Friday, September 11, 2009

A Student's Newcomers Guide to Studying in Canada P2

It is quite sometime since I wrote on my Part 1 and I can't help but to emphasize that I am doing something a bit different than what I normally would. I'm not writing on our holiday experiences or thoughts on the differences between the common daily things here with Malaysia or the food we've tried or attempted cooking - Instead, I'm writing on - "what we have experience when we arrive here as new students"! I'm hoping that somehow I can document this knowledge down so that it may be helpful to someone someday. Or who knows! One day someone ask us about our experiences because their kid is thinking of going to Canada, then all we need to do is direct them to this link. So there you go, just bear with us for a while here as we're taking a trip away from the norm.

I've mentioned in the prelude on how to prepare before you fly over and in the part 1 section, I've written on what one needs to do when one just arrive. Before I move on to the next topic, let me just add to what I wrote in part 1. If you choose to rent a whole apartment, chances are you're going to get one that isn't fully furnish (almost everywhere in N.America), you're likely to get apartments only with kitchenette, oven, fridge, some built in cabinets, basic lights at the kitchen and toilet only and no furniture and no utensils or kitchen equipment. One important thing to do is to buy basic utensils and a water boiler. Its going to be hard as we experience it with the jet-lag and all, we had to force ourselves to hop onto the bus and head to the nearest shopping area and look for these basic stuff. So you get the idea. NOTE: Of course, things would be different if this isn't your first time to Canada and that you probably have friends you know there.

Now, moving on.

If you're a new student, you'll probably have had some mail from the university and in that mail they would have mentioned to you on some of the orientation events that would take place during the the first 2 weeks or so of your Fall/Winter semester. Its important that you try to attend the orientation as it helps you to get to know others in the university and also to get your bearings right (Chances are the University is so huge, you'd probably be lost trying to look for the library).

Otherwise, another important thing to do is to pay your International Student department office a visit. I'm not entirely sure how things might work for other universities but the one we're enrolled has a Department called, International Student and Exchange Student Office (ISES for short). Every new semester (except for summer), they will organize their own orientation for International students. Do attend that event. If you do, then most of what I will be sharing may most likely be delivered or shared with you in their orientation activities. But if you're not coming during fall or winter term just like us, then you would not have the chance to get this information fed to you. You'll most likely not know any of these important things that I would want to share with now, unless someone told you or you asked.

So, let me just give you an idea of what I will like to share with you.

Here's a list...
When you're new and have arrive here as an International student with study permit, its important to do the following as soon as you can (the more the * star, the more its importance):
  • Make your provincial ID card*****
    Bring along your passport and head to the nearest provincial service center (its also where folks will renew their driving license). This new ID replaces your passport while you're here, so that you don't have to lug your passport around wherever you go. So if you're in Toronto, you'll have an Ontario ID but if you're in Halifax, you'll be carrying a Nova Scotia ID.
  • Register for your university ID card*****
    Of course this is very important ID which you should have with you at all times too. You could do this first before making your provincial card.
  • Be aware of your transportation needs****
    If you don't plan to buy a car or bicycle, find out if your university has any transit pass, if yes and its part of your fees, go get it! Chances are you may get a bus pass but like universities in Halifax, students don't carry an extra pass, they get a sticker on their university ID which indicates that they have the bus/ferry pass.
  • Get your health card*****
    Your student fees should cover insurance plan. Of course if you're coming with your spouse of children, do make sure you have coverage for them. The universities insurance plan should accommodate for that albeit additional cost on your part.
  • Get your drug plan card*****
    Did you know that medicine is expensive, if you don't get any coverage or what is called a drug plan, you probably be paying alot over the pharmacy. And yes, doctors don't issue medicine. They'll issue you a slip with what medicine you need to get. You then need to go to the pharmacy and show them the slip and your drug plan card
  • Get a "student" bank account*****
    I'll probably advice that you go with either RBC or TD Bank, but do shop around a little. Find out more and ask bout the scheme. Some banks like Scotiabank charges CAD1.50 for having less than CAD2K in your acct even though its a student account. Oh yea, all banks require that you book for an appointment first.
  • Complete HST/GST rebate form***
    HST Make sure you have your bank account first then, go find the form and register for your HST/GST cash back. What this means essentially is that you're qualified for a tax return from the government as you are still a student. why? did you know that everything you buy has a surcharge of 12-13% tax. So if you're a student and not working, that's not right. This exercise is a way for them to pay you back. It ain't much but its something. You'll probably receive about CAD60-70 every quarter.
  • Complete and submit an ITN Form***
    As a new international student, you will need an ITN for tax purposes. An ITN is a nine-digit number issued to non-resident individuals. This number is absolutely necessary in order to complete any tax forms or documents and in order to file a tax return. You could download the form online or ask the International Student department about it.
  • Get a mobile phone and service (optional though may be important)*
    It would be a good idea to get a mobile phone so that you could use it incase of emergency. Although a word of caution, Canadian cellphone companies and their services are one of the MOST expensive in the world. You'll be surprise that even Malaysia, China and even African countries are far cheaper than them. If you're not going to make much calls, it would probably be a better idea to go with a pre-paid.
  • Get a laptop (optional)*
    If you're staying about 2 years or longer and if international warranty charges are expensive for laptops bought back in Malaysia, then it'll be wiser to get them here. I'll probably start shopping at Futureshop first as they usually offer the best price. And there is hardly anything like a Lowyat center here, so don't bet on going for clone PCs or laptops much.
  • Register your mobile phone with the university's emergency text messaging service**
    Once you got your phone and phone number, try and search for any emergency text messaging service that the university provides. Its sort of a mass texting which the university would send out incase of any emergencies.
  • Bookmark a weather forecast site (optional)*
    If there's one word to describe Canadian weather, it would be - "unpredictable". Well, if you move from the western most part (Vancouver, BC) right to the Eastern most part (like Halifax, NS) the weather gets more unpredictable the further East you go. So, its always good to just check the weather forecast before you leave your home or your lab or your classes, just to stay informed.
Now that you've done the above, its also good to note the following, although you may / may not be able to accomplish it in the first year of your stay in Canada due to some of the requirements:
  • Apply for a provincial health card & drop your university's health insurance
    As far as I know, if you've stayed more than 12 mths in the province, you'll probably be eligible to apply for a provincial health plan. In Nova Scotia its called MSI. In Ontario (Toronto), its probably called OHIP. By getting the provincial health plan, you could drop the universities insurance plan. That way, you probably save some money.
will add if new things come to mind.

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