Canadian Bureaucracy Part 2 – About SINning for credit and first ride with SkyTrain

In the previous part I discussed the immigration procedure at YVR. Now as I successfully became resident of Canada, time to get all other necessary formalities done. In order to proceed, I started with SINning.

SIN stands for Social Insurance Number and is a 9-digit number, something similar to Social Security Number in the United States. Similar to the U.S., it used to be issued on plastic cards, but Canada moved on and no longer does it this way as they do not want SIN card to be used as a form of (non-photo) ID. SIN should be produced only to the employer, federal offices and banks, as far as I understood during my visit to Service Canada.

To get SIN, I had to go to Service Canada. Canadian Federal Government provides easy way to check out where is your closest one. For me, it was one next to Coquitlam City Hall. I went there next day after my arrival, still fighting jet lag. My uncle gave me a lift (oh, if you don’t know, currently I’m staying at my relatives’ place in Coquitlam) and went inside with me, precisely at 8:30am when they opened. Very nice and cheerful lady at the reception asked how she can help me. I said I need SIN and directed me to counter 5.

Also nice gentleman took my passport and work permit and asked me whether I need SIN for myself, probably seeing I came to the office with my uncle. I responded him positively, and added “my uncle is already a citizen of Canada for 20 years”.

“Don’t worry, you’ll become one soon too!”, the official told me. I found his approach quite surprising.

He was verifying all the information, asking difficult questions (“What’s your date of birth?”), we also had a bit of small talk. He asked me about my plans for future and recommended me postgraduate in Canada instead of England. I told him it is a bit more expensive and got recommended studying in Quebec, which is free or very cheap and I do not even need to speak French (I told him I know zero French), as at Montreal universities they also use English.

So, I got another letter-sized piece of paper with my SIN and confirmation of address, as well as information leaflets on privacy protection and instructions regarding who can request SIN from me (mainly employers, banks, federal government institutions and credit rating agencies). I have also received a welcoming handshake.

When I was done, me and my uncle moved towards exit, when we were approached by the cheerful lady at the reception, asking me “So you got your SIN?”

“Yes, ma’am”, I responded.

“Congratulations!”, she said and gave me another handshake. She seemed so happy and cheerful that, I think, if she could, she would have hugged me.

Since, despite our discussion with the official who issued me SIN, it was still early, we had to wait a bit before second important thing could be arranged, that is a local phone number. We approached BestBuy once it opened as first customers on that day. I did my research on mobile providers in BC, but even though, I ended up with different one than I expected. BestBuy offers all providers and it is possible to easily compare the offers and pick the most suitable one.

Important to mention, unlimited worldwide texting is rather a standard for any mobile plan in Canada. Still didn’t get used to that…

To sign my contract, they needed to verify my credit rating and that meant I had to give consent to, ehm, Equifax to make a check on my credit score. This meant I had to give my SIN to Equifax. Remember, first get SIN, then your SIM card (opposite to alphabetical order). I was lucky to get a number that is easy to remember.

Since now I had access to cellular data and could check public transit, after getting a Compass card (public transit card for Metro Vancouver) at the nearest ticket machine, my uncle was no longer afraid to leave on my own. I returned home and started researching banks.

Conventional banks charge monthly fees here. I find that ridiculous, as why should I pay the bank to keep money with them and let them, in fact, invest them for their own profit. There are many online banks and FinTech banking start-ups in Canada, where there are no fees. Unfortunately, very few of them wants to open an account without Canada-issued photo ID, which I do not have yet. Gentleman at Service Canada told me to apply for B.C. Services Card, a form of photo ID, after three months of living in the province. The only bank I found that could open me an account using my passport and work permit is being restructured at the moment and was not accepting new customers until November.

I had to look deeper and found some banks give discounts to the new residents. I finally decided to open my account with a conventional bank, which gives first year free of charges for people who just arrived to Canada to work or became permanent residents.

