Since moving to Vancouver I get e-mails and Facebook messages almost weekly from people asking about information on coming to this wonderful city. While I have no problem with people asking me I do tend to copy and paste the same answers because all the exact same questions keep popping up.
This is why I have decided to do this post answering all the FAQ I get regularly.
*How do I start going about getting a visa?
I originally went through USIT. However, it's not necessary. The laws have changed in Ireland and you can now go through the IEC (International Experience Canada) directly. I was very glad to go through USIT, alot of people will tell you they are a rip off and a waste of money for something you can do yourself, but as this was my first time sending away for a visa I was glad to have someone there to guide me through all the paper work and to be able to call them and ask about any queries I had (as the visa applications are definitely not the most straight forward and easiest things to find info about). I personally think it was worth the money. I wouldn't use them again as I now know what to do, but if you want piece of mind I strongly suggest going through them.
Get your Garda/Police clearance as soon as possible! It's the one thing that takes the longest. Also get two just in case you want to apply for your second year here. It will save you having to get somebody back home to do it for you when you need to apply again.
*What is the difference between the student or work visa on the USIT webiste?
There is no difference between the student or work program. They are both the same, except you can only get the student program if you apply within 12 months of graduating from college or university. You get the same amount of time and still are allowed work in the same manner, you do not have to study. I would strongly suggest this one if you eligible.... it simply means you can apply for the work program the year after, giving you the option of staying here for longer or returning in a couple of years. You might as well get an extra year while you can. Once you're graduated for longer than 12 months you have to apply for the work program, so you might as well go for the extra year while you can (if they are still doing this program in 2012).
From a post I scheduled while flying to Vancouver
*How much should I save to come to Vancouver?
With USIT you have to have $1000 Canadian Dollars if you have a return flight home, or $3000 with no return flight. With IEC you have to have $3000 as there is no proof of a return flight. Also, you will have to wait a good few weeks for your SIN (Social Insurance Number) to come through, so you need to be prepared for rent, food and transport before you can find employment as you cannot be paid until you have your SIN. As long as you have enough money to stay in your hostel for a few weeks, you should be fine. It sounds alot scarier than it actually is, it's very manageable. I would suggest the full $3000 if possible, even if you have a return flight. It's more than enough. I have known people who came over with just under $2000 and they did just fine.
It is also a good idea to have insurance while in Canada, because you are not a citizen you do not get free medical care, so keep that in mind also.
As for flights, the time of year and the company you fly with will determine the price. So check around for the best deal!
*You seem to be really enjoying yourself, is Vancouver really all that great?
For me, yes. A thousand times yes (but I'll admit to being very biased). But for others, sometimes not. I have found people who do not like this city and cannot wait to leave, and then others who never want to go. I have also had friends who have left the city and are incredibly heartbroken not to be living here anymore and are finding anyway possible to return.
I'm genuinely happy in this city and I really feel like I fit in here. You never know until you try it. Remember, you don't have to stay for the full year. If you don't like it you can always return home. Also, the visa is open to anywhere in Canada so you can change cities as often you want.
*I've heard Vancouver is expensive, is it?
Quite simply, yes. Not only is the cost of living high, but you also have to add on 12% tax to everything you see (as it is not allowed to include the tax in the advertised sale price). If you are eating out then you also have to include the customary 20% tip on top of that. So 32% needs to be put to the total price when you pay.
Rent is also pretty high here... in the suburbs $500 a month is considered cheap for a basic room. Depending on the area you could pay 5, 6 or even 700 for a room. Downtown you can expect around $850 on average... and sometimes people share rooms. Seriously, it's not uncommon for 3 or 4 people to be in one room while others sleep in the living room. But, you can get lucky. I live in the West End of Downtown right next to Stanley Park, a very sought after area to live and my rent is an absolute steal and it has all my bills included (and I'm paying alot less than $850). My room is 'small', but it's more than enough for me and my apartment is beautiful. I am also lucky enough to be in a job that pays above minimum wage so my rent is easily affordable.
