Leaving for Canada
Now that you are an approved Canadian permanent resident, you should have the following documents with you — a single-entry Canadian immigrant visa stamped on your passport and a Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) document. The visa is valid for one year from the time you undergo the official medical exam at the designated diagnostic center. The COPR is the document you will use to enter Canada for the first time as a “landed immigrant” and will serve as a government-approved ID till such time that your Permanent Resident (PR) card is dispatched to you.
In preparation to depart, one of the most perplexing questions I faced was — which city should I land in, eh?
It was perplexing because unlike a lot of immigrants, I did not have any family nor close friends living in Canada. After a lot of externally- and internally-directed debates, I finally chose Vancouver on the west coast for both emotional and practical reasons. Emotional because it was a city that my dear departed father used to frequent as a Captain in the Merchant Navy; and practical because I had read that it has “relatively” milder climate than the rest of Canada. In hindsight, I am still debating about whether this was the best decision. However, I will leave those ruminations for another post.
Zeroing in on a city to land is a crucial first step because you can then avail customized pre-arrival assistance from the many Canadian government-approved settlement agencies in India. A document listing the agencies is included with your COPR and stamped passport. They offer informative webinars, one-on-one sessions, and resume-review services (amongst other services) for no fees to approved Canadian permanent residents.
After this, I started exploring housing options, especially short-term ones that would be both affordable and flexible, so that I could move depending on which suburb I chose to live in. Based on a lot of online research, I ruled out downtown Vancouver because of its abnormally high rentals and congested living spaces. I chose Burnaby because of its central location and great connectivity via public transit (SkyTrain and bus) to downtown Vancouver. Vancouver has one of the best public transits in North America! TransLink efficiently operates the SkyTrain and bus services across the Lower Mainland region (which includes downtown Vancouver, the suburbs of Burnaby, Coquitlam, Richmond, Delta, Surrey, North Vancouver, and West Vancouver).
AirBnB was my first stop for short-term housing; however, I was not entirely satisfied with the options available at the time. I purposely chose to stay off Craigslist for short-term housing options because I had heard about how some posts could be dubious and needed to be seen to be believed. Since I was open to living with a Canadian family, I registered myself on HomestayBay Vancouver and Vancouver Homestay. I soon found myself interacting online with very friendly and helpful homestay hosts in the Burnaby and Coquitlam areas. These people were very forthcoming about information on their houses, living conditions, house rules, and photos of their house, and so on. This greatly assured me and gave me a good feeling prior to my departure to Vancouver knowing that I had a place to call home so many miles from my home.
With the short-term housing option taken care of, it was now time to book my flight tickets. I chose Cathay Pacific’s Bangalore to Vancouver via Hong Kong route because it was relatively shorter than the other routes by other airlines.
I next focused on my settlement funds. At the time of creating your Express Entry profile and submitting your PR application, you need to declare the funds you would be able to bring to Canada to cover your living expenses till such time that you find a job. I was a little confused on how best to transfer these funds and make them readily available for use as soon as I land in Vancouver. After reading up on the popular options, such as forex cards and traveller’s cheques, I came across Scotiabank’s StartRight program for newcomers to Canada. With this, you can open an account in Scotiabank whilst being in India and wire transfer funds from your Indian account to this account at a nominal cost. As an Indian migrating to Canada, the Indian Government’s liberalized scheme permits wire transfer of settlement funds for the purpose of permanent migration. Within a week of setting up my account, I was able to easily transfer a sufficient amount of funds to my Canadian account. However, a day after landing in Vancouver, I was in for a rude shock when I visited the nearest Scotiabank branch to activate the newly-opened account. I was told that while the funds had been successfully repatriated, an internal hold had been placed on the account by the Toronto branch (which is the main processing center for international wire transfers) and this hold could take a month to get lifted! Fortunately, I had a backup in the form of a forex card for my daily expenses. Not one to give up easily, I persisted with the branch officials and got timely aid from a very helpful branch manager (an immigrant herself, who obviously understood my plight) and personally took it upon herself to lift off the hold in a day or two. This experience coupled with my friend’s relatively smoother experience of simply encashing her traveller’s cheques into a new bank account taught me that may be the best options are the most popularly used ones — loading a forex card with sufficient funds for a week or may be two weeks’ living expenses and traveller’s cheques for the remaining settlement funds.
Coming to one of the most painstaking and cumbersome of tasks, and one that should ideally be done when packing your luggage. As a first-time “landed immigrant” to Canada, you are eligible to bring in personal effects/goods (read clothing, jewellery, furniture, utensils, and every other thing) and also declare those to follow, without any restrictions on the import value of the accompanying goods and goods to follow. Note that you can do this only once and at the time of your “first landing”. Subsequent arrivals into Canada will require you to declare the cost of the incoming personal effects and ensure they are within admissible limits, unless they were previously declared in the “goods to follow” declaration made during the “first landing”. It is advisable to compile two separate Excel spreadsheets — one for accompanying goods and another for goods to follow, and then port over the content to the official templates posted to the following location: https://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/publications/forms-formulaires/bsf186-eng.pdf. You will need to make two copies of the spreadsheets and templates — one to submit to the Immigration officer at the port of landing and the other to keep with you. Ensure that your copy is stamped by the Immigration officer as proof of its submission and acknowledgement of their receipt of it.
In terms of the kind of luggage to pack, it is quite subjective and varies based on personal preferences, so I would prefer not getting into the details.
In the midst of all of this, and as you see the days counting down to your departure, I found myself experiencing alternating moments of excitement coupled with pangs of sadness and anxiety.
My last few days in Bangalore were filled with a flurry of farewell get-togethers with family, friends, and neighbors. For me, one of the toughest parts about saying goodbye to your loved ones and the place you have always known as home is in knowing that despite everything and your best intentions, neither you nor the place you are leaving will be the same when you meet next.
Choosing Cathay Pacific turned out to be a rather good decision because the airline staff were courteous and hospitable. I was also very fortunate to find myself next to an empty seat that doubled up as my bed during the 19-hour journey. However, a point to remember is that most airlines strictly enforce the 46 kg (2 X 23 kgs per bag) limit per passenger on flights headed to North America irrespective of whether you are travelling as a visitor or permanent resident. So, don’t expect them to be lenient even if they know you are “permanently migrating” to a country, and, therefore, could do with a more lenient allowance.
After a pleasant and relaxing flight, I was gung-ho about landing in Vancouver, whose famed beauty I had only heard and read about! I felt like a tourist, who couldn’t wait to complete my immigration formalities and soak in the sights and sounds of this picturesque city nestled between snow-capped mountains and the deep blue waters of the Pacific.
And this, once again, brings me to the end of my post. I will share more about my post-landing experience in my next post. I hope with this post too I have been able to answer some of your questions. Cheers, until next time!