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From the UK to Alberta

From the UK to Alberta

In keeping with a number of BritishExpats posters, BE member 'Getting There' has written a great update about his pre and post landing experiences in the hope that it is of some interest to those making their way through the process. He has kindly tackled this in two parts, covering his family's pre and post emigration experiences and it makes a great read. So if you are in the process of moving to Canada don't miss this informative article.

In keeping with a number of posters on BE, we thought we would offer an update on our pre and post landing experiences in the hope that it is of some interest and/or value to those making their way through the process. We have tackled this in two parts, covering our pre and post emigration experiences.

PART 1 – Pre Emigration

Background

We applied via London under the Skilled Worker programme, submitting our application in October 2004 and getting our AOR the following month. We got our visas in May 2007 and landed at Calgary on June 26th, 2007 at the start of a 5 week final research trip. We returned to the UK at the end of July and put our house on the market shortly afterwards. We were very fortunate (at the UK end of the equation anyway) in that the market still had some life in it and we got our asking price within 5 days of putting the house up for sale. The house-sale completed on October 4th and we jetted out on October 11th, so we have now been in Canada a little over 8 months.

Application – Trials & Tribulations

Our application was not all plain sailing. By our own calculation, we were a fairly borderline case, 67 to 69 points depending on how the assessing officer viewed particular aspects. So, we were perhaps always a bit nervous about the outcome. Because we thought we were a borderline case, we went the extra mile on our application. We dug up every scrap of relevant information, we chased down every ex employer for references and where the companies were no longer in existence, we obtained confirmation of the fact from the UK Companies House website. We included a well drafted covering letter that explained our rationale for wanting to make this move, our job hunting strategy, etc, etc and we structured the resultant weighty pile of paperwork in an easily digestible fashion to make it easier for the assessing officer to get to what he/she needed – although we have often commented since that it might be the case that we simply bored the poor officer into submission!

A word of caution here perhaps. BE is a fabulous resource supported by some fantastically dedicated individuals. But, at the end of the day, you must make your own decisions. For instance, we were told in fairly direct terms that our application would likely fail on education grounds. For a time we wondered if we should even bother applying but we decided that, although the advice we received on BE was well intentioned and based on years of experience, it was just an opinion. Our view on our likely score was different (slightly more positive) and we are glad we had the strength of character to trust our own judgement. The lesson for us is that BE is an invaluable resource (the amount of information/learning we have picked up from it – both minor and major – has been incredible) but it is also important to try and keep what you read in perspective, especially when “facts” stray into “opinions”.

At the back end of the application process, our medicals were a source of anxiety. We fretted about them beforehand (as so many people do) and one of us experienced a severe case of “white coat syndrome” on the morning of the examination. Resultant blood pressure readings were astronomically high and this caused a delay in that we were told to arrange further tests with a Cardiologist. These showed a transitory tendency to high blood pressure that could be mitigated by lifestyle changes rather than medication and when the specialist confirmed this in writing, this was enough for the authorities to approve our application.

From here on, we begin to move away from pure fact and closer to personal opinion, so please apply your own common sense filters to all that follows!

Removals

If it is of any value to readers, here is what we did:

We had been to an Emigrate Show in Sandown in 2005 and spoke to every removal company we could find there. We made notes on each and ranked them as best we could. Come forward to 2007 and we used those same notes and the experience of others as relayed on BE and decided to get Robinson’s, Fox & Whites around and with a pre-prepared list of questions we wanted answering, we showed them around the house and then sat them down and essentially interviewed them (but less formal than that!) All seemed very professional although the White’s guy put himself towards the back of the queue because (although he was very friendly) he focussed more on the stories of the celebrities that he had moved and less on our particular needs. However, we know many on BE have had a good experience with White’s.

Fox came in with a quote that was way cheaper than the other two. When we spoke to Robinson’s to see if they could match Fox’s price (as Robinson’s were our slight favourite), they said “check that quote, it’s an error”. So we did, and it was! They had had someone new do the quote and hadn’t checked it and it had a number of omissions, which, when corrected, put the price close to that of White’s and Robinsons. With Fox’s credibility undermined a little in our minds, we went for Robinsons. Robinson’s office staff seemed reasonably helpful (didn’t wow us, but they weren’t awful either). The packing guys (a team of 3) turned up on time on the allotted two days. Two were friendly and professional. The other did a good job at packing but was a bit surly but he didn’t turn up on the second day as he had been sacked! They packed stuff in the house the first day and completed the wrapping and did the shifting to the 20ft container on day two. Here’s our observations:

“¢ Despite the friendliness, do watch closely and don’t be afraid to say if you are not happy with some element of the way they are doing the job – they occasionally do some stupid stuff re packing.

“¢ Make sure they are crystal clear on what they are packing and what is being left behind. Despite telling them 3 times, they nearly left half the contents of our garage”¦see below!

