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Helpful tips for getting settled in Nova Scotia

There’s a lot to think about when getting settled in a new city – particularly when that city’s in a new country. 

We’ve gathered some tips from fellow international students and outlined a few topics below. 

If you’re a current or former international student and have suggestions you’d like to share, send your ideas to and we’ll consider including them on our site.

Preparing for seasons and weather in Nova Scotia
Seasons and weather
You can check the Nova Scotia weather forecast website, especially historic data to have a sense of seasons and temperatures. Be sure to come prepared with clothing for all types of weather. If you have raincoats and waterproof gear for heavy rain and cold wind (or scarves, warm hats, winter boots and mittens), bring them with you.
From June to August days become warmer and warmer. You can have over 30°C, especially between July and August. Keep an eye on the wind, though, especially along the coast. You might need a sweater in the evening.
September to mid-October are usually still warm months. Leaves start changing colours and fall begins. It gets chilly towards the end of October. During the summer and fall, Nova Scotia can be hit by hurricanes, be prepared.
Late fall and winter tend to be cold and wet. Daylight decreases from November on and days 'become shorter'. You start seeing snow from early November to late April (sometimes, even in May). Pay attention to the wind chill, it can make you feel colder. In winter, snow storms and blizzards happen with certain frequency.

If you want to learn more about winter, watch Get Ready for Winter and Winter Blues.
Beginning in March, 'days become longer' and birds start singing. It can rain a lot in April and May. Early signs of Spring appear from April on; the snow goes away, and you start seeing grass and flowers. Keep dressing in layers and be prepared for some cooler days.
Choosing your bank

Look for banks that offer student accounts, waive monthly fees and allow free e-transfers or other perks. Choose a bank that's in a convenient location. And remember that if you withdraw money from an ATM that doesn't belong to your bank, you may be charged a transaction fee. 

To open a bank account, you need your passport, study permit and NSCC acceptance letter. Call your bank in advance to be sure you're not missing anything.  

Major banks are: Bank of Montreal (BMO); Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank); Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC); Royal Bank of Canada (RBC); Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD). Online-only banks, such as Simplii Financial and Tangerine, also offer student bank accounts.

Types of bank accounts

Chequing account: An everyday expenses account, where your salary is deposited and through which you pay your rent. You can withdraw money as many times as you want, and you receive a debit card to use for your daily transactions.

Savings account: This account allows you to save money over a longer term. There may be a fee if you transfer money from your savings account to your chequing account. 

Packing to come to Canada
Cell/Mobile phone and chargers
Your phone might not work in Canada, unless it is unlocked. Think about an alternative way to use it, perhaps by having Skype credit on it. Don’t forget your adaptors.
Personal hygiene items
Bring what will you need during your first days and while traveling.

Medicines are useful to have with you until you become familiar with what is available in Canada. For medicines with a prescription, bring your doctor’s instructions or an English translation.
Medicines are useful to have with you until you become familiar with what is available in Canada. For medicines with a prescription, bring your doctor’s instructions or an English translation.
It will take you time to find out what stores sell them, especially in some communities. Check the Canadian customs policies to see what spices you may bring.
Canadian Dollars
Have some cash for your first few days. U.S. dollars might be accepted but not at a favourable exchange rate. You should be able to use your credit card.
Comfort items
Family pictures and other things you love from home for comfort and encouragement.
Getting a phone
Using your phone in Canada
Check some websites, like this one, to see if your phone works in Canada. If it’s locked, you might be able to have it unlocked by paying a fee. Stores or shopping malls usually sell phones.
Common service providers
Prepaid plans
Prepaid plans are also called pay-as-you-go, as you do not sign a contract, you don’t receive a billing statement – your credit is pre-paid: if you don’t pay at the end of the month for the following one, the service is simply interrupted (confirm with your provider). They cost between $15 and about $100 per month.
Contract plans
You sign a contract with a provider and are billed every month. You commit to pay for the service and, usually, a credit card is required. Cost varies, especially if your plan includes the phone.
Tips when buying a phone
  • Always ask if the SIM card that you are going to buy is compatible with other service providers – in case you want to change provider in the future. 
  • Always ask about extra charges.
  • Don’t forget HST. It’s a tax and counts for 15% of the total cost of what you are buying. If your plan costs $35, your total price will be $35 + 15% = $40.25.
  • Ask if cancelling your plan is free or if it will cost you.
  • In Canada, you pay to receive phone calls and messages: a plan might work better than a pay-as-you-go option, especially if you receive many calls or messages.
Documents needed to buy a phone/plan
  • Photo ID - either a Passport, a Nova Scotia ID card or a driver’s license.
  • Second piece of identification, such as a credit card, Social Insurance Number, or bank cheque.
Getting a Canadian phone number before moving to Nova Scotia
How can I buy a Canadian plan from abroad?

