Hindsight is always 20/20 and as newcomers who didn’t necessarily make a lot of good decisions, it can be a learning experience shared with other newcomers!
After looking back at some of the mistakes we and others whose stories we’ve heard have made, we decided to write this article detailing those potential mistakes as well as some information on how to avoid them and recover from them. So without waiting any longer, here are 12 traps not to fall in as a newcomer in Vancouver or Canada.
1- Take too long to find an apartment
There are a lot of scams online when it comes to rentals: people usually will pretend they own a place then they make up a story about why they’re not there and need a deposit and so on before the scam victim realizes there was no apartment to begin with.
This is one of the reasons it is recommended to wait until you are in Vancouver before signing any lease or paying any money. In the meantime, a lot of newcomers who don’t have anyone who can go check out apartments for them end up staying in a hotel or Airbnb after they land.
While this is a great idea, it can also be a trap. The lack of urgency to find a place means costs can quickly add up and savings depleted. Your first apartment doesn’t have to be perfect.
As a newcomer and especially if you can’t drive, somewhere near transit would be optimal so you are able to travel around. If you can find a month-to-month or a six-month least at first, great, otherwise the one-year lease will be the minimum needed. While that may seem like a long time and you may worry about committing without searching for other potential apartments, the time spent apartment hunting will do nothing but extend that duration further.
Our advice would be: if you find an affordable decent apartment, serviced by transit, close to a supermarket or grocery store and that has enough bedrooms for your family, go for it.
2- Take too long to find a job
A way too common problem with new immigrants is their inability to have a steady source of income at the soonest while getting settled in the initial few months. The hiring process in Vancouver is notoriously slow and when I tell people it took me four months to find a job, the reaction is almost always: “That was fast!”. While that may be fast by Vancouver standards, it can take a toll on your mental health, stress levels and savings which adds up to even more stress.
Everyone has heard of the dreaded survival job and stories of immigrants with medical and law degrees earning minimum wage bagging groceries or as security guards. While there is nothing shameful about any type of work, it may feel counterintuitive to leave your home country and move only to end up completely resetting your life.
While getting a survival job may not be the most pleasant experience, it is essential to remember that it doesn’t have to be long term. Even getting a part time job can help secure some income as you focus on job hunting. You may also be fortunate and not find a job that’s close to your previous work experience.
Contact settlement agencies (more on that below), staffing and temp companies, recruiters, the neighborhood church and rec center and you may find something that may alleviate the weight of spending off of your savings.
No matter what you end up doing, find a source of reliable income at the soonest.
3- Rely too much on settlement agencies
Settlement agencies are usually government funded organizations that provide services for newcomers such as resume writing, interview prep, language lessons and so on. While those agencies offer a great service, they may not necessarily be for everyone.
We both went to a couple of agencies and the main benefit for us was learning more about resume writing in Canada, which is a bit different from Europe or other parts of the world. Otherwise, the process for settlement is a one size fits all and that doesn’t work for everyone. For example, as my CLB10 IELTS exam had just expired, I was asked to take an English test at the agency. Despite my native level of writing and speaking, I was given a test where I had to find the right image that matches the word “desk”!
Another problem that comes from these agencies is they might convince you not to bother acknowledging your education and that you need their funding for a course to get your diplomas to the same level. That is not at all necessarily the case (we didn’t take any course!) and reinforcing that inferiority belief is not great, neither for morale nor for your self-esteem.
Another problem with agencies and this time from the new immigrant’s side is that there is an expectation that those agencies will solve all their problems, that once the resume is reworked, the phone will start ringing left and right with job offers and interviews. That is often not case and not because the resume is bad but because the job market is not optimal and competition is big especially in larger cities.
Another common misconception is that those agencies will find you work. These agencies’ role is more to prepare you and teach you about the Canadian job market. They are there to ensure you are aware and knowledgeable on how to navigate the market itself but the whole process of applying to jobs and interviewing will be your sole responsibility.
4- Isolate yourself
Landing in a new country and city can be a lonely experience, especially if you move there on your own. Also, the older you are, the more difficult it is to socialize and make new lifelong friends, and that’s without the added stress of finding housing, work and building a professional network!
One mistake that newcomers often do is that by putting all their focus and energy on finding work, they end up in an isolation mode where all they do is wake up, start job hunting until late at night and repeat the cycle the next day.
Vancouver is a city where referrals and networking are key. No matter how many resumes you submit, jobs you apply to, meeting people can help put you in touch with the right person and fast track finding a job. So don’t hesitate to send a message to people on LinkedIn asking them for an informational interview and grab a coffee with them.
In addition to that, mental health is key in surviving that first difficult period when getting settled. Being isolated from the world can increase that difficulty and lead to problems such as depression and anxiety.
Meetups, volunteering, events are a great way to meet people and start creating a social network that will be great for your career, mental health and just overall making friends and having fun!
5- Limiting yourself to your own community
I cannot count the number of posts on immigration forums where people are asking about the best neighborhood for X or Y community. While living among people with the same background as you will help you settle down faster, it also defeats the purpose of relocating and taking advantage of the full societal experience that is Canada.
Your community will be great in showing you the ropes and help you ease in without feeling too homesick, but it can be dangerous for your personal development as one would be limited from meeting people of different cultures and backgrounds and narrowing one’s outlook on life.
