It’s a strange feeling seeing pictures of my son in the UK without me being there. A whole lot of emotions are going on. In each picture I can hear the sounds that he’s hearing, picture all of the surrounding area, even remember the smell and feel of the places. I wish a little that I was there enjoying the visit too, getting to spend time with family and friends, able to have a taste of some of the things we miss about living in Britain. Sigh.
The other day the BBC posted an article about moving to Canada. I think it was slightly tongue in cheek, not wholly serious. In the wake of the referendum in the UK, some of those displeased with Brexit are looking for a life abroad and a large number are internet searching that possibility. The story talked about some of the things to consider, so I thought I’d throw my twopence in to the subject.
The main things the reporter mentioned were Bugs, Cost of Living, the housing market, inequality and Justin Trudeau.
Bugs! Yes, we have mosquitoes and black flies and no see ‘ums to name a few, but you learn to deal. Insects are not as bad in the cities, though if you live out in rural areas they’re worse. We have a gazebo with netting around it on our deck so we can sit outside in the evening in the summer and it’s really not that bad anyway.
Before I go on I’ll also say that, yes, it gets cold and snowy in the winter, but again we’ve learned to deal with it.
The first thing to consider if you are thinking about living in Canada is eligibility. It is not as simple as deciding to move here and just doing it.
We moved here to New Brunswick, a province on the Eastern side of Canada, six and a half years ago. The idea was floating around in our heads for about five years before that, and it took a year and a half from our first visit to arriving as immigrants in early 2010. We’ve gone from arriving with a Temporary Work Permit to gaining Permanent Residency through the Provincial Nominee programme to gaining Citizenship in October 2014. Five years with tons of paperwork, proving that we are eligible and we are who we say we are over and over again, and lots of money handed to the Canadian Government. It takes a lot of patience and meticulous attention to detail to get the forms together correctly.
Rules have changed – it takes far longer to gain citizenship now. Also, the immigration requirements vary from province to province, and change from year to year. If you’re interested in finding out whether you are eligible the CIC is the website to look at. At the time we were looking, New Brunswick was about the only province my husband was eligible for as there was a need for construction workers. It’s a good job this is where we were looking to move to!
Tim left his Roofing Contracts Manager job in England to work on the tools here. He earned about a third of his salary in England, and roofing is seasonal here so in the winter there is little work. It took me a long time to find a permanent job which I hadn’t anticipated and it takes 18 months before immigrants are eligible to claim any benefits. We took a big financial hit.
In the East, where we live, property is cheap, but wages are lower too. At the moment our province is not doing well economically. There is high unemployment (around 10%) and a falling population. We need people to move here and start businesses, so there is opportunity for entrepreneurs.
In the West and in major cities like Toronto and Vancouver, wages are much higher, but property is very expensive – to the point of being unaffordable for many. The BBC article covers this, nor am I an expert on Western Canada as we haven’t lived there.
For us to afford to move here we had to sell our house in Southern England. Some of our friends didn’t have to do that, and there are benefits to earning an income from property in the UK especially as it means you have funds in pound sterling when going back to visit! That just wasn’t possible for us.
We have found that our cost of living is much higher here. Although property and fuel is cheap everything else is more expensive. It’s a shock how much electricity, mobile phone, internet charges, tv and so on are here. Also, we earn less so a larger proportion of our income goes to paying bills. Furniture is expensive so if you are planning to live here bring everything with you (not electrical goods though as the voltage is different)! When you do move here you start again with credit rating, they do not consider your history in the UK. It’s a good idea to bring a reference from your car insurer too so that you don’t get charged an extortionate amount for insurance.
Canada is big. There are vast differences between Eastern and Western Canada and everywhere in between. Each province is run differently. There is Federal government and Provincial Government. There are different laws, different tax rates, different requirements for some professions, differences in education, differences in health care. This can be hard to get used to coming from a country where many things are standardized across the country.
This leads me to Culture Shock. I think the impression is that Canada is an easy move as we share one of the official languages and there are many things that are similar in culture. Living here is different. I experienced this disorienting feeling the first time I went to do a proper shop in a supermarket here. I wandered round looking for the familiar and not finding much of it. It’s an odd feeling. I came out after two hours with an odd assortment of food. It took me a while to adjust and find the things that we now regularly eat.
Summer here is lovely and warm. Where we live it can get to -40 in the winter (that’s fairly rare), but it can get to +40 in the summer. People take advantage of it and a lot go away to their cottages and camps in the summer, some every weekend. It’s a strange feeling when your friends disappear for that portion of the year.
The distance between places is a real adjustment too. Where we lived on the South Coast of England we were within easy reach of the sea, the Downs and a short train ride to London. Larger cities and towns were all around us. Ikea was an hour away. The continent was in easy reach and we were used to going to France for a family vacation. We could internet shop for everything, even do our grocery shopping online and have it delivered.
Here there’s at least an hour between major towns, four hours to the nearest major city, eight hours to our nearest Ikea (four hours next year, it’s coming to Halifax!). There are no trains. In winter we don’t travel much outside Fredericton.
When we moved here there was a direct flight to London Gatwick in the summer months, it got axed the next year, which makes travelling back to and from the UK a little more complicated. Internet shopping is getting easier, but delivery charges are high. If you order from the States or elsewhere there are import charges and tax as well as the exchange rate to be considered. Grocery shopping on the internet does not exist for any of the major supermarkets in our area. In some ways it is like moving back in time living here.
The sense of humour is different. Often our British sense of humour is misunderstood as many people take things very literally. Also, get used to being asked if you come from Australia. The other day a seven-year old asked if my accent was Italian. That was okay.
It may sound like I’m being negative. I’m not. I’m being real about the differences that we experienced moving here. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is not to fight everything. When you live in a different culture to your own you have to start thinking as they do and learning and respecting how things are done. ‘Think dollar’ was one piece of advice I heard. It doesn’t mean we stop being British or liking the way we do things, it’s just we put aside that tendency to think that our way is always right and be willing to learn.
I’ve adapted my cooking and baking to the ingredients available here and there’s more variety all the time as people from other cultures move into the area. I grow my own vegetables in the summer to help with the cost. I’ve got good at cooking curry as there are no curry takeaway places in our city. I’ve found that I can get by without double cream (though some dessert recipes just don’t work without it). After a while you learn not to say, ‘In England we do or we have such and such…’ all the time.
We didn’t move here for a better lifestyle, or for our careers or anything like that, so none of the things I’ve mentioned are deal breakers for us. They are just things we’ve had to deal with.
To settle into a new country you need friends. I’m so grateful that we are part of a great church family here. We had connections before we moved here and that helped us settle in. I don’t know how people do it without that support network right there. We have Canadian and British friends, friends on our street, friends at work.
Of course we miss things. People more than things…and I still appreciate Yorkshire Tea Decaf teabags being brought or sent over. I still listen to BBC Radio when I’m at home. Life is good here though, it’s the place God has us right now. If you don’t move here, at least come and visit. Canada is great.
I’ll finish with this, don’t move for a leader or a government. Like many of the things I’ve mentioned, and as we all know and have experienced, they change quicker than most things.