So its now been 2 weeks (to the day) since we moved to Toronto – at the start of the second week, we went on a road trip around New England and we only just got back, so haven’t had much of a chance to post about the whirlwind of an arrival/first week we had.
I had so many questions before moving, I’m hoping this post can be a help to anyone in the same boat or anyone generally interested in this kind of thing! If anything isn’t answered, please give me a shout and I’d be more than happy to chat about it!
I had a few tips from friends who have moved abroad before about packing and I’m ashamed to say I pretty much ignored all of them. We flew with Air Transat and upgraded to Comfort Plus, which meant we could bring 2 pieces of hold luggage, each weighing up to 23kg. Now, the advice I was given was that I should pack 1 bag full and the other only half full to allow for things I accumulate here and want to bring back with me. The half full bag should only contain things like bedding, towels etc that are old enough I would be willing to throw them away when I return to the UK (if I have any). Makes sense right?
The list I wrote before even laying things out to pack, had all of this on there. Sadly, when I did then lay out all of the things that I was intending on taking, it became apparent that there was no way that amount of stuff was going to fit in the two bags I had ready. In fact, the old bedding (which turns out to be very heavy) was the first thing to go. Saying this, Hamilton brought 2 sets of bedding and 2 sets of towels and I have NO IDEA HOW.
After some frustration and hastily throwing clothing out of my bags, personally I celebrated finally getting my bags down to exactly 23kg. Well, when they were weighed it was 23.1 but it got through ok. I found it quite hard to pack for this simply because when we were due to arrive in Toronto it was 30 degrees but obviously winter is incredibly cold, so I was aware I needed a real mix of clothing. For some reason to me this meant ‘pack everything you own, leave nothing behind’. I of course did leave things behind because 46kg does not encompass all of my possessions, though I truly wished it did at the time.
I had the sense to leave behind shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and other bigger bottles of toiletries because they’re easy to get here and are actually cheaper if you get them from a big drug store but I probably didn’t need half the socks or make up I brought (ok or jumpers/jackets…) I really needed to remember in relation to more things I brought that I was moving to a big city and buying things out here is actually in no way a problem… (Aside from the fact that I don’t have a lot of money of course).
Now I’m here I’m glad to have 99% of the things I packed, like a favourite blanket of mine, a fancy eco friendly travel cup, a few books, some photos – things that made it feel like home instantly. Things I would much rather have than a set of bedding I can buy for like 15 dollars here.
The main things I packed that took up a lot of space (but I think are necessary) were:
- Proper winter jacket
- Denim jacket
- Autumnal warm jacket
- Rain jacket
- Timberland/proper boots
- Smart shoes
- A bunch of jumpers
- An extra rucksack
- A gym bag
Now, that might seem like a random list of must haves (and a hell of a lot of jackets) BUT honestly I have worn every jacket in that list. Its dropped to 10 degrees out here from 30 in the two weeks since we arrived. Its been windy, its been sunny, its been rainy… The extra bags I also immediately needed – the gym bag I took with me on the road trip and was easy to carry round. The extra rucksack is smaller, more city and streetcar appropriate bag.
The shoes and jumpers probably make perfect sense and don’t need explaining.
I considered writing a full post on packing and what exactly I did bring but in order to do that, I feel like I should have some expertise in the area, which I don’t think I have… I will say though, that the advice from my friends now makes a lot sense to me (about bedding and old towels). The main reason they suggested those things, I think, is to make space for the way back because inevitably I am going to struggle on my return journey; I have already ended up with extra things that I have no idea how I will bring back with me (we went thrift shopping in New England).
I’ll let you know how that packing situation goes.
ARRIVING IN TORONTO
This was the part Hamilton and I were most nervous for. Until this moment, the whole application had been done online; at no point did we have to speak to anyone in person. I had applied for the IEC (a 2 year working VISA) every year for 3 years and never expected to get it this year, never mind for Hamilton to get it too. Its a lottery and one that I did not think I would ever be lucky enough to win. I’m here and still pinching myself.
