American moving to the GTA
March 30, 2007 6:32 AM   Subscribe

American moving to the greater Toronto area...

I've landed what is quite possibly my dream job in Hamilton, Ontario at McMaster University and am moving up there in August. So this is not the typical "American-looking-to-emigrate" sort of ask mefi, because unless something terrible happens the move absolutely will happen, and my employer is going to give me assistance with the immigration stuff. However, I've got loads of questions apart from that. Let's get started, shall we?

1) I'm married. My spouse is Canadian, so there shouldn't be any (legal) problems on that end. However, the SO doesn't drive, and I'm trying to work out the logistics of where would be the best place to move so that my commute to Hamilton won't be so long, but the SO will have as much access to transit and thus employment/fun stuff as possible. Just looking at a map suggests something like Oakville, but if you've got better or different suggestions, I'd like to hear them. If I too can get away with using transit as opposed to driving, big bonus!

2) I've got a car. It's pretty late-model, never failed any sort of emissions testing. Is it possible to import it into Canada? Would I have to pay some enormous importing fee? If so, should I just sell it before I go?

3) Doctor stuff. My health is generally excellent so if there's some delay in getting me on OHIP no real harm, but the SO has prescriptions that absolutely must be filled or Very Very Bad Things happen. SO's OHIP has long since lapsed having lived outside Canada for many many years. Is there anything I can do to make sure the SO gets doctors and the necessary medication in a timely fashion? I know it can take some time to see specialists in Canada; I'm not sure if I can, say, persuade the doctors here to fill out a bunch of prescriptions in advance and have them filled at Shopper's.

Thanks a lot for reading this far! I'm completely stoked about this move and your advice will help out a lot.
posted by the dief to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Hamilton isn't the Greater Toronto Area -- not by a long shot.

Oakville is part of the GTA, but I should warn you the level of public transit outside of Toronto is abysmal. It will be next to impossible for example to get around Oakville, Brampton, Mississauga, etc (all cities on the West side of Toronto), without a car. The cities are all built for cars. It's all big box stores and 4 lane roads. Oakville has a "new urbanist" core, but as I understand it, it's sort of failed at being new urbanist.

I would suggest you just move to Hamilton. I haven't lived there, but if it's like any University town, there is probably stuff to do.

I'm pretty sure you get OHIP when you get your landed papers. I don't think there is any delay whatsoever. Maybe someone else can confirm. OHIP doesn't cover prescription drugs, though I think some are subsidized by our government. Your university may have a health plan as well that supplements OHIP.
posted by chunking express at 6:53 AM on March 30, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for your advice, CE. For back-of-the-envelope figuring things out, I was going with the estimation that GTA = towns within GO train range. The SO used to live in Oakville many many moons ago, and was able to walk to the GO centre there and commute to Toronto, but maybe that's changed. I'll sure have to do some digging around, no question about that.
posted by the dief at 6:58 AM on March 30, 2007

Why move to the gta, why not just move to Hamilton, right by the uni, in Westdale? It's very nice there, despite some people's snotty classism - ohh steel town, everyone's white trash & the town smells - the gta has far worse pollution, not nearly the quality green space or friendliness. Plus housing costs are not grotesquely over priced.
posted by zarah at 7:01 AM on March 30, 2007

True zarah, but Hamilton does, quite literally, smell terrible. I imagine you'd get used to it if you lived there, but still...
posted by ewiar at 7:09 AM on March 30, 2007

Response by poster: I don't know. I was in Hamilton for the job interview stuff, and was around and about in the town and I didn't notice any terrible smells.
posted by the dief at 7:12 AM on March 30, 2007

Oh I completely forgot about all the steal. I'm not sure how my friends found it when they were there. Does it really reek of industry everywhere you go there? I haven't spent much time at all in Hamilton.

There are GO trains that go through Hamilton, but I think they only run during Rush hour. You can definitely travel to Toronto and back: lots of people commute from Oakville. I just question whether getting around Oakville itself without a car is feasible. Oakville is also fairly expensive now as places to live go. Milton might be a good alternative: it's nearby, and I think it also is serviced by GO.
posted by chunking express at 7:16 AM on March 30, 2007

Great username.

