What It is Like to be an Expat in Canada


For many, Canada is a place of dreams. However, would you like to know what it is like to be an expat in Canada?

As I have lived in Canada since 2013, I believe it is fitting for me to share a bit of the truth about living here. If you are seriously considering moving to Canada, here are some things you need to know about living here as an expat.

What It is Like to be an Expat in Canada

The feeling of being homesick

The first thing that made moving to Canada heartbreaking was that I had to leave my family and friends back in China. For the first few years, this feeling was replaced by schoolwork and happy times with my new friends. However, as the years went by, the homesick feeling started to resurge.

I missed the weddings of my best friends and my cousins’. I felt bad that I could not be there when my friend invited me to be her bridesmaid. I missed the occasions of my three cousins giving birth to their children, whom I have barely met. I have started doubting if my nieces and nephews know about my existence. I have missed so many things that whenever I return to China, I feel more like a guest than being at home.

Returning home is not the same

That nostalgic feeling makes me appreciate the time I have when I visit home. I would meet as many friends as I could and spend every day with my family. I realized that although I had merely a short few weeks with them, I actually enjoyed more quality time with my family than I did during the twenty years when I lived with them.

It is not easy to bid farewell

Regardless of how long I stay with my family during these visits, it is never easy when it is time to say goodbye. I feel sad at the airport when I leave my loved ones, not knowing when or even whether I will see them again. Now, I feel that I want to talk to them and visit them more often.

It feels surreal to visit the other side of the world.

When talking about traveling between Canada and China, I am always asked how long the flight is. My answer is always 12 to 16 hours. It is not a big deal to me, but those hours of flying over the different continents and through different time zones make it a surreal experience.

Everything seems different, yet cannot be more familiar. Seeing the big changes of my hometown, taking public transit and communicating in my mother tongue feel pretty foreign at first. Still, it feels comfortable to sleep in my own bed, and to know that my family and friends are always there.

What It is Like to be an Expat in Canada

At first, it takes a bit to navigate the public transit in a familiar place like Shanghai

I have a different concept of cold now

Canada is the first country where I have learned to adapt to an extreme climate.

I had always thought the winter here is only about extremely low temperatures, snow, and ice. What makes winter difficult to endure is that it usually lasts for half a year. During this period, I rarely get a glimpse of sunshine.

Windsor, Canada

My first winter in Canada. Just by looking at this picture you can sense how cold it was.

Ironically, after spending a long time in low temperatures, I have started getting used to this weather. I have begun to lose the concept of cold and warm. When the temperature rises to 20 degrees Celsius, I feel uncomfortably warm.

I have learned to appreciate the architecture and heritage.

When I walk around on the streets, I always pay extra attention to the old buildings. My breath is taken away just by looking back from the intersection of Spadina and College in Toronto, or seeing the cathedrals and beautiful European and art-deco buildings dotted along the narrow streets of Old Montreal and Quebec City.

an expat in Canada

Amazing architecture in Montreal

Many of the buildings here have architectural qualities that are more impressive than I had expected and have hundreds of years of history. They are definitely worth exploring.

Canada’s multiculturalism is astonishing.

Before I set my feet in Canada, I had no idea what multiculturalism is like in Canada. I imagined it as a melting pot or a mini-United Nations.

After I spending a while in Canada, it blew my mind to see the integration and representation of different nationalities and ethnicities. Just by crossing a major intersection in Montreal, I am surprised that I can hear people around me speaking English, Spanish, French, Italian, Korean, and Chinese.

In Vancouver, I was surprised by the huge Asian community and its influence. I arrived at the airport and saw that the signs were written in English and Mandarin. It sticks with me that I had no idea how much Asian culture and influence have played a major role in shaping Vancouver.

Related post:  How Much It Costs to Move to Canada 

Living in Ontario, Vancouver feels far away

During my past seven years of living in Canada, I only visited Vancouver (and the west coast) once. I always feel that it is too much of a hassle to travel to Vancouver, and the high travel costs certainly do not help.

Do not get me wrong. I loved my time in Vancouver, and my favorite TV show was also filmed there. Due to the significant cost of visiting Vancouver and the amount of time it takes to travel there, I prefer to visit other places.

Banff, Alberta

During my seven years in Canada, I visited Banff (on my way to Vancouver) only once, in September 2014

Making friends is not as easy as you think

Canadians seem to have a reputation for being friendly. However, over the years, I have learned that it is difficult to get them to open up and welcome you into their arms.

Most Canadians keep to themselves and have their group of friends whom they grew up with, which makes it hard for expats to integrate into these circles. Additionally, it is a norm for people here to relocate to a new city every few years. As a result, I found it a lot easier to make friends with other expats and immigrants.

I do miss the friends that I made back in my university days. I am lucky that some of us are still keep in touch and support each other after all these years.

University of Windsor in Canada

My happy days at the University of Windsor. Now only two of us remain in Canada.

Cell phone plans are costly

My cell phone bills in Canada are so high that I wonder how everyone here manages to have a phone.  According to the National Post, Canadians have the most expensive phone plans in the world. This cannot be any truer.

I have a $45 monthly plan with Fido, which is already one of the most affordable mobile carriers. The plan comes with unlimited domestic phone calls, text, and 2GB of data. Although I am not on my phone much these days, I am often shocked to see my phone bills going up to $90 a month. I have also found out that paying a monthly bill of over $100 is not unusual here.

Finding a good job is not easy

When I was on a one-year work permit in the USA, it did not take long to land my first full-time job in a prestigious law office. In Canada, they tend to have this strange concept that you need to have Canadian work experience to get your foot in the door. Finding a decent job without Canadian experience is extremely difficult. From my experience and observations, employers do not see overseas work experience as an asset.

Interestingly, I learned that even Canadians returning to Canada find it difficult to get a good job here after spending years abroad.

Truth be told, if it had not been that difficult to obtain a work visa and immigrate to the USA, I would have moved there for work. There are more career opportunities, and more multinational companies are hiring there. However, if you would like greater social benefits, medical insurance, and retirement plans, Canada is still better in these areas.

Final thoughts

Although I spent seven years in Canada, I cannot say that I am 100% integrated because I was not born and raised here. While I still find myself occasionally struggling and some parts of Canada are a bit behind the times, I am happy to make Canada my new home now.

If there is one thing I love about living in Canada, it is that I have gotten to know myself a lot more in this country, and I have learned about my likes and dislikes.

Are you an expat in Canada? Share your experience and thoughts below.

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Things you need to know about being an expat in Canada

Julie Cao

Julie is the creator of Always On The Way. She lived in Hawaii and now resides in London (Ontario, Canada). In 2017, she went on an overland trip from Bogota Colombia to Puerto Williams, the southernmost city in the world. She believes travel is not only about visiting tourist attractions but more about getting to know the culture, people, and the place.

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