50 days in Vancouver

Today I Celebrate my 50 days in Vancouver

It’s the 15th of December 2015, and it’s been 50 days that I’ve moved to Vancouver. Times flies by so quickly. During those 50 days I discovered Vancouver but I didn’t only do that. Starting over means many procedures, administrative or else, which are quite easy to go through in Canada. Let me tell you the many steps I had to take to put my life in order during these 50 days in Vancouver.

First Step when arriving in Vancouver: Get a Canadian Phone Number

To be able to communicate with people in and out of Vancouver the most important thing for me was of course to get a Canadian phone number. Before arriving in Vancouver I did some research about the different phone companies in Vancouver. I quickly understood that the prices here are quite extravagant. According to a number of researches Canadians have the most expensive phone plan prices in the world for the worst services. I think it’s mainly due to the country size. Canada is the second biggest country in the world with 10 millions square kilometers but only has 35 millions people. The technical installations must be more expensive in a country 300 times bigger than Belgium but with only 3 times its population.

They are 3 major companies like in Belgium: Bell, Rogers and Telus. Only these 3 companies have a nationwide network but expensive phone plans. For example Rogers has a plan starting at $50 that includes 200 mb of data, 200 minutes of nationwide calling and unlimited text messages, not including taxes. The other companies have less extensive networks but more affordable prices. As I will stay in Vancouver it was better for me to choose a local company. I chose Wind Mobile that offers a $40 plan with unlimited nationwide calling, unlimited national and international text messages and 3gb of data. I received a monthly $10 credit for one year because I had my own device. If I travel outside of Vancouver the network coverage won’t be very good, but it’s still a good compromise…

Second Step: Getting my Social Security Number

To be able to work in Canada you need a working visa when you’re a foreigner, but you also need a social security number, or Social Insurance Number, SIN. Everyone has to have one , Canadian or foreigner. I had to go to a Service Canada Centre in Downtown. The first time I went there I was told I would have to wait for 2 hours and was advised to come back later. I came back later the same day with the same result. I arrived the next morning before the centre opened and had to wait in line with 15 other people. When the centre opened I was told I would probably have to wait for one hour. But because they saw my passport was in French I was automatically served in French and only had to wait for 10 minutes as I was the only one being served in French. What a great advantage to be in a bilingual country! I chatted with the man who was taking care of my SIN number, he was very nice and gave me some advice on finding work in Vancouver. Who would think that administrative procedures could be so pleasant?

Third Step: Opening a Canadian Bank Account

After receiving my SIN number I decided to keep going and open a Canadian bank account. Unfortunately this time it didn’t go as well as the SIN number. I had also done some research on Canadian bank accounts before coming to Vancouver and discovered the system is also very different in Canada. Most banks in Canada only offer bank accounts for a fee, between $4 for 3 to 8 transactions per month (which means any withdrawal or transfer) and $30 for unlimited transactions. Moreover each time you withdraw money from another bank you have fees that can be up to $4 per withdrawal. I looked for an alternative that would allow me to spare that money. I found a bank, Tangerine, that offers a free bank account. The only thing was  that when I wanted to open my account they asked me for my Canadian credit history, which I don’t have of course as I’ve just arrived in Canada. I couldn’t open an account there. I left empty-handed. The next day I was talking about it with Rilke, my new Flemish friend, and she recommended CIBC, a bank that offers a free bank account for one year for newcomers. It’s a good alternative for my first year in Canada, and if I decide to stay longer in Canada I can then change to Tangerine because I’ll have a credit history. I didn’t open my account right away, I decided to wait until having an apartment to go to a branch near my new place.

Fourth and Very Important Step: Finding a Place to Live

I arrived in Vancouver on the 26th of October. I immediately started looking for a place. Without knowing the city and its neighborhood I was struggling to know the areas where I should look for a place. Should I have looked only in the Downtown area, Vancouver city centre, or expand my search to the whole city? Which neighborhood are safe, nice to live in, accessible? What are the rents’ price range? These were questions I couldn’t answer. The only thing I was sure of was that I wanted to have roommates because it’s a good way to meet people and of course it decreases the rent.

