Immigrating: Make a List and Check It Many Times

By Alyona Kuznetsova

Alyona Kuznetsova came to Canada from Ukraine one year ago. Although English is not her native language, she graduated from University majoring in English and literature and has worked as a journalist and immigration consultant.

When going to a supermarket, we create a shopping list. When we came to Canada, most of us probably had our lists ready as well. Experienced "landers" (friends or family members who came here before us) may have given us advice on important things to do first. But even if you did not get any friendly advice, you could use the special checklist of "things to do soon after you arrive" that was created by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (and is available at www.cic.gc.ca/English/newcomer/welcome/wel-19e.html). Things on the list include exchanging your money for Canadian currency, filling out the forms for a Social Insurance Number (SIN) and a health insurance card, applying for private Health Insurance and contacting an immigrant-serving organization in your community.

My beloved friends (Alex and Vira Khuziyevy) referred me to a bank (RBC) on my second day here and I will never regret opening my bank account during my first hours in Toronto. It was the best way to exchange my currency into Canadian dollars. Right away I started learning how to operate an account and debit card, what fees apply, what the types of accounts and credit cards are and when I am eligible for certain financial products. A person from that bank actually helped me to establish my financial reputation.

He also got a chance to watch me for a while. So, when money started to come in, it did not take too long to receive my first credit card. And, of course, I did not do everything right. The banker even talked to my landlady once when she could not cash my rent cheque. (I totally forgot that paycheques might be put on hold.) That brought instant relief to her and respect back to me as an established member of the "Canadian community".

Another smart move I made was getting a SIN number as soon as I got to Canada. Even if you hate the idea of getting a job right away, you might still need that magic number to apply for Child Tax Benefit or to file a tax return. In 2003 I spent only the last two weeks of December in Canada, but was advised to file a tax return for the year of 2003 anyway. I had my SIN ready for that. Imagine my joy when I received money by May and found several hundred more in my bank account just recently. God bless Tax and Revenue Canada. I needed the funds.
But it seems like applying for SIN quickly ended my chain of smart major moves.
My biggest mistake was not buying private health insurance during my first three months here. Trouble was the furthest thing from my mind - I was in Canada! What could happen?

Only a week before my OHIP came into effect I became sick. My hospital bills became a financial disaster! I still pay them a year later.

One of the ways for newcomers to avoid huge expenses (one day in a hospital can cost up to $2,000) is to apply for "visitor's insurance". Don't be misled by the word 'visitor'. It is perfect for landed people and those who applied for immigrant visas from within Canada. The average cost depends on age, amount of coverage and number of family members - approximately $300 for 92 days for an individual and $500-600 for a family. Some major Health Insurance Companies offer a special Landed Immigrants plan as a part of Travel Plans for Visitors in Canada. You can find their number in the Yellow Pages under Insurance - Life, Health and Travel or call Canada Life and Health Insurance Association.

By going further down the list and contacting an immigrant-serving organization in your community, you can find someone who knows the important things to do and will help make sure you do not leave anything out.

Making your list is important but the most important thing is following it.

CNM