For thousands of people around the world, Canada is the immigrant's dream destination. Welcoming people, lack of racial tensions, a booming economy and excellent school and healthcare systems add up to a country they would love to call home.
Sounds wonderful? Are you asking yourself right now: “How do I get started?"
Unfortunately, a lot of people fall into the trap of pushing ahead with their applications without asking themselves a far more basic question, which is: “Is Canada right for me?"
They move to Canada having done little real research, without truly understanding the difficulties they might face and what they need to do to overcome them. The result is often frustration, disappointment and worry as their drain their bank accounts while trying to get settled in.
Make no mistake, Canada holds many wonderful opportunities for immigrants, but it takes a lot more than a permanent resident's visa to succeed.
Research into every aspect of Canadian life, and preparation for what you can expect here are key to settling in. With that in mind, let's dispel any illusions you might have about the country and do a reality check on what life is really like for new immigrants:
How easy is it to get started?
The answer to this question depends on whom you ask. When researching for a feature article for The Essential Guide on Moving to Canada , most people admitted the first year is almost always the most difficult. Few are so lucky as to immediately land the job of their dreams. Many don’t even get a job in the early months after the move to Canada, and if they do, it is in a field totally different from what they have worked in.
Assuming the worst, you will need to have enough funds to tide you and your family over for at least a few months. Citizenship and Immigration Canada insists on a transfer of around C$10,000-$15,000 when you move to the country (the figures vary depending on the size of your family). Our advice however is to work out approximately how much you will need to support you and your family for the first six months (and that includes rent/mortgage, initial ‘setting-up-home’ expenses, groceries, travel and other costs), and put that aside as a ‘start-up’ fund.
In most cases, the going gets easier over time. People find better-paying jobs or earn promotions, having overcome the ‘Canadian experience’ hurdle. As you become more comfortable in your new surroundings, your circle of friends will grow, you will develop your own favourite places to shop and find new avenues of entertainment.
Even misfortunes like losing a job will not seem an outright tragedy once you are entitled to benefits such as unemployment insurance.
The trick really is to make sure you have enough funds to tide you over the crucial early months – basically prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.
Are jobs easy to come by?
The question of jobs is paramount in the minds of most immigrants, which is why we have devoted an entire chapter to it. It’s often a matter of talent, timing and luck. You should be willing to ‘reinvent’ yourself to find a job that requires your knowledge and skills if work isn’t available in your own field.
Immigrant stories on the job front are so varied that it would be unfair to generalize. Some find jobs almost immediately after they arrive, others wait several months before even getting a call for an interview. It must be said though that for most skilled immigrants, finding employment is usually just a matter of time.
What about education?
Education standards in Canada are excellent. Schooling is free, but college and university education is expensive. Many teenagers take up summer jobs to help pay their way through college and student loans are also available.
There are also several institutions that offer special interest courses for children and adults. Many immigrants enrol themselves in evening or night courses to polish their skills in subjects that might help promote themselves better in the job market.
Canadian winters? Brrrr!
Canadian winters are a huge source of concern for most immigrants, especially those from countries where it never snows. There is no denying that the winter months are bitterly cold. However, so long as you are properly attired when outdoors and your home and car is equipped for the season, there is no cause for alarm. Many immigrants are surprised by how well they cope with winter in Canada, and children especially have a ball in the snow.
There will always be days when the weather is especially rough (usually when it’s both cold and windy), but then which part of the world doesn’t have its bad days?
If below freezing temperatures are too chilling a prospect for you, look at setting up home in a city nearer the West Coast. Vancouver, for example, rarely has snow and temperatures below 0 Celsius are unusual.
Will I be able to adjust to life in Canada? Will I lose my ethnic identity?
Adjusting to the Canadian way of life really depends on the immigrant’s background and his or her willingness to make the change. It helps to have a spirit of adventure and the readiness for a challenge. There are many aspects of life in Canada that you might find different from what you are used to – whether it pertains to job-hunting, buying a home or socialising.
Having said that, it is not in the least bit true that you will start to lose your identity or sense of roots. Immigration levels in Canada are high, and some 250,000 new immigrants set foot on Canadian soil each year. So don’t be surprised when you find yourself surrounded by people of your own race, creed or colour at work, on the roads or at the malls.
Canada respects all religions and cultures, and whether you go to a church, temple, mosque or gurudwara, you will likely find a place of worship near you.
There are several clubs and associations that cater to individual communities or nationalities as well as organisations that help new immigrants adjust to life in Canada, so look at using these services.
There are even television and radio networks which broadcast programmes in ethnic languages, and as for films, we’d be surprised if you didn’t find what you were looking for at a neighbourhood video store!
About the author:
Archie D'Cruz is a senior journalist and publisher of ImmigrationGuides.com, The Essential Guide on Moving to Canada ), a leading information resource for new and would-be immigrants.
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