Make sure to step outside and enjoy the diversity and multiculturalism that Canada has to offer.
6- Furnish your entire apartment
When initially landing in Canada and especially if you don’t have a job yet, under no circumstances should you buy furniture for your entire apartment the minute you find one. Most apartments in Vancouver are unfurnished and you will have to fill it up with a bed, couches, tables and so on.
Buying furniture for your entire house all at once, especially if you’re getting it all new can quickly burn through whatever savings you have brought with you and without having any added value.
Stick to the bare essentials that you need and add to those progressively once you start working and having a stable income enough to indulge in a few extras. We’ve been two years in and are still getting furniture and appliances for our home! Make a list of everything you need and then sort them into two columns, one for items you can’t survive without and one for those that can wait. Prioritizing what you’re buying will help extend your savings as much as possible.
7- Buy expensive electronics
The dumbest newcomer story we heard was about a guy who bought a 40+ inch 4K full HD new television less than a week after landing and still staying at a friend’s house. While he said that at the time it seemed like a good idea because it was a Black Friday deal, it was still a lot of money spent before finding an apartment or a job. Resist the urge to score good deals and focus your spending where it is needed. Electronics go down in value between 30 and 70% in less than a year so hold out on any crazy purchase until the time is right.
8- Get everything new
One of the biggest expenditures we did when we first landed was buying a bed. We spent more than the average because we were recommended a more expensive store. That being said, it is the only piece of furniture in our home that is new. There are tons of ways to get good quality second-hand furniture for cheap and even for free! Facebook marketplace, Craigslist and Kijiji are filled with furniture on sale and the Buy Nothing Project is a great way to get free items from your neighborhood!
We have scored so many good deals that every time we think of upgrading and getting a new couch, we dismiss the idea because we love ours (got both for 250 CAD!) so much. It can take time and energy to look for and find a good piece but it will be worthwhile especially during your first year settling in.
9- Not have fun
In our concern over spending money we didn’t have, we ended up being overly careful to not do anything we didn’t have to. Two months in, it started taking a toll on us as the most “fun” thing we did was walk next to the house in English Bay.
Having fun doesn’t necessarily mean spending a lot of money! There are a lot of things to do and a lot of free events to attend that you will still be able to enjoy yourself occasionally and disconnect from the newcomer stress. Scour sites like Eventbrite, meetup and Facebook events to find free and inexpensive events you can attend and meet people.
10- Be scared of spending money
The currency difference and the purchasing power can be very overwhelming when you initially land especially before you learn to differentiate between American dollars and Canadian dollars.
In out first month, everything seemed expensive and this stopped us from getting a lot of good deals and products. We were worried the investment wasn’t worth the end product and didn’t always go with the best option. Looking back now, the error was by not researching products enough and knowing whether we were paying a reasonable price for something or not.
With time, hearing 100 CAD as a price has a different weight and feel a couple of years in and without going too crazy on shopping binges. When buying essentials, make sure to do your research and learn as soon as possible what the average price for items is.
12- IRS and phone scams
Luckily, we never fell for those. We were very well versed in these types of scams and have spent hours enjoying videos of Youtubers who make it their sole mission to waste those scammers time.
Most of these scams will start the same, you will receive an automated message of someone claiming to be an agent or the IRS and asking you to call them back. Once you do, the supposed agent will try and appear genuine using numbers and terminology and saying there’s a warrant out for your arrest unless * wait for it * you get an Apple gift card?
I’m not sure how people fall for those but they do and we know they do because those scams keep happening. On an average week, we get four or five calls from numbers that pretend they’re from Canada by spoofing someone’s number. They can be pretty annoying but all you have to do is simply ignore the call. There is now warrant for your arrest and if there were you wouldn’t pay your fine using a gift card.
Another more serious problem coming out of these scams is when people give their SIN to these scammers over the phone. As a general rule, there are very few times you will need to let anyone know what your SIN number is and over the phone is not one. If you end up falling for such a scam, call the CRA at the soonest and let them know.
12- Have unreasonable expectations
It is a sad truth that a lot of immigrants who come to Canada will pretend they are leading an amazing life to their family and friends in their home countries as they are ashamed of the truth that they’ve downgraded jobs or aren’t living in a detached house. Unfortunately, that leads to chain of effect where other people get inspired to immigrate chasing that dream and not end up where they thought they’d be. At the same time, they’ll discover that cousin they thought was doing so well actually isn’t.
Life in Canada is hard for Canadians and immigrants alike. The difference is that people who have grown up here have developed a support system they can rely on. That makes things easier but not necessarily easy.
Vancouver housing costs are so high that a lot of people share apartments with other roommates and even couples go that route. The job market is also very difficult to break into especially if you don’t have a network or referrals. There are also a lot of considerations to take, particularly if you have children as the cost of childcare is pretty steep!
Expecting to live in a three story house, finding a well paid job and settling in with a large network of friends within the first year is near impossible. When moving to a new country, any country really, sacrifices must be made and expectations lowered. Disappointment hits less when you are realistic and manage expectations accordingly.
Life will be a bit difficult at the start yes, and there will be a few bumps along the way but it will eventually work out.