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How newcomers can shop safely during and beyond COVID-19

By Megan Cunningham with insights from Munsif Sheraly

From grocery shopping to searching for housing, the online marketplace has become an essential way for people to limit their exposure to COVID-19. For many, shopping online provides convenience by saving time and simplifying our lives.

During this period of uncertainty, it also may be the safer option to avoid exposure to COVID-19. This is especially relevant when considering newcomers to Canada as they are required to self-isolate for 14 days under the Quarantine Act.1

Online grocery shopping might be a necessity for newcomers.

Self-isolating means that you are required to go directly to a place of quarantine without stopping for groceries or other necessities and remain at the chosen place of quarantine until the 14-day period is up.
- Munsif Sheraly, Director Multicultural Banking, Scotiabank

If a newcomer has family or friends close to their new home, they can arrange to have someone pick up and deliver them supplies. Of course, newcomers may not always know anyone in their new city or town. For a newcomer in this situation, the best solution is to leverage the various online grocery shopping options. Finder Canada2 is a great resource to find a delivery option that suits your needs.

Remember to always be vigilant when shopping online and report any suspicious activity immediately. Find out how to recognize typical tricks and identify a scam by visiting our Security Centre.

What other supplies should you get?

Only you know what groceries you will need, but what are the other supplies you should stock up on? The Public Health Agency of Canada put together a great resource3 on isolating at home, which features a list of key supplies to have on hand throughout this period. Some of these items include disposable paper towels, a thermometer, hand soap, regular household cleaning products, alcohol-based sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol), and more. You should be able to get these items from the same place you are doing your online grocery shopping, but if your chosen grocery store is out of supplies, then something like Amazon or eBay might have what you are looking for.

How shopping online helps you practice physical distancing

By staying home and reducing the amount of time in public spaces, or making an online order and only leaving to pick it up at the store or curbside, you are reducing your personal exposure to COVID-19. So, online grocery shopping is a great way to lower your chances of infection whether you are required to self-isolate or not. With so many people stocking up on grocery items, the stores have become increasingly busier – with long line-ups to get into the stores themselves, as well as long line-ups at the check-out.

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So, what are the advantages and disadvantages?

As a newcomer to Canada, there are already so many new things that you are facing – whether that is finding a place to live, securing a job, or simply getting used to your surroundings. To try and help alleviate these new-found experiences, here is a simple list of advantages and disadvantages of online grocery shopping:


  • Helps you to meet the guidelines of your required isolation period, as well as reducing your level of exposure to COVID-19 after your isolation period is over.
  • Provides convenience and an abundance of choice! Maybe you live far away from a store that has all your necessities – online grocery shopping will allow you to look for a store, or stores, that really suit what you're looking for.
  • Online shopping gives you the opportunity to scour the best deals. You can look at the delivery prices of different stores, what they charge for your items compared to another store, and if they have any ongoing promotions. Think of it as virtually popping into each store to check out their selection and prices before you commit to any purchases.


  • As there is a higher demand for delivery services during this time, you might have to wait longer than expected to receive your order – and sometimes pay extra for delivery fees and/or meet minimum order requirements. The best way to mitigate this is to order what you need before you need it. Keep an eye on the typical delivery windows and wait periods for the store you intend to order from, and make sure you give yourself enough time.
  • In the same vein, the higher demand for online grocery shopping could result in the store being out of stock of one or many of the items you intended to purchase. Planning and ordering ahead of time will allow you to find the items you need, without affecting your price range or selected items.
  • There is a chance that your area doesn't accommodate online grocery deliveries. If so, it would be valuable to get in contact with your landlord or property manager ahead of your arrival to Canada to see if they can help support you with finding a neighbor or friend that could assist in a grocery delivery to get you through the self-isolation period.

Tips for online grocery shopping

  • Make a list - even when shopping online, preparing a list before you put things into your (virtual) cart will help keep you on track and on budget. It's easy to start purchasing things that you don't really need when the product photos start popping up on the screen.
  • Be flexible – on many of the grocery stores you will find online is an option to “accept substitutions.” This means that if the product you requested is out of stock, but there is something very similar available, they will substitute the out of stock item for the similar item. Being flexible and allowing substitutions may give you a better chance of receiving all of the types of products you are shopping for. If you are not comfortable with allowing substitutions, then you will have to order the out of stock item another time, or from another store.
  • Order ahead of time – as mentioned above, it is best to order your items well in advance of when you actually need them. With a higher demand for online grocery shopping, stores can only accommodate so many deliveries at a time and may have to push your delivery further out than you hoped for.
  • Practice proper safety techniques – if the option is available, it is a good idea to go with contactless delivery. This means that the delivery person will leave your items outside of your door, reinforcing physical distancing measures and keeping you both safe. The Government of Canada has outlined more tips on their website4.

Online grocery shopping is a convenient and necessary way to practice physical distancing for newcomers during and beyond the self-isolation period.

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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.