continue to help immigrants in their first several years of life in Canada by providing lots of information, resources, and profiles of successful immigrants in Canada to serve as inspiration. That’s why in April 2004 Sabrina and I started a monthly magazine called the Canadian Immigrant magazine (www.canadianimmigrant.ca). The magazine has grown from 7,000 copies to 80,000 copies per issue and continues to help numerous immigrants succeed.

In November 2006, I was invited by RCI (Radio Canada International — one of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s radio stations) to participate in a new show for immigrants called The Link. The show allowed me to answer questions from potential Canadian immigrants from all over the world. I have included some of these throughout each chapter.

I am constantly asked one question: “What makes immigrants succeed?” In my opinion, there are five major conditions for success:

1.- Learn the language. Let’s face it, if you don’t learn English all your skills will be hidden away like a gem in a cave. If you moved to Germany or Japan, you would make a conscious decision to learn your new country’s language. Why then do some immigrants settle for less than the best that Canada has to offer by refusing to learn English? I encourage immigrants to make a real effort to learn English and to speak it at least three to four hours a day.

2.- Stay positive. I have seen the same situation so often that it has become predictable: A new immigrant meets with resistance and barriers in job-finding and then sits with friends from the same ethnic community who moan about life in Canada. Before you know it, the negativity seeps into the newcomer’s being. If this starts happening to you, think about why you were excited about moving to Canada, and focus on all the great things you want to accomplish here.

3.- Embrace Canada. Remember your dreams about coming to Canada? Well, they have come true. Now go out and enjoy all that is Canadian. The very act of going out and discovering the sights of the city you have adopted will make you value and enjoy the beauty of Canada and its people.

4.- Have a Plan B. Some people think that in order for immigrants to succeed, they need to start at the bottom. I do not agree with this, but believe you should have a Plan B for your life in Canada. Plan B means having flexibility in what you intend to do in Canada. That very flexibility changed me from an advertising professional to a publisher! I should add, however, that in order to have a Plan B, you must have a Plan A!

5.- Stay clear of ethnic silos. I do understand that moving to a new country can be very scary. A lot of immigrants tend to move into an ethnic community that matches their own background. While this may be comfortable, I personally believe your true growth in a new country will come from moving out of your comfort zone. When you have friends of all nationalities, you will learn a lot more. Usually, when your friends are from your own country, many of your discussions centre on the past and life “back home.” You need to look at the future and at Canada, your new home!

This book will not attempt to cover every angle of every possible question a newcomer might have — what book could? But I hope it will go a long way toward helping newcomers deal with some of those early problems.

And when you have survived your first few weeks in Canada and have figured out the basics, you’ll realize there is still much to learn.

In closing, I will say those three words you will hear very often:

Welcome to Canada!

Naeem “Nick” Noorani

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