Moving to a new country can be a challenging task, especially if you are traveling in the midst of a pandemic. I am aware it is meant to be essential travel only, however who I am to judge what is essential to one, it may not be essential to other. At this stage, a year into it we are bound to start living somewhat normal and that includes international relocation.
I have moved to Vancouver, Canada in January 2020. We have had just under 8 weeks of bliss until the world shut down, during these 8 weeks we didn’t get to experience much of Canadian Life, as we were busy setting ourselves up with jobs, apartment and everything in between. I wished I had few tips starting out to help me get set up, this is also the reason why I’ve put this post together for you.
- Finding a Job
Canadian employment market is nothing like in Europe, things take so much longer and everything seems to be so slow. If you are in a niche industry i.e. science or engineering I’d strongly advise you to start looking and applying for jobs before you even step foot in Vancouver. Even if you don’t hear back from the companies, at least you’re already one step ahead of your peers. Secondly, when you do submit your resume, make sure it written in a Canadian format. You can find examples of it online. There are couple of places you could start your job search, for example on Indeed or Monster, Linked In or a very successful way through an employment agency. Even if you dont get the job you really want, its a nice way to get Canadian Work Experience and keep money coming in.
2. Have Savings
When you apply for your visa, especially the IEC Visa, there will be a specific requirement to have a certain amount of funds in your account prior to your arrival, to allow you to support yourself during your job hunt. I cannot stress this enough, Vancouver is very expensive. British Columbia (the province within which Vancouver is located) has the highest tax rates in Canada and Vancouver rental market is more expensive than Toronto.
When we applied for our visas, I believe the requirement was to have €3,000 per person in the account. It is simply not enough. I’d advise to have minimum of €5,000 per person to let you get settled, and I stress that would be the minimum to have.
As mentioned earlier, jobs take time, Vancouver is expensive and you will want to eat and explore the city – it quickly adds up. Additionally, when renting 90% of places come unfurnished and you will need to pay 50% of months rent as a down-payment for security deposit. Be smart about your funds.
3. Obtaining a SIN Number
SIN Number is an equivalent of Social Security in USA or PPS Number in Ireland. Without it, you will not be able to open a bank account or get a job.
To get your SIN visit any of the Service Canada Offices, one of them is located at Canada Place in downtown Vancouver. [This was prior to COVID-19, therefore refer to their site for further details].
To get your SIN you will need to provide your Work Permit & Passport to the Service Canada Employee. Your SIN will only be issued for the duration of your Work Permit. You will also need to provide them with your address, however this isn’t being used for anything else other than “an anchor” for your SIN, therefore you can use your AirB&B or Sublet Apartment address until you find your apartment.
You will be provided with your SIN Number on the spot. Do not share it with anyone and do not give it to companies even if they ask you for it. They have no reason for it and if in wrong hands you’re putting yourself at risk for identity theft.
[Trust me, I work in finance, I see this happen daily.]
4. Setting up a bank account
I’d strongly advise to do some research regarding bank accounts in Canada. There are various institutions and they all offer different benefits to new to country arrivals. Some banks will offer free banking for the first year, some free international transfers etc. Do what’s best for you and you only. Don’t go with an institution simply because something was mentioned it online, do your research and see what they can offer as these offerings change regularly.
To open an account you will need your passport, your SIN and your Work Permit. They will ask you for an address – don’t worry if you dont have an apartment yet, you can provide them with your AirB&B until you get settled, however make sure you tell them its a temporary address – this way they won’t mail out your card to the AirB&B.
Most banks, will provide you with a temporary debit card on the spot during account opening until you have a permanent address, to which they can then mail your official debit card.
Debit cards in Canada, do not work in the same way as they do in Europe. Debit cards can be used to pay for shopping i.e. your grocery shop or if you go to the mall, you can also use them to withdraw cash. You cannot however use them to pay for any online purchases, travel or food orders.
In order to pay for goods and services online you will need a Credit Card. I know hearing “Credit Card” can be scary for many, however without it you will not be in a position to even book your own flights home. Here’s all you need to know about Credit Cards:
- Certain places such as shops/restaurants only accept cash or credit cards – additionally during pandemic, most places try to avoid taking cash if they can.
- Credit Card will allow you to build up your credit (this is more so long term thinking) – Building up credit essentially means “Showing the bank you can pay outstanding bills in time and in full”. This way in the future if you ever want a loan, car lease or even a mortgage you will have a history of being capable to pay things off on time and in full which will stand in your favor.
- If you pay off your credit card in full every month, it is exactly like your debit card & you will not be paying a commission. Commission will only be charged if you pay only for a portion of your outstanding bill and leave the remainder for the following month and so on,
- Banks actually reward you for using a Credit Card, depending on which rewards system you choose on your application, you can gather Scene Points (points to use towards services, cinema etc.), Air Miles (travel miles) and you can get cash back (with certain purchases you may get 1% or 2% cash back by using your credit card, this is then paid into your credit card account at the end of the year). Some Credit Cards also offer Travel and Car Insurance, so when you go home to visit and need to hire a car you can use their insurance – again this depends on the bank and the type of a credit card you choose.
