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I intended on writing this post much sooner, (like last year when we arrived, but there's nothing like a healthy dose of procrastination to wreak havoc on plans, ha!) In all seriousness though there has honestly been a lot more to process than I thought.
And did I mention procrastination... yeah? Whoops, never mind then I will continue!
As if moving countries wasn't a hard enough task at the best of times, doing it with the added noise of kids, dogs and a pandemic created a lot more baggage (and cost) than anticipated.
But.... We did it!! And boy do I feel stronger for it. If I can organise my way through that lot then I can organise through anything right!?
So where to start with this post....?
I could waffle on for pages about moving and the experience but who has the time or patience nowadays to sit and absorb that? I may have written far too much for some already. Maybe this should be my top tips instead, I imagine my general story of our journey might not be that relevant to most, the quarantine we had to endure is certainly no longer applicable, so perhaps that's just a post for another time! For everyone's sanity I'll keep it simple, brief and easy to skim read!
So here goes my top tips for moving to Canada from the UK with kids and pets during a global pandemic (never thought I'd write that as a heading!)
1. Print off all your paperwork and have it clearly labelled, organised and easily accessible.
You get asked multiple times for various proof, permits, certificates, I.D. Etc so label it, keep it handy and have it with you!
- Certificates such as birth, kids birth, covid tests (unlikely to be applicable now but who knows), qualifications, marriage.
- copies of permission to travel, employment contracts, C.V.
- Any official documents such as approval for work permits, visas etv
- vaccinations for pets, fit to travel health certificate, proof they've been neutered (we have to provide this to landlord and for dog licence in Canada otherwise it's much more expensive)
2. Check that work permit thoroughly when it's issued at the border!
When you arrive in Canada you go through to border control to get all your documentation checked and your paper work permit issued. They advise you to very, very carefully check this document through for any errors.
Now, I have a few excuses here, we arrived during Covid, after a nearly full day at the airport, a 9 hour flight with dogs and kids and it felt like 11pm for us so I forgive myself for missing that one of my kids birth years was incorrectly inputted (I feel very strongly here that the border control officer had one job but anyway!) So it now means that the birth date of one of my kids is also incorrect on their health card. It's something we need to get re-issued which will mean either sending it off or heading to the border, it's not the worst thing and it's lucky it's on the kids and not one of ours. But, I'd recommend, even if you're physically and mentally done, check, double check, then do a few arm claps/gentle face slaps/jumping jacks and then triple check it all again!
3. Start looking for accommodation before you leave and give yourself plenty of time.
It may just be because we'd entered the summer season and it's already a notorious eye wateringly expensive city but it took us longer to find a place than I expected. Granted we needed a 3 bed pet friendly place that didn't cost us all of our savings to rent which does restrict us but still... Luckily we secured our new pad with a mere 2 days left on our temporary accommodation but it was a full time job and stressful!
I wasn't prepared for:
a) how difficult it would be to even get hold of, or get a response from a lot of people both individual landlords and rental agents (the majority of whom, in my experience, were terribly inept.) phone calls, messages and texts would go unanswered for days, if at all, even though we were looking for a place available immediately there was a certain lack of urgency from a great many. Very odd considering they were trying to rent out a place!
b) how piecemeal the rental market is in Canada. In the UK we pretty much have 1-2 go to sites where most of the property is listed. Not for Canada though, here I hourly had to scan Padmapper, Zumper, Craigslist, Liv.Rent, Facebook market place, Facebook rental groups and any individual rental companies (who inevitably wouldn't bother to respond or be helpful in any way so not quite sure why I kept optimistically trying them to be honest) or just walk round and look for signs! I honestly, for approx 3 weeks, got pretty much nothing else done and was sending round the clock messages just trying to get viewings booked, it was intense to say the least.
4. Be prepared that bringing beloved furries (your pets) with you is a lot of work (but so worth it!)
- They will need a health certificate to leave the UK. This is officially according to APHA but I was pretty disgruntled after paying out £140 PER DOG for a certificate to have no one check the damn things! I pretty much waved them at the Canadian immigration officer in order to feel justified in having forked out for them. Be aware that certificates are only valid for 10 days - Thanks Brexit and UK for deciding that the pet passport scheme was better off abandoned for these red tape nightmares!
- You have to pay import fees for your pets, but surprisingly it's not that expensive for Canada around $40. You will need to check each country's requirements as to paperwork and proof of vaccinations etc prior to entering.
- Not all travel/airline approved carriers are equal. You will get specific requirements depending on the aircraft you're travelling on and it can be tight. The maximum height allowed for us was a mere 8" which meant the lovely carriers I originally ordered had to go back and I really struggled to find carriers that would fit the height requirement. We ended up with these backpack style ones from Trixie which withstood the trip, although we realised upon getting to our final hotel that one of the shoulder straps was very close to detaching completely so we got lucky there. The dogs could stand up and turn in them and they had more space for laying out when the bags were laid flat, they were comfy to carry around backpack style and the ventilation was adequate. The pocket was also roomier than I first thought so we could squeeze poo bags, collapsible bowls and leads in there but not much else.
