Monday, June 27, 2011

Traps for beginners

 I always try to be as realistic as possible, not everyone will like being or living in Canada at first. We honestly thought that by getting our visas and documents we have finished with the paperwork, but there was even more forms and papers waiting to be filled and filed, you are never finished with bureaucracy. First of all you'll need to open a bank account, we went to the President's choice bank ( can be found in most Superstores or Loblaws and such) and opened a no fee account, paid 500 dollars on it and got our debit cards. Now we existed in the eyes of the money and credit scores world. We could rent something, pay our bills and get the  Internet access. They will explain to you how to shop for points on your cards, but try at first not to apply for MasterCard or other cards they'll offer you, in most cases new immigrants are refused because  they either don't have a job or not a well paid one or for some other reason...every time they refuse to give you any of the plastic cards bad credit points are added to your credit history. This shows to the banks if you are good buyer or not, after a few years when you want to buy  a car or a house or something that costs enough for borrowing money from the bank, they will review your credit score and seeing that you have "bad" credits even if it's not your fault, they will offer you less favourable conditions under which you can borrow money from the bank. This is a little game that I despise, you can argue that the bad credits caused by refusals are deleted from your record, but the damage is already done. Bad credits are given to you to describe numerous purchase behaviour, if you were refused for a credit card, if you paid your rent late or similar.

1. Having a car (or not)

Good people are everywhere, I've met a lot of them here. I couldn't even count how many little things they have done to make us feel better, they helped with the moving, gave us some furniture and dishes, most of stuff I bought online on bought only necessities , mattress for us crib and chair for the baby and some kitchen things and table with chairs. The first couple of months really felt like camping .
The only thing we had to buy at all cost was a car, we bought cheap used one for amazing 900 $,chrysler intrepid '98. The cities are huge and sometimes one street is 100 km long and you can't go anywhere without a car, you have to shop diapers and baby stuff and food and have to carry that around with crying baby...the car saved us a lot of trouble and money.Found that on too. My husband had to go to Toronto for a job interview because he couldn't find one in his field in Kitchener,thanks to the fact that he was able to travel there, he got that job.I can't imagine how hard would it be for him to concentrate on his answers and interview in whole if he had hours of riding the train and public transportation behind him, it would have taken him more than 4 hours to get there by any other way and he would have been dead tired.
The only bad thing about having a car is that insurance houses are merciless towards newcomers and will rip you off if you let them.Try calling as many as you can and brokers too to find the best offer.It took us 3 months to negotiate price of 230$ instead of 400 $ a month (what was the offer they all kept giving us when we moved to Toronto.)

2. Prices

Small pond lots of one store a t shirt can cost 5$ and the same shirt will cost 25 $ in other store, some stores such as sears and bay are always more expensive than others. I bought a blanket in Wallmart for 10$ and saw it later in zellers for 25$. If you're not a fashion freak you can use fliers and internet to see where to shop and save, there are outlets for clothes and furniture or factory stores that are cheaper, there are discounts and rollbacks all the time, don't shop at real prices wait for clearances and discounts if you can, you'll save at least half of your money. The same goes for food and cosmetics. If you come from a country with metric measures like I do always remember that prices are per LB that is for 450 grams not a kilo, sometimes it just seams cheap but it's not.
If you don't like it or find it somewhere cheaper simply return it to the store in 10 days and they'll get your money back.(unless its food )

Keep all your bills during first 6 or 7 months, if you have to apply for welfare they will want to know where you've spent your money.On the other hand you will want to know how high are your monthly costs for food and housing too, to be able to manage your income and spending.

