It’s vast. It’s full of trees. And an awful lot of Brits want to work there. But why do so many of us want to move to Canada, either on short-term contracts or as a permanent relocation? Well, it remains a land of opportunity with a high standard of living, and more open space than you can shake a stick at. And the locals are friendly too. What more could you want?
Brian Jones emigrated to Vancouver five years ago. His thoughts sum up what many feel. “I always wanted the experience of living abroad,” he says. “The West Coast of Canada has some of the most amazing scenery, and it seemed like a great place to try and make a go of it.”
In short, what’s not to like?
The kind of paperwork you need for Canada depends on whether your move is short-term, or full-blown immigration. Most people wanting to work temporarily need a work permit - around 90,000 foreigners enter the country this way every year, helping address regional skill shortages.
Work Permits are controlled by two government departments: Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC). Before you apply for a permit an employer must first offer you a job. Their offer is referred to HRSDC, who provide a ‘labour market opinion’: confirmation of the offer. Once they agree a foreign national may fill the vacancy you can apply to CIC for the permit.
Some foreigners may work without a permit - the CIC website www.cic.gc.ca carries a list of exempted occupations.
In addition to this, some workers are exempt from referral to HRSDC, such as those classed as ‘within company transfers’, spouses, etc. Phil Beeney got lucky when he moved to Toronto in 2005. I started applying for Permanent Residency,” he says. “Whilst doing this, my employer in Crawley noticed and asked why. I explained I wanted to be with my Canadian fiancée. Rather than lose an experienced employee, they arranged an intra-company transfer to their Toronto office. They got the paperwork sorted for me - all I did was land at the airport, produce my papers, and a helpful immigration official issued the Work Permit. It was that easy.”
Every year, thousands of people become Canadian residents. If you want to emigrate you’ll need an Immigrant Visa. The ease of getting this depends a lot on which category you fall under (skilled worker, business class, family member, etc.). The goalposts also move slightly from one province to another, depending on what skills shortages there may be. Again, the best policy is to check the latest requirements on the CIC website.
CIC also produces an excellent 40-page booklet: A Newcomer’s Introduction to Canada, downloadable as a PDF from their site. It contains invaluable advice to help everyone through the pain of relocation. The guide is designed not only to help your forward planning, but also includes sections on such things as preparing to enter the Canadian workforce, choosing where to live, and learning about life in Canada.
Ceri Rees moved to Ontario from Sussex with his family 11 years ago. “We arrived with a visa granting us Full Permanent Resident status,” he says, “which entitled us to all the privileges of Canadian citizens, except the right to vote. Getting the visas before we left the UK took three years, but we chose not to rush as we were still saving up for the move. Once the visa is granted it’s valid for one year – if you don’t land in Canada within that time you must start again. We made it with two days to spare!”
Unfortunately the situation is no longer as simple as when Robert Rogerson arrived 40 years ago: “In 1965 there was no red tape. I went to the Canadian consulate in Liverpool to get a student visa, because I’d been accepted at McGill University in Montreal. They asked me: ‘Have you ever thought of emigrating?’ I said yes, and was given Landed Immigrant Status. They even lent me £50 for my air fare!”
Working - The Recruiter's View
For a recruiter’s perspective of the employment situation in Canada, I spoke to Guy Christian, Vice President and General Manager of Design Group Staffing. “The current job market is busy across the country,” he says, “with principal deficits among skilled engineering candidates, such as Project Managers, Project Engineers, Discipline Engineers, Project Controls, Process Engineers, etc.
“Baby Boomers have had a huge impact on the economy, but the next stage in their evolution is ‘leaving the workforce’. This poses a huge replacement demographic, and added to that is the fact that since the mid 80s, due to cutbacks, companies haven’t been hiring or training for succession, or even natural attrition, leaving us with a diminishing workforce and a huge void for talent. I believe we now have more people eligible to leave the workplace than join it!
“I’ve specialized in engineering for nearly 40 years,” he adds. “I came to Canada with the lure of the petrochemical mega-projects of the early 1980s, and have seen feast and famine. Design Group has specialized in engineering staffing in Canada for over 30 years – we’re the country’s largest such business, and regularly nominated as ‘one of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies’.
“We’re experiencing a demand for skilled engineers like never before, from East to West, and most notably in Alberta with its demands for experience in the oil and gas industries.
“We’re always seeking experienced engineers from the UK, and in association with our clients we support the work permit process, and for the longer term the Landed Immigrant Status and eventual citizenship if desired. We find the British experience and skill set strong, and that communications skills are good – we are after all two countries separated by a common language.”
Working - The Employee's View
Marshall Cliff has worked in the Alberta oil business for 30 years, and has also noticed the country’s economic strength. “Jobs-wise,” he says, “Alberta is enjoying a boom in all sectors - there are ‘help wanted’ signs everywhere. The provincial government makes it easy to come here if the person has the right qualifications, e.g. engineers, teachers, etc. The main focus is on oil, but high tech jobs are also readily available.”
So what is it actually like working with Canadians? “Working life is more laid back here than in the UK, claims Phil Beeney. “The people I work with are friendlier. In fact I tend to come across as more assertive than they are used to, and have often been told to take a chill pill.”