Mail me for a little aside on the OHIP I'd rather not post for silly personal reasons?
posted by kmennie at 7:22 AM on March 30, 2007

Go Transit

Oakville is still on the go transit routes, it's probably improved since your SO lived there. I wouldn't want to live there myself, it's devoid of any sort of character or proper city feeling.

ewiar - I commute between Toronto and Hamilton regularly and nothing compares to the grime and odour I have to wash off myself when I'm in TO. The clean up in Hamilton several years back was quite successful, and even if it hadn't been, let's not forget TO is downwind of steel town :D As I recall the most polluted place in all of Canada is the corner of Wellesley & Yonge Streets.

There is, however, a soy plant in Hamilton and on some days in the summer it can smell faintly of rotten eggs if you live nearby it.

dief - I was raised in Toronto but spent the last few years of my teens in Hamilton and do prefer it many ways & will be buying my first home there in the fall even though I work in Toronto. Feel free to email me anytime about aspects of living there.

Does it really reek of industry everywhere you go there?

posted by zarah at 7:23 AM on March 30, 2007

My grandmother moved back to Canada after having lived in the U.S. for many years. There was a three-month waiting period before she was covered by OHIP (although I think she may still have been covered by her U.S. insurer during that period).
posted by Badmichelle at 7:31 AM on March 30, 2007

Best answer: Dundas, just on the other side of Cootes Paradise from McMaster is a nice part too, within walking distance of the campus but with lots of trees and it's own downtown. Burlington, the city between Oakville and Hamilton has pretty good transit connections for both Hamilton and the GTA. Most transit is geared towards rush hour commuters, in case that is a factor. If your SO used to live in Oakville she may be shocked at the amount of growth; it is now bigger than Burlington I believe. What kind of job is your SO hoping for? Hamilton would have more diverse job opportunities than Burl. or Oak. but there are jobs there too. Housing costs in Hamilton are significantly lower for both renting and buying, if that is a factor.

Since Free trade you can bring your car into Canada but it has to meet Canadian Safety Standards (which are different from the US). More info here:
Settlement. Gov't run settlement has a lot of information to help New Canadians that you may find useful.

OHIP kicks in after three months of residency, the benefits package you get from McMaster that covers prescription drugs is different than OHIP. If you have a vaild prescription you shouldn't have trouble filling it. You can purchase health insurance to cover medical costs in the three month waiting period. Or you can pay out of pocket which isn't too expensive. Hamilton is a vibrant community, only smelly by the factories - far way from the University. Congrats on the job!
posted by saucysault at 7:37 AM on March 30, 2007

I don't know where you're moving from, but as others have said, Hamilton is only the GTA if you consider all of southern ontario "the GTA". It's like San Jose vs San Francisco. Except that Hamilton doesn't have it's own hockey team (to its dismay).

The truth is that unless you move to downtown Toronto and you take on a crazy commute, your SO will have to learn to drive. Outside of a very small number of urban communities in Canada, you basically need to take your car everywhere except the bathroom. Even in Oakville. The GO Train is nothing great - it serves to bring people from the outlying areas into Toronto in the morning and then back out again at the end of the day. Don't rely on it for much beyond that.

If you want to take transit to work, living in Hamilton is really your only option. As to whether it stink, I can't say. But lots of people live there and it can't be that bad.
posted by GuyZero at 7:40 AM on March 30, 2007

I've known people who have imported US-legal cars into Ontario. For recent cars that you've owned for more than a year, ISTR there are several bureaucratic hoops to jump through, but they seem to boil down to getting a letter from the manufacturer saying "This here car meets y'all's emissions and safety standards," and then getting a mechanic to install daytime running lights if your car doesn't already have them (which is cheap).

Apparently the real nightmares are (1) dealing with cars that you've had less than a year and (2) dealing with your loan company / lienholder, if you have one.

Is there anything I can do to make sure the SO gets doctors and the necessary medication in a timely fashion?