3. Providers

There are Bell, Rogers, Primus and some other ones.Each of them will "fish" you with their offers...and there are many options, bundles and prices.For international phone calls we used Startek or blue tone ranging from 7 to 11 cents per min, in whole I had no complaint about them, however the other ones are disastrous. The cheapest package will get you barely usable internet speed with interrupting or breaking skype calls, if you use above your limit you will be punished with extra 60 $ on your monthly bill and if you try to escape a bad provider you will pay another punishment of more than 70$. The more expensive bundles are more or less the same except they cost a lot more, our first income was one minimum wage salary and we barely had enough to cover our rent and food, giving more than 100$ a month for phone, net and TV and not even a useful ones seemed to much, after one year in Canada I still don't have a TV, nor do I miss it. For the time I have to spend watching it , couple of hours a day, I don't want to pay 100$ especially not for the channels in offer that don't suit me at all.It's up to you, if you need it, try finding a deal that best suits your needs and remember that you won't be able to get out,  even if they raise the price after few months, without being fined.

4. My favorite after the credentials recognition, the Driving license

It seems that two things are totally blurred and ignored after you come here, namely your diploma and your ability to drive here. I have driven for 12 years in Europe, and so did my husband and yet they treated us as if we have never driven a car in our life, we got our letters from the consulate that confirmed we did and scheduled tests to pay and get a canadian license. It costs under 100 $ all in all without classes and translations, and it can be done in one day if you're familiar with Canadian driving, I suggest taking a few classes just to get a hang of the rules.Also, google out G1 tests, there are numerous pages out there.
Go here to learn link
I wish it was that simple with the credentials too.

That is the one thing that makes me angry every time someone talks about it...The only reason I was able to apply for SW visa is the fact that I had a diploma in a field that was then on the NOC list. My diploma and language knowledge got me the points and a chance to immigrate.But after that  our diplomas, skills and knowledge was erased the moment we landed. we were complete zeros, no canadian experience no work- no work no canadian canadian degree, no work and so on.
Luckily for us my husband was an IT with some knowledge of things in his field and it took him couple of months to find a job in junior position. Before that he had to work shifts on assembly line  machine in a factory for a minimum wage.I'm still in that no work limbo, trying to get something out of my two diplomas...
There are ,however , many bridging programs that can help you if you are in a certain field of work.They mostly exist for green careers, IT and medical profession. Try finding them on government sites, colleges and settlement org's, they are always shutting down some programs and making new ones so check regularly.

