Fresh off the Boat

So you have landed in Toronto, your new home for the foreseeable future.

You are nervous excited and most of all lost. We have all been there, and most of us are willing to help. You only need to look at the crazy questions posted on the “Irish & New in Toronto” Facebook page to see that you’re not alone – if you are not on that page join it, you will find all manner of information on there.

Below is a list of the essential ‘to-do’s’ upon arrival.


When you touchdown in Toronto for the first time, all wide-eyed and excited to explore your new surroundings, the one thing you absolutely need to have organized is a place to lay your head that night. Whether it’s on a couch at a friends apartment, a suite in a 5 star hotel or a hostel, make sure you are booked in well in advance of your arrival in the big smoke.

  • Staying on the couch: If you have a friend from home or a second cousin twice removed already set up in Toronto, then bribe them with promises of Taytos and Cadbury’s chocolate from the Emerald Isle in exchange for a bed/couch/blow up mattress for your first few nights here. Remember, you are a guest in someone’s home so tidy up after yourself, offer to chip in towards food bills and most importantly, don’t overstay your welcome (8 weeks on the couch is probably pushing it).
  • Living it up in a hotel: A few people decide to book into a hotel for their first week or two away from home but in my view this is a waste of money when there are these little things called ‘hostels’ dotted across the city…
  • The weird, wacky, wonderful world of hostels: Now the key word here people is RESEARCH! Google exists for occasions just like this. Yes, like we mentioned the city is overflowing with hostels but sadly many of these are more deserving of the title ‘hovels’. Setting yourself up in a new place is stressful enough without having to contend with dirty linen, cold water in the shower, bedbugs and mice. Read reviews online before reserving a place. Needless to say, don’t expect your hostel to be the Ritz-Carlton but basic hygiene and security is not too big an ask so do your homework. Speaking from a personal experience, the Planet Traveller on College Street ( is a fantastic starting point for any newbie. It’s cheap, clean and so friendly. They even throw a free BBQ every Saturday night on the rooftop for guests. Bring a six-pack or a bottle of vino, enjoy a burger and mingle – a great way to make new friends in your new home. Also, when it comes to ‘location, location, location’ this joint ticks all the boxes. Step outside the front door and to your left is Little Italy, to your right is Kensington Market and ‘up the road a little bit’ (my directions are foolproof) is Chinatown so plenty to keep you occupied when you need a break from the job/apartment hunt.

SIN Card:

If you plan on working in Canada you will need a Social Insurance Number (SIN)

You can apply for your SIN card at Service Canada offices, located across the city.Service Canada requires individuals to apply in-person and you will need to bring a form of ID and your work permit. You can obtain your SIN in less than 15 minutes, depending on the office and how busy it is! As far as I remember, not all offices provide the SIN to newcomers. This is something you may want to check out beforehand. However offices that 100% do include:

  • Service Canada, 559 College St, Suite #100, Toronto (bonus: this is right beside Planet Traveler Hostel and the famous Sneaky Dees bar which serves possibly the best burrito in Toronto)
  • Service Canada, 1000 Gerrard St East, Gerard Square Mall, 2nd Floor, Unit DD10/11, Toronto
  • Service Canada, 100 Queen St West, City Hall, Floor 1, Toronto


You will want a phone pretty much straight away, no doubt to let the fam back in Ireland know your still alive and of course to tell them the time and what the weather is like! Personally I found setting up a phone here a nightmare and have since taken back every bad word I ever said about good old 02! We tried pay and go, but it worked out costing more than a small mortgage. Why? Data. Data here is expensive so make sure you shop around for a good package. We need it to Google map, FaceTime and of course add our 100s of photos of the CN tower to Facebook. Things to look for when you are choosing a phone provider include:

  • Free international texts: a lot of the mobile, or should we say ‘cell phone’, companies offer this so you can annoy everyone back home with regular updates without it costing you a small fortune.
  • International calls: believe it or believe it not a lot of providers DO NOT allow international calls – receiving or making calls – for the first three months of your contract. Now, when the majority of your family and friends live outside the province of Ontario, this can be a serious pain in the arse. Skype, call cards (remember those from back in the day?) and Viber are all ways around this until the ‘foreign calls’ embargo is lifted but what if your poor Mam or Dad want to call you during that timeframe? Well, here’s one solution – I told the phone company I was with that this was a ridiculous criteria, threatened to switch providers and voila…the powers that be said ‘thou shalt have international calls’ so the moral of the story – play hardball with these soul-less phone people!

FYI – Anywhere outside the province of Ontario is considered an international call.


There are lots of them, which one do you choose? Which ever gives you the best offer! Bring your ID, cell number and work permit with you when setting up the account.

Apartment Hunting:

Apartment hunting is a minefield and the best way to do it is, to put on your comfy shoes and go walking! Yes there are lots of apartments on Kijiji (   and Craigslist ( but how do you know about that fab coffee shop with the amazing caramel squares right next door to the building, if you don’t get out and look. Also beware of scams! I was so close to sending a deposit on an apartment on lakeshore. The renter lived in London and would leave the keys with a friend after I transferred a substantial amount of money. The rule I follow is if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Be smart, insist on viewing the property before handing over any cash.

Job hunting:

The biggie, getting a job.

No1. It’s NOT easy, unless you’re a tradey!

No2. Persevere.

We all leave Ireland with the notion that Canada is full of Jobs and the streets are paved with gold (I wish). From the countless discussions we have had over our time hear, we have found this is not true. YES there are jobs, but you need to work to get them. The competition here is fierce. Make your self stand out from the crowd. If you are from a professional background network, it’s all about who you know! I found my job after a chance encounter with a lady in my profession.

It doesn’t hurt to volunteer, you are meeting people in your field and showing them how enthusiastic you are about the jobGet the full low-down on the job hunting experience in Toronto here




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