Before last December, I’d briefly visited Montreal and Vancouver, but the idea of moving to Canada never crossed my mind. Then my fiancée/common-law husband landed a new job opportunity in Victoria, British Columbia and six weeks later, we were packing up our Boston apartment and moving to B.C.
We’ve spent almost six months in our new adopted city, so Lyn asked me to share some of my cross-border experiences.
- Expect non-citizen surcharges. Having lived in the U.S. as a U.S. citizen for my entire life (aside from study abroad in London one summer), I hadn’t noticed all the little things that cost more when you aren’t a citizen or permanent resident. When I visited the doctor to get my prescriptions transferred, the clinic wanted to charge an extra $100 to cover the extra liability of treating an American who might try to sue them in her home country (I guess our reputation as being overly litigious precedes us!). I’ve heard of auto body shops that charge expats for lots of extra repairs when they get their vehicle inspected and registered. And don’t get me started on the first-time home-buyer transfer tax exemption that doesn’t apply to recent immigrants!
- Find a flexible landlord. Moving to a new country is pretty big step and the last thing we wanted was to be locked into a 12-month lease in a neighborhood we’d end up hating. So we lived in two short-term furnished rentals, before we bought a condo of our own (yes, bought). The first place was super-modern, stylish and in a cool neighorbood. But that apartment turned out to be pretty chilly in February. We didn’t know that until we moved in, because we visited it during a whirlwind 36-hour trip and never even removed our coats for the showing. Whoops! At least we’d only committed to living there for a month. The other apartment was not drafty despite being right on the water, but as transplants, we didn’t know that homeless people tend to congregate near the building because of its proximity to a shelter. That landlord only required 30-days’ notice, so once we found our condo, we didn’t have to worry about breaking a lease. In general, British Columbia tends to be a bit more tenant-friendly than Boston, which is nice.
- Turn OFF data roaming on your smartphone. When we first arrived, I hadn’t planned on getting a Canadian smartphone, because I figured I’d just use the WiFi on my American phone. I knew enough to turn off data roaming, but I after restarted my phone multiple times and updated the software, we were shocked to receive an extra large bill for (you guessed it) data roaming. I now have a Canadian smartphone so I can look up directions or check emails on the go, but I’m still figuring out how Canadian cell phone plans work. Unlike the U.S., where you can call anywhere in the country with the same pool of minutes, you can actually incur long-distance charges here even for calling someone with the same area code. And not all phone plans automatically come with voicemail. (You have to request it, which baffles me!)
- You won’t miss Hulu (that much). The TV-streaming service Hulu.com does not work in Canada unless you use a VPN. At first, Lyn was horrified to hear that I got my “Parks and Recreation” fix by binge-watching episodes I’d missed on trips back to the U.S. But as I later discovered, most U.S. shows are available on Canadian networks, often a different one than the U.S. Substitute Hulu for any small luxury you’re used to in your home country (Trader Joe’s products, say, or iTunes Radio), and I think most expats can relate. You figure out substitutes or new little indulgences over time. I even talked to an American expat living in South American who missed Ranch dressing so much he learned to make his own.
- Embrace the local culture. I didn’t full understand how much people could love maple syrup and ice hockey until we moved here just before the Winter Olympics. Aside from all the touristy stuff, we’ve been binge-watching “Dragon’s Den” (the Canadian version of “Shark Tank”) on Netflix. Hearing entrepreneurs from all across Canada pitch their ideas has given me a crash course in the different provinces and nuances of how people speak and do business. One notable difference between “Dragon’s Den” and “Shark Tank” is that the investors in the tank (two of whom are Canadian and also in the Den) get extremely cutthroat about competing offers. In the den, they’re more likely to partner with another dragon or graciously bow out, saying the other dragon’s offer was better. That friendlier, more collaborative mindset is a breathe of fresh air!
Have you moved to another country? How was your experience and what did you miss most? Leave a comment and let us know!