8 Things to do during your first days in Vancouver

You’ve been planning your big move for months  – booking flights, getting your permits and visas in order, scheduling shipments of your things, and researching your new city.  Now, you’ve finally made it to  lovely Vancouver and you’re ready to relax!

But wait, for better or worse the immigration work doesn’t end when you go through customs. There are still a few very important matters you’ll need to take care of. Here’s a list of necessary steps you’ll need to do during your first days in Vancouver, before you can really throw that housewarming party.

 1) Get your Social Insurance Number

In Canada, the Social Insurance Number (SIN) is the government-issued nine-digit  number that serves as your official identification, so it’s essential that you get one. You will need for everything from getting a job, getting paid, receiving social benefits, and being eligible for credit and pay your taxes.

To apply for a SIN you will need to have documents that show your proof of your status in Canada.  Examples of these include your Work Permit, Study Permit, authorization to work, confirmation of permanent residence or permanent resident card and a birth certificate for Canadian citizens. You’ll also need another proof of identity, like a passport.

When you’ve got your documents, go in person to the Service Canada office located at Sinclair Centre, Office 125 757 Hastings Street West or 1420 Kingsway or the one located at 1263 West Broadway Street. Generally, you can obtain you SIN in an hour or so. 

2) Get your health insurance card

You know your health is important, and so does Vancouver. To keep residents of British Columbia healthy and safe, health insurance is mandatory for all people residing in the province. Permanent residents, as well as many people on temporary visas, Work Permits and Study Permits are eligible for British Columbia’s Medical Service Plan (MSP).  

To register for public health insurance, send this fully completed application for enrollment to MSP, PO Box 9678 Stn Prov Govt, Victoria BC, V8W 9P7.  With this form you can also apply for health insurance for a spouse and children ages 18 years or younger, or from 18 to 24 years of age who are attending university. You’ll need to include photocopies of supporting documents that show  proof of identity, proof of status in British Columbia and proof of residence. You can also visit a Service BC Centre to apply. 

There’s usually a waiting period of up to three months from the date you arrive in British Columbia to the date you’ll receive your coverage, so we suggest getting temporary traveler’s insurance in the meantime!

For more information about Medical Services Plan, click here.

3) Open a bank account

You should open a bank account as soon as you arrive in Canada, or even better, prior to arriving. We recommend Toronto Dominion Bank (TD), which has many great services adapted to newcomers. Scotiabank also promotes assistance for new arrivals.  There are plenty of other options as well, for instance Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), and the National Bank of Canada. If you happen to already be an HSBC client, you will be able to open an account in Canada very easily.

Whichever bank you choose, you will need a proof of identity, a proof of your status in British Columbia, a proof of residency and your SIN (there is some flexibility on the last two) in order to open a bank account.

4) Start looking for your permanent home


Whether you plan to rent or buy, to avoid unwanted surprises and disappointment, it’s best to hold off the housing search until you arrive here. During your first days in Vancouver, you’ll probably be staying with friends or family, or in a hotel or short-term rental apartment. So you can really dedicate time while you’re in your temporary arrangement to finding the best possible housing.

If you’re planning to buy, the process can be complicated so we strongly suggest you work with a real estate agent. This person will understand the housing market. It’s also important to understand and stick to your budget. Houses and condos often sell fast in Vancouver, usually in less than a month, but don’t make an offer unless you’re really sure you’ve found your home-sweet-home. Once you’ve made an offer, you’ll need to secure a mortgage. To truly understand the process, sign up for Settle-in.com and read our Housing chapter in The Guide.

Renting is certainly the easier, less risky choice for newcomers. You can start your rental search by browsing housing listings on Craigslist or Kijiji, look for “for rent” signs on buildings in the neighborhoods where you want to live, or check local newspapers. Rental units come unfurnished or finished, and with or without appliances. Some have utilities included in the price. Rental listings come on the market a month before the move-in date. Landlords have the right to charge a half-month’s rent as a security deposit.

In the case of both renting or buying, be sure to fully read and understand all documents before signing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

5) Get your driver’s License

If you’re planning on driving, you’ll need to get your British Columbia Driver’s License, and it’s best do take care of this within your first days in Vancouver. For new residents who have previous driving experience, and hold a license in another county, visit a ICBC Licensing Office. The process is simplest for experienced drivers coming from a country with which Canada has a reciprocal agreement. Bring with you two pieces of accepted identification (that show your legal name, signature and date-of-birth), as well as your valid driver’s license from your home country, if you have one.

