So you’ve made the decision: it’s time for a change and you’re going to move. You’ve had your farewell, survived the 24 hours of travelling and have finally landed in your new home. What happens next?
You’ve gone from having an entire life organised around you, to knowing no one and probably being constantly lost in your new city’s streets. When you finally get to your new home, what do you need to do to set up a new life? Where do you even begin?
If you’re planning on staying in a city for a while and want to build a new life, there are a few things you can do to make the transition easier. This post is based on my experience of setting up a life in Canada; these are all the things I did in my first week. I found that, once you have these things sorted, it takes a lot of the pressure off and you can enjoy the your new city at your own pace.
So here are my top five things I’d recommend doing during your first week in a new city:
1. Phone Number
It’s official, technology has won and I can’t live without a mobile phone. It’s the very first thing I’d recommend doing when you move to a new country.
Funny and kind of true
And no, it’s not because I can’t live without Snapchat (though I do love that app). But having a mobile phone makes all of the other ‘setting up life’ tasks simpler. Calling about apartments, finding out when the ICBC closes or comparing the price of difference bed sets is infinitely easier with your own phone. Yes, you can use pay phones or skype on the hostel wifi. But let’s be honest, skype can be patchy at the best of times and now that it’s not the 80’s pay phones are a little hard to find. Having your own mobile number also lets people call you back, which is particularly important when you’re looking for an apartment or a job.
In order to get a mobile number as quickly as possible, make sure you unlock your phone before you arrive. I had a friend spend over 4 hours arguing with Telstra trying to unlock her phone the day before she flew to the US. This is not something you want to have to do over a bad skype connection.
Once you have a mobile number, it’s time to find a place to sleep.
Finding accommodation in a new city is a big task, (worthy of a blog post in and of itself, which I’ll be writing soon!) so I’d recommend getting started ASAP. If possible, do as much as you can before you leave. Interviews can be done over skype and inspections can be organised for the day after you land (give yourself the first day off, it’s always surprising how awful jetlag is). At the very least get familiar with the website you intend to use to find a place (such as Craigslist or Easyroommate), so you can hit the ground running.
3. SIN Number
If you’re planning on working in Canada you’ll need a Social Insurance Number. It’s just like a tax file number for Australians and gives you to access government services. You can apply for work in Canada without a SIN, but in my experience it’s not difficult to get and means you can start a job straight away (instead of waiting for paperwork or background checks or anything else that might keep you from that important first pay cheque).
There are two ways you can get a SIN. You can either apply in person at a Service Canada centre or apply via mail if you’re living 100km or more away from the nearest centre. If you do it via post it will take a couple of weeks for your SIN to reach you. If you do it in person, it takes maybe 40 minutes and you get your SIN straight away (they still post the card to you, but you only need the number to start working). So even if you’re only staying in say Vancouver for a few weeks before moving up to Whistler, I’d still recommend getting your SIN number before you go. You’ll need specific proof of ID depending on the visa you’re using to stay in the Canada, so it’s worth checking out the Service Canada website before going.
4. Drivers License
In the eyes of a lot of organisations, having a local drivers license is proof that you’re a real ‘resident’ and entitles you to benefits that locals enjoy.
YYoga, for example, offers new members a month of unlimited yoga for $40 (roughly $100 discount), but it’s only for BC residents. Something your driver license proves you are, even if you’ve only been living in the city for a few weeks.
There are a lot of international regulations about transferring a drivers license and a lot will depend on whether or not your home country and new country have a reciprocal agreement in place. In the case of Australia and Canada, there is a reciprocal agreement and if you have proof of 2 years driving experience and your Australian license in hand, you can get a Canadian drivers license without doing any driving tests. I think this is pretty generous, given we drive on opposite sides of the road. But hey, if they’re happy with it so am I!
The tricky part turned out to the proving two years driving experience. Before leaving home I got a copy of my drivers history from the RTA. But when I got to Vancouver ICBC wouldn’t accept it because it was an unproven copy of a document; turns out they only accept license histories that are faxed directly to them. The RTA at home was happy to do this, but if I’d know earlier I could have saved myself the $25 I spent before leaving.
If you can’t prove two years driving experience you can still get a BC license, you just have to go through some kind of graduated license program. The ICBC website is pretty easy to use and worth reading before you arrive.
5. Bank Account
Once you have your drivers license, you’ll be able to set up a local bank account. Like the SIN number you can get a job without one, but it just creates more work later on and could prevent you from getting paid. Once you have a local account, you can also figure out the cheapest way to transfer money over from your home bank account. Nothing is more annoying than knowing that the Commonwealth bank is both paying me a lame exchange rate and charging a % fee for withdrawing my money overseas.
When I was setting up my bank account, my bank required two pieces of identification and recommended that one of them be government issued. I’m not sure if I could have gotten away with just Australian government issued ID, but by waiting until I got my SIN number everything was straightforward and I left the bank with all my accounts sorted.