Things I wish I knew before migrating to Canada

Despite spending months reading up and researching about Canada, we did encounter a few things that completely took us by surprise.

  1. Getting your first accommodation is insanely difficult, if you don’t have a job. Landing with your entire family, and not having a job, is even worse for accommodation because it means more expenses, and far lower living conditions. 
    Tip: Come alone. Share a room as a bachelor/bachelorette. Find a job. Lease an apartment. THEN bring your family over.
  2. Don’t come with a weather stigma. It does get super cold here, sure. -25 degrees celsius and worse. But that doesn’t mean you are going to suffer. As long as you are clothed well, and have invested in the right winter gear, you can end up enjoying the winters here. By the way, the spring and summers here are absolutely amazing. Buy boots from Sorel, goose down-filled Parkas from North face or Columbia, 3M Thinsulate lined insulated gloves, fleece lined base layers(called Thermal wear in India) from Columbia, neck warmers, balaclavas, and so much more. There is no such thing as being too warm in winters. So get the right gear early on. In fact, put aside CAD 1000 per person to buy all of this stuff.
  3. Power distance at work. People are super pally with their managers, super bosses, and even CEOs here. There is no extreme ‘Sir’ / ‘Madam’ honorifics, or the desire to display utmost sense of devotion or respect to superiors. Yeah, its totally chilled out here. It can be a pleasantly unnerving experience for us South Asians. I am still adjusting.
  4. Work on your icebreakers. More frequently than you’d like, you are going to end up in a situation where you’ll have to strike up a conversation with absolute strangers. So figure out conversation starters other than weather and how’s your day. Come up with something like, what do you do for fun? In my case, I casually throw in the fact that I have a dog into the conversation whenever I feel I am running out of topics. That does the trick. Ha ha. 😛
  5. If you are moving to Toronto, or Vancouver, then be prepared for an expensive lifestyle. It may be a good idea to liquidate all your money back home (in case you intend to settle here permanently), and bring that along with you. It will bring immense psychological satisfaction knowing that you have money in the bank, until you find a job. (which can take a while)
    Note: Some people opine that since Toronto and Vancouver are becoming unaffordable, many are moving to other cities and towns for jobs. 
  6. Fashion. 🙂 So when we first landed here, it appeared like we were either the most under-dressed or over-dressed of the lot. It takes a while to understand the fashion sense that works here, and that which you are comfortable with. My advice would be to avoid over-shopping for your wardrobe from your home country. Shop here instead, so that you look like you are in trend. Of course, this is a personal preference, but appearances do matter here. Looking sharp is definitely a great way to convert that interview. An early morning subway ride to downtown will tell you all you need to know about dressing up for work.
    Pro Tip: Zara has an outstanding collection at not so exorbitant prices.
  7. Car insurance in Toronto is mindlessly expensive. $200–350 per month per person. Even your car EMI might be cheaper. Furthermore, your car insurance also depends on whether you use it for work or pleasure or both. Where you mostly drive to, and how often. Its insane. That’s why people put off purchasing cars as much as they can. There goes that dream of a Mustang. 😦 Its just financially stupid to buy a new car when you are a new immigrant. Pick up a second hand if you really must. The transit is pretty well connected, though it can be slow.
  8. Changes to cooking schedules. Eating out is expensive here. If you aren’t careful, your bills can reach $300 per month very very easily, including the tip. The cheaper thing to do is to cook at home. But that’s tricky too, considering you and your spouse (if married) are both working. There’s hardly enough time to cook on a daily basis like how we are used to back home. Especially since work starts at 8 or 9AM here, meaning you need to leave by 7 or 8, hardly leaving you any time to cook at all. You may end up cooking the previous night, or in some cases over the weekend for the rest of the week. Figure out some easy to cook, healthy recipes to make your life that much easier. (share some with me too 🙂
    Tip from Sup Ray: Use an instant pot to accelerate your cooking time. (affiliate link) Its a rage here in Canada!
  9. Integrating into the Canadian way of life is harder than you think. If left to your own devices, you’ll slip into your comfort zone of surrounding yourself with friends from your own ethnic background, your own community, neighbourhood, food choices, and soon, you’ll realize that your life from back home hasn’t changed that much, except for a dramatic improvement in infrastructure and work-life balance. Yeah, you’ll have to put in some more effort. Changing your cuisine choices, making and keeping friends outside of your community, doing things that are more Canadian like ice skating, wine tasting, appreciating hockey and basketball, etc. (of course, whatever you are comfortable with). And a large part of this is learning, trying, failing and forging ahead. I’ll give an update after a couple of years if this ever worked for me.
  10. Learning to be a more interesting person. Almost everyone I have met here has had some hobby or passion outside of their work. Be it hiking, snowboarding, volunteering for a social cause, camping, travelling, or a DIY project at home, etc. I love how everyone sets aside some time to pursue this aspect of their lives, and its something I feel Indians totally suck at. We easily allow our work to consume our personal lives. So our conversations eventually tend to be work related. Whenever you land here, try to have fun.
  11. Falling sick here is a very painful experience. For one, antibiotics cannot be purchased over the counter. Meaning, you’ll have to visit a clinic. I am yet to see any waiting time, but I loathe making time to visit a doctor. Furthermore, if you have a fever, especially in winter, you’ll want to sleep in an oven, because its generally cold everywhere. No advice here folks. Go to the doc.
  12. Personal Opinion: Indian jewellery is absolutely useless here. Its gaudy, and doesn’t go with the minimalist way of dressing up here. There aren’t frequent functions or family gatherings to wear these either. And even if there are, people prefer more elegant stuff to wear instead. I would rather liquidate these, than carry them with me. For the more sentimental people about heirlooms, be prepared to keep your jewellery in a bank locker for decades together. Again, this is a personal opinion, take it or leave it.
  13. Take driving classes and plan to get your G2 driving license as soon as possible. This will help you rent and drive cars on the weekend, if you feel like going out of town, or for shopping for the entire week from your favorite Asian grocery shop. Some types of work like sales, expect you to have a driving license.
  14. Pickup certifications in your line of work. Canadians love to see credentials on your resume. Certifications like PMP, CBAP, etc. matter a lot here. It reassures them that your knowledge if vetted by a standards body. Invest a lot of time and effort on working up your LinkedIn profile. Tonnes of articles on the web to help you improve that. Write intelligent articles, connect with folks in your industry, update your education, post papers you may have published, add certifications you may have completed, reach out to friends for endorsements and testimonials. These things will matter even after you have got a job. Recruiters will reach out to you with offers, seeing your profile.
  15. Learn to build you credit score early on in the game. Your credit scores decide your eligibility for loans, mortgages, rental, insurance, and sometimes even employment. Check out how to build and maintain your credit score, and work towards it from the day you land.
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