I have received many questions from friends and strangers alike regarding the process of emigrating to Canada. I hope this information helps you find some of the answers.
Let me start with a disclaimer. Emigration is YOUR choice. It is YOUR family. YOUR emotions. YOUR future. And we all need to respect each other’s feelings and decisions. I am simply sharing my experiences to help those that may need it.
I am no expert. I don’t have all the answers. I am also nervous about advising on emigration when it is such a fiercely personal process and decision. So, let me say that I am neither promoting leaving or staying in South Africa. There are PROS and CONS to both. It is personal, like leaving a relationship – it will be hard if you do and hard if you don’t. This is the world. Good and bad happens everywhere. Good and bad people exist everywhere. The degrees may vary, but it’s still the world and real life. If there’s a bubble of utopia looking for residents, then I’m starting the emigration process all over again :).
I’ll give you an example. Despite emigrating, I am still processing the attempted coup (distance didn’t protect my emotions). It was like all my worst nightmares coming to the fore. My children were visiting South Africa, my mom is still there, and my precious friends were all under threat. I have hands-down never felt that helpless and desperate. My heart is still bleeding for everyone. My mother and daughter are still there. That same morning a crane collapsed on a construction site in downtown Kelowna. I have peekaboo views of the site from my home office desk. I heard it happen (sounded like an earthquake), and I saw all the dust rise into the air so high that my first thought was that a bomb had detonated. Five young guys died that day. I walk past the site when I head downtown, but I still can’t look in that direction. There was always someone at the construction site with a friendly wave when Toby and I walked by.
Real people with real faces and smiles were affected that day in both Canada and South Africa. The scale of destruction and devastation was different, but my point is that emigration doesn’t place you in a protective bubble.
On the positive side, there is always yang to the yin. The goodness of humanity shows its light regardless of where you live. Following the trauma, communities came together for different reasons in both SA and Canada. Love and community shone. South Africans united to build, fix and restore, and Canadians came together, hanging construction jackets on their patios to remember the lives lost and raised money for affected families. Good people and kind hearts live everywhere.
Right. Now that I’ve got the emotions out the way, here are my quick-ish answers for those who asked for emigration advice.
Decide and do. Chatting around a braai while you drink beer will do nothing if all you do is eat a tjop and some potato salad but action nothing the next day. This kind of debate can go on for years. Especially when you realise you may never see biltong again. Yes, or no. Decide and action. It’s not a communal decision – it’s your family’s decision. You can stall at this point for years.
TO VISIT OR NOT TO VISIT
If you can, visit first. If you’re going to live somewhere, it’s a no-brainer that it’s better to see the place first. Although, in hindsight, I think I would have preferred to save the money. We did a whirlwind tour of Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia three years ago. I fell in love with Toronto, or was it that I fell in love with the fact the Suits was filmed there (ah, Harvey)? Montreal wasn’t for me despite me hauling out my school French. And then? British Columbia (cue singing angels) – the magical land of the giants. In love. Sold to the lady that loves forests. We now live in Kelowna.
However, if a visit isn’t possible, Google goes a long way, and it’ll save you big bucks (and you need all the money you can when emigrating). It just takes a little more homework. Often, it’s a case of moving to where the work is anyway – just be a bit fateful about it and be prepared to make initial sacrifices. Things have a way of falling into place. Just breathe.
Join them. It helps. You get advice from those busy with and finished with the process. You get reassurance, a better idea of areas, work opportunities, schooling, and make friendships – the list goes on. Note: be sure to do some of your own research – there is generally a bit of pushback if someone posts, “Hi – I want to emigrate. How do I do that?”. It’s seen to be lazy. Google is your friend. Do some homework too. Everyone on these sites has put a lot of energy into exploring emigration – it is a time-consuming, emotional process for everyone, and there are no shortcuts.
Take a look at these groups:
EX-PAT SOUTH AFRICANS LIVING IN CANADA
First things first – get yourself a file and some file dividers. You’re going to need them. And some wine. Maybe even some sour worms from your kid’s party pack.
You can be forgiven for thinking Canada is trying to trick you. You can have a Ph.D. in Intelligence, and those forms will still slap you across the face with a sneer. I became convinced that this was how Canada cull people – like how badly do you REALLY want to get into Canada? If you can complete their forms and still have residual self-confidence, you don’t just deserve Permanent Residency; you deserve a congratulatory hug from dreamy Trudeau. One flutter of those eyelids and all hard feelings vapourise.
The official site is: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/immigration-citizenship.html
Follow the steps. Breathe. Then try again. It is confusing, but you got this! We came across on a Family Sponsorship – you need to find the route that gives you the best chance. All the information is on this aforementioned (not user-friendly) site.