Brian Jones agrees: “There’s a more transient feel to the workforce, where ‘jobs for life’ have long gone. But it’s less stressful in general than the UK, although quirks like handing out business cards are big deals here. There’s also a fairly healthy trade union movement, so it sometimes feels like Britain in the 70s and 80s.”
“The way that unions work here is quite different from how the UK is now,” explains Ceri Rees. “If a workplace is unionized it’s a closed shop: you must belong to the union unless your position is deemed to be management. They are often well-organized and happy to threaten strike action.”
Thanks to the wide availability of land, Canadian property prices are far lower than the UK, particularly away from the larger cities and urban areas. Houses and apartments are generally spacious and well laid out. Spring and summer are the best times to look, as this is the most popular time among Canadians for moving on.
According to Guy Christian, a typical 250 square metre detached house with a basement, 3 bathrooms and a double garage averages between C$250,000 and 400,000 (£110,000 to 180,000) dependent on the district or area.
The rental accommodation market is also well organized, with a good selection of apartment buildings available in most places. As with house purchases, rents tend to be lower in smaller towns.
Money and Costs
Canadian wages may not knock you back with delight, but that shouldn’t put you off, as Guy Christian points out. “Comparison has to be made at a deeper level,” he says. “If you just look at salaries for various positions, and convert the Canadian dollar back to pounds, you may wonder if it’s worthwhile. But take into account that what costs a pound in the UK costs about a dollar in Canada, and you see a different trend emerging, with cars, petrol, food, housing, etc.”
“The standard of living on an average wage is miles higher,” agrees Brian Jones. “There’s no question that I’m much better off here, not because I’m earning more, but because disposable cash goes so much further.”
Everyone living in Canada needs a health insurance card. This applies to every member of the family, no matter how young. It’s also important to note that cards are ‘province-specific’, i.e. they cover you in emergencies if you visit another part of Canada, but if you move elsewhere you need a new card. Nevertheless, the standard of healthcare you receive ranks amongst the best in the world.
Travel around Canada is dictated by the huge distances involved. Between provinces people do take the train or drive, but the majority prefer to fly. Urban transportation is generally good, with comprehensive bus networks in most significant towns, and the larger cities all have metro systems.
Driving in Canada can even be a pleasurable experience, with relatively little traffic on the roads outside the cities. And perhaps as a result of their laid-back attitude, drivers tend to be friendlier, with little road rage.
Not everyone shares that observation however. “One place that politeness seems to disappear is on the road,” says Ceri Rees. “Don’t expect a typical Canadian driver to let you pull out from a parking space – unless he wants your spot. The practice here is that no one lets anyone out – they understand this and accept it, but coming from Britain where people stop and let you out, it seems strange.”
One thing people often associate with Canada is the harsh winter. But things aren’t necessarily as bad as they seem.
“Canadian winters are a pain in the neck,” says Gerry Campbell of his years in London Ontario. “But you get used to them because they are prepared: the roads are cleared of snow quickly, many buildings are joined by underground tunnels, and everything is properly heated. And the cars are built to start at –20°C. Winters also make you appreciate spring so much more.”
It isn’t just winter. The summer can be brutal too. “People always ask about the winters,” says Ceri Rees, “but it’s the summers I find hard to take. As I write it’s 32°C, but the ‘humidex’ (how the humidity makes it feel) says 43°C. The sun is also very strong – many people don’t realise that in Ontario we are level with the south of France. The winters do get cold – we usually have a few days around –30°C, and with the wind-chill it feels like minus forty. But you wrap up, you take sensible precautions, and it really isn’t that bad. Although one year we had snow on the ground for five months, which was a little excessive.”
One thing everyone agrees on is that besides the weather, life in Canada is far from harsh. “I really liked it there,” says Gerry Campbell. “The Canadians were really friendly and helpful. There’s a better level of service than you sometimes experience in the UK.”
Friendliness seems to be a recurrent theme. “The Canadians are friendly to the point where complete strangers will talk to you,” points out Phil Beeney. “Even bums on the streets will say ‘have a good day’.”
“Life here is great,” agrees Ceri Rees. “I don’t really miss anything from ‘back home’ except the football and family… And custard creams! But most things are available if you look hard enough. Even in my hometown of 17,000 we have a deli selling British and Dutch foods. Many British goods are available in supermarkets.”
Brian Jones enjoys the variety on offer. “You have easy access to virtually any outdoor activity you can name,” he says. “So I’m able to do all the things I want (snowboarding, hiking, fishing etc). Everyone takes the environment (and protecting it) seriously. I like the way most people respect this (you don’t see a lot of litter), and that an amazing amount of stuff is recycled.”
If you move to Canada you certainly won’t be alone. Toronto claims to be the world’s most multicultural city, while even in smaller towns you will encounter British accents, and locals proud of their ‘Anglo’ heritage.
So is there anything bad at all? Marshall Cliff seems to sum it up when he says: “I sometimes miss the pubs in the UK. But not the traffic, or the crowds, or the general hustle and bustle.”
I’ll leave the final word to Guy Christian: “As an expat myself, Britain will always be my home. I’ll never fault it and I love to visit. But Canada is where I want to live.”
Written for Nexus/Expat Network by