“¢ We had a 20ft container. Because of the oversight re the garage contents, they only packed the container to half height. We were looking at this and thinking”¦”no way is all our stuff going to go in if they do that” and told them so. But (because they were forgetting the garage stuff) they insisted all was OK. Of course it wasn’t and when they finally twigged re the garage contents, there was a major amount of unloading and re-loading that needed doing, losing them several hours. Even then, we had to leave behind one or two items that would have gone in had they packed it properly the first time (nothing too major).

{mosbanner right}”¢ It’s a very weird experience to see all your stuff head off down the road in a container knowing it’ll travel 4,400 miles and across an ocean before you (hopefully) see it again!

“¢ Including insurance, we paid c£5000 with the insurance being just over £1000 of that. Would we pay the insurance again?”¦probably”¦it’d be easy to say “no” but it depends on your attitude to risk and your available budget. A lot of our stuff was fairly new and/or decent quality so we would have wanted to replace it had the ship gone down! As it turned out, we just had one breakage of note and that was after our gear was put into storage at this end (as we hadn’t completed on our house purchase in Canada).

“¢ Robinson’s partner firm at this end were very efficient, polite and professional and other than the one breakage we mentioned above, we were satisfied.

“¢ Dealing with the customs folk at this end was cause for nervousness beforehand (fear of the unknown) but needlessly so as they were very friendly indeed and made the process easy for us.

“¢ On reflection, we might have brought more of the things we decided to leave behind (we sold a package of our household goods to the person who bought our house). The house here is 2.5 times the size of the one that we left in the UK and the things we left behind might have filled a space or two in the short to medium term, allowing us the time to make better buying decisions in the new house. As it turned out, there was furniture, etc, that we had to order pretty much as soon as we agreed a purchase on our house. Eight months on, with better knowledge of the space we are living in and what works/doesn’t work in it, we might have made a couple of different buying decisions if we had not been so rushed”¦but you live and learn.

PART 2 – Post Emigration

This part covers our experience of our first 8 months or so in Canada.

House Buying Process

We would choose the Canadian experience over the UK experience of buying/selling a house. It has more certainty and generally speaking, more speed. With no chain in our UK house sale and an excellent working relationship with our buyer, the process was still traumatic, required constant chasing by us and the buyer and took nearly 8 weeks to complete. Here, it took 4 weeks from acceptance of offer to possession day and involved us doing very little indeed. Also, to be able to accompany the home inspector as he guided us around our proposed purchase was a valuable experience. It was especially helpful in giving us a first level understanding of how the furnaces worked and how they should be maintained, etc.

We mentioned in Part 1 that we were fortunate to sell at the top end of the UK property cycle. Unfortunately, we bought here in Okotoks, Alberta, just as the market was peaking. I imagine, if we sold today, we would lose a good few thousand on our purchase price. So, it’s swings and roundabouts and for those in the UK who manage to get their properties sold, there are better deals to be had here in Alberta than there were 8 months ago.

We used a realtor to help us buy and on reflection, we would recommend the use of one to anyone but we supplemented that with many hours of our own research, identifying properties we wished to view from MLS, touring those areas in the car ourselves and helping our realtor to help us by providing them with prioritised lists of those properties that seemed appealing – associating this with the realtor's own suggestions. Our top tips for selecting a realtor are:

a) Choose one who can relate to the special circumstances of the immigrant. For example, compared to the average Canadian, an immigrant may want/need to look at more houses in order to understand the various styles available, etc).

b) A good realtor should be willing and able to show you properties throughout their area of licensed operation even if where you want to see properties is outside their usual area of expertise.

c) They should be open and honest about any referral fees or commissions they receive on the back of your trade through them.

d) They should facilitate your decision making rather than straying into trying to impose their views or make your decisions for you.

e) You should feel that they are prepared to “go to bat” for you in negotiating the best deal possible.
It’s always worth speaking with a few realtors to get a sense of who you feel most comfortable with and who you think is most likely to do the above (and more) for you.

Settling In

We have been surprised how friendly and welcoming we have found our neighbours here. Sure, it’s a nice suburb but from all we had read on BE, we might have expected our neighbours to be polite but distant. However, our Canadian neighbours on either side have been nothing but supportive”¦for instance, on one side, insisting that we borrow some spare deck furniture that they had until we get our own and on the other, an RCMP officer and his wife, inviting us over to sit with them and sample their (mind blowing) home made brew! We live in a cul-de-sac of some 17 houses and we know the names of more than half – the result of friendly chats as they pass by. We compare this to the lovely little close we lived in for 7 years, (in St Albans, Hertfordshire), before we moved here. We loved living there and never had any problems with the neighbours but even after 7 years, we were barely on “nodding” terms with most around us. Of course, this is at least half our fault but we are the same people here but we are finding it fairly easy to make acquaintances. Whether these turn into more meaningful friendships is still to be seen and if they do not, we are not overly worried as it is just pleasant to be in an environment where the locals are polite, friendly, respectful and helpful.