Before coming I already knew rents were pretty high in Vancouver but I didn’t realize how high. The first apartment I visited was in Downtown, and the rent was $750. It was on the main floor, without a living room, with a horrible kitchen and bathroom. The bedroom was furnished with a mattress and a small wardrobe. The roommate was living in what used to be the living room. He was at least forty, and explained to me that he was a dating coach. The next morning he texted me telling me the room was rented but that I could still come over for coffee. I never answered. I still don’t understand how the rent can be so high for a shabby apartment and still be rented immediately.

The next few days I answered a lot of ads I found on craigslist or on facebook groups but I only received a few answers. I decided to try something different. I expanded my research to apartments with unfurnished bedrooms and in a wider perimeter. I also wrote an ad on craigslist myself saying I was looking for a room in Vancouver. In the next few hours I received dozens of emails and calls from people offering me their free bedrooms. A man even asked me to share his bed in exchange for free accommodation. In the next few days I organized several visits in Vancouver. This allowed to visit different areas of Vancouver and to compare what I could have in the different areas for the same price. I visited an apartment in Downtown for $900 where the girl already living there was living in the living room with her 2 cats, and the free room was very small. A few skytrain (the Vancouver subway) stops away I visited a house for the same price a huge bedroom and a huge common space. When you get out of Vancouver the bedroom size gets bigger.

I visited my dream house on the 2nd of November.It’s 2 Skytrain stations away from Downtown or 10 minutes by bus. The roommates are a married couple that have the second floor to themselves as well as a bathroom and a girl with who I share the bathroom on the first floor. There’s also a small dog. The room was unfurnished but never mind, I thought I’d find a secondhand bed and nightstand. They told me they’d tell me their decision by the end of the week as I was the first one to visit the room. In the meantime I visited other places but none came even close to this one. And on Saturday they sent me a text telling I was the one they had chosen to move in with them. Yay! It took me 10 days to find an apartment, not too bad I think.

Here are a few pictures of the house and of the dog.

Like many apartments I had visited the room was only available on the 1st of December. I stayed in a hostel for the rest of the month, but changed from one to another because the one I was in was very difficult to live in. I took the time i had to open a bank account in a CIBC local branch a few minutes from my future home. I finally moved in on the 29th of November. I found thanks to my future roommates a mattress and a bed for $125 as well as a nightstand and a dresser.

Fifth Step: Finding a job

After finding a place to live I could finally look for something essential to my survival in Vancouver: a job! Of course I want to fin a job in sustainable architecture but I also looked for a service job. I also did a bit of volunteering and went to 2 job fairs.

The Canadian job market is very different from the European market. i decided to take a one week class, Workplace English, to understand it better and to help me in my job search. It helped me a lot in understanding the small mistakes I was making in the way I was addressing people in cover letters. We also practiced the interviews a lot with the 50 standard questions asked by Canadian employers. Before the end of the class I found a service job at the Vancouver Christmas Market until the 24th of December, a good way to set the foot in the door of the Canadian work environment.

The next steps: finding a job in sustainable architecture, getting the driving licence again and many others

After 50 days in Vancouver I still have a few steps to take. I have to find a job in sustainable architecture, which I will concentrate on full-time as soon as I finish my job a the Christmas Market.

I also just learned that Belgium doesn’t have any agreement with British-Columbia about driver’s licence. I will have to pass my driver’s licence again in Vancouver. Needless to say I’m no thrilled about it especially because it’s expensive to get. It’s even more annoying because all our neighbouring countries, France, the Netherlands, Germany, have this reciprocal agreement with British-Columbia, which allow their people to exchange their national driver’s licence for a British-Columbia driver’s licence. But it’s still better to have a valid driver’s licence in the province, so I will have to pass the test… A new experience to look forward to.

Read this article in French.

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