8 biggest struggles as a newcomer to Canada

It’s soon going to be three years since I moved to Canada, and even though many people will think that I’m not a newcomer anymore, I still feel like one in some ways.

It will always be challenging living in another country, speaking another language, trying to assimilate the customs and manners of the locals, getting used to the weather, and making new friends.

There are many things that a newcomer might find difficult to overcome when moving to Canada, but I’d say it depends on the person, their nature, their resilience, their positive outlook, and other factors.

I would say that my experience has been a positive one, so in this post, I want to share my point of view and also outline the things that I heard most from other newcomers when talking about the struggles we face in the process of adapting to our new lives.

1. Cold

This is a big issue when moving to Canada. Probably all newcomers have heard a thousand times before coming here how awfully cold and harsh Canadian winters are. Maybe you’re coming from a warm country and you have doubts that you’re going to put up with the extreme cold.

When I moved to Ottawa I hadn’t seen real snow before and I couldn’t imagine how it would feel at -20 C. In my city, Lima, the minimum temperature in winter during the day is 14 or 15 degrees.

Nothing prepares you for the biting sensation of your fingers and toes getting numb and your nose frozen. My first winter in Canada, I suffered doing grocery shopping, especially when I had to empty a full cart and put all the bags in the car.

But the worst was putting gas in the car. Holding the cold hose for many minutes was incredibly painful, even more if it was a windy day! The good thing is that after three winters in Ottawa, it’s not a big deal for me now.

But it’s true that people have different perceptions of the cold. I heard many opinions like “each winter is going to be worse,” or “after six years I still haven’t gotten used to the cold,” or “wait until you have lived here for more than 10 years, you’re going to say no more!”

2. Shorter days and the blues

In the northern hemisphere, the days are shorter during the winter, and that’s difficult to handle when you come from a country where summers and winters are almost the same in terms of daylight hours.

That’s why there’s a syndrome that affects people in different ways, and it’s called the winter blues, or SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).  Some people take antidepressants to deal with it.

In my case, during my first winter in Canada, I felt a sensation of the blues, like nostalgia, like something dense and dark hanging over me, when it started to get dark at 4 pm.

Fortunately, it was only during the first winter. Later, I managed to fight that feeling by doing things. Instead of staying home at 5 pm, I went out to do some shopping, to look for a pair of shoes, or to buy an extra pair of gloves, so my day wouldn’t finish at 5 pm but at 7 pm. That helped.

3. Lack of friends

This is one of the big struggles. Having no friends for some time when you just moved makes you feel alone or isolated. And if you’re sociable and manage to know your neighbors, for example, it’s going to take some time to consider them real friends.

I heard also from newcomers that they miss speaking in their mother tongue or hanging out with people from their own culture. In general, you miss the social life you used to have back home.

4. English

Unless you have a perfect proficiency in English, almost like a native, when you move to Canada, you can have some little problems when trying to communicate.

I thought that my English was good and acceptable when I moved to Ottawa but the truth is that I had to adjust my listening skills to the velocity of English native speakers.

Moreover, I had to learn new phrases and popular expressions that I never found in any books, and also a lot of abbreviations when coming to write short text messages or through WhatsApp.

5. Difficulty to land a job

The other big struggle for any newcomer is the urgency to land a stable and decent job that helps you make a living in Canada. It’s not an easy thing. The main problem is the lack of “Canadian experience.”

You may have a college degree, a master’s degree, and many years of experience in your home country but all of that doesn’t sound familiar to a Canadian employer.

Many newcomers will choose to work in another field different from their area of expertise. I won’t say that it’s impossible to land a job in your previous career but it can take some time. I did find some lucky newcomers that managed to get their first job offer in their field.

6. No family around

One of the hardest parts of being a newcomer is not having family or relatives close to you. Any festive holiday, like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, or birthdays might feel a little empty.

In some circumstances in which you might need help from your family, such as taking care of your children one night, or picking them up from school, you will not be able to count on them.


7. Not knowing the city

It takes time to know the city and to feel that you can move around all by yourself. I just forgot how many times I got lost driving on the streets of Ottawa, and how many times I took the 417 highway in direction West when I was supposed to go East.

It can also be frustrating not knowing where to buy simple things like buttons, or where you can find a seamstress, or just where to find a restaurant that offers your home country cuisine.

8. Lack of physical contact

This is something important for people who are used to physical contact in their culture. Coming from a Latin-American country, where physical contact among people is so common, I remember feeling confused, and I didn’t how to act when meeting new acquaintances in Canada.

Saying just hello without shaking hands or hugging or kissing in the cheek (like Quebecois people do) seemed cold to me. It’s ironic that that’s the new normal nowadays because of the pandemic, but at the beginning, when I moved, I missed the warmth of physical contact.

I think these are the most common struggles of a newcomer to Canada, but obviously, there might be more. If you want to share which are your biggest struggles as a newcomer, please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear. Take care.

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3 thoughts on “8 biggest struggles as a newcomer to Canada

  1. Hey, there are actually 8 items, but you were worried that you would scare people away? :-). The first photograph is a good illustration of that winter challenge, but at least there is not snow storms every day in winter.
    This is a great post to read in parallel to the one about your reasons you moved to Canada.
    Yes, province of Québec may help with physical contact (post pandemic) and language. But instead you need to learn French, which could be easier for some people depending on the starting language (closer to Spanish than English for example).

    1. You’re right! There are 8, not seven. I made the correction, thanks for catching the mistake. Yeah, the first picture is a little scary 😉 I know some French, but I really like Ottawa, I wouldn’t move to the Quebec side. Thanks for your comment!

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