It you’re a new driver, you’ll need to go through British Columbia’s graduated licensing program. This involves getting learner’s licenses, as well as taking road, knowledge tests, and possibly a medical exam. To learn more about the process, visit ICBC’s website, or sign up for Settle-in.com and read the Transportation chapter of The Guide.

6) Explore Vancouver

Here’s a fun one! Now that you’ve arrived, there are still important formalities to take care of, but don’t forget to take some time to get to know your new city. Vancouver has so much to offer, from beautiful parks to world-class entertainment and museums. Spend a few hours each week exploring different neighbourhoods and identifying opportunities to pursue your hobbies and interests – we have no doubt you will find them! Exploration is an important step for connecting with your new environment and beating the blues of leaving your country.

7) If you have kids, enroll them in school


If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to find daycare and or/school options for your children. British Columbia’s public education system offers lots of variety. There are English and French public school options, plenty of diverse private schools, Distributed Learning (where students can learn at a distance from schools) and homeschooling support. In British Columbia, children are not required to attend the school district closest to where they live, but most parents choose to enroll them in the closest schools. A good place to start is by visiting the Ministry of Education website and contacting your local school board, where authorities will be able to provide you with important enrollment information.

In addition to schools, it is a good idea to start identifying extracurricular activities. Do your kids play sports? Do they love their dance classes? Maybe they are artists? Vancouver has plenty of options to explore! You may even want to base your  permanent housing decisions based on school systems, so use the Settle-in.com “Find a neighborhood” tool and search for schools to locate the best options for you!

8) Sign up for a language course

One of the quickest ways to feel more at home in Vancouver if you’re not a native English speaker and you are struggling to communicate with the people around you is to enroll in a Language course within the your first days in Vancouver. You’d be surprised how fast you will settle in once you can have conversations with your neighbors, check-out smoothly at the grocery store, and read all those confusing street signs.

There are plenty of language school options for adults in the province. Language programs administered by the school boards are called adult non-credit language programs. You can also take language classes funded by the Government of Canada, which have full-time, part-time and weekend options. These are free or inexpensive, and there also help newcomers understand the culture and history of Canada and British Columbia.  Enroll in an English language class in the adult non-credit language program, by contacting the school board nearest you. Or try one of the Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program. Programs are also available at private language institutions (though they can be pricier) and at local universities and colleges. 


From all of us at Settle-in.com, we hope this list helps you make the most of your first days in Vancouver and settle in smoothly!

Want to master all aspects of your move, with support from relocation experts? Sign up for Settle-in.com and get personalized help from our in-person specialists. Or make use of our innovative online tools and guides!

Learn more about arriving in Canada:

(Photos: Magnus Larsson, TDLucas500, La Citta Vita, Tuchodi,


About Peter

As the child of a diplomat, I’ve had the opportunity to really see the world. Living in Algeria, Italy, Venezuela, South Korea, Ukraine and the Bahamas has taught me that diversity is a gift, not something to fear. When it comes to diversity, Canada is a special place. Its big cities attract high percentages of immigrants from every corner of the globe, and natives are welcoming and kind to them. Racial, gender and other forms of diversity are also largely accepted and even celebrated. Relocating is never easy. The stress of moving, and starting over when it comes to finding friend, can be discouraging. But I can tell you from experience that once you get through the tough parts, Canada is a fabulous place to live. // En tant qu’enfant de diplomate, j’ai eu l’occasion de vraiment voir le monde. Vivre en Algérie, en Italie, au Vénézuela, en Corée du Sud, en Ukraine et aux Bahamas m’a appris que la diversité était un cadeau et non quelque chose à craindre. Et quand il s’agit de diversité, le Canada est un endroit spécial. Les grandes villes attirent un pourcentage élevé d’immigrants provenant des quatre coins du monde. Les natifs sont accueillants et gentils envers eux, la race, le sexe et d’autres formes de diversité sont acceptés et même célébrés. La relocalisation n’est jamais facile. Le stress du déménagement et la nécessité de repartir de zéro quand il s’agit de se faire des amis peuvent être décourageants. Mais je peux vous dire par expérience qu’une fois les moments difficiles traversés, le Canada est un pays fabuleux pour y vivre.