It’s never an easy decision to uproot your life and move to another country – regardless of what conditions you may be facing at home. Since November 2015, nearly 29,000 Syrian refugees have made Canada their new home – most of them with assistance from the new federal government. Many are financially supported by public and private sponsors for their first year, but soon enough, the time will come when these new Canadians secure jobs and begin to earn a living for themselves and their families.
For those refugees who had their own businesses back in Syria, it may be priority to return to entrepreneurial ways. In July, the Globe and Mail reported on a couple who previously had a sewing factory in Damascus and have now resurrected it as a tailoring and alterations company in Calgary. And business has taken off – they’re receiving orders from family, friends and an organization that supports refugees.
For many of these families, they are rebuilding businesses that were lost in the war or they’re becoming entrepreneurs for the very first time. But this may not be an easy task – never mind learning a new language, customs, and adjusting to a safe environment. If you’re new to Canada, here’s what to consider when getting a business off the ground.
Challenges new Canadians face
If you’re brand new to the country, you most likely will not have a Canadian credit history. Without that background information, it’s difficult to secure a loan to finance your business. Whether you’re fleeing from a war-torn country or just struggling to make ends meet, you may not have enough assets to use as collateral. To complicate matters further, you may not even be able to get a bank account until you find permanent housing.
In another recent Globe and Mail article, Winnipeg’s Ralston De Zilva discusses his journey from Sri Lanka to Winnipeg back in 2008, and the financial hurdles he faced while launching his tea company. He and his sister had contacts with several tea brands back in their home country, but were only able to secure a $2,000 loan in the beginning from a bank he worked for in the past – not enough to get his business running.
Services for new Canadian entrepreneurs
A terrific resource is the non-profit Futurpreneur Canada’s Newcomer Program which provides financing, mentoring and support tools for those between the ages of 18 and 39 looking to start – or restart – their own business. Entrepreneurs can receive up to $45,000 in financing, a mentor to work with and other useful resources. The loans are typically collateral-free, can be repaid at any time and have an interest rate that may be lower than a bank’s.
Other good resources include Fundingportal, and ACCESS Community Capital Fund for those hoping to launch a business in the Greater Toronto Area. There are also numerous government services available. You can find a full list of government-backed loan guarantees on the Canada Business website.
Banks and credit cards that can assist you
Most of the big banks – including Scotiabank, BMO, TD Canada Trust, CIBC and RBC – offer a number of financial services for Canadian newcomers that can help you start to build a life in Canada and ultimately, your own business. Scotiabank, as an example, has established a program available in a number of countries that allows soon-to-be Canadians to apply for a bank account up to six months before their arrival.
In terms of credit cards, it’s a good idea to apply for a secured card as soon as you arrive in Canada. This has all the advantages of a regular credit card but requires you to put aside some money to ensure the debt will be paid back. You can use a secured credit card to build your credit history through everyday purchases. If you pay your bills on time, your credit history will eventually be enough to apply for an unsecured card.
Some RateSupermarket-recommended cards for new Canadians include three Capital One cards: the Guaranteed MasterCard, Guaranteed Secured MasterCard and the Low Rate Guaranteed MasterCard. All three of these are aimed at building or strengthening your credit history and have low annual fees. Home Trust offers two similar cards: the Secured Visa and No Fee Secured Visa. These two are also aimed at building credit history, but have additional features, such as the ability to use them to book vacations and access ATMs all over the world – two great features if you’re returning home to visit family. But remember: when applying for any card, always remember to check the fine print first to make sure you’re eligible and the terms and conditions make sense to you.
While banks and credit cards may not directly help you get your new business off the ground, they can help build your financial profile so the conditions are right to start the process. The earlier you start looking into these services, the faster and smoother the journey will be.
It never hurts to ask for help!
Don’t be afraid to reach out – notify the chamber of commerce in your home city, as well as ethnic chambers of commerce, and let them know you’re looking to build your business. Some may be able to find you sources of financing. Another way to get support for your new business is through crowdfunding, such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo or GoFundMe.
Coming to Canada to restart your life and your business is a brave step. It’s a long and challenging road, but with some patience and time in combination with the right help from a number of resources, you can find personal and financial success. Your contributions can help strengthen the Canadian economy, and also bring about a strong sense of pride – within yourself, your family and the entire country.