One way would be to buy coverage through COBRA and use a doc and pharmacy in Buffalo/Niagara until OHIP kicks in, or see if your COBRA'd coverage can work with Ontario medical providers and pharmacies.

There are also firms that sell private health insurance to get you through the 3 months; whether this would be more or less useful than COBRA depends on your current coverage and costs, and on the extent to which your wife's condition would be covered by the gap insurance.

You could also do both for a month or two if you're very concerned that your wife would not be able to get to a Canadian specialist in time to get her prescriptions made out.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:44 AM on March 30, 2007

Dundas, just on the other side of Cootes Paradise from McMaster is a nice part too, within walking distance of the campus but with lots of trees and it's own downtown.

Dundas - love it there, great suggestion.
Cootes Paradise - my family's fave place for nature walks.
posted by zarah at 7:48 AM on March 30, 2007

1) people are on the money when they tell you that public transit in the GTA is well below par for what you would expect in a relatively modern, urban area. I live in downtown Toronto so I don't need or want a car, but if I lived anywhere in the areas you are talking about, it would almost certainly be a necessity for getting around with any relative ease. That's one reason I don't live outside the downtown core.

What I would suggest is treating your first year in Hamilton as a settling in period -- find a place to rent while you become familiar with your job and your surroundings and how the GTA operates. After the year, then make a long-term decision about where you and your SO would like to live.

2) You will have to pay provincial sales tax (7%) on the "blue book" value of the car. You can probably look up the blue book value of your car on the web somewhere -- it assigns values to cars based on age, model, etc.

3) OHIP will kick in after 3 months residency. I would suggest stocking up on prescriptions before that. If your SO has health problems, I would strongly recommend you purchase private health care insurance to cover you for the first 3 months of your stay (although almost certainly you will be covered by McMaster and so will your spouse). Purchasing private medical insurance until OHIP kicks in is in fact recommended by the Ministry of Health, see here.

Finally, welcome! Moving countries is always stressful, even between countries with such similar cultures as the US and Canada, but I'm sure you will have a great experience.
posted by modernnomad at 7:57 AM on March 30, 2007

I forgot to add, OHIP doesn't actually cover prescription drugs unless you fall into some specific categories (over 65, on welfare, etc)... "universal socialised healthcare" is something of a myth in Canada! So double check your McMaster plan to see what is covered for your spouse.
Ontario Drug Plan.
posted by modernnomad at 8:02 AM on March 30, 2007

I used to work retail in Toronto with a fellow who lived in Oakville and commuted back and forth via GO every day. However, he was a bit of an odd duck so I don't know how ridiculous this is.

I would absolutely prefer to live in Hamilton over Oakville. No question. You may want to read the wikipedia entries on Hamilton and Greater Toronto Area.

Hamilton is part of the GTA only from the perspective of a bureaucrat. No resident of either place would consider the other part of the GTA, imo.
posted by dobbs at 8:08 AM on March 30, 2007

Best answer: I live in downtown Hamilton. To answer your questions from the perspective of the city itself:

1) The Hamilton Street Railway is the local transit system. The name is an anachronism - today they only use buses. They serve a lot of the city, at reasonable prices, but service isn't as frequent as downtown Toronto (where I used to live).

2) Transport Canada can tell you about vehicles that can be imported into Canada.

3) You can probably get visitor's insurance coverage while you wait for OHIP to kick in (your SO may want to reclaim residency in the country when you move back, but talk to tax experts and lawyers about that).

Hamilton gets a bad rap from a lot of quarters ("The armpit of the Golden Horseshoe"), but it's got a lot going for it. It's one of the cheapest places in the country to buy a house (we bought our four bedroom detached century home for about 10% more than we sold our 800 sqft Toronto condo).

You might get some ideas from the local alternative weekly paper.

Something fun if you're into new art and the scene that goes with it, we have the monthly James St. North Art Crawl.
posted by lowlife at 8:12 AM on March 30, 2007

blah, if you're an americano hamilton isn't likely to freak you out too much in terms of stench/industry

canada is way greener than the US so i think tolerance to industry and its biproducts are lower

not that that's a bad thing
posted by Salvatorparadise at 8:18 AM on March 30, 2007

My husband is in the process of importing his car to Toronto from NYC. You need to read all of this.