I have found the nearest bank office and went there, this time alone, to open the account. I was received by Johnny, who turned out to be born in Vietnam. He brought me through the whole process of opening the account, gave me a debit card on the spot and together we cashed in some money I had, which Johnny used as an opportunity to show me how to use the Instant Teller machine and set up PIN for my new debit card. Honestly speaking, they are a bit outdated, compared to Europe, which he admitted and said the new, more modern one, will arrive soon.

In Canada, it is also very important to build your credit score, if you want to e.g. to rent an apartment. For this reason, one needs a credit card. In opposition to Europe, it is very easy to get credit here. Johnny offered me $500 limit just like that, but to issue me a credit card, he needed, well… Canada-issued photo ID.

Fortunately, he has given me a better hint than gentleman from Service Canada. Apparently it is possible to get one within a month, instead of three, for $35. He told me to pay a visit at ICBC, a crown company of British Columbia insuring cars and issuing driving licenses in the province, and request B.C. identification card.

Since it was already too late, I went there next day. The closest ICBC office was in Metrotown, where I had to get with SkyTrain, entirely autonomous (yes, completely unmanned) metropolitan rail of Metro Vancouver, or, as called by my friend Deby, “very very slow rollercoaster”.

SkyTrain, or world’s biggest and slowest rollercoaster. Source: http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/skytrain-commuters-face-delays-due-to-mechanical-issue [last access: 17 September 2017]
The office was in huge mall called Metropolis. I have never been in so big shopping centre before. I managed to get lost few times, admired how many shops and institutions have been brought in a single place, and paid a visit to ICBC. With my passport and work permit, I was able to apply for the photo ID against the mentioned fee. I did not even need a picture – they were taking pictures at the place.

Using the occasion, I have asked about exchanging my driving licence to local one (I have to do that within six months, if I want to drive) and was given a free preparation book for the exam (I need to take the theory and driving exam again).

That’s enough bureaucracy for now. The only thing left is to wait for the BCID (arrives within 30 days) and apply for the credit card with it. Then I can fully enjoy life in Canada.

Canadian Bureaucracy Part 1 – Landing at YVR

There are many immigration stories on the web, but there is not much I could find on what happens after landing on Canadian soil, what precisely you need, how long does it take etc. I hope this post will help all the people who consider participation in International Experience Canada programme. So, this post is not going to be about technology. Maybe I will make Sundays non-tech days? Who knows…

Last Tuesday I have arrived at YVR, after 15 hours in transit, with two-hour delay. According to IRCC website, on arrival I should say I have come to work to the border officer and present whole bunch of documents – originals of all the documents submitted in the online application, insurance and bank statements I have enough funds to sustain myself at the beginning and buy a return ticket, if I do not have one already (I did not) and a landing card. You have to fill a landing card out in the airplane, except for Vancouver, where you can easily get a prefilled one printed out from the kiosk, after arriving at the airport.

No one was able to explain me, even after sending an inquiry to IRCC, whether I need to print out a photo, which I uploaded to the online application. How the work permit would look? If it was some sort of an ID card, then photo could be useful.

I know all of it now and I will explain it to you.

I have prepared all the required documents, as well those that I was not sure whether they are required, like e.g. a photo. After arrival, I took out an envelope where I kept everything, my passport and then… realised I still have long way to go.

I had to climb the stairs up. Escalator was out of order and I did not feel like waiting for the lift. Then I had to walk all above the surprisingly empty departures. After that, stairs down brought me to arrivals. I have been carrying my backpack, carry-on suitcase, blanket from the airplane, my coat (it was too warm to wear it) and the envelope with documents, which I was focused on not losing… This added to my natural clumsiness brought me close to disaster.

