Before Your Departure
AFTER THE MONTHS OF STRESS WITH DECIDING if you wanted to leave or not, you have finally chosen, like Abraham did in the Bible, to go to the proverbial promised land. You may have also followed that decision with registering and writing the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), sorting out the World Education Services (WES) challenge, getting your transcripts, and putting together your Canadian Permanent Residence application. Perhaps you have the Confirmation of Permanent Residency (CoPR) for you and your dependents or a temporary work permit (if applicable). As somebody who went through this pathway recently, I truly understand the pressure. It may also be that you are fleeing from oppression and disasters back home. Whatever your reason or your life journey, the certainty is that a new life beckons. You cannot wait to get started on the biggest adventure of your life.
Congratulations are in order! Here are some things to consider before departure day. They are necessary because even with the best intentions, uprooting yourself and your family from familiar ground and established roots to a different culture is not as easy as it sounds. You may not have heard the stories about the struggles people have before settling. The picture you may have is of a land where everything works out once you get off the aircraft. The reality may be somewhat different, though, so it is wise to prepare. Here are a few points from my recent experience that may add value to your preparations.
The most important preparation to make is a total mental revision. If you have been a frequent traveler, you will appreciate that there are marked cultural differences around the world. Culture shock is a thing. It is more glaring for permanent residents than for visitors and holidaymakers. You will experience the good, the bad, and the ugly in the new land. Settling in a different country is not easy in the short term. You are not in a hundred-meter dash. You are in a marathon. As every long-distance runner knows, you need to conserve your energy and sustain a positive mind- set for the long haul.
Some people land and settle immediately, getting jobs in their desired occupations at a parallel or even a higher position. Others may be under-employed or unemployed for a while. Your support network and circumstances may be different. You do not know what your own experience
will be. Therefore, you need to be mentally prepared for the journey. I know people who arrive in Canada with enthusiasm and left some months later disgruntled. They could not cope with the transitions they had to go through in less than six months. Start practicing mental toughness exercises.
In my case, as a trained risk analyst, I had an open and frank conversation with my wife to ensure that we were on the same page about needing to moderate expectations. Resilience is a gift you need and should pray for in the next few months. You have just won one of the battles, but there is still a war you must win. Remember, you are not fighting for yourself alone. You also may have decided on this path for many reasons: to give your kids a better life, to have access to world-class opportunities, or to be a pathfinder for other people. In our journey in Canada, we have been touched by tragedy, excited by challenge, and gladdened by achievement. But as John Ruskin in his essay “The Lamp of Memory” reminds us:
Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build for ever. Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched
them, and that men will say as they look upon the labour and wrought substance of them, “See! This our fathers did for us.”
As part of this preparation, it is essential to assemble the paperwork and documents you will require in the process of settling. Among these would be documentation for your car and home insurance. These documents help demonstrate how faithful you have been to your insurance contracts while in your homeland. The diligence they show can impact the pricing you are offered for services. You will need your rental agreements showing how long you have lived at your current address. A letter from your current employer detailing your pay is advised. In the absence of a Canadian landlord/rental reference, these will give an idea of how you met your rental obligations and your capacity to do so in the short term.
Driving is a big deal in Canada because of the enormous landmass and the government’s goal to reduce road accidents and fatalities. It is highly regulated, with only a few countries allowed the privilege of parallel conversion of their licenses to the Canadian equivalent; these include the United States of America, Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. The terms of the exchanges may vary from province to province. For example, in Ontario, in addition to being a holder of a driver’s license from these countries, you will need to provide other supporting documentation, like a current license or one expired for less than one year showing the expiry date. Additionally, you will need proof of identi- ty showing your legal name, full date of birth, and signa- ture. Lastly, you will need to show a driver’s abstract dated within the last six months indicating when your license was first issued and any road offences in the last five years. If you are not from any of the countries listed above, you may, subject to provincial regulations, be allowed to drive with your current license for ninety days, after which you must get the provincial license. Many of the provinces have graduated licensing systems that enable new drivers to ease into the system guided by a uniform set of rules. Typically, people will get a Class 7 license upon passing the online driving test at the registry to be upgraded if they pass the basic or advanced road tests. With the Class 7 license, you must be accompanied by a driver who has a minimum of a Class 5 license. What will help you cut off these two years before you upgrade to the next class is showing a validly obtained and current license from your
home country. Absent this, there is no way the system will recognize your driving experience before relocating, meaning you will have to start afresh and be supervised for at least two years.
