Since I moved to Canada from England, there have been so many lessons learned from living abroad. It’s an experience that has significantly changed me, and some of the things I’ve learnt may help you if you’re considering living overseas.
How I Moved from England To Canada Permanently
On May 9, 2016, I embarked on an adventure. I stepped onto a plane at Manchester airport in the UK, with 3 suitcases and Lily Bear, my tortie cat and flew to Vancouver. British Columbia for a fresh start.
With some savings in the bank, no home except a temporary airbnb in Kitsilano, and no job or professional network, my new life in a foreign country began.
It was the scariest, boldest, most exciting thing I have ever done in my life. But what scared me far more was the deep regret that I would have felt if I hadn’t made this huge life change. I knew that what I was scared to do was what I had to do.
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Living abroad is an adventure waiting to be embraced.– Neale Donald Walsch
Choosing To Have No Regrets By Ignoring My Fears
If I had listened to all my fears and stayed in England, I would have always wondered ‘what if’. I didn’t want to be an old lady in her rocking chair one day with nothing but regrets.
I have always been a heart over head kind of girl. My head will be telling me run girl run don’t do it but my heart will tell me to do it anyway. After my parents passed away in 2011, my heart was leading me to Vancouver.
The Lessons Learned From Living Abroad
Living in Canada as a British Expat for the last 5 years has been both amazing and challenging. I have had some of the best times of my life here, and I have memories with friends and special people in my life that I will treasure forever. But I have also been through some really tough times here. Some of the most difficult times of my life have been in Canada so it hasn’t been a walk in the park or a happy ever after.
I don’t know what the future holds for me in Vancouver…or Canada. But whatever happens I have definitely learnt a few things in the last 5 years. These are my lessons learned from living abroad.
Living abroad is like discovering a new part of yourself you never knew existed.– Unknown
Your Past Will Follow You
One of my big why’s for moving overseas was to start again. I wanted a new life in a new place.
Living overseas has changed me in many ways Fundamentally I am still me though. I still have many of my old hangups. Also, everything from my past hasn’t magically erased because I am in a different country.
I am still working through various things including the loss of my parents, just in Canada rather than England.
Expect The Unexpected When You Move Abroad
When you live overseas you have to go with the flow. You will need a lot of patience and flexibility to stay sane and make it work because so many things will be different.
No joke, everything just takes longer here. Most things are done differently…sometimes archaically here (hello cheques and no booze in supermarkets). I quickly learnt that everything from opening a bank account to the job market to bar and restaurant service is slower. A lot slower. For instance shops open later and shut earlier in Canada. You will also probably have to go to multiple stores for food, booze, toiletries etc. Oh and ordering a drink or food from the bar when you go out is now a novelty.
Living abroad is not always easy, but it is always worth it for the experiences gained and memories made.– Unknown
You Have To Grow A Thick Skin
When I moved to Vancouver I was naive in thinking that people would be friendly and welcoming because I was British. I know it was a bit arrogant and clueless of me really. I had just always had such a warm welcome from Canadians in the past. But that was as a temporary tourist not an immigrant.
When I arrived in Vancouver to live here rather than just visit it was a very different experience. At times it honestly felt like everyone and everything was against me. Some people were just down right rude to me, and made it clear they did not like British people. There were also unexpected language barriers due to my strong accent when I first arrived. Sadly making local friends was extremely hard.
You Won’t Always Be Welcomed
The fact is that not everyone is friendly, and not everyone is happy to see more immigrants and visitors. I was told no to housing and jobs numerous times because I wasn’t a local or even Canadian. It was extremely disheartening and on top of that, I kept feeling like I needed a translator. Five years on I still have issues communicating at times even with Canadians I am close to.
Most people have been polite and friendly though so it has been more positive than negative. I had to learn how to have a thick skin very quickly for the sake of my mental health and sanity.
It Will Be More Challenging Than You Expected
I knew that moving overseas would be a challenge and that I was moving to an expensive and competitive city. But I just had no idea how tough it would be at times or how much it would test my resilience.
The first few weeks, I was in a dreadful Airbnb and faced sleeping on a mates floor because, as I mentioned before, no one would rent to me..till I got lucky and found a landlord who was newcomer-friendly.