They have a .pdf version right there on the site that you can download. There is a list on that site of acceptable and inacceptable cars/years. The most important issue is to have the car's vin # etc on your customs/tofollow list when you enter the country.
posted by jamesonandwater at 8:24 AM on March 30, 2007

I'm pretty sure you get OHIP when you get your landed papers

No it's after three months.

You will have to pay provincial sales tax (7%) on the "blue book" value of the car

No, we do not have to pay any tax on import of our car. Again, it's on the goods brought/goods to follow list you presnt at the border/airport along with any other household items you will be bringing.

Please be careful of taking advice from people who aren't immigrants!
posted by jamesonandwater at 8:31 AM on March 30, 2007

1) Just move to Hamilton.

2) You can bring in your car. You'll have to pay a tax on it and get it updated with daytime running lights and a LATCH system if it doesn't have one or the other.

3) OHIP doesn't cover prescriptions; your private insurance through McMaster should. I'd stock up on them in the US before moving; and find out when your insurance through work kicks in, it shouldn't be too long.

She'll have a three-month waiting period on OHIP while re-establishing residency. I got OHIP after getting a "letter of confirmation" (and sitting through a three-month waiting period) but before being landed. That was on a spousal application, though, not a work application. Work probably goes faster than spousal. Regardless, you'll need insurance in the meantime. Private insurance through work only covers "extras" that OHIP doesn't.

No one tells you this: you must buy insurance within (five or ten) days of moving to Canada, or they won't sell it to you. Seriously. I went without insurance for years because we couldn't buy it; got screwed in that waiting period because I had to go in the hospital three weeks before my OHIP took effect. It's a big hole in the system that no one seems to realize or acknowledge here.
posted by Melinika at 8:33 AM on March 30, 2007

Ah, I brought my car over after I moved, and they let it in without charging me, but told me I'd have to do upgrades and "pay a tax" once I was landed. I suppose the tax is that registration fee that jamesonandwater is talking about. I didn't know I could bring it in when I first moved here, so I left it in the US. It looks like from her link if it needs upgrades (daytime running lights) you'll have to pay that registration fee, though, even if you bring it in under personal effects, but that fee is much less than the GST on it would be.
posted by Melinika at 8:39 AM on March 30, 2007

Jamesonandwater, I quote from the VERY web page you linked to:

Your vehicle will also be subject to provincial or territorial sales tax and safety requirements, so you should check with the vehicle department of the province or territory to which you are moving.

Please be careful of taking advice from people who don't know... oh never mind. Suffice it to say, import/duty tax and sales tax on value are two different things. I have imported a car from the US to Canada. I had to pay 7% sales tax on its blue book value.
posted by modernnomad at 8:41 AM on March 30, 2007

I have imported a car from the US to Canada. I had to pay 7% sales tax on its blue book value.

How long had you owned the car? Were you moving (back?) to Canada after a long stay in the US?

The relevant section is settler's effects: "Eligible individuals may bring their household goods and equipment into Ontario exempt from RST"


"Individuals or businesses entitled to the settler’s effects exemption on motor vehicles must fill out an exemption declaration (MV-2 form) when licensing a vehicle at an Ontario Ministry of Transportation Driver and Vehicle Licence Issuing Office. Proof that the vehicle was previously licensed in another province, territory, or country, is required."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:39 AM on March 30, 2007

I know some people who live in Burlington and take the bus to Hamilton - so it's definitely possible. It also probably takes over an hour each way. Public transit in Burlington/Oakville isn't great compared with Toronto, but it is workable. Getting a car/license for the SO is probably your best bet.

As for housing, Burlington and Oakville are very expensive (300k for a townhouse). Hamilton is a fair bit cheaper.

Unless you're totally against it, living in Hamilton is probably the way to go. The area by the University is pretty nice. I've never noticed any smell in Hamilton's downtown, or by the University. If you live by the steel plants, all bets are off - but chances are you won't be living there. The transit system is probably better too.