You will never get to speak to an actual person. Accept that. You communicate via post, web forms, and updates posted to your account (which you will create via the site). I found this to be the hardest part. You are often left in limbo, unsure whether your application is being worked, lost or has become a coaster. It’s normal to feel like this. Try not to panic. You’ve been training for this level of patience for your whole life.
Can you afford an agent, or can’t you? It’s not a necessity, so don’t spend money you don’t have to. An agent gives added reassurance and ensures you tick all the boxes. You can feel alone and confused in this process, and not knowing if you’ve done something correctly can keep you up at night. We couldn’t afford an agent; instead, we had the occasional ZOOM call with one when we hit dead ends. We also paid to have our application checked by an agent before we submitted it. I found this to work well – a great middle ground.
We used Canada Abroad intermittently, but I believe (via the Facebook groups) ICL Immigration is also great.
I am not a fan of a spreadsheet. I write; I don’t like punching things into little boxes with formulas. However, do yourself a favour and create a to-do spreadsheet (checklist). It will keep you slightly saner during an overly admin-intensive process. There are checklists on the official site (noted prior), but a spreadsheet allows you to mark things off – status, by which date, related costs, and so forth. Put deadlines on things. Set your timeline goals. This will help with forward momentum. It’s exhausting, and tequila helps if you want to give up.
Part A – forms
All the forms pertaining to Family Sponsorship (this will vary depending on your route). They have funny numbers like form IMM5533, AND the forms change/get updated fairly often with no alerts. So, before sending in your application, ensure that you’ve completed the latest one (we got caught with this, and it delayed our application). The entire application has to be printed and placed in a specific order with no paperclips! For a country that’s pro the environment, they don’t seem to care about the small forest that is crying.
By which date, how much, send proof of payment to where, and so forth. It helps to budget upfront so you don’t get any nasty surprises.
Part B – supporting documents
Birth certificates (my mom claims to love me but didn’t have mine, so they accepted a baptism certificate)
Police clearances (even once you’ve sent your application off, always ensure you have valid ones – they can randomly ask for this)
Proof of address
It’s super particular – size, what to write on the back of the photos is all listed on the main site.
Proof of funds
Money in the bank
We didn’t add our Ferrari or high-end speed boat (ah, to dream)
I’m not going to judge. Everyone’s situation is different. All I’m going to say is you have two choices. You take them with you, or you don’t. If you are taking them with you, it’s entirely possible. It is expensive and can make renting difficult, but emotionally, there is nothing like having your furry best friends with you.
If you aren’t able to take them with you, then re-house them sooner rather than later. This way, you can be sure they have adjusted, and secondly, it gives you time to find a good, loving home. You also want to avoid additional emotion just before leaving.
SUBMIT YOUR APPLICATION
Now you wait. And you wait. And you wait. You check your application status daily. Then the request for biometrics and medicals finally come through (not at the same time, incidentally – so you wait between those too).
MEDICAL EXAMINATION AND BIOMETRICS
If biometrics aren’t done in your area, prepare for a road trip. Medical exams can also only be performed by specific doctors and are not covered by medical aid (ouch!).
Then you wait. Lamenting the limbo. And answering the same question by well-intentioned friends a hundred times, “how is your application going?”. It’s stressful, because the truth is – you don’t know.
And then it happens. You’ve been accepted.
THE GOODBYES. THE LANDING.
I wasn’t good at this. In fact, I was downright pathetic. I’m not going to go into detail again, but feel free to read the post I wrote covering this Emigration. Welcome to the funfair.
Where you choose to live in Canada will (obviously) affect your budget, but this should help to give you some idea based on some comparisons I’ve made between households (below is in CAD):
Rent 2400 (3-bed four-plex, small)
Wifi and phone 200
Groceries 1200 (nothing fancy)
Petrol 300 (running around close to home, not using daily)
Sport and leisure 200
Car insurance 150 (more expensive before you get your license)
Health and beauty 200 (a hair colour and cut is around $300)
Household insurance 30
Cars less expensive than South Africa
BUYING A HOUSE
The housing market is through the roof (pun was intended). A 3-bed, basic house downtown averages $1 – 1.2 million. And that’s a fixer-upper-er. However, interest rates are far lower than SA – from around 2%. Um, we won’t be buying in the foreseeable future.
BUYING A CAR
Cars are generally less expensive. Public transport is an excellent, efficient, and safe alternative. Warning: you need to re-do your learner’s test and license. I’m not sure I’ve ever been that nervous in my life before – I almost failed for driving too slowly. AND, I had the added pressure of my children being hot on my heels to take their tests! Note: car insurance is super high before you get your license.
