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Information for Newcomers: Your First Steps in B.C.

Meet a Settlement Worker

MOSAIC settlement workers have supported thousands of newcomers in identifying their needs and making a plan for settling in the Lower Mainland. You can talk to your settlement worker about any of the topics on this page, or attend a workshop. Our services are free for permanent residents and live-in caregivers.
Our settlement workers speak English and one or more of the following languages:
Français فارسی Kinyarwa كوردى Kiswahili
عربي Filipino Kirundi Русский Türkçe
中文 日本語 한국어 Español Việt Ngữ

Your First Steps in B.C.

Finding a place to live and contact information

You need to have a mailing address in order to apply for some important documents and services in B.C. While settlement workers cannot find you a place to live, they can provide an overview of what you can expect and what you need to know when renting or buying property here.

If you need Internet access, many public libraries in B.C. have computers that are free to use. If you have your own laptop computer, you can also visit a café where free Wi-Fi may be available.

There are many types of phone plans in Canada. Some are pre-paid or "pay as you go," some have monthly fees or charges and some require you to sign a contract. Always ask about the details of a phone plan, such as additional charges for cancelling your contract early. If you sign up for a cellphone plan, you will likely need to provide two pieces of identification (ID). You may also be asked for a credit check or to provide proof of employment. If you do not have either of these, explain that you are a new immigrant and ask if there are other options for you.

Most phone numbers in Canada have a three-digit area code followed by a seven-digit phone number. You usually need to include the area code when making a call, even locally. Both 604 and 778 are the area codes for Greater Vancouver. If you make a long-distance call within Canada, you’ll need to dial 1 before the area code and phone number. If you need to call a company or service outside of Vancouver, check if they have a toll-free number in order to avoid extra long-distance fees.

Permanent resident (PR) Card

You must show this card each time you return to Canada from abroad and if you wish to access government-funded services for permanent residents. You’ll receive your PR card in the mail shortly after your arrival in Canada, but you may need to inform Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) of your Canadian mailing address first. Your settlement worker can assist you with this.

Social Insurance Number (SIN)

A SIN is a nine-digit number issued by the federal government. You need a SIN number in order to work, file taxes, receive benefits and access certain government services or sponsored programs (such as employment services) in Canada. Keep your SIN card safe and only show it to trusted persons. You should apply for a SIN number immediately after obtaining your PR card. Your settlement worker can give you more information about the SIN card application.

Opening a bank account

Canadians use banks, credit unions and, in Quebec, caisses populaires for financial services. You must visit a financial institution in person and present two pieces of ID (one must be a picture ID) in order to open a bank account. You may also be required to show a proof of address, such as a recent utility bill with your name and address on it.

You have the right to open a bank account even if you have been bankrupt, are unemployed or have a poor credit rating. You are not required to deposit money right away when opening a bank account, but some accounts require a minimum balance to waive certain fees and charges. There are many different types of bank accounts available, of which the two most common are savings and chequing accounts. Chequing accounts, which have lower transaction fees, are useful if you need to use automatic bank or teller machines (ATMs), write cheques, pay bills or use a debit card. Savings accounts, which often have higher interest rates, have higher transaction fees, too.

Emergency services

The emergency number in Canada is 911. It is free to dial. Though service is provided in more than 100 languages when you call 911, it can be helpful to know how to say the name of your first language in English. Your settlement worker can give you more details about emergency services in Canada.

Health care

In Canada, health insurance is run provincially. All B.C. residents must enroll in the Medical Services Plan of BC (MSP), which insures essential medical services. After you enroll in MSP, there will be a waiting period before you are eligible for coverage. During this time, you can consider purchasing temporary health insurance.

When you are enrolled in MSP, you will be required to pay a monthly premium, which varies depending on your family situation; for example, premium assistance is available for families with low income (your settlement worker can help you complete the application for this service). You will also be given a BC Services Card, which you should bring with you each time you need to access medical services.

HealthLink BC is a provincial service that provides non-emergency health information over the phone, 24 hours a day, with some specialized services only offered weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Simply dial 811, free of charge, to access this service in more than 130 languages.

Most Canadian families have a family doctor, who possesses a good understanding of their medical history. Many doctors in B.C. are bilingual, so you may be able to find one who speaks your language. Family doctors usually require appointments. For emergencies that are not serious, you can visit a walk-in clinic. Always be on time for and keep your medical appointments, or you may be charged a late/cancellation fee that will not be covered by MSP.

Public Transit

Public transit in the Metro Vancouver area is provided by Translink, which runs buses, Skytrain, Seabus and other transit services. The area is divided into three zones with different fares. You can buy individual transit tickets or at stations, and discounted books of FareSaver tickets and monthly passes are available at grocery and convenience stores listed on Translink’s website.


Visit ICBC to pick up a driver's handbook.

If you have a driver's licence from your home country, it can be used for the first 90 days that you are in B.C. After that you must obtain a B.C. driver's license. The minimum age for a driver's license in B.C. is 16. Licences are administered by ICBC. The most common driver's licensing program in B.C. is the Graduated Licensing Program, which involves several steps. If you meet certain requirements, you may be able to fast-track this program.

You need car insurance in order to drive. If you own a car, you must have insurance for the vehicle. If you rent a car, the rental company can arrange auto insurance. If you frequently drive a friend or relative's car, be sure to have yourself included in his/her insurance plan.

Back to Information for Newcomers

MOSAIC believes in providing support to clients while receiving services. Please visit our dedicated client subsection that provides information on

  • Client Rights and Responsibilities,
  • Opportunity to tell your story,
  • Client satisfaction survey, and
  • Complaints procedures...by clicking here.