On the career front, there have been major rough patches. From applying for 100’s of jobs in my field and getting no response or rejections, to almost a year of unemployment, and constantly being under-employed it’s been tough, I said goodbye to my marketing career that I loved when I moved to Canada.
The magic of living abroad lies in embracing the differences and celebrating the similarities.– Unknown
It Will Be Good, Bad And Ugly When You Move Abroad
It has been a constant rollercoaster of highs and lows in all aspects of my life. But ultimately shit happens and you will have to just push through it. The hardships and dramas now will make for entertaining stories in the future when you can look back and laugh about them.
You Will Need Local Support Systems
One of the best things I have done has been putting time and energy into meeting people, and making friends.
In my first few months, I went out constantly to make friends. It was uncomfortable, a bit exhausting at times, and expensive but it was necessary to make friends.
I joined the BC Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators to meet professionals in my field. I also got involved with two main Facebook groups to make friends; Girl Crew and Brits in Vancouver. Having like-minded British expats to share stories, banter and experiences with has been priceless.
In essence, you will have to step out of your comfort zone regularly if you move abroad. You will be very lonely if you don’t. So join networking groups, go to events on your own, and say yes to the social invites you get.
You Will Need More Money Than You Think
The amount of money you will need for a move overseas will vary depending on where you are moving to, but the likelihood is that you will need more money than you think. So whatever you have budgeted for your new adventure, double it or triple it if you can because there will be so many additional expenses that you may not expect.
Using the guidance provided by newcomer resources to estimate how much money to save, I calculated a rough monthly budget for rent, food, and treats based on the cost of living in Vancouver. Then I just multiplied it by about 5 on the assumption that I would find work quickly.
In reality, once in Vancouver, I realized that I should have saved a lot harder. There was no way I could go 5 or 6 months without a job. I had barely landed in Vancouver and I was hit with unexpected vet bills that I hadn’t considered. There were also rent deposits, furniture and household items purchases, and socialising expenses that I just hadn’t correctly budgeted for.
Basically, you just need to assume that everything will cost more than you expect it to, and if you don’t have a job lined up assume that it could take you up to 6-12 months to get work.
The more you travel and live abroad, the more you realize how vast and diverse the world truly is.– Unknown
You Will Get Sad At Least Once or Twice
There will be times when you have a meltdown thinking ‘What have I done’…I had one of mine on a park bench in the West End after yet another rejection for an apartment.
You will get homesick, miss friends and family, and experience a lot of FOMO. Culture shock will also be a thing because things will be different regardless of what country you move to. It is all normal. You are starting a new life in a foreign country after all.
Leaving everyone and everything you know behind isn’t easy and some days you will be sad and that is okay. It is ok to not be ok sometimes. I have learned to allow myself to sit in those feelings but not dwell in them by reflecting on why I left and the things I have gained (no matter how small) since arriving in Canada. Try it and you will go from feeling down to proud of yourself pretty quickly.
Living Abroad Isn’t A Vacation
Once I landed a full-time job, I started falling into regular routines, just like I had in the UK. So all the things I want to see and do don’t fit into a day. Living in Vancouver is also expensive so it just isn’t possible to go everywhere and do everything in the same way that you can when you are on vacation.
The reality is that living overseas at times can be a bit of a battle between vacation life and real life especially in your early months in a new place. Take your time to explore and find a balance between exploring and real-life stuff.
Living abroad is not always easy, but it is always worth it for the experiences gained and memories made.– Unknown
You Won’t Feel Like A Tourist
When I first arrived, I was so excited to be in Vancouver. When I wasn’t tirelessly looking for work and a new home or running errands I saw as much of Vancouver as I could. I hit up a lot of tourist spots and did days out to different places.
But I never really felt like a tourist and as I started to adjust to my new surroundings I felt more connected to my new foreign home. As I began to feel more comfortable, I also found that people started mistaking me for a local so I would be asked for directions or tips on where to eat or what to see.
And in the high tourist season periods when my favorite spots are rammed I tend to avoid or jovially complain about there being so many tourists.
You Won’t Feel Like A local Either
After a few years in Canada, I thought I would just start to feel like a local, but after five years in Vancouver, that hasn’t really happened.
I feel pretty settled and I have built a life here but I still don’t feel like a local most of the time. I have slowly blended into the local culture, events, and traditions. But I also still go to tourist spots, use Google Maps, take photos of things that locals don’t even glance at, and stare in awe at the mountains every single time.