PhoneBox is a Canadian cell phone service provider offering affordable cell phone plans on 4G LTE networks, powered by Rogers and Telus.

Once you buy your Canadian SIM card, they will mail it to you at your home address, even if you are still abroad. Your SIM card will work as soon as you land in Canada.

Buy your plan here.

Why should I buy a Canadian SIM card before coming to Canada?
  • You will be required to fill in your personal information including a Canadian phone number on the app “ArriveCAN” and other quarantine related forms, such as the Nova Scotia Safe Check-in form.
  • You will be able to use your phone to look for off-campus housing and any other type of communication as soon as you arrive in Canada.
Going to the doctor
Find a walk-in clinic close to your campus
The iCent app has a complete list of walk-in clinics that are close to NSCC campuses: look for the icon ‘Health & Wellness’ and then select ‘find a walk-in clinic’.
Buying medicines
Some medications can be purchased over-the counter at your local pharmacy without a prescription while others you’ll need to see a doctor and get a prescription. If you get a prescription from your doctor, you’ll need to take it to your local pharmacy. In the pharmacy, go to the drop-off counter. A pharmacist will prepare your prescriptions and tell you when you can pick them up.

You can call your pharmacy and ask if they accept online prescriptions.
Paying for your medicines or your visit
If your doctor or clinic accepts direct billing, your bill is sent by the clinic to your health insurance.

If you pay for a visit or medicines, keep all your receipts and submit a claim online through your insurance provider (keep the receipts for tax purposes).
Tips for saving money
  • Buy your groceries on Tuesday (10% student discount).
  • Consider bulk buying and sharing items with friends.
  • Look for loyalty programs, flyers and apps, such as Flipp and Flashfood. Purchase items that are 50% but still good if eaten on the same day.
  • Cook from scratch instead of buying pre-packaged food.
  • Make sure to store leftovers in air-tight containers.
  • Prepare your own take-away lunch or coffee.
Living arrangement
  • Consider living with roommates to share costs.
  • Learn to save energy.
  • Always ask for students’ rates (museums, movie theatres, internet providers etc.).
Use public transportation or share a ride with friends and classmates. Only buy a vehicle if you know all the costs involved, from purchase to maintenance.
Shop at thrift stores and buy gently used clothes at places such as Frenchy’s or Value Village.

Driving in Nova Scotia

Depending on where you live and what campus you’ll be attending, you may choose to have your own car. In order to drive, you’ll need to apply for a Nova Scotia driver’s license within 90 days of becoming a resident. As a student, you're considered a resident.

Useful tips

  • You'll need to book your road test in advance – ask to be put on a waiting list and be open to last-minute cancellations. 
  • Consider taking a few lessons with instructors from licensed driving schools (PDF 128KB). This will help you become familiar with driving in NS. Ask if you might also keep the school vehicle on the day of the exam. In fact, you'll need to bring your own vehicle on the day of the exam.
  • You’ll need to provide translated documents – contact ISANS.