Even though Canada ranks 23rd among all of the world’s countries in terms of the ease of doing business, according to the World Bank, this is no guarantee of success. Business ownership requires a lot of discipline and hard work to be successful.

Clearly, starting a business is a challenge under ideal circumstances. But for someone who is an immigrant to Canada, the process of starting a business would appear to be an even bigger challenge than for a lifelong Canadian citizen. If there are language barriers or a difficulty in understanding local and provincial regulations for the immigrant, the challenges only grow.

However, these potential challenges do not stop immigrants from trying to start businesses. CIC News reports that immigrants often are more willing to try to start businesses than native Canadians, and they tend to have an above average level of success.

As an immigrant to Canada, if you have interest in trying to start a business, we have some ideas and information that can help simplify the process, including the best businesses in Canada for immigrants.

Legal Requirements for an Immigrant to Start a Canadian Business

One of the most challenging aspects of starting a business for anyone, including immigrants, is dealing with the legal process. Depending on the type of business you’re starting, you may have to undertake a number of steps to be a legal business to meet federal regulations, including:

  • Holding a physical address for the business
  • Registering a business name (to protect the name)
  • Undergoing incorporation, if needed
  • Applying for a business number
  • Applying for business permits and licenses
  • Paying any governmental fees associated with the business

Understand that there could be additional municipal and provincial regulations as well.

Rules for Immigrant Business Owners

For immigrants who are not Canadian citizens, a number of avenues exist for starting a business. You will have to show some financial stability, and you’ll need a work permit. There may be some fees associated with your application, depending on your business plans.


Here are some programs to check out:

  • Self-Employed Persons Program: If you are looking to work as a self-employed person, Canada has a number of federal and provincial regulations for immigrants to follow. The federal regulations require that you have experience from somewhere else in the world in the type of work you want to do. Immigrants may need to go through a medical exam and have a certain amount of money available, depending on the size of the family who will be immigrating with you. You would need at least $12,960 (in Canadian dollars) if you are applying alone. (This is money for your initial living expenses, not for governmental fees.) Federal authorities will examine your application before issuing approval or denial.
  • Start-Up Visa Program: For those immigrants who are looking to build a business upon arriving in Canada, this federal program is applicable. Through this program, the government is looking to approve immigrants who have innovative ideas and can create jobs for Canadians. The immigrant may need to show a letter of support from a Canadian business group that provides startup funding and investments in businesses, or the immigrant may need to prove that he or she will manage the business in Canada on an ongoing basis. You also will need to have a certain amount of funding available for your living expenses, which would be at least $12,960 (in Canadian dollars) for a single person and more for a family.
  • Provincial Nominee Program: For the immigrant who has certain skills that are in demand in a Canadian province or territory, this program is the best way to go. Part of the goal in this program is the immigrant’s desire to become a permanent resident of Canada. Each province or territory has slightly different rules for immigrants who are applying, but you can expect to need a medical exam and a background check for starters. This program does not involve starting a business at first, but the immigrant could move toward starting a business down the road if he or she does not qualify currently under either of the first two programs.

Best Places in Canada for an Immigrant to Start a Business

According to Statista, Ontario had the largest number of immigrants in 2019 among Canadian provinces and territories, outperforming the second highest province by 3 times. Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta all had a large number of immigrants in 2019, too.


Here is a list of some of the guidance and advice that is available at the provincial level to immigrants trying to start a business in each of the Canadian provinces and territories.

  • Alberta: Immigrants to Alberta can take advantage of Business Link, which is a non-profit organization that helps all entrepreneurs in Alberta to start businesses, including immigrants. It publishes a guide for immigrants interested in becoming business owners, using specific examples to help immigrants work through the steps required and any problems they may be having.
  • British Columbia: Because Vancouver is a tech hub, immigrants looking to start technology related businesses can find excellent resources here. Additionally, high net worth individuals looking to invest in or operate a business in B.C. have the ability to make use of the British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program Business program.
  • Manitoba: Immigrants looking to start a business in Manitoba can work through the Business Investor Stream program for help with business plans, with understanding the local culture, and with following local regulations and requirements.
  • New Brunswick: Immigrants to New Brunswick will be able to take advantage of the Business Immigrant Mentorship Program to gain help with advice on starting a business, along with helpful market research, networking, and cultural training.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: Immigrants can make use of the International Entrepreneur program here to start a business or to purchase one, but only high net worth individuals probably will be able to meet the criteria.
  • Northwest Territories: In Northwest Territories, the NTNP Business Stream helps immigrants seeking to start, buy, or invest in a business that will generate jobs for Canadians living in the region. This program is primarily for high net worth individuals.
  • Nova Scotia: The Immigrant Services Association in Nova Scotia has printed an e-book that guides immigrants through the process of starting a business here. It provides information on rules the immigrant must follow, as well as advice on the culture in Nova Scotia. It also contains resources for obtaining more information as needed.
  • Ontario: Considering the large number of immigrants who enter Ontario every year, the province does an excellent job providing information regarding starting a business through the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program. Additionally, the OINP Entrepreneur Stream program provides help to immigrants looking at purchasing an existing business in the province, along with establishing permanent residence.
  • Prince Edward Island: Through the P.E.I. Business Immigration program, those looking to establish a business in Prince Edward Island can find advice and regulations. High net worth individuals will have the best success with this program.
  • Saskatchewan: The opportunities for immigrants to start or purchase a business in Saskatchewan are extensive. The Saskatchewan provincial government has a wide variety of resources to help immigrants research their options at its website.
  • Yukon: For immigrants looking to run a business, the Yukon Business Nominee Program provides the information and advice that aspiring entrepreneurs need.

