Before you arrive

How to apply to come to Canada

Before immigrating to Ottawa, you need to have completed the immigration application process. The Citizenship and Immigration Canada website provides all the information that you need to immigrate and prepare for life in Canada.

At your port of entry in Canada, you will be asked to present the following documents:

  • A Canadian immigrant visa and Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) for yourself and for each family member traveling with you;
  • A valid passport or other travel document for yourself and each family member traveling with you;
  • Two (2) copies of a detailed list of all personal and household items you are bringing with you; and
  • Two (2) copies of a list of items arriving later and their monetary value.

A Passport

The Canada Border Services Agency website provides guides, forms and other information to help you enter Canada smoothly.

Other documents that you may need in Canada include the following:

  • Birth certificates and passports of each family member.
  • Marriage certificate, divorce or separation documents, adoption papers, if applicable.
  • School records of each child traveling with you.
  • Immunization, vaccination, dental and other health records for each family member.
  • Copies of all post-secondary diplomas, degrees and transcripts of records.
  • Trade or professional certificates and licenses.
  • Reference letters from former employers and, if available, samples of your professional work.
  • International driver’s license and, if you are importing a motor vehicle into Canada, car registration documents.
  • Photocopies of all essential and important documents, in case the originals get lost (be sure to keep the photocopies in a separate place from the originals).

Preparing Mentally, Physically and Financially

Cost of living in Ottawa

This section provides information to help you understand the cost of living in Ottawa. You will find facts on major areas of expenses: food, housing, health care, public transportation, and common products and services.

Food costs

There is a tremendous variety of places from which to buy food in Ottawa, from farmers markets to big grocery store chains.

The average monthly cost for food for a family of four in Ottawa is estimated at over $750 (May 2011). The City of Ottawa provides information for calculating the cost of nutritious food: Cost of a Nutritious Food Basket Ottawa, 2011.

Housing

Ottawa offers numerous housing options and prices. Housing costs vary, depending on whether you are buying or renting, the size of your home, its location, and other related factors.

In addition to the mortgage, you will have to pay for property taxes, utilities (water, heat, electricity, etc.) and insurance.

The cost of renting an apartment depends on the size and location, and whether or not utilities are included in the rental cost. If utilities are included, the rent will usually be higher.

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Newcomer’s Guide to Canadian Housing tells you everything you need to know about renting or buying a home in Canada.

An aerial view of Ottawa with Carleton University and Dow’s Lake in the foreground and the downtown cores of both Ottawa and Gatineau, as well as the Ottawa River in the background.

Health care

The provincial government provides Ontario residents free health coverage through the Ontario Health Insurance Program (OHIP).

However, your OHIP coverage becomes effective only three months after you have established residency in Ontario.

The Ministry of Health therefore strongly encourages new and returning residents to buy private health insurance to cover their healthcare needs during the OHIP waiting period.

There are several private insurance companies offering individual health insurance for new immigrants and other people who are not eligible for provincial and territorial health plans.

You may wish to browse the list of members of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association or the Yellow Pages.

There is also short- term health insurance for newcomers who qualify through the Interim Federal Health Program. It is available to protected persons only (resettled refugees, refugee claimants, certain persons detained under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and other specified groups).

Public transportation

Ottawa has a good local transit service that offers an efficient way of getting around the city. OC Transpo, the City's transit service, has a large fleet of buses, all of which are fully accessible.

There are different daily and monthly fares for children, adults, students, and seniors. Fares for Regular Routes also vary from those for Express Routes. You will find the current transit fares on the OC Transpo website.

Other products and services

Below is a list of other common products and services and their average costs:

Gym membership—$35 to $70 per month, per person.

The City of Ottawa offers a wide variety of fitness classes and membership packages to suit different lifestyles. There are also many private gyms in the city, offering a variety of membership options at varying prices.

Internet service—minimum of $30 per month, per household

Local home telephone service—minimum of $25 per month, per household.

Proof of funds

For Skilled Workers and professionals, the Government of Canada will ask you to show Proof of Funds to the Canadian visa office in your country of origin when you submit your application for immigration.

The Proof of Funds is evidence that you can support yourself and your family after you arrive in Canada. The required amount depends on the size of your family.

The Proof of Funds is not required if you have arranged employment.

The job market

For more information on the job market, please visit the local job market section.

Adjusting to the Canadian climate

Ottawa has four distinct seasons and the city’s weather changes with each season. Residents experience large differences in seasonal temperatures, with warm to hot summers and cold winters.

This section gives an overview of what to expect in each season in Ottawa, and has some tips on dressing appropriately for the seasons.