Other expenses are $40-$60 a month for your phone and around $80 a month for your public transport pass (should you need one, if not get a bike... Vancouver is so easy to cycle around).
While I feel it's totally worth it to live here, others do not and spend quite a bit of time complaining about it (yawn) so I would take this into consideration if you don't want to become one of those boring complain-a-lots.
The view from my bedroom.
*What did you bring with you?
I sold pretty much everything I owned before I left. I didn't have to, I just didn't want to hang on to useless stuff. Selling junk was a great way for me to make money to come to Vancouver. Check out my post about De-Cluttering Your Life for some tips.
I was also told before I left that I would replace everything I owned while here. I took it with a pinch of salt but she was right, I have very little of my original wardrobe left. They make way better stuff over here! So don't worry about bringing too much.
My advice is to bring basics... plain tops & t-shirts that you can wear during the day and sleep in that night. This saves on space that pyjamas would take up and makes for less laundry while you're in the hostel. You can then buy proper sleep wear when you get settled. The most important thing is an interview outfit. While I didn't need mine to get my job it's a good idea to have one just in case. Also, if you're coming in the winter like I did, bring thermals more than bulky winter wear.
Also remember that Canada has pretty much the same products as back home so don't worry about bringing too many cosmetics, just what you need.
*Were you scared?
No. I genuinely wasn't. People told me I was so brave for picking up and leaving but honestly, I didn't think it was such a big deal until people mentioned it. I was dying to leave Ireland. While it's a beautiful place and I'm proud to be Irish I've never felt right living there nor is it a place I would ever like to settle. Even though I miss my family & friends dearly.
I'm the happiest I've ever been and I didn't do anything special. All I did was leave because I felt like I needed somewhere new in my life.
This isn't to say that people aren't brave for leaving, sometimes it's a big deal. But I was ready to go and I'm a firm believer that bravery isn't the absence of fear, it's taking action despite the presence of fear... and I simply wasn't scared.
A silly little thought I created before leaving Ireland
*What do I do when I arrive?
When you arrive.... HAVE FUN!!!! My first day here was hilarious. The very first person I met became one of my best friends *EDIT: is now my boyfriend*. He was on the same flight as me and we were both traveling to Vancouver by ourselves. Our first conversation was about me being angry that he got to the hostel before I did. Our first day was so productive... we had applied for our SIN cards, opened our bank accounts, bought new phones and went to view apartments all before the afternoon. When you get here it's easy to get things together, the people behind the counters will want to help you as much as they can. So it's really not a thing to worry about. He then in turn introduced me to the lads staying in his hostel room, who are also now some of my best friends. So meeting people is easy too. One person leads to others, so make time to randomly chat to people.
I would also like to direct your attention to this post from Liz Broderick. Liz is a very good friend of mine from college and was the person who inspired me to come to Vancouver. She is currently in Australia but is returning to Van next year (whoop!). Her post talks about the best things to do when you first arrive, hostels, phone plans, everything you need to know and it's very good. I have left these out of my post for fear of repetition and Liz has covered everything in her post, so make sure to have a read.
Moving to Vancouver has been the best thing I have ever done. I absolutely love it here... and remember I had all these questions when I came over too. It's natural. But the only way you can answer them definitely is with experience. And while some people complain about certain aspects of this city, they haven't exactly rushed home either.
It really is a beautiful city here with amazingly friendly people. It's a place where a usual after work activity is to go to the beach with friends and co-workers until dark. Where even when you're sunbathing on the beach, you can still see the snow on the mountains. Where people will hold doors open for you and bus drivers randomly stop and let you on for free just because it's raining.
I hope this has answered some questions for you. These are the same questions I get again and again, but if you have a different question that's not up there please feel free to ask. I would genuinely like to help anybody who's thinking of coming over so get in contact! :)