Its free to sign up to online and not that hard. There is a lot of information on this exact process on this website which is more in depth than what I can tell you but basically if you are British/from another IEC nation, you are put into a pool and then from time to time, names are drawn out of that pool. You then have two weeks to accept and pay a fee (I think it was around £100). There are quite a few forms to upload, with information about your family and a police certificate about yourself. Personally, I recommend having these forms ready from when you sign up, just in case you get picked because it makes it a lot easier, rather than panicking that you don’t have everything ready and losing your invitation.
Once all this is done, you have one year to enter Canada. Upon arrival at the airport, you will get your IEC Working Holiday VISA. All you have to do is provide proof of funds ($2500 CAD), the approval letter you received (POE), proof of insurance and the forms you uploaded when you applied. As we found out, they won’t necessarily ask for these things but they may do.
We had a really lovely flight (after a few days of emotional goodbyes) and got off the plane fairly calm but began to get nervous when going through immigration. We had seen a lot on TV shows about border controls of people going into rooms and being interviewed, people being turned away and more, so that didn’t help. Of course, we had all the right things and nothing to hide but the idea of going through that is still nerve wracking! I couldn’t imagine putting all this preparation and saving into something (and telling everyone about it), only to find out that I wouldn’t actually be getting my VISA. Every time I’ve been through security in America/Canada before I’ve been asked a few questions (in a fairly intense way) about my job, my work, what I’ll be doing in Canada and more, so I expected that x 100.
We also didn’t know what to actually do once we got off the plane… There were electronic machines everyone had to go to, where you scan your passport and get given a ticket. We went up together and put our details in, then queued up with everyone else. When we saw an officer at the front, he sent us to immigration. There was no queue in this office and we saw an officer at a desk there almost immediately. She asked for our passports, poe letter and travel insurance. That was it.
She then told us to sit down and within 5 minutes, she called us back to the desk and handed us our passports with the VISAs inside. We weren’t asked any questions or anything. It was honestly one of the most simple processes I have ever experienced.
Once through there, we were shown to a some people who could give us our SIN (social security numbers that allowed us to work, basically). This took another 5/10 minutes and then that was it, we picked up our bags, showed the original receipt from the computer which allowed us to leave and then got in a taxi, to our Air BNB.
I highly recommend booking some form of accommodation by the way, its quite difficult to get apartments here because places go so fast and you need proof of income, which we didn’t/don’t have. There is a group on Facebook called Bunz Home Zone which is very helpful to find places once you are settled. Tenancies tend to start at the beginning of the month so book somewhere up to the end of the month before.
OUR FIRST WEEK
Obviously, moving is very exciting and all we really wanted to do was explore our new city but first there were a few more admin-y things to get done; namely bank accounts and cell phones.
There are a lot of bank accounts on offer for newcomers to Canada so just see what is on offer and what works best for you. They should all give you free online banking, a cash card and a debit card. Most allow you to have a bank account without monthly charges (its a normal thing here). So just see what they’ve got and what they’re willing to offer.
Cell phone plans are notoriously expensive here, so we went with Public Mobile. I have a 4.5gb plan which costs 40 CAD a month (prepaid, so I won’t go over it). The signal is good and it works well, even though its only 3G technically, not 4G – I honestly haven’t noticed a difference. There are lots of smaller companies, so if you’re bringing a phone with you, search for prepaid plans and there are usually some deals.
The process for both of these things was pretty easy, though you need your SIN for a bank account and its easier to have a Canadian bank account for a cell phone, so the order we did it in made a lot of sense.
We did also do some fun exploring but I realise this post is already very long and potentially not that interesting, so I’ll write about that another time! Everyone here has been really nice and we’ve actually met a few people that are happy to meet up/tell us all about the area, which makes it all a bit less scary!
As I said at the top, if you have any questions or anything to add to this, then comment below or tweet us here. For now, we are here in Toronto and having a blast, though the weather is about to turn colder… So we’ll see how that goes!