Friday, June 3, 2011

First impressions

Canada is a beautiful country, everywhere I look I see green, well kept parks, children playgrounds, cute houses that almost look the same but with different flowers in front...The weather is not what I am used to for this time of year, it's colder than it was back there where we came from, we are wearing jackets in the middle of June while others go around in short sleeves and shorts.We are getting used to everything, the weather, the money, the food and our new neighbourhood. And we need some time because everything is sooo different.
 At first sight people here drive nice cars and live in expensive houses that are quickly put together from pre made wooden parts and all look alike.Most of the houses and cars are decorated with another country's flag to show where they came from, yet they are all Canadians.
We got lost several times when we went walking because it all looked the same.
Back in Serbia we were at the same poverty level as 90% of people around us, only a few were doing good and having more than others and that was noticeable, here we are the lowest level of society, almost zeros, no money but what little we have brought and it melts away very quickly, no work and no Canadian experience that would allow us to get work, and not to forget the fact that we can throw our credentials in trash.
 The only thing we have is good language knowledge and will to succeed in what ever we have to do to save our family and child.
My husband found his first survivor job two weeks after we landed, our host and landlord connected us with some of his friends that helped my husband get that minimum wage 12 hour shift job.
My son just turned one and I stayed at home with him.I used to be a teacher, I have kindergarten teacher diploma from my old country too, I know several languages, he has two diplomas too as a chemistry technician and master of informatics.It took us a lot of money and effort to get this education, both of us were one of the best in our classes and finished in time with high grades, and yet this doesn't seem to matter here, it served us well only to get the famous 67 points, visas and tickets out of there.
The costs of living vary, prices are different in different stores, sometimes it can be several dollars more or less for a product , and when your funds are limited you have to be careful. Nowadays you can see most of the Canadian prices over the Internet, I use fliers that come once a week to plan my shopping and save money and I think that Price Chopper and Wallmart are the most favourable to my pocket, when I can I buy most of my fruits and vegetables in Chinese stores because they have great choice and low prices.
I've met a lot of different people here who gave me some god advice, some even gave me stuff for the apartment and clothes. They told me we should stay away from people who take every chance to talk badly about this place, because they live in misery and that they'll drag us into it, many are homesick and don't realize the fact that the moment you enter that plane your home is not what you remember, things have changed and so have you.
If you wish to adapt and not to become miserable you'll have to do so and fight every single day, don't ever forget why you came here in the first place.
I am not a religious person,  I believe that we should do good , be kind to others and leave better world to our children, I don't believe in bearded guys up there who wait to punish you for your mistakes, I believe that every good person carries some sort of God in his hart and lives how his heart tells him to. That is why we never went to church.Church is not were God is, church is full of people and people are tricky, well, there is one good news for a newcomer who is willing to go there, you can get your connections and networking started there, get to know someone who knows someone who could help you with a job and so on...
Once you start working you will feel more secure when it comes to financial survival, but it will be hard until you fit in Canadian work culture. People here work a lot, sometimes they have to work overtime, they barely get to see their families but at least they get paid for that and can provide for themselves.
Canadian government donates to families with children every month certain amount of money for so called child benefit.There are also some other payments you will be entitled to.
if you can't find work and have no money you can apply for welfare and social housing.
There are many settlement organizations one of them is YMCA that will help you with anything you may need in your own language if necessary.
Go to the nearest library and join- it's free, you'll get internet and computer access, help, books, newspapers everything you need.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

We finally landed, now what ?

We were given a form to fill on the plane.It was about things that we were bringing with us, we had nothing but clothes packed in 3 suitcases and one old lap top. We did not plan to bring anything else since we didn't have it, but if you plan to import let say a car or household items you need to write down the description and value of these things, and a serial number if it's a car or something electronic ... We didn't purchase anything at the airport either so we left the form mostly blank.
We landed in the afternoon, it was a gray rainy day on Toronto airport, I remember looking trough the window and thinking after all that horror of a flight :" Oh God, what is this?" it was such a sad and depressing sight.After landing the first thing to do was to pass the immigration and then find the luggage. Our procedure lasted about 15 minutes,we reported how much money we had and they asked to see our bank confirmation, we applied for the PR cards and that was it, it would be sent to us within ca 10 days on the address provided.A nice woman at the counter for the new immigrants gave us the bag with brochures and sealed documents for health insurance and child benefit, she said to fill everything and send it.
We found only two suitcases, the baby's was missing,that meant no spare clothes and diapers for him, the rest stunk of alcohol because someone's spirit probably broke and it leaked over our luggage. I was at the verge of tears at the custom counter, he just looked at us and said "welcome to Canada..."
At the time we had a friend waiting for us to take us to his home in Kitchener.
When we first applied for visas we didn't have the faintest idea about life in Canada, I canvased the internet but could find anything to help me with understanding how things function here, the only thing I new was that it was probably better than where we were...My husband and I had a crazy idea to go to Fort McMurray work very hard for several years, save money and then move to a more hospitable place and have kids, well that changed over time because the years of waiting were passing and we wanted to have a kid before our thirties. We thought about Alberta for a while, we never wanted to live in Toronto because we don't like crowded big cities, in February 2010 when we finally got our visas we still had no idea where we were going and we were taking the 9 months old baby with us.
Luckily we contacted a family from our hometown, my husband's ex teacher at the university, that immigrated to Canada some 10 years ago and they agreed to help us and rent us their apartment in Kitchener.
They practically saved us, if it wasn't for them we would be lost in some awful and expensive motel in Toronto and we would probably hated being here from day one. Instead, we went to their home and were treated as guests, I loved Kitchener it reminded me of Europe because of the people there, they were all so nice and kind, always saying hello and laughing at us in the street, many of them helped us so much. I miss that feeling very much, in Toronto people mind their own busyness and don't even look at you, no one says hello and I stand in the elevator as a convict silently waiting to get out with a bunch of strangers. Big cities remind me of ant's nest, I don't like them.
Went to the bank and opened account with President choice, we put some money to make so-called credit history and got debit cards.
The next day we went to apply for SIN, we were waiting at the Service Canada Centre and about 20 minutes. and got that done as well. Be sure to carry your passport everywhere you go.
Next was applying for health insurance, that we screwed up, we were waiting half an hour just to be told the necessary documents are pr card, passport, contract for an apartment or a cable, a report from the bank accounts and to document the names of both spouses, we didn't have all of them yet.We had to fix that latter. 

