Once you decide to immigrate to Canada, and you’re sure of securing a working visa, it is time to start planning a fact-finding trip to Canada to gather as much information as you can.
I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is, as the accompanying partner, to visit the place you are moving to before you immigrate for good, and certainly before you have accepted or negotiated the final terms of the employment contract and relocation package.
Information you gather on your trip to Canada about the cost of living will be essential to making sure your remuneration package adequately covers an acceptable standard of living for you and your family.
And what I can tell you from bitter experience is that not making a fact-finding trip will make the whole relocation process much more stressful, and it might take longer to feel at home when you move there permanently.
Homesickness, loneliness, isolation and culture shock (even when moving to another English-speaking country) can affect even the most battle-hardened expatriate partner, especially as you are likely to have the additional stress of being the (un-credited) Senior Project Manager for the whole logistical operation . . .
Two books in particular are well worth investing in at this point.
A Moveable Marriage by Robin Pascoe, who followed her husband on numerous postings around the globe, puts the expat union under the spotlight and highlights the issues facing spouses. It will soothe and amuse in equal measure!
And Linda A. Janssen’s The Emotionally Resilient Expat also really nails the genuine emotional issues that were once dismissed as homesickness or depression, or just ‘struggling to cope’ after a stressful international move.
Emotional resilience really is the tool that will carry you through the relocation and settling-in process. Knowing what it is — and how you can bolster your reserves of this essential coping mechanism — will certainly reassure you that the cacophony of emotions you may be feeling is completely normal.
Once you have visited the place you are moving to, you will feel more confident when you arrive with your family. Just knowing simple things like where to find your local supermarket, how to get to school without getting lost, and where you can grab a coffee in your neighbourhood — because you’ve already been there — will mean you won’t feel so out of your depth when you actually immigrate.
When we found out we were moving to the Netherlands (at short notice) in 2008, I was eight months pregnant with my fourth child and my circumstances made it impossible for me to do a fact-finding trip. Turning up to a small rural village in the North of Holland, without knowing where anything was in the surrounding area, was bewildering and horribly stressful.
Two and half years later when my husband was offered a job in BC, I did things differently and planned a short trip to Canada on my own, with a list of information I needed to find out while I was here.
I knew it was going to be impossible to travel around freely gathering information while dealing with four jet lagged and excitable young children, so my husband took a few days off work to take care of them while I boarded a plane to Vancouver.
Even though my husband’s company had offered to organise my trip I decided to stay with an old friend in Kitsilano and set my own agenda. It was important to me that I saw everything on my own terms. I didn’t want to be given a rose-tinted tour of certain places and only get steered towards the nice bits, just because the company were keen for my husband to accept their job offer.
Having said that, it was important to have some ‘people on the ground’ to advise me while I was there, so prior to my visit I made contact with the HR manager and a senior PA at the new company, and arranged to meet up with them when I was in Vancouver. Both ladies were exceptionally helpful and were always happy to answer my questions or point me in the right direction throughout the entire relocation process. They also spent a day showing me around the Lower Mainland, and became my first two friends when we arrived in Canada four months later.
Not only is it essential to gather practical information while you are in Canada, but psychologically it’s a way of familiarising yourself with the place that will become your new home. It is much easier to focus on where you are moving to when you have seen the place for yourself.
If you are going to get the most out of your trip, then you need to go prepared with a list of things you want to find out while you’re there.
In my case, I was absolutely determined to find the area we were going to live in that was within a sensible commuting distance to my husband’s new job. I’d shortlisted and researched a few areas around the Lower Mainland on the internet before I left, and they were the first places I visited when I arrived. It had nothing to do with house hunting (which we sourced through Craigslist once I returned home) it was entirely about getting a feel for the neighbourhoods and local facilities and choosing the right place for us.
I even went to a local supermarket while I was there and made a list of the cost of groceries (bread, milk, vegetables, toiletries, you name it — everything we would usually buy on a normal grocery store trip back home). This went on a spreadsheet of living costs on my return that we referenced when negotiating my husband’s employment contract and relocation package.
Within a couple of days I had decided that South Surrey/ White Rock, would suit us perfectly and this meant that when I got home, I could streamline my research specifically to look for houses, schools and everything else in those areas (grocery stores, recreational facilities, childcare, doctors surgeries etc).
By the time you arrive home, you should have all the info you need to negotiate and finalise the employment contract and relocation package, and tips on what to include in these will be covered in my next instalment; as you begin to tie up loose ends in your home country . . .
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.