If your SO has a job in Toronto then Oakville may be the best bet - as it is easiest in terms of taking the Go Train. I believe access to Burlington/Hamilton is a little more limited on the weekends (but you could check the Go Transit website for a better idea.)

Congrats on landing the dream job.
posted by backwards guitar at 9:47 AM on March 30, 2007

Best answer: The university should help you with health plan - they will almost certainly have a temporary plan that you can buy to stand in during the OHIP waiting period. Talk to the international students/scholars office. If you have critical meds, get this taken care of up front, maybe in a visit before you move.

The university's help may be hugely valuable when you're coming through immigration. Have a phone and the phone number of someone in the principal's office with you when coming through -- if the immgration officer doesn't know what they're doing they can fuck up and often the university can pull strings to get you/your spouse back into the proper category.

You will need to make a list of all the stuff you're bringing in. Itemized. On ours we had things like "20 boxes books. 3 boxes pots and pans." so it doesn't have to literally be item-by-item, but be as specific as you can while you're packing up. We had a friend stand by with a clipboard while we loaded the truck and write down the contents of every box as it went by.

Ontario has a list of cars and whether they meet import requirements (daytime runing lights, emissions, etc -- most within the last 5 years are fine). You'll need to get a separate safety inspection which can end up costly - we had to replace our windshield for a couple hundred dollars because it had some pitting, for example.

To fully import the car to Canada, you may need to show up at the border with the title to the car 24-48 hours in advance of when you want to bring it across formally, so customs can run a search on the title. BE AWARE OF THIS!

Car insurance in Ontario is insanely, insanely expensive. OMG. It's unreal. Call around and get a lot of quotes. Also, formally, to drive in Canada with US insurance (during the first week or whatever while you're getting everything switched over) you're required to get a special paper from your US insurance company.

Your US credit ranking won't transfer (or didn't IME). So you may need to get a "secured" credit card from your bank to start establishing Canadian credit. This may not be an issue because of your spouse, but look into it.

If you experience is like mine, you will need a Social Insurance Number (SIN number), which is like a social security number, to open a bank account. The sooner you can get a SIN number from the university the better. Bureaucratic holdups in Canadian university administration can be huge, so be prepared to work from your US bank account for a while, paying fees to have money transferred -- also be prepared in case your first paycheck is delayed.

On the bright side: all the desk personnel I dealt with in the motor vehicle bureau, the health services registry, etc were super-nice and helpful, in stark contrast to the way they are in the US. So, it will be a fair amount of running around registering things your first few weeks, but it should be nice and civil.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:51 PM on March 30, 2007

Best answer: Ok, here's a linkdump of a few pages I found useful.
-CIC newcomer's guide to Canada
-Guide to rental housing in Canada (landlord cannot prevent you having pets!)
-Ministry of Health info about OHIP
-general info about health care in Canada, what the govt does and doesn't do
-Getting a driver's license in Ontario (bring some proof of how long you have been a licensed driver in the US - if it's more than some number of years, you can just trade in your US license for a full Ontario license, without having to go through the "graduated" steps)

Also, learn to love milk bags. One of the many mysteries of the north.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:04 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Live in Hamilton. Rental or home purchase in Hamilton is 50% or less of the equivalent GTA property.

Lots of nice options close to McMaster - Westdale, Dundas, Ancaster, etc etc. If you live anywhere west of downtown, you shouldn't ever be bothered by the steel smell, which isn't so bad these days anyway

I lived in Hamilton from '81 to '88; I now live in Toronto but get to Hamilton alot. Then and now, I still find Hamilton a friendlier city. I met my future wife there :).

The business core of Hamilton has run down a bit, and the area is hurting in general because of layoffs and closures in the heavy industries (steel, steel products, fabrication, appliances), but if you're employed... you're set. There have been alot of well-executed renewal and revitalization projects in the last 10 years, including a nice waterfront park.
posted by Artful Codger at 1:04 PM on March 31, 2007

... and congratulations and Welcome! (I told you Hamiltonians are friendly, even ex-Hamiltonians)
posted by Artful Codger at 1:07 PM on March 31, 2007

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