Disclaimer - this is going to be a long one!
I've been thinking about writing this post for a while but I wanted to take some time to get used to this new life before jumping right in. I wanted to share the pros and cons of our experience, and really get down to the nitty-gritty of whether moving to Canada is all it's cracked up to be. We've been living in Calgary for two and a half months now and whilst we've been fortunate in our experiences so far, we're aware that not everyone is so lucky. Moving to Canada hasn't been a walk in the park, but we decided to make the most of a difficult situation and so far it's worked out for the best.
When we first made the decision to move to Calgary, I was totally unaware that the city was in the grips of a recession. Most Calgarians we'd spoken to in our early days asked us why we had taken such a risk in leaving our jobs back in the UK to move to Canada. And for a few weeks I was asking myself the same question. I had a university degree and experience in what looked to be a promising career; had I risked it all for nothing?
As it turns out, the employment struggle is a reoccurring theme for many newcomers throughout Canada. In an ideal world, I'd send off my resume to a bunch of companies and receive a interview offer in a matter of days, but the reality was a lot harder. Despite both being supervisors in our previous jobs, we felt like our work experience often went unnoticed by prospective employers, and at times I wondered when we would catch a break. We ended up rewriting our resumes over and over again and going for interviews that would lead to nothing. A friend of ours who had been in Canada for a year already had found a job almost immediately which gave us high expectations. We started to worry that our UK based experience and education wasn't what Canadian employers were looking for, and that we might have been better off staying in England, where we knew we would excel.
And then all of a sudden, our luck changed. Nikki was the first to take a more proactive stance, tweaking her resume and ruthlessly approaching industry contacts on LinkedIn, before being offered an interview for a role that matched her experience from back home. She landed a job offer that very same day. We were over the moon, because as long as one of us had a job, we could afford the rent on our apartment, which had become a job seeking cage to us over the past couple of weeks. I'd had a little bit of interest in my applications, but after a month and a half of interviews, phone calls and emails back and forth, I was offered my dream job. We were interested to discover that contrary to what we originally thought, both of our employers thought our UK experience was a stand out factor and meant we'd be able to bring fresh perspective to our roles. Our background wasn't holding us back, the Canadian recruitment process is just very long and drawn out!
Don't get me wrong, there were times that we began to lose hope, but we realised that patience and perseverance are key to finding employment in the long run. We're aware we are very fortunate and that everyone's job seeking experience is unique for a variety of factors, but I would recommend holding out a little bit longer if you're ever in doubt.
COST OF LIVING
Renting in Calgary is pretty cheap in comparison to other cities in Canada, something we've come to realise from so many other people online and in person. We're paying $1,100 a month (not including bills) for a one bedroom apartment in Beltline, a centrally located residential district close to downtown Calgary. It took us a week to find this place, after saving a long list of potential homes on Kijiji and RentFaster, but the apartment hunt had its own challenges from time to time. As we were so new to the city, many landlords and letting agents weren't too sure about taking us on as tenants without secure employment, despite our joint savings. Eventually we got lucky, with a landlord willing to take a chance on the two British girls! We've had our own ups and downs with the place; the pipes below the kitchen sink spontaneously start leaking water on a weekly basis and there's a serious shortage of laundry facilities to accommodate the whole building, but we love it all the same.
Apartment hunting was one of the easier tasks when trying to maintain an adult life. We were surprised to find out how expensive grocery shopping could be, mainly due to extortionate prices of vegetables and fresh foods ($4 for broccoli...WTF Safeway!?) which makes sustaining a healthy lifestyle a huge challenge. On the flip side, there's always an abundance of deals to be had, whether it means scanning the weekly coupon magazines for offers, driving to a cheaper supermarket across the city or simply abandoning all plans of cooking and snapping up one of the hundreds of happy hours to be found throughout Calgary. We've discovered that a lot of people do their grocery shopping at a variety of stores, buying produce from one and meat from another. It's resourceful shopping at its finest, but also the best way to get a good price for your food.
Phone bills are another price increase we didn't expect to have. I was going from an already expensive phone contract back in the UK (which almost always included extra data charges) to paying around $70 a month for a SIM only plan which offered even less data. At first we tried our best to keep the mobile data turned off when we were roaming the city, but we found out that by choosing Shaw to be our home internet provider, we could get access to a wide range of WiFi hot-spots across the city. At least now we could rest assured we weren't going to be going over our monthly data allowances!
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
Moving to Canada was definitely a culture shock. People have asked us why we didn't choose to move to Vancouver or Toronto and we always answer the same way - if we wanted to live in a big city, we would have just stayed in London. Calgary is small but mighty, and there's always something to do, whether it's attending a Calgary Flames game at the Saddledome, taking a scenic walk along the Elbow River, or simply enjoying a beer at one of the many breweries around the city. There's an abundance of restaurants and bars offering happy hour deals every day of the week, which means there's plenty of new foods to try on a weekly basis.
There are some stark differences between Canadian culture and that in the UK, particularly when it comes to drinking. We've grown up around British binge drinking culture, but it would seem that table service in bars makes everyone more responsible (for the most part) which was definitely a surprise. It represents a healthier lifestyle that lots of people in Calgary seem to have adopted, with gyms and yoga studios taking up every street corner. The work/life balance also seems to be a big talking point here. The working day starts earlier and ends earlier, so you can guarantee the bars are full of people having an after work drink or three. The 'work hard, play hard' attitude has never been more alive.
We've also heard so many people talk about the lack of history and culture in Calgary, but there's plenty to be found if you take the time to look. As we delve more into the origin story of this city, we learn more about the First Nations people and the ranching background of Southern Alberta, including the history of the world famous Calgary Stampede. Just an hour and a half away is the town of Drumheller, often referred to as Dinosaur Valley, where you can still find dinosaur bones and fossils embedded in the surrounding badlands of Alberta. And don't even get me started on the mountains. People say Calgary doesn't have a lot going on, but after two months we've been over the moon with our choice of relocation.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that moving to Canada is big and scary and full of risks but it's also full of adventure and joy. I'd like to emphasise that all the opinions and statements in this post are based from our own experience, but everyone is going to have their own expectations and journeys. Take the leap and see for yourself, but I hope it's a change worth making. If there's anything we haven't covered that you're dying to know (and that might help inform your decision a little better) feel free to leave us a message below!