Best Businesses for Immigrants to Start in Canada

An immigrant can start almost any kind of business in Canada, depending on his or her skills. However, there are a few types of businesses especially seem to fit immigrants well. Here are the 6 best businesses for Canadian immigrants.

Restaurant

For an immigrant who has skills with cooking, starting a restaurant is a popular business opportunity. Through the restaurant, the immigrant may be able to introduce foods and recipes native to his or her country that Canadians may have an interest in tasting.


An advantage of opening an authentic restaurant is that it may not be like anything else in the area where you are opening it, giving you a niche place in the restaurant market.


This market is highly competitive, and many restaurants don’t make it, so it is helpful to have some previous experience in this type of business. But this can be a great business to start when family members are immigrating with you, as you can all work together, making it a family business.

Coffee Shop

In some countries, certain types of coffees are popular. By opening a coffee shop in your new Canadian home, you may be able to introduce some of the types of coffee from your native country to Canadians through this type of business, along with pastries and other treats.


Serve your native coffees and foods in your shop, along with favorites for the region of Canada in which you’re operating the business, and you can appeal to both those who like trying new things and those who have an affinity for their long-time favorites.

Retail Store or Grocery

For immigrants looking to introduce their native culture to their new home in Canada, starting a retail store that features some products from their home country could create a niche business.


Immigrants moving into an area of Canada that is already home to a significant number of fellow immigrants from the same country could choose to start a grocery store that carries some types of foods that are native to the home country, along with traditional Canadian types of foods.


Carrying specialty foods related to his or her home country could give the grocer a built-in customer base of fellow immigrants who may not be able to find these types of foods anywhere else in the area.


Brick and mortar retail can be a challenging industry, so consider selling products online too, if possible.

Agriculture

If you, as an immigrant, have experience as a farmer in your home country, you may be able to start a small scale farm in Canada. You could start a business that grows specialty crops not found in other areas of the province, or you may be able to have livestock that is not typical to the area.


Perhaps you have experience with these non-traditional farm products from your native country, giving you an interesting business opportunity that is not commonly found elsewhere in the area.


Additionally, these types of small scale farming operations could provide an opportunity for farm tourism or agri-tours, giving you a second stream of income for your new business.

Technology

For an immigrant with training in high-tech applications, there is the possibility of starting a technology related company.


Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Ottawa all have thriving tech industries, according to the Vancouver Sun, which is helpful for those immigrants who are looking to start a business related to software programming, gaming, or app building.


For those who have more experience in setting up networks or working with computing hardware, consider a startup business that provides help to small businesses for setting up a network or that performs repairs on computing equipment.


There are a number of tech-related business ideas that are possible for immigrants looking to create a startup.

Construction or Contracting

Several Canadian cities are experiencing strong growth in construction, and this can provide a high-demand business opportunity for an immigrant who has experience in managing large construction projects, handyman contracting jobs, or anything in between.


Contractors often can work alone when doing smaller, handyman types of jobs, which simplifies the process of running the business. For those who don’t mind the complexities of running a business with multiple employees, a larger contracting or construction business is a possibility.


If you are immigrating into an area of Canada where many others from your home country have also immigrated, you may find skilled laborers from your home country who are eager to begin working for you, as your fellow immigrants may be more comfortable working for someone who speaks their native language.

Other Options for Entrepreneurial Immigrants

Those who have specific skills may want to purchase a business that’s for sale that matches up with those skills. An immigrant who has training as a medical professional could look to purchase a medical practice, jumping into a business that already has a client base.

One final way immigrants start a business in Canada is by migrating a business they have in their home country into Canada. Some people may decide to continue operating the business in the home country, opening an additional location in Canada, while others may completely move the business to Canada. For those who are already entrepreneurs, this may be the best option when immigrating to Canada.


About the author 

Maurice

Maurice (Moe) Muise learned the ins-and-outs of government while an employee of the Government of Canada in Ottawa for 10 years. His current focus is helping small businesses in Ontario to identify and maximize government grants to grow their business.
Click here to learn more about Moe's background and how he can help your business.

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