The four seasons in Ottawa

Spring

In spring, temperatures are mild and there is lots of rain to help the flowers grow. Tulips, lilacs and daffodils are in full bloom. People start biking and rollerblading along the city’s pathways, and thousands of runners enter the Ottawa Race Weekend. Tourists from around the world come to Ottawa to enjoy the annual Canadian Tulip Festival in May.

Summer

Summers in Ottawa are typically humid and can get quite hot, reaching temperatures in the high 20 degrees Celsius and low 80 degrees Fahrenheit. People escape the heat by swimming at one of Ottawa’s beaches. They also participate in different outdoor sports, such as soccer, baseball, and beach volleyball. On July 1, Ottawa celebrates Canada Day with concerts and a fireworks display on Parliament Hill.

Fall

In fall, the temperature drops and the leaves turn bright shades of red, orange and gold. People hike in Gatineau Park, which is about 15 minutes from downtown Ottawa and has over 36,000 hectares of forest and lakes. Many residents drive to local fruit farms or orchards to pick apples.

Winter

In winter, days are cold and temperatures can drop to 20 degrees below zero Celsius and 4 degrees below Fahrenheit. There is usually plenty of snow for winter sports and activities, such as skiing, tobogganing and skating along the Rideau Canal—the world’s longest skating rink. In February, people participate in Winterlude, an outdoor festival with concerts and an international ice sculpture competition.

Dressing for the Weather

Ottawa residents dress according to the season. In the spring and fall, most people wear pants and shirts, with light jackets for added warmth. In the summer, people wear lighter clothes like sandals, shorts, t-shirts, skirts and sundresses. In the winter, Ottawa residents keep warm in heavy jackets, hats, scarves, mittens and boots.

Average monthly temperatures

Here are average monthly temperatures in Ottawa, in degrees Celsius and Fahrenheit:

Month ºC ºF
January -10 14
February -10 17.6
March -2 28.4
April 6 42.8
May 13 55.4
June 18 64.4
July 21 69.8
August 19 66.2
September 14 57.2
October 8 46.4
November 1 33.8
December -7 19.4

Visit Environment Canada for the latest weather news.

Before You Arrive Checklist

Arriving in a new city can be overwhelming. The following checklist will help you keep track of the most important things you need to do to get settled in Ottawa.

A woman doing her checklist of things to do.

Before you arrive

  • Register for the Settlement Online Pre-Arrival Program (SOPA) to help you prepare to work in Ontario 
  • Make sure you have a valid travel document, a Canadian Immigrant Visa and Confirmation of Permanent Residence document for you and each family member travelling with you
  • You will also need essential documents to show when entering Canada. DO NOT PACK THESE IN YOUR LUGGAGE
  • Check the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website for a list of other essential and important documents for your move to Canada, and for a list of which items can and cannot be brought into the country
  • Have your health records from your country
  • Have your child or children immunization records and school records to register for school in Canada
  • It is important to save enough money to cover living expenses, such as rent, food, clothing and transportation, for up to six months
  • Pack clothes for all weather conditions: cold, hot and rainy
  • Arrange temporary accommodations for your first few nights in Ottawa
  • Look into employment opportunities in your field, and try to find work
  • Look into having your foreign credentials recognized in Canada
  • If possible, have the following work-related documents translated into English or French: a résumé of your education, work and volunteer experience, skills and qualifications; diplomas, degrees, certificates and other proof of qualifications; school records or transcripts; and letters of recommendation
  • Canada has 2 official languages, English and French. Learn how to improve your language skills
  • Learn how to get around Ottawa

Your first days

  • Visit the YMCA-YWCA Newcomer Information Centre located at 180 Argyle Street, 4th floor in Ottawa or a settlement agency
  • Find temporary accommodations for your first few nights in Ottawa (if you haven’t already done so)
  • Exchange your money for Canadian currency at a bank
  • Apply for the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), a publicly funded program that covers basic health care services
  • Apply for the Interim Federal Health (IFH) Program, a short-term health insurance program that provides temporary health insurance until you are covered by OHIP. It is available to protected persons only (resettled refugees, refugee claimants, certain persons detained under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and other specified groups)
  • Apply for a Social Insurance Number (SIN), which you are required to have in order to work in Canada

