Moving to Canada: Getting Started

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Moving to CanadaIf you have just made the momentous decision of moving to Canada, then you may be feeling a little overwhelmed by the logistical operation ahead. Immigrating to Canada can be a tough process, but is made easier with some simple, calculated planning.

Even if you expect to receive a good relocation package and extensive company support, don’t let anyone fool you, because if you are the trailing spouse and there are children involved, then YOU will inadvertently become the (uncredited) Senior Project Manager for your international adventure. Fact!

As a veteran of this process myself – we moved twice internationally (with four young children) in less than three years – I have become a bit of a whizz at mobilising a household, young children, a Jack Russell, and just about every facet of our life, overseas.

The key is thorough preparation: lots of research, making lists, compiling a few spreadsheets and, most importantly, staying focused under pressure. If you’re deadly serious about upping sticks, then good preparation begins the moment you decide to emigrate.

Firstly, you need to start reading and researching everything you can about living in Canada, and I would strongly recommend purchasing a few good books.

Live & Work in Canada is an excellent guide that provides a broad overview of the whole country (the different provinces, the history of Canada, its political system, general cultural information, etc.) You will also need to find something specific to the province or city where you intend to live, and in our case I bought the The Rough Guide and Lonely Planet City Guide to Vancouver.

But before you can really start dreaming about living in Canada, you will need to consider the complex visa process and decide which option will give your family the best chance of qualifying for immigration.

If you or your partner has a potential job offer in Canada with a company willing to sponsor you, it will be much easier to obtain permanent residency. Without employment in place, you will need to make sure that you can legally work and reside in Canada once you arrive.

A good place to start researching the visa process is Citizenship and Immigration Canada. If your intention is to immigrate permanently and you don’t have a company sponsoring you, it’s advisable to contact a worldwide relocation specialist (such as A New Life Abroad), who can provide accurate and up to date visa information and practical assistance to secure the correct permits for you and your family.

But even at this early stage, there are some big decisions to make closer to home.

If you own a house in your country of origin, do you intend to sell it, or keep it? Whatever you decide will have significant tax implications for you and your family, so you need to think very carefully about what the future might hold.

Whether you make a profit on the sale of your house, or monies earned from renting it out, this revenue will have to be declared as world income and will be taxable, in addition to whatever you earn in Canada.

You will also need to find somewhere suitable to live when you arrive, and this could be your first introduction to Craigslist.

Canadians love Craigslist. Everything from houses, furniture, cars, and even registered licensed childcare is advertised here. It’s also a great tool for researching the cost of housing (to buy and rent) in the area you are thinking of moving to. Craigslist spans every province and is used prolifically by professional realty companies advertising their rental portfolios. Incidentally, it’s also where I sought and found both the houses we have rented since we moved to Canada.

Moving to Canada with pets

Pets are another important consideration at this stage, if you are planning to take them with you.

Depending on where you are emigrating from, pets will almost certainly need to fulfil the import requirements set out by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency – and this can take time. Your local vet should be able to provide you with some of this information, as your pet won’t be the first one they’ve prepared for immigration.

You might also want to start researching the numerous pet transport companies in order to negotiate these costs into your relocation package.

Now is an ideal time to begin compiling your family’s living costs in your country of origin. If you are going to negotiate a good package, you need to know exactly what your current standard of living actually costs.

Create a simple excel spreadsheet that lists every expense, from utility bills, mortgage/rent payments, childcare costs, socialising, monthly clothing expenditure, home insurance, you name it. Don’t try and do it in one sitting, set up the spreadsheet and treat it as a work-in-progress, adding things as you remember them. Then create a similar spreadsheet detailing all the things you will need to pay for in Canada.

Relocation costs and expenditure should be logged on a third spreadsheet. Some invoices will be paid for by the company at the point of sale (i.e. flights, international moving costs), but other things may need to be claimed back in expenses after you arrive in Canada.

It goes without saying that all receipts and invoices should be filed neatly and kept updated, so they are easy to find when you need them.

You may also want to start thinking about a final spreadsheet detailing all the companies and organisations you are involved with, such as utility and insurance companies, banks, and even your children’s school. As you approach your leaving date, you will need to notify them that you are moving to Canada. This task is made so much easier if the information is already there.

At this stage it’s also useful to set a realistic potential date for your departure. This will vary depending on your circumstances, but having a date in mind gives all parties a timeframe to focus on and get organised. In my experience, people who can’t decide on an approximate leaving date (even if it’s 18 months in the future) are not wholly committed and probably won’t end up emigrating.

Any date can be changed, of course, but the wheels need to begin turning if you are ever going to make the dream of moving to Canada a reality. The next thing you need to start planning is a fact-finding trip . . .


The second installment of Shelley’s series on moving to Canada with a family focuses on the importance of a pre-move fact-finding trip. Read more on moving to Vancouver with a young family and how to get your items shipped to Canada from abroad.


Shelley Antscherl is a British journalist, expat, and mother of four now living in British Columbia, Canada. She currently writes for various publications and websites and blogs about her adventures as a Disparate Huisvrouw in a country far far away.

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