A Scouting Trip
Making the decision to immigrate is a big step. Close behind is deciding where to go and what your needs are.
The local resources in the community of your choice may need to fit those of a whole family or a just single individual. There are lots of things to think about, schools, access to medical care; availability of work, if you thinking of setting up a business, access labour and the right markets. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Many different factors influence where we choose to live and are different for each of us.
Whatever your motivation and needs, research as much as you can about the place you hope to call home. This is an essential step in the process.
Even if you have not made the big decision yet, visiting different places can help you decide if this is really what you want to do. How many times has a vacationer said ‘I wouldn’t mind living here’? It happens often. Who wouldn’t like to live a vacation every day? However actually living and working somewhere is quite different to a vacation.
So finding that utopia? The very first step in immigration is visiting the country you would like to live in. Let’s assume you have already decided on a country and perhaps narrowed it down to a province or state. Now it is deciding on the community that best fits your needs. A good way to start is making lists, all the things you want in the community and the things you want to avoid.
Planning a Recce
Once you have narrowed down your choice of communities and the decision has been made to visit one or more of these places, what steps can we take to make the most out of this visit? First and foremost planning. There is no substitute for a good plan. This will help you figure out how to best use the time you have there as well allowing some time for fun. So what is in a plan?
The list you made about what you wanted from a community is a good place to start, going through the list and creating categories. Under each heading, list the key elements you are looking for. A spreadsheet is really useful for this, as it will allow you to alter your itinerary with ease.
Category headings could include:
- Schools. Schools may be Secondary and Elementary. How far are they from where you will live? Consider a specific focus, such as science or art, if it is important to you.
- Work. If this involves traveling by air, how close do you want to be to an airport and which routes are serviced? If you travel by road, how far are you from main highways and which routes are the best? Sometimes going against the rush hour flow can save a lot of time.
- Accommodation. A very important consideration. What type of accommodation do you want? Single family, row house (terraced), duplex (semi detached), apartment (flat), acreage (big piece of land)? How many bedrooms and bathrooms? A big or small garden? Are you a DIYer and willing to do it up? Houses in North America are measured by the square foot, rather than the number of bedrooms.
- Recreation. How close by are the activities you enjoy?
....... and whatever else is important to you.
All this work, even before you have set foot out of your house. However, the more prepared you are, the more value you will get out of your travel time. And of course the more opportunity you will have to do some fun stuff as well.
A thorough plan will help when booking flights and arranging local transportation such as car rental for when you need it. There is no point having a car sitting in the hotel parking lot in case you need it, especially if you have to pay parking as well.
Judge the places you visit against your criteria and the success of your plan, in case you have to do it again (or edit this Wiki). Evaluate each point, score each community you visit them on a scale 1-10. Take lots of pictures and make a note of what they are of. Scoring as you go will help in the decision making process when you get back home .
Creating an itinerary and setting up appointments before you leave home will help ease the stress and rush of the trip. It will also help give you the confidence that you have as much covered as possible. Visit schools, talk to the teachers, government offices (local, provincial and federal, depending on what you need to know), chambers of commerce, banks and so on.
Source out a good real estate agent, they will line up some properties for you to look at. In North America the agent can act as a buyers agent, working for you, and you don’t have to pay them a penny. The seller pays all the agents commissions. Agents will set-up appointments, finding houses to fit the criteria you have given them. They will drive you around and show you the properties, with no pressure to buy. There is no need to sign an agreement with any agent.
Whatever you determine as your needs, gathering the information is going to ease the transition and help determine a place you want to live.
Timing of recce trip
For some this is a big issue, even around Vancouver some areas have much more rain than others, some colder in winter and hotter in summer, some with more hours of sunshine. All this within 100 miles! Weather data can be found on web sites, such as Environment Canada and the Weather Network. Here you can check forecasts across Canada and view historical data.
There is nothing like being there and experiencing it yourself, though. Plan your visit for a time when the weather might be at its worst, as well as visiting in the more pleasant times. Unless you plan on becoming a snowbird and head south for the winter, you are going to be stuck with it all when you eventually live there. Making several visits can allow you to experience the seasons.
Find out if there will be a trade show that will be relevant to your field and that will be held in the area to which you are considering moving.
Attending a trade show is a great way to network fast.
So, if it's feasible to do so, try to arrange your recce trip at a time when there will be a trade show.
