Expat Guide To Living In Canada

Illustration of famous buildings in Canada

Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

As the fourth most popular destination abroad for Brits, Canada remains near the top of the places expats want to live. 

With around 603,000 British national residents, the country stands apart as a state offering relaxed living, a stable economy, family-friendly communities, and glorious landscapes.

With diverse, vibrant cities and some of the most unique geography in the world, it’s easy to see why Canada remains so appealing.

That said, one of the biggest obstacles to UK expats is in understanding visas, passports, residency and work permits – with the complication of immigration legislation being a challenge.

Here we’ll work through everything you need to know about relocating to Canada and how to achieve that dream of living in the freshest air in one of the safest countries in the world.

Canada offers a great blend of outdoor living, economically sound cities, and free healthcare and education for all citizens and permanent residents.

As such, the entry requirements are relatively strict, which prevents immigrants from relocating to Canada to take advantage of the excellent social benefits without bringing a skill or service to the country. 

While all the big cities are popular with expats, many choose to live in Ottawa, Ontario. The public sector is a significant employer, with a cultural diversity that makes the city appealing to expats. 

Add low property prices into the mix, and it’s not hard to see why 20% of the 994,000 residents are non-Canadian nationals.

After reading this guide, make sure you get the correct expat healthcare insurance and cover while travelling or living in Canada.

Vancouver is another hotspot for tourists and expats alike. Although the city is expensive, it offers milder winters and less snowfall than in colder parts of the country – without sacrificing skiing, hiking or those outdoor pursuits that Canadians are so famous for.

So, how to get there?

Canadian Work Visas

There is a range of visas, routes, and options for prospective Canadian immigrants – and most British expats move to the country via a work visa.

Express Entry manages three federal programmes for skilled workers. These include:

  • Federal Skilled Worker Program
  • Federal Skilled Trades Program
  • Canadian Experience Class

Each of these three programmes has the same fee basis, as below: 

Application CostFee in CADFee in GBP
Visa application processing$825£477
Permanent Residency application$500£290
Addition of a spouse or partner – with permanent residency$1,325£767
Addition of a spouse or partner – without permanent residency$825£477
Addition of a dependant child (each)$225£130

Canadian Federal Skilled Worker Program

Skilled workers who have experience in a particular trade or profession can apply for permanent work visas through this route. Assessments depend on your skills, language abilities (with French being an advantage), and education history.

The applicable roles must be in one of these categories:

  • Skill Type 0 – Managerial Jobs
  • Skill Type A – Professional Jobs
  • Skill Type B – Technical Jobs and Skilled Trades

Your application must be based on a skill that is your primary occupation, and the criteria are as below:

  • Experience in the same role within the last ten years, within the same category as the basis for your skilled worker visa application.
  • The job must have been paid work, with volunteering or internships ineligible
  • Most have been for at least one continuous year, either as a full-time job or as a part-time job accumulating a comparable number of hours of experience over a more extended period.

Expats will also need to take tests in English, achieve a minimum scoring assessment, and apply within two years of attaining an acceptable test result.

If you do not have a confirmed job offer in place, you will need to demonstrate financial independence through the proof of funds criteria. The required assets are:

Number of family membersFunds required CADFunds required approx. GBP
For every additional person$3,492£2,000

Jobs eligible for the Fast Track Federal Skilled Worker Visa are available on the Immigration.ca website and include roles such as Financial Managers, Conference and Events Planners, Accounting Technicians and Graphic Designers. 

Canadian Federal Skilled Trades Program

Another work visa option offering permanent residency is through the Federal Skilled Trades Program, also an Express Entry route.

Skilled trades include professions such as plumbers, chefs, electricians and long-haul drivers.

The assessment process assigns a National Occupational Classification (NOC) and skill type designations, with defined criteria around the type of experience that meets the definition of the role.

NOC groupings are:

  • Major Group 72: Industrial, electrical and construction.
  • Major Group 73: Maintenance and equipment operation.
  • Major Group 82: Supervisors and technical roles in agriculture and natural resources.
  • Major Group 92: Control operators and utilities supervisors in processing and manufacturing.
  • Major Group 632: Chefs and cooks.
  • Major Group 633: Butchers and bakers.

This visa route works differently from the Federal Skilled Workers option since there isn’t an education requirement.

However, if you have accreditations or certifications, these can improve your ranking and make you more likely to be offered an Express Entry Visa.

Rules around financial independence and language testing are similar. Still, you will need to demonstrate two years of full-time work experience – or the equivalent part-time.

Canadian Experience Class Visas

The third Express Entry visa option is the Canadian Experience Class – available to applicants who already have work experience in Canada and would like to apply for permanent residency.

Similar rules apply around work experience, language skills and rankings against professions. To be eligible, you need at least one year of skilled work experience in Canada in the three years leading up to your application.

