Corinne: Travel Stories
It’s probably quite hard for any city on the planet to overwhelm or really impress a person with as much expat experience as Corinne. But then again, you don’t need to be overwhelmed to fully enjoy yourself! At Travel Stories, Corinne offers insights into the experiences she has in her new home, Vancouver. Also, her interview answers are full of very useful pointers for expat newcomers!
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Canada, etc.
I grew up Switzerland in a town called Männedorf that lies along the Lake Zürich. From an early age on I dreamt of travelling and exploring the world. After graduating from the Hotel Management School in Lausanne, I worked in hotels across the United States (New York, Washington, DC, Breckenridge, CO, Southampton, NY) and the Caribbean (Mustique Island) for 8 years. In 2001, I moved back to Europe to be part of a start up company that developed the first web-based hotel reservation system. We started off in Dublin, Ireland but were moved to the Netherlands a year later, where I lived and worked for the past 10 years. In 2011, my husband was offered a new opportunity in Vancouver, Canada and we moved here in December.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
Travel and photography are my passion and I started my photo website about 4 years ago to share my impressions of my travels with my friends and family.
In 2011, I received a volunteer grant from my employer and I spent 2 weeks volunteering at the Mother Teresa house for poor children and elderly women in Salvador, Brazil. I decided to start a blog in order to share my experiences in Brazil. The volunteer trip triggered a lot of soul searching and changes including a move to Canada that inspired me to continue blogging.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours? Please add the URL as well.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Canada differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
The biggest change for me is that I am not working at the moment but that was a deliberate decision. I want to take some time to figure out what I would like to do career wise. I did have to get used that my husband is at work throughout the week while I am at home alone. Fortunately, I have enough hobbies to keep me busy and I have spent quite a few days on the slopes this winter. In order to meet people, I have signed up with a couple of ‘MeetUp’ groups that focus on photography in Vancouver.
Since I moved so many times in my life, I did not experience a culture shock. I had visited Vancouver in the past and knew what I could expect here. People here are very friendly and laid back and I feel very much at home in Vancouver.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Canada? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
This was our 6th international move and we were pretty well prepared. Since my husband’s company organized most of the logistics including packing and removal of our belongings, the move went pretty smoothly. My husband actually left 3 months before we physically moved and I had the opportunity to visit Vancouver twice during that period so that we could look for an apartment and get all the paperwork sorted out. We were pleasantly surprised how the immigration officer made us feel welcome when we applied for our work permits.
The two main challenges we had were figuring out how the housing rental market works and not having a credit history. Initially, we did not realize that a real estate agent only rents out apartments that they actually manage and that the notice period of rentals is 1 month. In August, we tried to look for an apartment as of November but that was impossible. Eventually, we found a great website (www.padmapper.com) that shows all available apartments throughout the city. Through this site, we were able to focus on the neighborhood we wanted to live in and ended up finding an apartment.
Not having a credit history is quite a bit issue in Canada, as you don’t qualify for a credit card or a loan. The only way we could get a credit card was by getting a secured card that required a deposit to guarantee the credit limit. A recommendation for expat is to go with an international bank such as HSBC who offer expat packages that we only found out later.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
When we moved to the Caribbean to work in a hotel, we just entered Mustique Island as tourists and got a 30-day visa. In the meantime, our lawyer would sort out the work permit. After about 3 weeks on a Sunday afternoon, I got a call from the immigration officer at Mustique Airport (which consists of a small runway and a bamboo shack serving as an office). He informed me that he heard that I was working without a valid work permit and that he could throw me off the island. Since it was Sunday, we couldn’t follow up on the status of my work permit and I spent the rest of the day at the beach. The next day, my work permit was miraculously approved and I went back to work.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Canada?
- Open your accounts with an international bank that offer expat packages so that you can establish a credit history
- If you move to Vancouver, think about the neighborhood you want to live in and your way to commute to work. Traffic is a nightmare and the Skytrain is a good and less stressful alternative to commute
- Enjoy the outdoors!
How is the expat community in Canada? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Vancouver is an international city with many different communities. Through groups like ‘MeetUp’ and InterNations, it is easy to find like-minded people or expats in Vancouver.
How would you summarize your expat life in Canada in a single, catchy sentence?
Vancouver has it all, sophisticated urbanity, a diverse culture and natural magnificence, I love it here!