If you want to visit schools during your recce trip, do not visit Canada in July or August, when school children are on vacation and schools are empty and locked.
Also be aware that Canadian schools close for a couple of weeks over Christmas / New Year and again for Spring Break.
How easy is it to get around?
Public transportation in North America is not like the UK, except perhaps in the major centres. Use the local public transit system, see how long it takes to get from place to place. Canada does not have the rail networks between towns and across the country that the UK has, distances can be long.
If you plan on using a car to get around, renting one can help you get a feel for driving. Drive the commuter routes and experience the traffic. Mind you, if you have driven in some of the major centres in Europe, Canada is a breeze.
Working and Networking
Whatever your occupation, there are contacts to be made. A lot of the initial information can be found on the Internet, which will enable you to set up appointments and find out what is available. Trade associations and chambers of commerce are often quite helpful. Trade shows are a good place to network and make lots of contacts under one roof.
Contact companies in your industry ahead of your visit. Ask if someone would be willing to talk to you about the industry when you come over and try to make an appointment to meet with them. Not specifically to get a job, but to get a feel of the industry. You never know, you may impress them enough to get a job offer, or they may know someone who needs help.
Have some business cards printed up with your contact details on and leave one with them. They can then get in touch with you. Business/contact cards are useful whether you are looking for work or just need to give someone your contact information. It just looks more professional and shows you are well prepared.
If you are looking for work, have crisp copies of your resume with you. If you have a portfolio, bring that as well, and some extra copies to give out. This is an investment in your future. If you have several documents, put an information package together in an envelope, with your contact details attached. When someone asks, you have something to give them. Again, it looks prepared and professional.
Bring copies the documents you want to hand out and any other relevant information on a computer memory stick as well. If you run out, lose them or they get damaged you can always pop into Kinkos and run off some extra copies. Just to be safe, E-mail a copy to yourself as well so you can access it through web mail. You have then covered most eventualities.
Many community groups, local expats associations, social groups, such as the Legion and Toastmasters, welcome visitors and are all places you can get to know people and build up contacts. You can never have too many, and you never know when you might need them. They can be especially helpful if you decide to move there. You already have a network to help you settle in.
Talk to as many locals as you can, in small cafes and restaurants, wherever you can find someone to talk to without getting mugged or arrested. You might be surprised how willing many people are to chat with you and tell you about different areas and activities.
If you have not already done so, it would be helpful to read the BE Wiki articles on Job Hunting in Canada.
Having some fun on your trip is also important. Do some tourist things, visit places of interest, ski, sail or golf (all in one day if you are in Vancouver), whatever you enjoy. This will give you some experience of local recreation, maybe build a few more contacts, and allow you to relax a bit.
A place to stay
During your visit you will need a place to stay, debrief from the day's activities and generally chill out. If you are lucky enough to have relatives to stay with this solves the problem (you will have to be the judge of that). However, if not, there is a choice amongst various grades of hotels, hostels and bed and breakfasts.
If you want to get a feel for the community and its people, what better way than to stay in a Bed and Breakfast? The rates are reasonable, more often than not the food is good, and hosts are usually sociable and helpful. B&Bs are located in rural as well as urban locations. This is an excellent opportunity to get more of a feel for the lifestyle, much more so than staying in hotels. If you want to take this idea one step further, Couchsurfing is a network of individuals welcoming you to your couch. Not necessarily a comfortable accomodation, but an excellent way of getting to know people. And it's free.
Another option is to stay in furnished, self-catering accommodation. You might do a Google search for SUITE HOTEL, APARTMENT HOTEL or EXECUTIVE SUITES in your destination city. You also might look at websites such as Craigslist, Kijiji, Canada Vacation Rentals, Vacation Rentals - For Rent By Owner, Holiday Junction, Holiday Home Ads, and Vacation Rentals By Owner.
Information on accommodation can be found at the tourism offices for the communities and provinces you are visiting as well as Chambers of Commerce. Most publish guides as well as putting them on the internet.
So you are on your way to visit
With your plan in hand, your journey begins. Planning may all seem very clinical. However, if you want to make a move as big as this, it is good to gather as much intelligence as you can. Planning helps make the most of your time in each community.
Evaluate your plan as you go through your journey, make lots of notes, take lots of pictures, revise the plan if necessary. When you get home, evaluate your visit again, make more notes. These will come very handy if you decide to move there.