After getting the landing card from the machine (btw, machine communicates in multiple languages, so no reasons to worry if you are not comfortable with any of the official languages, i.e. English and French), not sure what did they mean as liqour (like, how many alcohol content percentage?) I proceeded to the queue. I have lost grip on my carry on suitcase, which obviously fell on the floor and it took me a minute or two to get everything back in order. During this time, the queue was obviously blocked. I have said an f-word, to which a female officer somewhere responded “Move on people! You’re in the goddamn customs!”.

So after reaching the first desk, I have been moved to another queue, from which I have been asked to pick up my luggage from the carousel and… move on to the third queue at immigration. So I found a cart, picked up a luggage and proceeded to immigration, where I was asked to park my cart in a designated spot. It was hard time for me to fit in that spot, my bags almost fell out of the cart and the nice lady who was in charge of keeping an eye on the parked carts had scared eyes. It seemed she was wondering whether she should escape.

I have proceeded the room with another queue. Even though I am very far from being racist, I have to admit it felt somewhat uncomfortable to be the only white person in that queue. When my time came, I was asked to come to one of the counters. Behind it there was an immigration officer, which turned out to be really good looking lady.

Here I need to make a disclaimer that someone’s looks do not affect my business decisions and the previous comment serves only informative purposes.

I tried to smile, despite tiredness, and said politely “Good afternoon, ma’am!”. I have produced my passport, landing card and Port of Entry Invitation Letter (a print-out of a pdf you receive once IRCC accepts your permit application). I have been asked to sit down and wait, while the officer went somewhere out with my documents. She returned after few minutes with my passport and work permit printed. She asked to check whether the information on the permit are correct.

Work permit is nice looking, letter-sized (slightly wider than A4) piece of paper. Unfortunately it does not have a form of ID and no, it does not contain a picture. For some reason, she did not ask me for any other documents I was requested to prepare, but it does not mean you would not be asked too! I take no liability!

All details were correct but my mailing address. Since my application I have moved two times and informed IRCC on that. After pointing this out to the officer, she responded “It doesn’t matter. Now you’re resident of Canada anyway. Just be nice and that’s it.”.

I kept reading the permit and arrived at the following disclaimer:

Not valid for employment in businesses related to sex trade such as strip clubs, massage parlours or escort services.

Multiple hours of transit hit my brains, I guess, and I responded “I promise, I won’t work in sex trade.”. She gazed at me, together with her workmate, who just came to her counter, and, after few seconds, said “Well, we were actually wondering about that. It could be quite problematic for us if you did.”. For some reason I fired “No worries, I’m not really good at it.”. The officer and her workmate burst out laughing and kept doing so for few long minutes, getting attention from all other officers at their counters.

“Thank you for making my day”, she said and I was let to go. Both officers waved at me when I was leaving the room. I managed to safely pick up my cart with luggage, left the baggage hall (on exit, I needed to return stamped landing card).

I hope this helped you understand what is going on when you land in Canada to start your IEC adventure! In the next post on bureaucracy, getting necessities to start enjoying your life in Canada, i.e. sinful SIN, SIM card, bank account and local ID. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Medium to be up to date!

Hello World! Hello Vancouver!

Four days ago I have arrived at Vancouver International. Being issued one-year work permit, my adventure with International Experience Canada programme officially started that day.

Now, I will be looking around for jobs. Difference between this blog and plenty of others I have seen about IEC is that it is not going to be focused on travelling around Canada, but rather getting IT job and professional IT experience in this country. It is going to be even more interesting, as programming has been my years-long passion, but I do not have any actual academic credentials in this field. I have earned my undergraduate in Economics and Business Economics and I have one year experience in technical support at Yorizon, where I have also done a lot of front-end development.

The blog will be mainly technical, but not purely technical. Of course I will share with you all interesting things about Canada and my Canadian experience, cats, as well as important things about IEC permit and getting settled here. My long-term plan is to continue it also after my period is over, just as an IT blog. So even if you are a non-tech person, and not even interested in life in Canada…

…follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Medium! And wish me lots of luck!