Your first weeks

  • Contact an immigrant-serving organization in your community that will help you get settled in Ottawa
  • Get a map of Ottawa and find out about transportation, including OC Transpo, the city’s public transit system
  • Open a bank account
  • Look for permanent accommodations
  • Find someone who will act as a reference or co-signer for your apartment and/or mortgage
  • Set up essential services such as utilities (water, heat, electricity), insurance and telephone
  • Register your children in school
  • Arrange child-care for your children, if needed
  • Apply for the Canada Child Tax Benefit, a tax-free monthly payment made to eligible families to help them with the cost of raising children under age 18
  • Find a family doctor
  • Have your children immunized once you have arrived in Ottawa
  • Apply for an Ontario driver’s license
  • Get licence plates and registration for your car
  • Visit the Ottawa Public Library to obtain a free library card and learn more about the various programs and services offered. You may obtain information in multiple languages as well as, use the public computers and Internet
  • Start looking for a Job
  • Look into having your foreign credentials recognized (if you haven’t already done so)
  • Register for language training to improve your skills or to learn English/French as a second language
  • Start volunteering to gain Canadian work experience

More information

Ontario Immigration
Settlement.org
Information about visas

At the Ottawa Airport

When you arrive at the airport, you will have to speak with a customs officer and pick up your luggage.

The customs officer will welcome you to Canada, ask you a few questions and ask you to present the following documents:

  • A Canadian immigrant visa and Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) for yourself and for each family member traveling with you;
  • A valid passport or other travel document for yourself and each family member traveling with you;
  • Two (2) copies of a detailed list of all personal and household items you are bringing with you; and
  • Two (2) copies of a list of items arriving later and their monetary value.

The Canada Border Services Agency website provides guides, forms and other information to help you enter Canada.

The airport is 10 km south of downtown Ottawa. To get into the city, you can take a bus, shuttle or taxi. For more information on transportation from the airport, refer to the International Airport Authority.

Ottawa has a wide range of agencies and organizations that offer support for newcomers. We suggest that you contact one of them in your first days to help with your settlement in Ottawa.

People traveling in a busy airport.

What I Wish I Knew

We asked immigrants in Ottawa, “thinking back on your immigration journey, name 2-3 key things you wish you knew BEFORE immigrating to Canada and that would be important for someone to know in order to better prepare for immigration.” Below are some of the answers.

Cost of living

“You need to come with a lot of savings (more than 6 months) because it takes more than 6 months to get a good job. In Canada, for most jobs you need some kind of certification. You need to check what is required in your field and prepare yourself in advance.” - Caroline, Ivory Coast

“I wish I knew the living cost here including house rental fee, the car cost, the monthly utility cost, as well as food, clothing cost.” – Weyii, China

Education system

“I wish I learned French better, researched more on the educational system (university) and brought necessary paperwork before coming in (i.e.: university transcripts, reference letters from professors).” – Cristina, Romania

Important documents

A pensive man

“I wish I had:

  • A list of all documents needed in Canada.
  • The evaluation of my degree & also for every member in my family degrees.
  • More information about the job market & more details of the life in Canada.” – Hashm, Iraq

“I wish I had a list of key documents to bring with me and to accredit my qualification even before my arrival. It does not make any sense to me to stuck in filling out application for OCT to put my SIN (Social Insurance Number)” – Magued, Egypt

Language/Employment

“I wish I had known: the importance of being bilingual (French/English) for employers in Ottawa” – Ledianis, Cuba

“English language is most important thing for new immigrants to feel comfortable here. But there are lots of opportunities to improve your basic knowledge of the language. It is good idea to find some appropriate residence to live in using websites before arriving.” - Andrei, Republic of Belarus

“I wish I had much more English and French skill and research about Canada.” – Mari, Japan

“I wish I knew the real situation with employment in Ottawa. I wish I knew how French is important in this city and not only for government jobs. I would never have applied for Public Policy degree if I knew about two important words “citizenship” and “security clearance.” It is important to make well-informed choices about education in Canada.” – Natalia, Ukraine

“Speaking the English language upon arrival is a huge advantage towards success. Have your Credentials assessed while in your country. Embrace the culture, and its people. Stay positive, and never give up the dream that brought you here!” – Livia, Slovakia

“I wish I had known how important “Canadian experience” is and arranged an internship with relevant work experience in my field before immigrating to jump start my career here. I wish I had known how to write a job application in Canada from the start.” – Nina, Germany

  1. “Understanding the process of job placement and finding jobs in Canada and points that are related specifically to Canada (culture, resume, telephone interview, panel interview, reference).
  2. Having a good template sample of resume and covering letters and knowing tips regarding to job finding and interview question samples and answers.
  3. Having not just the proofed, translated educational documents but bringing all of the original documents with me (to evaluate the educational documents by ICAS (International Credential Assessment Service of Canada) the original documents are necessary)
  4. Complete list and documents of vaccination records of the kids.” – Siamak, Iran

Making friends

“I wish I knew how hard it was going to be to make new friends in Ottawa.” – Maria, Columbia