Self-employed roles, work without a temporary residency visa, and student experience is excluded.

Provincial Nominee Visas for Canada

The Express Entry routes are one option, but you can also apply as a Provincial Nominee, which means contacting the province where you wish to settle.

If the province is happy to support your application, they nominate you to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), which will decide your case.

This Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) is available to applicants who wish to become permanent Canadian residents and have skills, education or work experience.

Rules vary between provinces, depending on where they have skills shortages or what businesses or sectors would benefit from an influx of expats, investors or professionals. PNP applicants can include:

  • Students
  • Skilled and semi-skilled workers
  • Business professionals

PNP applications include a criminal records check and a health exam across all the territories. 

You can apply through the Express Entry system online, provided the province proceeds with the nomination, or via a paper application through the non-Express Entry stream, which takes a little while longer.

All PNP applicants must:

  • Conform with the eligibility requirements of their chosen province.
  • Pass the health and criminal records checks.
  • Pay the requisite fee.
  • Provide evidence of skills, income, experience or education as required.

Provincial Nominee applicants can apply directly to their territory if planning to live in any of the below areas, with the fee shown.

  • Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program – No charge.
  • British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program – $250 (£145).
  • Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program – $500 (£289).
  • New Brunswick Provincial Nominee Program – $250 (£145).
  • Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Nominee Program – $250 (£145).
  • Northwest Territories Nominee Program – No charge.
  • Nova Scotia Nominee Program – No charge.
  • Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program – $1,500 – $2,000 (£870 – £1,160).
  • Prince Edward Island Provincial Nominee Program – $300 (£174).
  • Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program – $350 (£203).
  • Yukon Nominee Program – No charge.

These costs are only the application cost for the nomination, and separate processing fees, permanent residency application charges, and fees for dependents apply.

Note that Quebec has a different system, with a direct application required to the Government of Quebec through their skilled migrant scheme, costing a fee of $812 (approx. £470).

For Canadian citizens looking to get permanent residency in the UK, look at our Tier 1 Investor Visa guide.

Job Opportunities In Canada

Regardless of which visa route you choose, or your reasons for moving to Canada, you need to meet the minimum criteria to be considered for any visa or residency.

The good news is that, although the visa requirements are strict, there are lots of skills shortages and a wide range of professionals who will be welcomed with open arms. 

One of the easiest ways to streamline your visa application is to find a job offer before you apply – this makes it far more likely that you will be approved and has the assurance of having employment in place before you make the big leap.

In 2019, 341,000 global expats were granted Canadian residency, with the quota for 2020 also standing at this figure. For 2021, the target is to welcome 351,000 foreigners into the country, with the allocation increasing by another 10,000 in 2022.

This is because Canada has seen a considerable amount of economic growth over the last few years. Still, with skills shortages, and some areas outside of the big cities being very sparsely populated, more professional workers are required to keep critical markets moving. 

Some of the most significant employment sectors for expats include:

  • Oil and gas industries.
  • Service sectors.
  • Real estate.
  • Finance and insurance.
  • Public administration.
  • Tech and software development.
  • Healthcare.

In addition, you can check out the skills shortages list online, which stretches to no less than 347 occupations and does not include regional vacancies, which can differ between the territories. 

To be eligible, you will generally need:

  • Financial independence with a minimum net worth or savings value, or a confirmed job offer.
  • Health checks, with pre-existing medical conditions rarely covered under Medicare, in which case proof of health insurance is often required.
  • To have a clean criminal record, or have passed a minimum period since a conviction, when this is deemed spent.

Many expats search for work placements online, using larger sites such as WorkopolisIndeed, Eluta or Jobboom in Quebec to apply for roles before applying for a work visa.

Other Visas For UK Expats Moving To Canada

As well as skilled worker visas, Express Entry routes and the Provincial Nominee Program, Canada offers a range of ways to apply for either temporary or permanent residency status.

Other visa programmes include:


Open for temporary or permanent residency applications from carers who provide live-in care, have at least two years of experience, or are a childcare provider, as part of the Home Child Care Provider Pilot and Home Support Worker Pilot launched in 2019. These schemes carry eligibility requirements around work permits, although applicants can apply through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and apply for extensions to their stay. 

Temporary Workers

If you have a confirmed job offer, under any profession or level of earnings, you can apply to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program with your employer’s support. The offered salary will be assessed against the median for the territory, and determine which stream your application will be checked against.

Self-Employed Visas

This scheme offers permanent residency applications from self-employed people who have relevant experience in their chosen business or profession and wish to make a ‘significant contribution’ to cultural or athletic life in Canada. Application costs start at $2,075 (approx. £1,200).

