Arriving in Canada
The travelling is over! You’ve made it to Canada and you should be proud. You’ve achieved an incredible feat. Something that so many people dream of doing! It’s a scary experience but I am pleased to say, the worst is now over. Be that as it may, now you’ve reached the top of the mountain, you need to plant your flag. In this article, I want to talk about how I did that. Join me today as I discuss what’s involved in getting a social insurance number, arranging temporary accommodation, landing your first job and finally, getting your first apartment.
When I first arrived in Canada, I found myself at the bottom rung of a very tall ladder.
I had no immediate prospects, no car and no job. It sounds worrying but, I found it to be refreshing. It was a new start that I could craft into whatever I please, and I was eager to get underway. Yet I bore a weary mind and soul from the arduous journey, and no doubt you do too. For that reason, the first order of business should be to rest. You’ve got to shake that pesky jet lag and become accustomed to living in a new country, so do just that. Two years is a long time and taking a week to yourself isn’t going to hurt. You’ve had a hard time getting here and deserve a well-earned rest.
In finding accommodation, I was quite lucky as I travelled with my partner. Her family live near Toronto, where we landed, so it wasn’t a problem for us. I know others on the IEC visa won’t be as fortunate, but hotels and companies such as Airbnb aren’t too expensive. For example, in Toronto, a stay with Airbnb will cost around $30-$60CAD per night. However, if you’re planning an extended stay, talk to the local hotels or hosts of the Airbnb accommodation; sometimes they will offer to reduce the overall cost of a long stay.
Whether you do decide to stay at an Airbnb, a hotel or a friend’s place, I can’t recommend enough to do absolutely nothing for a short time, while you get yourself rested and organised.
When you finally decide it’s time to start working, then your next goal should be to get a SIN (Social Insurance) number. The majority of you should have received this right after crossing the border but as mentioned in my previous article (Part 2!), I had a bit of a problem here.
My plane suffered such a long delay that when I finally landed in Toronto, the company that provides SIN numbers had closed for the evening.
I don’t think the border officer realised this when I spoke to him. He stamped my passport, handed over my visa with a smile, and pointed at a “Service Canada” booth on the other side of the border. “The workers there will assign you a SIN number,” he explained. I jaunted over to the booth, asked the first worker I saw for my SIN in ever such a polite manner, and received a big fat “No!” The kind manners of my border agent contrasted that of the SIN worker who dealt with me. I enquired further, unsure about what I would do without a SIN number and the worker replied in a blunt manner: “Go to another location.” He then pushed a business card into my hand (with no other locations listed on it but pointing here) and ushered me through to baggage claim. If it wasn’t for my Canadian girlfriend with her apt inside knowledge, I would have been at a loss. She explained that the business card was for a government initiative called “Service Canada,” (appropriately named given the booth!) and that they have branches all over the country. So, if you’re not provided a SIN number in the airport, don’t fret. Look up your nearest Service Canada centre and show up whenever you please. No appointment necessary! Tell the receptionist that greets you why you’re there. Make sure you have your visa and passport with you and away you go. You’ll walk out with a SIN number within the hour.
Relief was the most forefront of feelings once I had that settled. My irrational mind told me that by missing the collection of my SIN number, I’d never get another opportunity! I even had a brief moment of thinking I’d gone against the border officers’ rules in bypassing its collection. Illogical, I know. But I did all the worrying on that day, so that you don’t have to. With a SIN number in my possession, I could now get a job. Brilliant! But that wasn’t the next goal.
Time to open a bank account.
If I was to have a job, the money I earned had to go somewhere. We couldn’t earn cash in hand and have the taxman go hungry, after all. Enter the Big Five Banks of Canada: RBC, TD Canada Trust, Scotiabank, BMO and CIBC! They all offer varying packages and it can be hard to decide who to bank with. Especially considering that they all try to entice you with their “New to Canada” account. I won’t go into the details or the pros and cons (as I want to focus solely on my experience) here, so I’ll be blunt. I picked TD Canada Trust because it’s where my girlfriend and her family have banked all their lives.
They’ve not done me wrong in the six months I have been in Canada and we’re all perfectly happy, thank you very much.
I will, however, talk about my experience opening an account with TD Canada Trust and explain where you might find difficulty. When opening an account, TD required proof of my address within Canada. Though I was staying at my girlfriend’s parents’ house, I didn’t actually have any proof of that. At least, I didn’t think I did. I don’t know if it’s orthodox, but the teller at TD allowed me to open an account using my girlfriend as my proof of address. Yes, you heard it folks! I had a witness, if you will, to the address I offered TD and they were quite happy with that. Now, I know that might not be much help for someone new in the country with few contacts, so a bit of advice: I’ve heard some banks will accept Airbnb invoices as proof of address. Give it a go! Be warned though, whomever owns the Airbnb may receive your bank statements for the foreseeable future, unless you go paperless. My partner’s parents are still getting my paper statements today.
The experience of opening a bank account was so simple, it was refreshing. There’s a pattern here, isn’t there? I walked into the appointment feeling anxious; I knew the address may be an issue. And yet, I walked out surprised at how easy the ordeal turned out to be, and with a fresh new Canadian visa in my wallet (yep, they even hand those over in-store)! With that settled, I could start working now, right?
I needed a Canadian SIM card in my phone.
I could now work in Canada, but how would potential employers contact me? I couldn’t give them a UK number, but my phone was in good condition. I didn’t want a whole new one. No, a SIM only deal would suffice.
I did need a new phone and you will too.
