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Essential documents for newcomers to Canada

Important information about the three essential documents you need as a newcomer, and how to obtain them.

By Jessica Martel with insights from Munsif Sheraly

If you're a new permanent resident to Canada, you should obtain these three essential documents as soon as you arrive:

  1. Permanent Resident (PR) Card
  2. Provincial Health Card
  3. Social Insurance Number (SIN)

You will need these documents to perform important activities like opening a bank account and securing a job. They are also necessary for you to access government services and provincial healthcare.

Permanent Resident Card

The PR card is official proof of your status as a permanent resident in Canada. As a permanent resident, you must carry your PR card when travelling and present it in order to re-enter the country.

You can also use your PR card as a method of identification when applying for other government documents such as your health card and Social Insurance Number.

How to obtain your PR Card

If you are not a permanent resident of Canada, you will have to go through the application process before you are able to obtain a PR card. You can visit the Government of Canada's website here to access the application form as well as detailed instructions for how to complete it.

If you are a new permanent resident, you do not need to apply for your PR card, this is part of the immigration process. Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will send your PR Card to the mailing address that you provided before arriving in Canada.

Provincial Health Card

A provincial health card is necessary to access healthcare services when you visit a doctor, hospital, or clinic. Without this card, you will have to pay out of pocket for medical services and this can get very expensive.

While the government pays for many health care services using money collected from Canadian taxpayers, provincial healthcare does not cover all services. So, you should make yourself aware of what is covered and what you will have to pay for.

NOTE: To ensure that everyone has access to COVID-19 screening and treatment, some provinces are expanding their services to include those who are uninsured. For example, Ontario has expanded their health insurance plan (OHIP) coverage to include uninsured people who don't meet the criteria for OHIP coverage.

For more information on your specific province or territories coverage, you can visit this link.

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When will my healthcare coverage begin?

While some provinces provide healthcare coverage to permanent residents as soon as they arrive, others have a waiting period of up to three months.

You will be able to access coverage immediately in the following provinces: Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

A waiting period exists in the following provinces and territories: British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon.

To ensure that your health care needs are covered during the waiting period, you should consider applying for private health care insurance to bridge the gap.

NOTE: During a state of emergency, the provinces of British Columbia and Ontario have waived their waiting period in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus and ensure the protection of all people.

For up to date information on waiting periods and COVID-19 related changes, visit your province or territories Ministry of Health website.

When to apply for your healthcare card

You should apply for your health care card as soon as you arrive in Canada. You will need to present your health card anytime you visit a doctor or hospital.

How to apply for your health card

To apply for your health card, you will need to present official identification in the form of a birth certificate, passport, permanent resident card, or confirmation of permanent residence (COPR).

You can apply online through your province or territories Ministry of health site here or you can ask for an application form at a doctor's office, pharmacy, hospital, or settlement agency.

NOTE: During a state of emergency, many services usually move to online delivery in an effort to promote the safety and health of individuals.

Social Insurance Number (SIN)

Service Canada will provide you with a nine-digit number on behalf of the Federal Government.

Each SIN card is unique and assigned to only one person. This number is used as a way to identify individuals. A SIN card is necessary in order to work in Canada and is required for you to pay taxes to the government and access government services.

Your SIN is confidential and it's important that you keep it protected to avoid fraud and identify theft. You can visit this site for tips on how to protect your SIN.

When to apply for your SIN

You should apply for your SIN immediately after you arrive in Canada.

How to apply for your SIN

As a permanent resident, you will need to have your PR card available in order to apply for your SIN number. You can apply for your SIN online or by mail.

NOTE: Normally you can apply for your SIN in person by visiting a Service Canada Centre. However, during state of emergency, these centres may close their doors temporarily. Make sure to visit the Government of Canada website for more details.

Additional resources for newcomers to Canada

Remember, it's important to obtain these three essential documents as soon as possible after you've arrived in Canada. Quick access to these documents will ensure that you're able to open a bank account, begin working, and access important government and health care services for you and your family.

If you'd like additional information on these three essential documents, you can check out the Governments Welcome to Canada ebook.

David Frattini, Managing Partner at Prepare for Canada, reminds newcomers that they should also take advantage of the free services provided by government funded settlement agencies across the country.

"While settlement agencies are physically closed during the COVID 19 pandemic; they are working tirelessly to help newcomers online."

You can find a comprehensive list of agencies here.

For more helpful tips on what you should do as a newcomer to Canada, you can check out the Bank of Nova Scotia's Checklist for Newcomers.

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Legal Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only. It is not to be relied upon as financial, tax or investment advice or guarantees about the future, nor should it be considered a recommendation to buy or sell. Information contained in this article, including information relating to interest rates, market conditions, tax rules, and other investment factors are subject to change without notice and The Bank of Nova Scotia is not responsible to update this information. All third party sources are believed to be accurate and reliable as of the date of publication and The Bank of Nova Scotia does not guarantee its accuracy or reliability. Readers should consult their own professional advisor for specific financial, investment and/or tax advice tailored to their needs to ensure that individual circumstances are considered properly and action is taken based on the latest available information.