International Student Guide, Part 2: Arrival & First-Day Essentials

Posted by Simone on August 18, 2016

On-board to York

After giving you some tips last week on how to prepare  before arriving in Toronto, today is the day to talk about what happens once you get here. These tips will likely become part of your everyday life in the city, so read on — and know there’s more to come in the weeks ahead!

Arrival at the airport

A group of people standing outside Arrivals at the airport
International Arrivals at Toronto Pearson International Airport

After touching down at the Toronto Pearson International Airport, you should visit the International Student Welcome Booth at Arrivals. There, York University students will hand you a welcome bag containing a map of the city, a phone SIM card, information on how to open a bank account and other useful tips for international students. You will also have the opportunity to call home for free at the booth to let your loved ones know you made it to Toronto. In addition, students at the booth will be available to answer any questions you may have.

When I first arrived, I found the students working at the booth very friendly and eager to make me feel at home. The welcome bag also really helped me get started with my life in Toronto, especially when it came to opening a bank account. The amount of available options can make choosing a bank a challenging decision for an international student, so the welcome pamphlets come in really handy.

Getting financially settled

The word bank written on a white and grey background

As I mentioned above, it is important for you to open a bank account rather soon after you arrive. The act of opening an account is a relatively straightforward affair; you simply need to show your acceptance letter to the person who is helping you at the bank. York International has gathered together all the necessary information on banking in Canada for international students. When choosing a bank, my recommendation is to check which ATMs are located on campus and to choose from there. I learned this the hard way: in the icy cold of winter, you certainly don’t want to have to leave campus to withdraw or deposit money. I cursed myself every time I had to trudge through the snow to get to my bank during my first year in Toronto. And speaking of winter, if you are interested in how to prepare for the Canadian winter in terms of university, check out my colleague Sam’s post.

Getting connected: Phone plans

A cellphone display in a store
Don’t forget to buy a phone to stay connected and communicate

You will also definitely want to have a Canadian cellphone. Personally, I found buying a phone as an international student really hard. To buy a plan, the companies always asked me for a Canadian ID, which I didn’t have, or they asked me if I knew a friend that had one. Having just arrived at the time, I didn’t know many Canadians yet, so it was impossible for me to buy a plan. Thankfully, I was able to purchase a pre-paid phone at Wal-Mart that allowed me to have unlimited messages and calls. I used that phone for the first few months and got a plan as soon as I got my first Canadian ID (my driving license). Note that only a driver’s license, a passport or a government health card are acceptable as official Canadian identification; your York ID does not count. Beware, then, that it might take some time for you to get the phone and plan you want. If you are interested in buying a phone, there is a good website that allows you to compare the plans and prices of almost all phone companies in Canada.


A room with a bed, lights and posters
Sample of a common dorm room

If you are going to be living in residence, you will receive an email detailing the devices you are allowed to use in your dorm room and listing suggested items to bring. I recommend buying those items shortly after you arrive to Canada to be ready for “move-in day,” when you will start living in your room. I found some items on the list either not as useful or already included in the room, so make sure to check ahead. A campus tour will give you the opportunity to see a sample room and get an idea of what you would like to have in your dorm. I didn’t do that when I first arrived — and ended up with an extra lamp and garbage bin! I also recommend talking to students who have experience living in residence — they generally have good advice. If you will be living off campus, you will need to look into buying and having furniture delivered for your apartment, unless it is already furnished.


A subway train
The TTC Subway

Finally, if you plan on going downtown a lot or using public transit every day, you should buy a Post Secondary Student Pass, either at any Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) booth or through the York Federation of Students (YFS). In my opinion, having a transit pass is very convenient, as you can use buses, trains and streetcars as many times you want, and the pass is easy to carry with you in your wallet or purse. If you are planning on commuting to York, whether from within the city or beyond, check out my colleague Garima’s post on commuter life.

Do you now feel more prepared for your life in Toronto? Do you have any tips or experiences you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me at @yorkustudents with the #YUBlog and we’ll talk more soon.


Simone Visentin is an international student at YorkU. He is working to complete his degree in Communication Studies at the Keele Campus and a certificate in Spanish-English translation at Glendon. He is passionate about languages and music. He speaks Italian, Spanish, English and French. He is also a songwriter, music producer and host for Radio Glendon.

See other posts by Simone

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