“Home is not a place; it’s a feeling of belonging wherever your heart is.”– Unknown
Learn As much As You Can About Your New Home
Before and after arriving, learning as much as you can about your new home will help you to get settled in.
I did a lot of research before I came to Vancouver, and I am so glad I did. Although it hasn’t always been as I had expected and not everything I read beforehand was accurate, it helped me to immerse myself.
Like I mentioned before a lot of things have been different but by educating myself and embracing the differences even when they sucked, life has been easier.
So find out as much as you can about the place you are moving to. Learn about the people, the culture, the food, the majority religion, the laws, the job market, housing, and daily life. Try and embrace all those differences without comparing it to what you know. It will be harder to integrate and settle in your new home if you don’t.
Make Your House A Home
Whether you have a bedroom in a big shared house, have a flatmate, or have an apartment all to yourself, make it a home.
Regardless of whether it’s a temporary or permanent home, I encourage you to decorate it, put pictures up, and buy useful appliances and cozy cushions. It will make a world of difference.
Adventure awaits those who step out of their comfort zone and explore the unknown.– Unknown
Reverse Culture Shock Is A Thing
Visiting home will feel strange because you have changed, and you’ve been away for a while. Your loved ones will wonder why you can’t navigate places you lived in your whole life, or why you are speaking differently or forgetting things.
There is a pretty famous expat quote that says ‘So here you are. Too foreign for home; too foreign for here. Never enough for both.
The Reality Of Moving Abroad
That is basically how you will feel from now on. It’s been one of my struggles; that feeling of not being sure if I belong in England or Canada. Ultimately though I think it is just a daily choice and I have chosen Canada…at least for now.
Like I said before, living in Canada as a British Expat has been both amazing and challenging. Moving overseas is a big life change, and if you are considering making the leap I hope that my lessons learned from living abroad have given you some helpful insights into what it is really like.
What are some of the most valuable life lessons gained from living abroad in Canada?
One of the most significant lessons I’ve gained is my resilience. Moving to a new country, far away from family and friends, brought a lot of challenges. From navigating Canadian workplaces and healthcare systems to understanding local cultures, and environments, I have encountered numerous obstacles that have tested my resolve. However, with every struggle, and disappointment I’ve faced I have become adept at problem-solving, and bouncing back stronger. This resilience has not only helped me overcome personal challenges but has also translated into being more self-confident and determined.
How has the experience of moving to a new country impacted personal growth and development?
Being thousands of miles away from familiar surroundings has pushed me to step out of my comfort zone in many ways. From setting up my new home and managing finances to starting my blog and prioritizing my personal growth, I’ve learned to trust my instincts more.
Were there any challenges faced while adapting to a new culture, and how were they overcome?
In many ways, Canada and the UK have very similar cultures. However, there are a lot of differences in the ways that people communicate, and behave. In Canada, I’ve had to adapt not only to the way I speak but the things I talk about. I’ve also encountered prejudices towards Brits on occasion, and an unfriendliness that I was not expecting which has helped me better understand the world through other people’s eyes.
How has living abroad influenced perspectives on work, lifestyle, and relationships?
Living abroad has been a constant reminder of how important it is to stay in the present. Time flies by wherever you choose to be, and life goes on no matter what. It has reinforced the notion that life is about collecting experiences and cherishing the good moments to help you navigate the bad ones.
In Canada, I’ve also been reminded of the hard way of how important a work/life balance is. It’s pushed me to do a lot of work on my mindset and to prioritize my self-care.
What advice or tips can be shared with others considering a similar move abroad for their growth?
To those considering a similar move abroad, I offer some advice from my journey. Embrace change with an open heart, as it is the catalyst for growth and self-discovery. Immerse yourself in the local culture and take every opportunity to explore your new surroundings. Engage with the community and make connections with both locals and fellow expats. Lastly, savor every enriching experience, no matter how small, as they collectively weave the beautiful tapestry of your life abroad in Canada.
Gemma Lawrence is the creator of This Brits Life. Born and raised in England, she has been living in British Columbia, Canada as a permanent resident since 2016. A solo traveler for the past 9 years, she hopes to inspire and help others to enjoy solo adventures too. As someone who has always struggled with her self-confidence and mental health, she also shares tips and inspirational stories relating to self-love, self-care, and mental health.