- It is stressful having the pets with you. I was constantly aware of them if they cried; were they too hot? thirsty? needed the toilet? Like with a small child you're constantly second guessing what they need and trying to make sure you can accommodate it. I regularly offered capfuls of water and took them out of the carrier whenever possible. The security officer at Heathrow was great and since it was very quiet allowed us to have them out of the carrier on our knee - we made sure not to over step this leniency by making sure the dogs were quiet, discreet and not disturbing other passengers!
- Carry a travel battery operated mini fan. I used it to give the dogs some air and it helped keep them cool and calm.
- If you can, place the carrier on the seat next to you rather than your knee. I found the dogs settled so much better on the seat, partly because I think it was cooler than on the knee, but also a bit more stable and if you have to nip to the loo it's less of a disturbance. I also had my hand in the carrier 90% of the time as it helped keep them calm and reassure them that I'd not run away.
- Finding accommodation with dogs or pets in general is a lot more restrictive. British Columbia, interestingly though, are talking of bringing in a rule where landlords can not discriminate against having a pet, so it should be easier here in future. We'll see how that goes!
B.C in general feels pretty pet friendly, I've personally found it to be a bit of an icebreaker and people often comment on the dogs or just smile and say hi to them which is lovely. There are so many walks and trails too. It is harder to find off lead areas compared to the UK but as I have smaller dogs who are wary of larger ones I've found that to be generally easier for us.
5. Get all the admin sorted ASAP.
(Some B.C. specific things here, if you're in a different province double check their regs!)
The sooner you get all the paperwork stuff sorted the easier things are.
- Grab a SIM card so you can get a Canadian number - we went with Lucky who were pretty reasonable on their packages and so far have good coverage, although I do believe they may be more Vancouver based so not sure on the nationwide coverage they offer. We also used Swytch for our UK number which we ported over. This means we can still get calls and texts to our UK mobile without having to switch SIM cards.
- Open a bank account. It is such a pain juggling foreign accounts and having to remember conversion rates etc but also some services such as food deliveries won't accept a UK Card going to a Canadian address so getting one is essential. A lot of the big banks have free banking for the first XX months or 1 year for new comers but watch after that as there are charges.
Interestingly Transfer Wise have just created this international bank account which may be really useful to worldschoolers and frequent travellers.
- Apply for a credit card. Sadly UK credit history does not translate to Canada so that perfect credit score you might be harbouring now counts for zilch and it's back to square one... yep it sucks! So start small and build up as if you were 18 again (I can dream!) A credit card with a small limit is a good start and you can go on from there. We have also found that a couple of car dealers do have experience with obtaining credit for permit holders, we've not tried this ourselves yet but may be worth looking into.
- Get your Medical Service Plan - this is for B.C residents (check other provinces for their requirements) and is their mandatory health entitlement card meaning you have access to basic medical care, you need to go through Services Canada to obtain these and it's pretty straight forward. Be aware that it can be up to 3 months before you can be eligible to use this so make sure you have bridging cover just in case.
- Get on a waiting list for a doctor. There is a long wait list for a doctor in B.C but you can also search around and see if practices are accepting new patients.
- Find a dentist. If you don't have medical cover from your place of employment (or are not covered under a spouse or partner's cover) then you may need to purchase additional health insurance to ensure you're covered for dental work. Be aware that even simple procedures are expensive so having some sort of insurance is a good shout. This dental fee guide gives you an idea of costs and as you can see without some kind of cover it can get expensive pretty quickly.
- If you have pets find a vet/groomer/walker whatever they need and get them signed up. Groomers (as in the UK) seem to be in high demand here too and it can be a few weeks before they can fit you in. Vets too may have a wait list although we've managed to sign up pretty easily so far.
- Dogs also need to be registered and you have to get a dog licence. It is cheaper if you can demonstrate that they're neutered. North Vancouver has it's own office for registering here.
- Swap your driving licence. You can drive on a UK licence for 90 days and then you have to surrender your licence to ICBC and swap it for a B.C. one. Luckily the UK has a reciprocal agreement with Canada so you can outright swap your licence without having to take a test which is awesome. Be aware that you will need to give in your actual UK licence as it's illegal for you to hold both, if you don't give them the UK licence card then they won't be able to issue you with a B.C licence.
6. Drive out to as many of the areas as you can (Vancouver specific).
Vancouver is a great place, it's felt surprisingly safe to me given it's a large city. What I didn't appreciate before we arrived was how the big cities around Vancouver all blend together and how each of these cities have their own unique vibe.
The main hub is Downtown Vancouver but then you also have the East Vancouver, South Vancouver, North Vancouver then moving out into the blended cities of Richmond, Coquitlam, Surrey and Burnaby. I recommend lots of scouting out of the areas - if you have kids it's also a great excuse to hit all the play parks of which there are many great ones to burn off the energy, check out this amazing park link, you can search through loads of parks in the area and even filter then by your kids favourite piece of equipment! It'll help you with your longer term accommodation search and means you won't get stuck in an area for the long term that doesn't quite fit with your family vibe.
We've found North Van is closer to the mountains and loads of great hiking and outdoor trails, East Vancouver is great for foodies, Downtown for the hub of city life, and Coquitlam has a very family friendly feel to it. We're still figuring out the rest!
Hopefully there are some useful tips here it's my first thoughts from our move over and if you're reading this with the intention to, or in the process of moving over then I wish you lots of luck with your relocation, it's a scary ride at times but well worth it for the adventure.