Before we came I contacted several agencies for rental apartments, only two responded to my mail, mostly all of them want you to have Canadian  documents,  the PR card, bank account with income, two rents, first and last, and the contract for one year. In principle, it is almost impossible to rent an apartment for the first month, maybe if you find someone to be a cosigner ... we were so lucky that we found the apartment before we arrived.
I can not write about hotels and motels, I know that they are not cheap but we didn't have  to go to one so I was thrilled.As far as I know from google searches reservation is required at least 2 weeks before arrival and room rates are ranging from 50 to 100 CAD per night, hotel ,motel whatever.

Living in Canada

It's been more than 7 months since I moved to Canada, in the meantime some of the things I have written on my other blog in serbian language have helped a lot of people from my former country who came here to Canada searching for a better future.
I really hopped that someone else will be able to read it in a language other than serbian by using google translator but when I tried to do that, it came out as a bunch of nonsense, so I've decided to slowly translate most of it into English myself. Some things that are not that important will be omitted but I'll try to do my best and give along the way the information that might be useful to newcomers and that certainly was useful to me.By the way this is not immigrant info blog, this is my experience and my views and thoughts, so what I write down in this blog reflects only my picture of Life in Canada not everyone's else, and as I always say every person who comes here has their own path, some find it great some find it not so great and with a lot of bureaucratic obstacles in their way...


To understand my story a little bit better I'll try to shortly explain what my life was like in the country I came from. I was born in a country called Yugoslavia that doesn't exist anymore, it was torn apart by several consecutive wars that started in the early 90ties and lasted the next several years, even though the historical archives can put the start and the end dates on those wars, for the people there 90ties have brought a wave of darkness and despair that is still omnipresent in their daily life, the economy collapsed and never fully recovered after numerous crises and seems as though it is never going to be better and that there will always be some kind of crises that will prevent you from living your life as you should and put you down to miserable bare survival.
I try to avoid this subject all the time, because I didn't see my future there, I have learned a lot about things and people, about values in life, about politics and elite,about choosing your battles carefully, but that kind of schooling I wouldn't wish to anyone.
Anyway, after 2003 my future husband and I realized that things are going for the worse once again, the new prime minister who wanted to cut the crime and old politics and bring the country into EU was murdered and the old regime took over once again, we decided to immigrate even though we had jobs at the time and were living at his parents house.We were the lucky ones, most of young couples in Serbia cannot get a job or find a place for themselves, simply because there are no decent jobs since the economy is almost non existing. They are forced to live with their parents and share income of one or two small salaries among several family members, sometimes that monthly income can not even cover a single utility bill.
We had two salaries and that gave us the opportunity to save enough money over 4 years to be able to immigrate.In 2006 we applied under the old skilled worker program and finally in 2010 immigrated to Canada with our baby that was born in 2009. We actually thought that we have waited enough and wanted to get on with our lives and have a baby when the letter from embassy came, it took us then one more year to arrange papers for the baby. We arrived to Canada beginning of June 2010.