Family Sponsorship

British expats with families already living in Canada can sponsor you if they are 18 or older. Eligible applicants include parents, spouses, partners, children, adopted children and grandparents. The sponsor must be a Canadian citizen or already hold a permanent residency status.  

Start-up Visas

Another option exists for entrepreneurs who want to begin a business that will support innovation or create jobs. This involves joining a designated organisation and applying for their support to back your application – such organisations include angel investors, venture capital funds and business incubators.

Canadian Permanent Residency And Citizenship

Some UK expats move to Canada on a temporary visa – to work or study, usually – and then extend that visa depending on the circumstances.

In other cases, you might have a permanent residency visa, say to take up a full-time offer of work, and wish to cement your status as a citizen.

Once you have been living in Canada for at least three years, you can apply for citizenship. Eligibility requirements include:

  • Being resident in Canada for at least three of the last five years.
  • Not living in any other country for more than 730 days of the last five years.
  • Never have been instructed to leave Canada or having left conditions unfilled concerning your residency status.
  • Must not be on parole or probation, be serving a prison sentence in any country, be charged with a crime or be on trial, under investigation or have any convictions for an indictable offence within the last four years.
  • Cannot have served in the armed forces in any way that conflicts with Canadian interests.
  • Must be able to prove knowledge of English and French, unless under 17 or over 55.
  • Have filed Canadian personal income taxes as required over the last five years.

The cost of a citizenship application is $630 per applicant or $100 for minors under 18 (approximately £365 and £60 respectively).

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it worth applying for Canadian permanent residency?

In a word, yes. Permanent residents receive the same benefits and rights as citizens, including healthcare, freedom of travel, and protection under all Canadian laws.
As a permanent resident, you will not need to renew visas or apply for a new one and can travel throughout the county in any territory or province to live, work or study.

Do I need to have a confirmed job offer to immigrate to Canada?

Not necessarily, although it does help strengthen your visa application.
If you meet a skills shortage and have at least a year of full-time experience in any one of 50+ high-demand professions, you can apply for a visa under the Federal Skilled Workers programme.
Should you wish to relocate to Canada and not have a profession within that skills shortage list or not have sufficient experience, you will need an offer of employment.
Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) must approve that offer as an ‘arranged employment’ scenario.

What are selection factors in Canadian immigration?

Work visa programmes carry minimum requirements in terms of your education, language skills and work experience. Once those criteria have been passed, the skilled worker route uses an eligibility scoring system to mark each candidate.
The system works by assigning a score on the following factors – the maximum score is 100 points, and the pass mark is 67, although this can change from year to year dependent on quotas:
1) Your age.
2) Education and work experience.
3) Whether there is a job offer in place.
4) Language skills in English and/or French.
4) Adaptability – how likely the board feels you are to settle into Canadian life.

Why is the application process different for Quebec visas?

As well as federal visa programmes, you can apply directly to a province where skills shortages might be different. This visa route is called the Provincial Nominee system.
Quebec has an independent visa assessment process and an autonomous skilled worker list through an agreement between the province and the Canadian government.
The local province issues Quebec Selection Certifications and uses its own assessment criteria. If you secure a visa to live and work in Quebec, you must also apply to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada for permanent state residency. 

Is it hard to get a permanent visa in Canada?

It depends on your circumstances and reasons for moving to Canada from the UK. Most expats take up work opportunities and apply either through the central application route or via the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP).
Suppose you have family members already living in Canada. In that case, you can apply for an express route, which is easier if you bring a profession or skills that will add value to your community or the Canadian economy.
Other visa routes are available for investors, self-employed business people, carers and professionals.
Applicants who can demonstrate financial security, a clean criminal record, and sufficient health insurance or pass health checks (to avoid immigrants moving to Canada to take advantage of the Medicare health system) are better positioned to have a visa application approved.

Can I move to Canada with my family if I have a work visa?

You can – most Canadian work visas through the PNP or Express Entry schemes grant permanent residency rights, which can be converted into citizenship after five years.
You can bring family members with you, including a spouse, partner, children and other dependents, with an additional fee payable for each person.
There are also options to add a partner or dependent onto your visa application without adding the permanent residency processing cost. This option means that family members can travel with you but will be regarded as temporary residents. Therefore, they may have restrictions around the social services they can use and whether they can work or study.

Can I get a Canadian visa to study at university?

Yes, if you want to live in Canada temporarily to study, rather than to live permanently, you can apply for a study permit.
This type of permit will have a defined duration. In addition, you will need to provide documentation such as a certificate of acceptance from the university or an invitation letter to support your visa application.
Most student visas are conditional on you being financially independent for the duration of your studies. Currently, the threshold stands at $10,000 per year of your stay, or $11,000 per annum in Quebec (£5,800 – £6,400, respectively). 
For scholarship students, or those studying under a Canadian-funded programme, you will also need to provide evidence of the funds with your application.

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