When I decided to take the SIM only path, I went with a Canadian company called Freedom Mobile. I agreed to a recurring pay-as-you go deal, with a pretty decent data plan, yet my phone could never pick up a signal or receive text messages. It just didn’t work. So, as soon as I could, I headed over to the local shopping mall and visited a Freedom Mobile branch. I presented the workers my phone and explained the issue. The technician clocked on straight away, asking if my phone was from outside of the Americas. I told him it was British and like a knowing genius, he let out a hearty laugh! For, it turns out British phones work on a different frequency than American phones, so they won’t get a signal from the American TELUS towers.
That was the gist of it anyway
Was I the victim of a sales-pitch?
Before I knew it, I had a brand-new phone. But I’m confident in what the technician told me, because the new phone worked with the new SIM card immediately. So, after a few light-hearted texts with the sister-in-law (my first Canadian number since my partner was still on her British phone!), I was ready to begin the job hunt!
The job hunt was a lot harder than I thought.
It wasn’t that I had a bad resume. In fact, in the least conceited way, my resume was pretty solid. Difficulty arose in the fact that recruitment agencies seemed to have a monopoly on the Canadian job market. I sent a thousand emails to different companies, via various websites including Indeed and LinkedIn, and found 99% of the responses I received were from agencies. Which would be fine, if the responses were job offers, but the recruitment agencies weren’t getting in touch with me for that reason. They were getting in touch with me to get me into their system, so that they could earn commission from finding me a job.
I despised it but I crumbled. I took up an agency offer to help and let me tell you, it led to the worst job of my life.
I arrived at the agency, with my fancy resume in my bag and my best suit on, feeling like I was starting to get prospects. A well-dressed lady greeted me and took me through all the steps to register an account with them. At first, I thought it was all pretty standard.
She then offered me a job, without an interview, working in a warehouse.
To put matters into perspective, offering me a job in a warehouse felt like offering a vegetarian a ham. It wasn’t for me and did not reflect my resume in the slightest. It was as if the recruitment agency hadn’t even read my resume. They wanted to put me into work so they could get their commission and move me along. It didn’t matter to them where I worked.
It was as if someone else had taken control of me when I accepted their offer.
I wanted an income and it was the quickest way of getting one; that was my justification. I tried convincing myself that if I didn’t like the job I could leave. Then I walked away feeling like the victim of a con. Who walks away after accepting a job offer, regretting it?! Something was afoot and my instincts weren’t wrong. The job was hard and mindless labour. I travelled an hour every day to get there, leaving at 5:00am, feeling exhausted before the sun was even up.
It. Was. Hard.
When I came home, my face would be black with dirt and my joints would ache. It made me depressed, it made me regret leaving home, and it made me feel like I was underselling myself. My colleagues were rude, none of them would talk to me. If I said good morning, they’d ignore me. I was completely worthless, I didn’t matter, I could be fired in moments, I was being soul-crushed, I … I …
Even thinking about it now stirs a hornet’s nest.
But I don’t regret working for the warehouse because it earned me an income for the time I was there and, in fact, it led to my first apartment. Let’s talk about that!
When my partner and I felt ready to move out of her parent’s house, we looked on a website called Kijiji. The website had a slew of options and we found the place for us after a few evenings of browsing. Though I must warn you, we did have to fight through scam offers to get to it. ANYBODY can post an advertisement on Kijiji so remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Don’t pay money upfront without seeing a lease, and don’t accept a property without viewing. It sounds like common sense, right? But people did attempt it on us, believe me! Yet the apartment we did find was genuine. When we contacted the landlord, he offered us a viewing the very next day. My partner and I accepted. Without going into too much detail on the place, we loved it! We filled out an application to rent the same night and though I had no Canadian credit history, we got the apartment!
How did we get an apartment without credit history?
… Because I proved I worked and was honest about it. Our apartment required a credit check but I levelled with the landlord. I told him I had no credit in Canada, but I showed I could get a job immediately; and to a landlord, that shows reliability. As much as I hated the warehouse, I know for a fact if it wasn’t for it, I never would have found the lovely apartment I am sitting in now.
So, thank you, recruitment agency monopolisation and thank you for your terrible warehouse job!
I learned in finding work, I couldn’t be picky. Because any job, no matter how hard it is, is a job. I went into work every morning feeling depressed, and came home every evening feeling even worse. There were some days where I didn’t want to show up at all — it was that bad — but I endured. For it, my girlfriend and I got the apartment and a constant income until, eventually, a more tempting job offer from a prominent company came along — with no agency involvement (I’m a little alienated from them right now)!
I am also so grateful the landlord took a chance on my partner and I and that came from the fact that we were straight with him. You’ll find the best results by just being honest, which is an over-arching piece of advice in this series. Don’t be afraid to explain your situation, that you’ve just moved into the country and are still planting your roots. My landlord took a chance on my partner and I
, because he said he’d been in the same situation before and knew what it was like. I wonder if we’d have still got our home had I not explained our situation. That being said, this piece of advice will only be relevant if you go for private rental. Bigger rental companies will focus simply on how your application competes with others. So, try to open an honest conversation with an individual instead of a faceless company.
… And that is my story! My first few months in Canada on an IEC visa and my experience in 2019, and a brief overview leading to where I am today.
I wanted to keep this article short and sweet for a quick read. BUT if you want me to go into more detail about anything, please don’t hesitate to get in touch via my contact email. I’ll be happy to help. Thank you for reading and best of luck in your IEC journey, whether it be in 2020 or 2050!
It’s not an easy journey, but my gosh is it a fulfilling one.