The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic affects the lives of everyone, especially if you are living, working, or studying in a foreign country. Canada attracts more than a million immigrants, foreign workers, and international students annually, and many newcomers are now living more precarious lives than they may have imagined. This guide aims to bring relevant, up-to-date information to newcomers in Canada who are searching for truth, helpful resources, and solidarity during these exceptional times.
This is your essential guide on surviving COVID-19 as a newcomer to Canada.
COVID-19: How is Canada responding to the public health crisis?
As of late July, the spread of COVID-19 is under control across Canada, although the major urban centres of Montreal and Toronto continue to struggle to contain some community spread. Many parts of the country have introduced mandatory mask requirements as the country continues its re-opening. Always check the public health guidelines for your region to ensure you’re following the proper protocols.
If you believe you might have coronavirus, you should follow the instructions of public health officials in your area to obtain testing.
For up-to-date and accurate information about the development of the public health situation, be sure to follow sources of information you can trust. We suggest the following:
Health insurance: Make sure you’re covered
During a public health crisis, you should make sure that you are covered by health insurance. Cross-reference against your immigration status below to learn more about your situation.
Also, be sure to check with the health authorities in your province to see if there are any exceptional measures in place for COVID-19. Ontario, for example, has expanded OHIP coverage in order to ensure more people have access to testing and treatment.
Canadian citizens / Permanent residents
Canadian citizens and permanent residents are entitled to Canada’s publicly funded universal health care system. However, you should ensure that you are properly registered for the correct program. Health care is organized at the provincial/territorial level. If you’re not already registered or if you’re unsure if you’re registered, please check with your provincial health authority.
New arrivals to Canada (past three months)
If you have arrived in Canada within the past three months, you may not yet be covered by provincial health coverage. Check this guide to see the situation for your province. If you are not yet eligible for provincial coverage, you should consider purchasing private insurance coverage until you become eligible for the provincial coverage.
International Experience Canada (IEC)
If you are on a job-offer based work permit, your employer should have worked with you to ensure you have health care coverage, either through accessing the provincial health care plan, or through private insurance. If you are unsure if you’re covered, please verify with your employer.
As an international student, you should have access to health care coverage either through mandatory insurance required by your educational institution or through access to your provincial health plan. If you are unsure, please verify with your school.
Please be advised that private travel & health insurance does not necessarily provide coronavirus-related coverage. Ensure that you read the terms and conditions of any policy.
Employment Insurance (EI)
Canada’s Employment Insurance (EI) program provides benefits to eligible workers who have lost employment through no fault of their own as well as to workers who can no longer work due to sickness, quarantine, or injury. During the coronavirus health crisis, Canada has implemented special measures to increase access to EI for those in Canada who need it most.
If you have a temporary work permit, you are eligible for EI, as long as you meet the requirements outlined below.
In order to be eligible for EI, you must have worked a minimum number of hours in the 52 weeks prior to your period of unemployment. The exact number of hours depends on the region where you’re located. Typically, you’ll need to have worked around 700 hours over the past year, though this threshold may be higher or lower depending on the province in which you were working.
In order to apply, you must complete a five-step process:
- Gather supporting documentation
- Complete the online application
- Provide supporting documentation
- Receive access code by mail
- Review your application status
EI is one of many resources available to people in Canada experiencing financial difficulties due to COVID-19. For more information, please refer to our guide on the special financial measures introduced in Canada to assist workers, families, and businesses during the public health crisis.
Social Insurance Number (SIN) applicants
SIN Card Applications: Individuals requiring a Social Insurance Number (SIN) are now eligible to apply for a SIN online. In order to work in Canada or claim most government financial benefits, a valid SIN is required.
Canada has implemented extensive travel restrictions to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Below is a list of the different travel restrictions. Please note that if you enter Canada from any other country, you must self-isolate for 14 days.
The travel restrictions put in place by the Government of Canada are changing frequently. For up-to-date information about these restrictions, please refer to our COVID-19 newsfeed.
Canadians should be cautious about both domestic and international travel amidst the pandemic.