- There are two types of Credit Cards:
- Secured: This means that while you got a credit card with a limit (for example) $1000; you must have $1000 in your everyday account at all times, as the bank will hold it as security against your credit card for the whole duration of you owning that credit card. Essentially it is like a prepaid card, as you wont be able to use the $1000 that’s sitting in your everyday account.
- Unsecured: Exactly what it means, you get a Credit Card without any money being held against it on your everyday account. This is the most common type of credit card you can see in Europe.
5. Moving your money internationally
Whichever bank you decide to go with will offer international money transfers for you to easily move your funds to Canada from abroad . As the bank needs to make money on this transaction in some way, they will charge you a fee and a hefty one with that. There are various ways people went about reducing the fees such as using a Revolut Card, however it is not a long term solution as often you will need to do a money transfer i.e. for your rent and deposit and you cannot do so via Revolut.
Since we arrived I have been recommended a company called TransferWise and it has been used by many Irish and foreign arrivals before me. It is by far the easiest and cheapest way to transfer money from your European Account to your Canadian Account. It’s an app on your phone and the transfer is completed in minutes.
If you’re interested in checking them out and get a first transfer for free, I will leave my referral link here.
6. Finding an apartment
Craigslist is one of the most known sites across North America for buy & sell, apartment hunting and everything in between. With that you will also find a number of scams on a daily basis. When hunting for an apartment, do not give anyone money up front without seeing the apartment, do not get involved in conversations such as “I am currently out of the country but I will mail you the apartment keys” and so on. One good thing about scams is that they are so obvious you will know to stay away. I did have to mention it though, as I am sure there are people who still fall for them.
The best way to secure an apartment is to pick a desired area you’d like to live in, in Vancouver I could recommend a couple:
- Downtown: Downtown, West End & Yaletown – these are all city center locations, in the middle of hustle and bustle of the city, however they are not suitable if you are a light sleeper.
- By the water: False Creek, West End & Kitsilano – Great areas to live in, again West End is downtown so definitely more noisy, False Creek has few “dodgy” areas and Kits is very chill, all J1ers seem to go there and overall a very friendly area.
- Other Areas: Mount Pleasant – only 3 stops away by train from the city, super quiet yet with a lot of bars and shops, very clean and family friendly.
- Areas to avoid: East Hastings – This street alone should come with a warning, Vancouver has a very high drug problem and that is where the majority of addicts and homeless people reside. Surrey – This is a hear say, but I thought I’d mention. I’ve heard its gang related and also it is quite far from the city.
Once you choose where you’d like to live, I encourage you to take a bus to the area and simply walk around – you will get the feel of the place and can check out the buildings in person. All vacancies are listed on the signs on lawns outside each building (especially in West End and Kitsilano) and that is the easiest way to score a nice apartment. This is such a popular way of advertising apartments, often they wont even be listed online.
7. Getting around the city
Not having a car in the city is a good thing, as permit parking costs can be extortionate. For example a yearly parking permit if you live in West End is $400, in Kitsilano its only $40. You may also be lucky and have parking in your building, however they are not free. Our building charges $80 a month for secure parking (just under $1000 a year).
If you are set on using a car when you get to the city, you can avail of the Car Share options. This could save you a lot of $$ however hear me out.
The two car share companies are Modo & Evo. We have previously used Evo – they charge you (for example) 0.50c a minute driving which in hindsight is not bad, however their system has a lot of glitches. If you park the car in a no parking zone, you will pay a ticket ($140), if the car gets towed for any reason, you will pay the towing fee ($300), you could pay up to $160 for a flat tire and so on. They are good services to get you from A to B occasionally but it isn’t a long term solution.
If you are happy to use public service, most of Vancouver (with the exception of Kitsilano) is serviced by the SkyTrain which will get you anywhere in the city within 20 minutes. Its a very convenient way of travel, they are always on time. The same applies to the city buses, they run every 6 minutes or so, you are never waiting long for the next one.
The best way to save money on public transport is to get a Compass Card (in Ireland this would be called a Leap Card). It is a re-loadable card used to travel with, you can purchase it in Shoppers Drugmart and London Drugs Stores. It costs $5, however it comes with a $5 credit. Its easy to use and conveniently you can set up an account online and top it up from there. To top it up online, you will need to use your Credit Card (and the same applies for Evo).
This ties in to my last point, you will definitely need a credit card for everyday living in Vancouver.
These are the key points I wanted to cover today. If you have any questions whatsoever about traveling to Canada and getting set up feel free to give me a shout and I will be happy to help.