The House

For approximately the same price we sold our UK house for, we bought one 2.5 times the size here. At 2,400 sq ft and with a double garage and basement (so probably close to 3,500 sq ft all in) it feels luxurious to live in and it was great when our first visitors arrived in April – they stayed for 3 weeks but everyone was able to enjoy their own space – something we would have struggled with in our little UK house on such a long visit.

Bills

No tremendous differences with the UK here although we are probably not paying too much more to heat a much larger home than we did in the UK”¦probably down to the superior insulation.

Eating Out

Versus our UK eating out experience, we find a good choice of restaurants here, mostly reasonably priced, with decent menu choice (perhaps less so for vegetarians, which we aren’t). On the whole, we find service to be average or better.

Getting About

We have two cars here whereas we could get by with one in the UK, a by product of there being little by way of public transportation south of Calgary (we are based in Okotoks, Alberta). Gas costs are rising fast but at c$1.30 per litre as we write, it remains considerably less costly than the UK. We find that even the worst of Calgary’s rush hour (not that we experience it much) is not as bad as what we were well tired of in the UK. There are some terrible drivers here, as there are everywhere. We are getting used to driving on the other side of the road now! Our major concern on highway driving is the risk associated with junctions where joiners and leavers exchange positions in the same few yards, one accelerating and the other decelerating. This can be a bit hair-raising at times. We’ll never buy a manual car again – we are completely sold on our automatics with cruise control, which, unlike the UK, we find frequent opportunity to utilise.

Employment

We decided to wait until we got here to decide our future career paths. We both have corporate backgrounds, Eamonn with BT and Janet with Shell, who Janet could have sought employment with if she wished. However, we both fancied a change of direction and so Jan has gained employment as an Office Manager in a real estate brokerage in High River – involving regular hours and a 23 minute, mountain lined, gentle drive to and from work (as opposed to the multi-faceted 75 minute journey from St Albans into London, and again in the evening, that she endured in the UK). Eamonn is close to completing his realtor licensing courses whilst also establishing his own small business. Time will tell if these are good choices but, in our view, it was liberating to view emigrating as a “wiping the slate clean” opportunity. It was healthy to take the time to stop and ask ourselves what we would like to do with this next phase of our lives.

Some not so positives”¦

We always knew that moving to Canada would not be a cure all. We knew it would be a different mix of good and bad to the UK. In no particular order, here’s our entirely subjective and personal bullets on the things that seem like compromises to us so far:

“¢ Shovelling snow in -30°C, or at all. Novelty soon wears off – although maybe, we had to do this slightly less often than we might have expected.

“¢ The length of winter, or perhaps more, the lateness of spring – we certainly missed the UK spring.

{mosbanner right}”¢ Dumps of snow in April and May (and, no doubt, June, July and August!) when you sort of hope you’ve seen the last of it for a while! Granted, it disappears fairly quickly now but the severity of the April fall in Alberta was a bit of a shocker to uninitiated folk like us!

“¢ Missing family and friends – although technology (cheap phone calls, email, IM, webcam, use of blogs, etc) help to reduce the feeling of distance.

“¢ Alberta’s dry atmosphere necessitates constant moisturizing – gets a bit of a pain.

“¢ Perhaps not as much sun as “advertised” – although there is plenty of it and not as many overcast skies as we got in the UK.

“¢ Bit of a cheek to be charged for incoming calls on the mobile but like many of the above, our research had made us aware of this before we arrived. Daresay we could work around it if we signed up for a plan rather than sticking with the basic pre-pay we have.

“¢ TV is not much to write home about – although you could say the same of the UK offering too. Proliferation of adverts is irritating and the use of the PVR to whizz through them only partly solves the problem as they rarely re-intro the show so you always skip past the first few seconds of the next segment and have to rewind.

“¢ A decent (or any) curry house down our way wouldn’t go amiss for an occasional treat!

“¢ Robins that, although sweet, are not as friendly as the UK version (OK, we were spoilt”¦in our last year in St Albans, we had a Robin that would stand on our hands and eat worms!)

All in all though, we think you will agree that these are relatively minor points in the grand scheme of things and it is fair to say that we are enjoying the life experience that the move to Canada represents and the challenges associated with becoming settled, integrated and established.

We use a blog to keep our friends and family back home in touch with all that we are up to. We would recommend it to anyone who wants to do something practical to make the distance from family less of a problem. It has helped our UK folk to feel much more connected to us and that, in turn, has been a support for us when we have needed it. You're welcome to take a look. Our blog is at”¦ http://janandeam.blogspot.com/

We hope this has been of some use to the next of you heading over – all of whom we wish the best of luck to and offer our help to in any way we can.

©Eamonn O'Gorman & Janet Clarke