A South African in Canada: What To Know About Living in Canada

Jun 27, 2018

Since so many of you have found our blog for immigration or expat reasons, we’re embracing it and including all the topics we can think of.  In fact, we’ve even started an Expat Newsletter which you can sign up to below. A huge thing to consider is how different day-to-day things can be  living in Canada, as opposed to in South Africa. So much of the initial culture-shock is from how different life actually is here. Not knowing what you’re in for, and how to do things in day to day life makes the struggle of adjusting that much harder! Here are some of the things we’ve noticed:

If you’d like us to touch on any other topics, comment below, and we will get right on it! 

Read: Things I Learnt Moving Abroad

#1: Pump Your Own Gas (Petrol)

I hadn’t a clue how to fill up my own petrol tank when I arrived and found myself with a near empty tank at a gas station (that’s what it’s called here) where no one spoke English, and no one could help me ‘pump gas’. What are the chances?! Well, it happened! Needless to say, I learned very quickly!

#2: Write a Cheque

Everyone here still uses cheques and I don’t understand it! Although one can now deposit a cheque at home (without going into the bank or an ATM drive thru #AlsoWeird), by taking a picture of it on the banking app, the banking system is still clearly decades behind South Africa. BUT, that money you deposit via cheque on the app will more than likely be subject to a 3-4 business day hold.

That said, they are starting to slowly roll out more ‘EFT’ type systems. Here, in order to transfer money into someone else’s account, you have to put in their email address (not their banking account number) with a security question. Whoever you are sending the money to will then accept the transfer on their end, in the email, and input the security answer to release the funds. Weird right?!

#3: Clean Your House!

Domestic helpers aren’t a big thing here. And if you do get one, they can be pricey! Juggling full time careers and pets at home makes chores around the home the most annoying thing on my weekly/daily to-do list. Most South Africans, who can afford it, find a cleaner to come in once a week.

Read: Frequently Asked Questions About Our Move!

#4: Take Your Shoes Off

The first thing you do when you enter someone’s house is to take off your shoes, and I kind of wish this was a thing in South Africa too? Imagine how it decreases the dirt and dust stomping through your house. Now, when I visit South Africa, I struggle to keep my shoes on in homes! Clearly converted on this one but South African visitors really struggle with this one!

#5: Give Pedestrians Right of Way

I know most South Africans can’t imagine it, but in Canada, pedestrians have right of way! In fact, in some smaller more rural towns, as soon as you step into the road, cars will come to a screeching halt until you cross the road. Weird right? Well, best you learn now, because most Canadian kids walk (or run) across the street without even looking because you’re expected to just stop! I fear for these kids when they visit South Africa one day!

#6: Winterise

In Winter, you’ll have to: put on winter tyres; pack an emergency car kit (for when you land up in a ditch in the middle of a snowing winter); shovel your driveway and sidewalk (to avoid fines); throw down salt to prevent sidewalk’s icing up; prep your house so the pipes don’t freeze; put on the furnace (heater) and change it’s filters; get winter clothes (real winter clothes) — just to name a few! PS. A beanie is called a toque here (pronounced t-ooooooo-k but I can’t bring myself to call it that).

Read: Expat Coping Tips

#7: Driving!

You’ll drive on the left hand side of the road, with their steering wheel on the left hand side of the car, and more than likely in an automatic, rather than a manual (stick) car here. You aren’t likely to be run off the road by crazy taxi drivers weaving in and out of traffic. Most people here will obey the rules of the road. All the roads will be well-maintained, and pothole-free. In Winter, snow shovels will be out as soon as the snow hits the ground, and you will realise how lovely it really is to live in a First World country — even with the shitty winters.

By the way, you’ll probably have to re-do your drivers test to get the license here.

#8: Health Care Services are provided at no additional charge

Appointments with doctors, specialists, and anything done in the hospital — it’s all considered “insured” by the provincial government health department — as long as you have a valid Provincial healthcare number. Yet, it still feels strange walking out of the clinic without paying. The reason these services require no payment is that you do pay higher income taxes. (You can view both federal and provincial tax rates here).

You do still have to pay for all medication and dental fees, which can add up — and for this reason, you can still get on medical aid here.

#9: Stop Stressing About Crime

Okay, let’s be real: there is crime wherever you live in the world. The issue for me is the rate of crime and the level of violent crimes, which South Africa is rather infamous for. Reading a blog post from someone on the topic who did the exact inverse of what I did (moved from Canada to South Africa) was quite interesting (See here). He lists tips to keep you out of harms way and make you less vulnerable to crime attacks — and the only thing it makes me think is how crazy we were to think that living that way in South Africa was okay. Yup, Africa is not for sissies, but is the stress really worth it?! Not for us.

Our life is way less stressful now. You won’t have high walls, security gates and electric fencing — and if you do, you’ll look a bit odd.

Read: The Instagrammable Spots in our new City, Edmonton!

I’ll be sure to keep this updated when I think of any new things! But if you’d like to add a point, comment below!

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Settled in Canada,

Edmonton Blogger

  1. Phil

    July 2nd, 2018 at 11:46 PM

    Hey Leigh! Man- I can’t believe you moved from SA to Edmonton of all places! It was 0 degrees outside in Pretoria today, and all I could think about was how much I didn’t miss the cold (I grew up in the interior of BC, but lived in Vancouver for the last forever).

    I agree- the crime thing is messed up. To think that some of the precautions we take here have become the new normal isn’t normal at all. But I also like seeing wild elephants and not doing my own laundry, so it’s a bit of trade off I guess. (ps- thanks for the link)

    Your point about pedestrians made me laugh a bit- I was just thinking the other day how much it pisses me off when cars don’t stop for me when I walk through a parking lot to a store. I’m definitely not in Canada anymore!

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