School is very different here. In almost every way. Not better, not worse, just different. Well, it’s free, so it’s better in that respect. I did copious research into schools before arriving in Canada, but in hindsight that wasn’t necessary. The kids adapt. You go to your local school, and that’s that. There are private schools, but in my experience, that isn’t necessary. Instead, save your money for University (although most kids apply for the BC government loan, which is interest-free!).
At first, I thought the school system was more straightforward, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I think it’s just very practical – it prepares kids for life as well as academic careers. South African kids’ marks bump up significantly. It works on taking a certain number of courses per quarter. When they finish a course, they get credits. There are a certain number of credits required to graduate. So, you don’t select your subjects in grade 10 like in SA – instead, far more courses are completed, but over a shorter period. Does that make sense? Look, I still just nod when the kids explain it to me – it’s all a tad confusing, but it works. There’s also a lot of emphasis on the ‘whole child’, so they are required to take a balance of courses – cooking, music, sciences, history, photography…the list goes on.
It’s far more liberal here. In high school, makeup is allowed, and your hair can be purple with orange tips if that (well) blows your hair back. There’s also a disturbing amount of mullets about. I’m pretty open-minded, but even my eyes popped at some of the attire. However, the longer I’ve been here, the more I’ve come to realise that self-expression seems to work. It’s so accepted that rebellion is rendered mute. In British Columbia, kids can drive from the age of 16 (my shattered nerves), and with efficient public transport available, they tend to be more independent. I don’t know if this is good or bad; it’s just different. Everyone has a job from age 16, too – great prep for life’s responsibilities.
Some may come across with work, others without. The good news is you won’t be out on the street. Minimum wage allows you to put some form of a roof over your head, eat, and even enjoy a beer once a week. And that’s a worst-case scenario. You can clean, be a checkout teller or drive a bus and live a really decent life. However, if you wish to ‘stick to your knitting’, chances are you’ll ultimately find a job in your industry. Bear this in mind when choosing where to settle. As a freelance writer, I’ve found losing my network to be the most challenging part, but even so, I’ve acquired sufficient work (even amidst a pandemic).
HOW TO STAY CONNECTED WITH HOME. AND HOW TO LET GO.
I shouldn’t be advising on this. I’ve found letting go supremely difficult. I’m a deep thinker and feeler. I love my people, and I miss them every day despite being in Canada for eight months already. The attempted coup set me back significantly emotionally. I wanted to be in South Africa with everyone and I think for the first time I realised (acutely) just how far away I am. There were a few special people I couldn’t get hold of initially, and I battled to sleep until I heard back from them.
It deepened my connection with the ex-pats here, though. We shared a common sense of helplessness and tears. It was also hurtful to read some of the commentaries about how ex-pats don’t have the right to feel sad. Any ex-pat that thought “I got out in time” is not the sort of human I have anything in common with, and I personally don’t know one ex-pat that thought that way. All we did was cry, worry, and barely sleep until we knew our loved ones were safe.
Initially, when I left, friends would send me messages and pictures of their nights out and say how they wished I was there. It was so sweet to be remembered, but it was also tough. I felt like life was carrying on, and I was being left behind, left out. I wanted to be right there with them. But you do adapt, and a new life begins to unfold with new opportunities and experiences. I am grateful.
Stay connected with home via:
Social media (also a great way to meet ex-pats in your area)
BRINGING GRANDPARENTS ACROSS
I love the name of this visa. It suits my mom because she’s a tiny package of spunky cuteness—the Super Visa. It allows an individual to stay for up to two years at a time, with multiple entries for ten years. Here’s the process:
Size of family unit Minimum gross income
1 $25 921
2 $32 270
3 $39 672
4 $48 167
5 $54 630
I need to supply:
My unabridged birth certificate
Proof of my Permanent Residency
Proof of my Canadian address
She needs to supply:
Police clearance (valid six months)
One-year private health insurance from a Canadian provider
Three months bank statements
Proof of pension payments and amounts
Proof of any assets or family connections in SA
Letter of invitation from myself with specified details
I’m still working on letting go. However, I am happy here. Sending love to all, and I hope this has helped anyone that needs it. I may well have left things out – feel free to reach out to me, and I’ll do what I can to get the info you need. Remember, the choice is yours – whether you stay or go, it’s your decision, and it should be respected. Let’s be kind to one another.
OH, and, what about the weather? Canada is HUGE. Like really, really huge. The weather is kuk in some parts and beautiful in others. In Kelowna we’ve had sunny skies since April and it’s been hot with no wind and barely any rain. I’m actually looking forward to winter – every season has its own charm. Just drop me a message if you need any more help – I’ll do what I can.
Let’s just coddiwomple