Before planning travel back to their home countries, foreign nationals inside Canada are advised to check with their home countries, airlines, and with any countries in which they have connecting flights, to ensure they will be able to make it to their final destination.
Entering Canada by air or land
Canada has suspended all international flights to foreign nationals and closed the Canada-U.S. border to non-essential travel. There are a handful of exceptions, including:
- Canadian citizens and Canadian permanent residents;
- immediate family members of Canadian citizens and Canadian permanent residents who are travelling to Canada for non-discretionary reasons;
- temporary workers who hold a valid work permit or who are approved for a work permit but have not yet been issued the work permit (please note that flagpoling is not permitted at this time, refer below for more details);
- IEC participants who have not yet activated their work permits must have a valid job offer in order to enter, this job offer does not need to be in an essential sector (Source: IRCC);
- IEC participants who have already activated their work permits and were outside the country temporarily do not require a valid job offer in order to re-enter (Source: IRCC; note that anecdotal reports suggest airline staff may still request to see proof of a connection to Canada like employment, housing, or family, when boarding);
- international students who hold a valid study permit, or who had been approved for a study permit when the travel restrictions took effect on March 18, 2020, or who are coming from the United States, and who are entering for a non-discretionary purpose;
- COPR-holders with a valid COPR who are residing in any country other than the United States and were approved for their COPR before 12pm EDT on March 18, 2020, and who are travelling to Canada to settle permanently (Source: IRCC);
- COPR-holders with a valid COPR who are residing in the United States and were approved on any date (even after March 18, 2020) and who are travelling to Canada to settle permanently (Source: IRCC).
There are a handful of other exceptional exemptions listed here.
*Immediate family members include: spouses, common-law partners, dependent children, the children of dependent children, parents, step-parents, and guardians.
Stuck inside Canada / Extending your status
If you are stuck inside Canada and unable to leave, you should ensure that your immigration status does not expire. If your temporary resident status (work permit or study permit) is going to expire, please follow IRCC’s official instructions for extending your status.
Any person with an active immigration application, or considering applying for Canadian immigration, should consult the special measures put in place by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to assist immigration applicants impacted by coronavirus.
Working or studying from home
The Moving2Canada team has been working from home since the time coronavirus became a serious public health threat in Canada. We’re right here with you and we know that adjusting to remote work isn’t always easy.
We recommend these seven tips from The Muse for simple yet effective ways to make remote working work for you during this period of social distancing.
People Managing People also has a great list of tips for working from home efficiently.
This is a challenging time for everyone in Canada. Go easy on yourself as you adjust to this new style of living.
We have a few resources for those of you looking for ways to boost your mental wellness.
Diet & Nutrition: Diet is an incredibly important component of mental health. Use your time at home to experiment with new recipes and ensure that you and your loved ones are getting the nutrition you need.
- One of the most reliable resources for nutritional information is the Canada Food Guide.
- The New York Times has published many recipes that are cookable while living in self-isolation. Check those out here.
Exercise: Even if you’re stuck at home, you can still find ways to exercise.
- Yoga with Adrienne is a YouTube channel offering free yoga sessions that you can do at home.
- Walking outside, going for solo-runs or riding a bicycle is still an option, as long as you maintain social distance.
- For weight lifters bummed out at gym closures, check out Canadian gym bro, Jeff Nippard, and his recent videos on building at-home muscle-building workouts.
Therapy: It’s 2020. If you’re having negative thoughts and you want help, there is absolutely no shame in seeking therapy. Many therapists offer remote therapy sessions. Contact a therapist in your area to see if this is an option for you. As well, in recent years popular apps like TalkSpace and BetterHelp have brought therapy into the digital realm, through texts and other digital communication.
Meditation & Mindfulness: Taking a few minutes to breathe, relax, and reflect, can help you mentally prepare for the day and week to come. Apps like Calm and HeadSpace can help guide you through exercises for being mindful and present.
Share your experiences with our community
If you’re looking to connect with others who are experiencing the challenges of COVID-19 as newcomers in Canada, check out our community on Facebook. Not only do we operate our Moving2Canada Facebook page, but we also have Facebook forums for Permanent Residents in Canada and for Working Holiday Participants.