Driving is vital in Canada because bus routes take much longer to get you to a destination than a car does. In the bitter winter months, it is an ordeal. It is also essential that you get this license in a legally authorized way. Many have been denied the acceptance of their driving history in Canada because their licenses were suspicious. Spare yourself this agony or spend your limited funds on Uber and other forms of taxi services for a while.
FUNDING YOUR RELOCATION
You need as much money as possible. During the application process, you were asked to show proof of funds for the size of your family. Do not be like those who came in and soon were seeking help from community resources for their upkeep. The funds are to ensure that you have some sustenance in Canada. Getting a job in Canada can take several months, and while you are sending out résumés and waiting for interviews, you have rent, groceries, electricity, and other bills to pay. The exchange rate between the Canadian dollar and your local currency may not be in your favour, and you may therefore run out of funds
very fast. You do not want to become financially stressed soon after you arrive. It is bad for your mental health.
BOOKING YOUR FLIGHTS
A way to save funds is to book one-way flights. As frequent travelers know, booking a round-trip ticket is one way to convince the destination authorities that you in- tend to leave after visiting for some days. As a permanent resident, you are coming to stay. The settlement process may take a while. The last thing on your mind should be moving everybody back less than a year after arriving. It is a very costly venture, even with a return ticket. You are better off saving money by buying one-way tickets for everyone. That saved money will come in handy.
SCHOOL REPORTS AND MEDICAL RECORDS
While planning for the flights, remember to get school reports for your kids. In some countries, pupils can ad- vance to higher grades based on exceptional performance and aptitude. While different Canadian provinces have programs for gifted children, most school districts use the age method to determine placement. Kids born within the same age bracket who meet the assessment criteria would very likely be placed in the same class, no matter their pri- or grades. Bringing along school results is one way to en- sure that your kids’ general performance is demonstrated
and that they are not judged on the assessment scores alone. All of us have off days, and if your kids’ off day hap- pens to be the day of the assessment, you do not have any other way to argue against a possible demotion, which can be demoralizing for high-flying kids. School reports also help you keep track of your kids’ current school performance and compare it with the records to know when to intervene with additional resources, such as private les- sons or more attention to their schoolwork. It does not hurt to get their last grade results and testimonials from the schools before departing abroad.
You should also update and acquire your family’s medical history and supporting documents, like birth certificates, immunization records, records of chronic diseases or allergies, and medication listings. You will need proof of immunization for the kids, for example, so that you can avoid lengthy explanations to the school authorities. A properly obtained official document quashes a billion queries and doubts. The same is true for religious-related documents. We omitted the baptismal cards of my kids when travelling, and it became an issue to prove to the Catholic School District that they are baptized and had received First Holy Communion back home. It is not your word the authorities in Canada will take; it is the writ- ten evidence and documents you present. Gather your marriage certificate, and do not forget your pictures. You will miss them sorely, as we did! Also important is to have a copy of your educational transcripts. While transcripts are usually sent directly between institutions, it does not hurt to have a copy of yours with you. It is easier to get further copies of your transcript after the first time you order one. The process can also help you develop relationships with or contacts in your alma mater or the examining bodies, whom you could potentially call on for assistance later on. I have seen opportunities lost because of the inefficiencies of the transcript procurement.
ACCOMMODATION UPON LANDING
Before you leave, you need to arrange for where you will spend your first few days in Canada. If you have friends and family in Canada, you can leverage that network for support. The more support you have in Canada, the high- er your chances of fast settlement. Success for newcomers relates to the quality of information they have. Family and friends can give you essential and timely pointers on what to expect and what to do. If you do not have local sup- port, you might want to consider booking a hotel room or an Airbnb. Airbnb is an online marketplace that allows people looking for accommodation in a particular area to connect with folks who want to rent their homes. An internet search will show you your options in the city or town where you are headed. Like the Boy Scouts advise, be fully prepared!