11 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Canada Before I Moved There From The UK

There are a number of unwritten rules... 😅

Senior Editor
11 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Canada Before I Moved There From The UK

When I decided to move to Canada from the U.K. back in 2019, I was pretty sure I was prepared for what was to come.

Winters are cold, food is expensive, remember to tip if you eat out in a restaurant. They're the basics — or so I thought.

However, within just days of landing in Toronto Pearson Airport, I'd already learnt that poutine is sacred, an appropriate winter coat is absolutely essential and you shouldn't talk shit about Ryan Reynolds. Ever.

With those lessons in mind, here are just a few examples of things I wish someone had told me about life in Canada before I boarded a flight over:

Winter is worse than just "cold"

Helena Hanson | Narcity

I knew Canada was going to be cold, but naturally, I underestimated just how frigid it would really be!

I arrived in the country in April and was surprised, even at that time of year, by just how freezing the air felt. Despite this, I absolutely refused to spend a small fortune on what Canadians kept telling me was "appropriate and necessary winter clothing."

Nine months later, by January and February the following year, I had learned the hard way just how forbidding temperatures in Canada can get.

Needless to say, I ended up investing in a proper winter coat and a pair of sturdy snow boots.

Hockey isn't hockey

Helena Hanson | Narcity

In the U.K., when somebody says "hockey" they are referring to hockey. Hockey hockey. Field hockey, if you want to get technical.

In Canada, however, hockey refers to ice hockey and ice hockey only.

Calling it "ice hockey" is the biggest giveaway that you're not a local. And you will be pulled up on it. Mercilessly.

Don't disrespect poutine

As a visitor to Canada from overseas, you may be tempted to comment that the national dish is "just cheese, fries and gravy, right?" Don't do it.

Poutine is pretty good though, and there are hundreds of variations and add-ons to make your poutine taste a little bit different every time.

You're also likely to find that every Canadian you meet will insist that their local poutine spot is the best.

You must learn the lingo

Helena Hanson | Narcity

English and French are the two official languages of Canada, which I was aware of before arriving in the country.

However, there's also plenty of slang that I wish someone had explained to me in advance — including what the heck a double-double is!

You should know terms like toque (a wintry hat), keener (someone who tries too hard), Timmies (Tim Hortons), the 6ix (Toronto), toonie ($2 coin), two-four (a case of 24 beers) and double-double (a coffee with two creams and two sugars) before you even get off the plane.

You'll also hear things like "give'r," and "eh?" pretty regularly, but you'll figure those out before too long!

The banking system is wild

Helena Hanson | Narcity

When I started to set up my life in Canada, one of the things that surprised me the most was the idea that you have to pay the bank to hold your money.

In the U.K., opening a bank account is usually free and it's not common for your bank to charge you a fee to have an account open.

In my experience, almost all major Canadian banks charge fees just for the privilege of having an account! While there are some free accounts out there, many have awkward strings attached.

Milk comes in a bag

In some places in Canada, milk comes in a bag. Try not to be super surprised by this. It is what it is.

Bears are not cuddly

Helena Hanson | Narcity

OK, I'll admit it. When I arrived in the True North all I wanted to do was see a bear in real life. Black bear, grizzly bear, polar bear — I was desperate to spot them all.

However, I wasn't in Alberta for long before some knowledgeable locals brought me straight back down to Earth with a grizzly bump.

After learning a bit more about Canada's most iconic wildlife, and the possible dangers associated with trying too hard to find it, I now understand how important it is to respect the critters that call Canada home too.

I have been lucky enough to spot several bears, but thankfully from the safety of a vehicle and just by wonderful coincidence!

Just tip everyone

Helena Hanson | Narcity

While tipping does exist in the U.K., there isn't a huge gratuity culture, especially outside of restaurants and bars.

I knew that this practice was expected in Canada and had been advised to leave anything between 15% and 20% as standard, and more for exceptional service. However, I arrived still unsure about who exactly should be tipped.

What I've learned though is that workers across many different service industries earn a relatively low base pay and rely on tips to boost their earnings.

This includes restaurant staff, bartenders, coat check personnel, employees in hotels (like housekeeping and room service), hair stylists, beauticians and taxi drivers, among others.

I found that the easiest thing to do is to just tip anyone who gives you good service. Easy!

Skating on frozen lakes is fine

Helena Hanson | Narcity

In the U.K., if you were spotted attempting to walk (let alone, skate!) on a frozen lake, people would definitely think that you have a death wish.

In Canada, it's cool. There are thousands of gorgeous lakes that are totally safe to skate, walk and play ice hockey on during the winter months and you'll be able to take the most incredible photos doing so!

Winter tires are a thing

Helena Hanson | Narcity

I'd never heard of winter tires before I moved to Canada, as it's common to have the same tires on your vehicle all year-round back at home in Wales.

After I saw how icy, snowy and wet the weather gets during the colder months in Canada, I didn't blame drivers for needing a little extra grip!

You'll never want to leave

Helena Hanson | Narcity

The biggest thing everybody forgot to tell me before I packed my bags and moved across the world on a temporary visa is that once you've arrived, it's almost impossible to leave.

There are so many things to fall in love with: the landscapes, the culture, the wildlife, the people, the seasons, the food, the cities.

While you may need to take out a loan to afford a cellphone plan and you may never truly understand what "give'r" actually means, you'll know for sure that Canada is your favourite place on Earth.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.

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Helena Hanson
Senior Editor
Helena Hanson is a Senior Editor for Narcity Media focused on major news. She previously lived in Ottawa, but is now based in the U.K.