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Alison Smith, Vancouver Island

Who are you?

My name is Alison Smith. I am a forty eight year old woman, and I’m British. I have been married for thirteen years, and we do not have children. I am a trained and qualified dental technician. I worked as a ceramist in this field for more than twenty years in the UK, in a number of different dental laboratories in the South East of England. I was born and grew up in the South of England, and used to live in quite a large city on the South Coast, and my extended family still live in and around this area.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I moved to Canada with my husband four years ago, relocating to Vancouver Island in British Columbia on the West Coast.This was primarily for his job, as he works for a company in Vancouver, and most of his clients are based in North America. Being in the same time zone has made it much easier for him to concentrate on growing the business as while in England he frequently had to work into the evenings to accommodate the difference in times. We decided to leave England and live abroad for a few years as we wanted the experience of living somewhere different, and being able to explore a new environment.

What challenges did you face during the move?

We put our house on the market just when the property market collapsed, and as a result it took a long time to sell. This was immediately stressful, especially as it took four years for our application for permanent residency to be approved by the Canadian government. By the time we eventually moved we had effectively put our lives on hold for several years which is not healthy. We chose our removal firm very carefully, and this was probably the least stressful part of the move, as they did all the packing. Before this we spent a long time clearing out our home, and we had to get rid of a lot of possessions that we could not bring with us, such as electrical goods and cars. All this is time consuming and pretty draining, but the worst thing is saying goodbye to everyone, and leaving all that is familiar behind.

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How did you find somewhere to live?

We originally rented a suite attached to someone’s house that I found on a vacation rental site, but unfortunately we only did this for the first three weeks. The owners have subsequently become good friends. After this we needed to find somewhere to rent quite quickly as we had a container full of furniture arriving from the UK. We ended up renting a house that wasn’t great, and as a result purchased our current house in a hurry just to get out of the rental. Although we quit our rental early, we still had to pay for the full six months. With hindsight we should have spent more time finding a nicer rental property that we would have felt happy living in while we found our feet. This would have given us more time to decide if we were happy to live in that area, or if we would be better off choosing a different location.

Are there many other expats in your area?

Yes! There are a lot of expats living locally, and in our particular road Canadians are definitely in the minority as most people here have moved from a number of different continents. We have met numerous British people who moved here from various parts of the UK, but many seem to have come from the South of England. As a result there are quite a few shops which specialise in selling UK products. This province seems to be popular with immigrants from many other countries, as all the supermarkets have sections dedicated to selling international foods. In spite of this it does not feel particularly multi-cultural, especially in comparison with England, and this is something that I do miss.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

I’d say our relationship with the locals is okay, but they seem to have the opinion that we have moved here in search of a better life. In fact we were not at all unhappy in England, and only moved here in search of a different life and a different experience. As expats, I feel we are expected to think this country is wonderful when the truth is that every place has its positives and negatives. Many people over here have never left this continent, and are happy to holiday quite close to home. I find this very different to Europe, where more people seem to have travelled, or wish to travel. Even though the language is the same, the Canadian culture is quite different, and this is something that I probably underestimated.

What do you like about your life where you are?

People here think nothing of changing careers, and it is much more common to work from home or for yourself, and this is something that is supported by the government as it is easy to do your taxes, and it is much more common to receive tax breaks and incentives. The Canadians generally seem to have a positive attitude towards life, and certainly where we are they work to live which is quite different from England. Their main aim seems to be to earn enough money to do the things they enjoy, and more people have a holiday home, or own a boat, and they’ll go camping at the drop of a hat! Living here gave me the chance to try something new, as I now write full time from home. This is something I would not have had the chance to try had we stayed in England. Canadians tend to be very friendly, and you’ll get a conversation just about anywhere as they are always willing to talk and always seem to have a positive attitude.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

I don’t like living somewhere that does not have a lot of culture as Canada is such a young country, and I really miss old buildings that look beautiful, and that sense of history that it is so easy to take for granted in Europe. The scenery where we live is stunning, and our house overlooks the Pacific Ocean, but it does not compare to our home town in England. Here there is no town centre, and the city does not have any real ‘heart.’ I miss having access to proper high streets and the liveliness and energy of our home city as this place does not have a lot of soul. It would be ideal for anyone who loves the outdoors, and who does not mind being somewhere that is very quiet, but it really gets me down at times. We also live a rainforest, and I underestimated exactly what that meant. Many people here are snowbirds, and leave the island for weeks or even months over the winter to escape the endless rain, and we are thinking of doing the same.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

If you are thinking of moving abroad, then it is easier to do it sooner rather than later. Moving in your forties is tough, and it is something that we should have done at least ten years earlier, not least because it will be much easier to re-establish ourselves in the UK when we move back.

Do your research very carefully, including the cost of living. Investigate the cost of renting a home, and if possible live here for a few months before moving out completely. I would not advise anyone to sell up as we did, without having a trial run out here first.

Make sure you can get a job in your chosen career, and find out how much you can realistically expect to earn as it could be less than you need.

If you have professional qualifications investigate if they will be accepted over here, or if you need to get additional training.

Visit possible places of employment, and ask if you can spend a bit of time there to see how they operate, as this will give you a good idea as to what to expect.

If possible, choose somewhere to live that offers a lot of employment opportunities, so if one job does not work out you have a good chance of getting another.

Take a step back and ask yourself if you will be happy living here, and make a list of everything that is important to you back home and decide if you want to leave it.

Work out how often you will be able to go back home to visit friends and family, and whether you can get sufficient time off work to do so. Travelling back home can be very expensive, especially if you want to travel at popular times such as Christmas.

What are your plans for the future?

Originally we thought we’d live here for ten years, but now I am looking at possibly seven if I can make it that long. This is not somewhere we want to settle, and moving back is always in my mind, especially as my close family is getting older, and I am only too aware that we are in a foreign country without any relatives. Moving back will be a huge upheaval, and it is not something that I look forward to doing, especially as we are not certain what we will be able to afford when we move back. Moving here was not a great choice, but I can see how it would be good for a lot of people, especially those with kids who are looking for a more straightforward way of life, and of course if you don’t like, you can always move back.

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