Gary & I are only 2 of 89,000 that emigrated from Ireland last year.
According to this article 50,900 or 52.7% of those were Irish, as the number continues to rise the lack of personal experience is limited online. When your planning on moving abroad it can become very stressful having so many worries and unanswered questions…So being the little eager beaver that I am, I thought why not compile a little list of advice that I would have liked to know before my big move. Here is a list of 10 things that I’ve learnt from my experiences, I hope that it will come in handy for anybody that’s planning on travelling soon!
1. One way ticket
When Gary & I decided to book our ticket to Toronto, we were torn between buying a return trip or a single fare. The reason why we chose a single fare: because you have to use up the return ticket within a year, you have to give a date and you have a fee to change it. The balance of the saving you make by buying a return ticket is cancelled out due to all these fees and changes. So we went ahead and booked our flights as a single fare. This has worked out great for us because now when we make our trip home next month we just bought a return flight up front for a great price without having to pay for fee/charges. It can be a LITTLE scary and daunting purchasing a one way ticket, but it also doesn’t limit you to feeling you have to stay for a year or the opposite wanting to stay for longer.
2. Visa check
When we decided that Toronto was our destination of choice we looked up previous forums for applicants that applied in 2012 and we also went along to some of the Job expo’s for working abroad held in Dublin. When the window opened in 2013, Gary & I decided to apply for it ourselves and not use an agency to avoid any unneccesary programme fees (go4less, USIT). This meant we cut out the middle man and do all the application process ourselves, it’s not hard it just takes a triple checking mechanism to ensure everything works out and to avoid delays. The length of the visa process took from January – March, fairly quick process in the end.
3. Save the pennies
Of course saving is necessary in order to travel but I’m not sure you understand the extent of this until your in a new country, the bank balance keeps dropping and your trying your best to find a job while spending money on all other costs like food, rent, travel. There is a specific balance required when you enter the country in order to have the visa approved (this varies from year to year so ensure you know the minimum). My biggest bit of advice is to save as hard as you can and when you get to your destination keep track of your spending, otherwise it’s gone in the blink of an eye!
My first $$$
Upon arriving in Toronto, Gary & I had saved really hard and to ensure our money wasn’t just disappearing before our eyes I kept a little tracker. This helped as it clarified where our money was going and now looking back I can see how expensive it is to really set up a life somewhere.
Rent – Usually the first and last month rent is required in cash upon signing a lease. The rent prices vary in Toronto, but remember it’s one of the most expensive cities to live in the world. Key deposit or other loop holes may require extra costs.
Tenant Insurance – Content insurance for your condo/apartment. Usually the landlord requires proof of purchase upon signing the lease.
Bills – Varies from home to home, the main mandatory is hydro which is electricity. Remember any Internet, Cable installations have start up fees that can be anywhere from $150 +
Bank Account & Sin Number– Two of the first things we done when we arrived. A bank account doesn’t require a fee upon opening but they do charge a monthly fee. There are multiple bank choices available (we chose TD!). Sin number is required in order to work (the equivalent to your PPS number) therefore it’s important you get it ASAP (an address is required).
Phone – One of the other first things you’ll need to apply for a job even! There are various providers available, one thing I found strange was EVERYONE is bill pay (no Meter or €20 free calls & texts!) and the minimum contract we could find was 2 years. This can cost as little or as expensive as you like depending on the phone you want. Be prepared to pay a minimum of $100!
Travel – There are streetcars (similar to the Luas), buses and subways. All modes of transport take cash, tokens (purchased in bulk to save money usually 10 cost $28) or a TTC pass ( $130 approx monthly). Depending on what date you arrive in the month I would HUGELY suggest you get a TTC pass, in the first few weeks of arriving you will be viewing places to live, going to interviews and exploring all of which add up A LOT if your paying $3 a pop!
Side note: Any time you get on a bus/streetcar take a transfer (piece of paper from the driver) this will allow you a free transfer via a connection mode of transport where you get off. For example, you can take a streetcar north and get off, using your transfer go East on a streetcar/subway/bus. Trasnfers are available at subway stations also.
Furniture – Be prepared to buy all your furniture. It is very, very rare that you will come across a furnished apartment/condo in the city. The best place to go? Ikea firstly (all the essentials for a reasonable price) there are also other furniture stores available. Walmart, Target are also great for kitchen basics and Canadian Tire for Kitchen appliances. This can cost as little or as much as you budget.
Food & Drink – Expensive when you go out due to the mandatory tipping 15% on top of the bill. Food shopping (Groceries as the Canadians call them) can vary in cost also, depending on what you like. The alcohol is limited to buying it at 3 locations only! The Beer Store, The wine Store and the LCBO.
Life without furniture
Of course before arriving in Canada Gary & I done as much research as we possibly could. We had books, read online forums, google mapped the place.. but nothing at all will prepare you for arriving in a country you’ve never been to before and having to call it home. The best thing was knowing the landmarks because this way you could make your way around the city from them! The best thing is familiarizing yourself with the City.
Being a Nerd
6. Mental prep
I’ve mentioned it before and Ill mention it again.. mental health is a serious necessity in preparing to lift your life up and move it. It’s not easy coming to terms with leaving family behind, and having all these fears and anxiety. But when you think logically, clearly and open minded everything starts to shift. Suddenly you don’t think about what your afraid of, but what your looking forward to! By preparing myself for both the worst and best case scenario, I was halfway there!
7. Walk the City & Explore
The best way to get to know anywhere is to get lost. Never before did I need to know my North, South, East or West to follow directions.. but its mandatory in Toronto. This is the only direction language they speak in! It took me a while, (Gary was obviously quicker) but we’ve both picked up on it now. I can say that my runners have worn soles at this point as we’ve pounded every pavement downtown. By walking the city you are exploring without even realising, you get to know your surroundings quicker and you learn very quickly which side of the road the cars drive on (without being knocked down).
I didn’t have a clue what my profession would be when I arrived in Toronto. Of course I have retail experience but I was set on finding something that would be the foundation to my career (and not working retail hours ever again). I applied and searched for hundreds of jobs alongside Gary. I went to approx 10 different group interviews (yes group is the main form of interviewing in Toronto) and found myself at only one office interview in which I done 2/3 interviews and then an aptitude (maths) test and voilà here I am 10 months later! The great thing about Toronto is they have entry level positions that give you the opportunity to get your foot in the door, something that isn’t really acknowledged in Ireland.
Gary & I were fortunate enough to have friends offer us their living room while we got on our feet! But where you chose to live is hard. You need a place ASAP and yet it’s hard to find somewhere you like/isn’t already gone. We originally looked at places via websites like Kijiji and Craigslist but we found that they weren’t turning out great at viewings (battered porch and a tarrot card reading at the entrance really wasn’t for me!). So we decided to go with a realtor, this was the best decision we made. They ask your budget/location and then bring you to about 5 different places. The 4th/5th place we found was perfect, so we went through with an application process (requirements are usually employment letter, bank balance, credit history, visa, passports, tenant insurance, key deposit, first and last months rent up front, post dated cheques) and lucky enough we done it on Thursday and by the Saturday morning the keys were in our hands!
10. Really Living
The best thing about having a BIG city at your fingertips, you get to LIVE THE LIFE YOU LOVE. There are so many amazing opportunities, explorations & experiences available when you land somewhere completely new. The more things you tick off your bucket list, the better it feels. Gary & I came into this 2 year visa with only a couple of hopes & dreams, our life has changed for the better in so many ways I don’t even know where to start. Now I know what living life is truly about!