The Departure

If you are lucky enough to get a visa and are able to immigrate buy airplane tickets as soon as possible because the ticket price changes in thousands of euros (in our case ) the  closer the departure date comes ...
We bought tickets three months earlier at a cost of 900 euros for the three of us, the baby pays only some 30 euros and doesn't get the seat of his own, one week prior to the departure date the same tickets were nearly 4,000 euros.
Buy a ticket out of summer touristic season, if you can, that means do not buy dates after 15 of June to 1 September because the tickets are most expensive in that period and during the holidays.
Be sure to regularly check your flight, what happened to us was that Alitalia canceled our flight a week before the trip and we were not informed, I almost got a heartatack! If  something like this happens the arangments  for the new tickets and flight are free of charge as long as you didn't cancel the tickets and it's their fault.
Some companies give a discount for buying tickets online, call their representatives on the airport, you can save some money  if you purchase it online.
Cheapest tickets are economic classes, no special services for children or babies, by airfare companies logic children under 2 years don't need to have their seats, but a flight of 15 hours is quite an effort for babies as well as parents, from our experience.
Seats are small and uncomfortable, flight is long, you are lucky is if there is enough empty seats on the plane that you can put your child to sleep beside you, in other circumstances it should you sit in your lap non-stop ...

Ask about the luggage limits

Each carrier has a limit depending on the price of tickets, the cheaper the tickets less luggage allowed, the rule is 23kg per 10kg for children, and hand-5kg or 10 kg per person, of course, make sure you don't end up paying 10 euros per excess kilogram, or 100 euros per suitcase if the weight and dimensions are not proper.
There is no "discount" when it comes to luggage for immigration or emigration.
Baby strollers are not included in the weight of  the luggage.
Bringing food and water into the airplane is not a problem if you have a young child with you, I had  4 bottles of food and milk and 2 bottles of water and no one has said anything, I also had a blanket, spare clothes, bag with diapers, plastic bags for waste and other baby stuff ... all that I needed for my baby I brought on the plane without problems.


In principle, all overseas flights are flown in a similar aircraft, the difference is in the price of the tickets and a connection.
We took Alitalia  and it was quite stressful, but a bargain compared to the others.One week before the departure they canceled our flight without any warning and without informing us, we tried to get the next flight, but they forgot to make a reservation for the baby ...As we arrived to Belgrade  airport we found out that one ticket is missing, Alitalia's office at the airport did not work because the worker was not coming that day and we were one hour away from the flight and with only two tickets  ... JAT our connection flight to Rome somehow provided a ticket for the baby to Rome and told us to solve it there with Alitalia's workers.Then it turned out that the luggage is a problem, we had a surplus of 4 kg for which we needed to pay 100 euros, we decided not to, somehow we got the guy in charge to let us go  because these were all baby items, we told him he can take all the diapers and baby clothes and toys out on the floor if he wants to, but I don't want to pay that ridiculous amount of the end we gave him 10 euros instead and he let us go.
In Rome we caught to a train to the terminal we had half an hour to fix the ticket problem but 325 people were waiting to board the same flight.We got split seats, I pleaded them and  asked that we sit together, explained that we have a baby and that we should hold it for the next 15 hours, finally they had mercy and we got to sit together.

The plane was a mess, small narrow space full of people, and small seats. In front of us was a guy with two wives and four young children, crying, screaming and running around, he'd play music on his cell phone and turn it very loud...It was hard with a small child, no where to move or turn and baby could not sleep because of the noise and the crowd ...I told myself I'm not getting on a plane until he is big enough to endure the flight or to sleep it over in his own seat.
My advice to you is: if there is any chance to take the night flight do it, the child will at least get a bit of sleep and you'll get some time to recover ...
Some have advised me to give him fever medication that will make him sleep but I didn't want to do that, I didn't see the point we would be dead tired after landing and he would be fit for fun, that would probably be even harder to cope with.
 It took us all together 20 hours to reach our final destination.