Four and a half years ago I sat at home in England with a dilemma. What to do with my life? In the nine months since graduating university I’d been on a few short voyages abroad. The world was my oyster. But something else was needed. I wanted to start a whole new life somewhere. The answer suddenly found me – Canada. I can move to Canada!
Before that fateful February afternoon I had little knowledge of “America’s Hat”. I knew of spectacular mountains, endless prairies, and people loving hockey. That was about it.
I’d also heard of “working holiday visas” that many folks took advantage of. A family friend had spent a year in Australia a few years previous. I remember the day, at age 13, thinking that this was a great endeavour. The idea gathered dust in the back of my mind as I completed school, and went on to university.
Deciding to emigrate to Canada
I finished my studies with a renewed sense of wanderlust. That speck of an idea from years past stirred. I didn’t want the career life yet. I wanted adventures, to try new things, meet world citizens. From the sanctuary of rural Northamptonshire there was little of the cosmopolitan atmosphere I craved. My short trips, whilst living at home post-university, avoiding ‘real’ work, and doing odd jobs only served to fuel my hunger. I needed more.
Sitting at home on that frosty afternoon I discussed possibilities with my parents. I was lucky to be raised in an open-minded fashion, encouraged to try new things, and not to stay in one place. I was well-travelled as a child, and my brother, Tom, had embarked on an intrepid worldwide adventure on his bicycle. It was time for me to go. I asked my parents their thoughts of living abroad. They were enthused, and I listed the places I could obtain work visas to: Australia (so many people go there), New Zealand (cool, but something didn’t grab me), South Africa (interesting…), the United States (three month visa, not enough time), and Canada.
Choosing Vancouver as a destination to live
“Vancouver is supposed to be lovely,” my mother replied. I knew little of this city on the Pacific. Google Image Search was my friend. 30 seconds later I knew where to go.
Type “Vancouver” into Google Image Search right now. One photo is all you need – skyscrapers, parks, sparkling waters, mountains, beaches, snow. Wow. “We have to go to the library. Now,” I said. I rented a book on Vancouver. After a few pages I finalised my decision.
I immediately applied for the visa. That evening I went to see a movie. The movie was fairly forgetful, but I remember sitting in a nearby pub beforehand, telling my friends my plans. I had a response of raised eyebrows. A bit impulsive but great. I am impulsive – very impulsive. But my impulse that afternoon would change my life forever.
Fast forward four months. It’s July 1, 2008. I’m on Vancouver’s Jericho Beach. It’s Canada Day, my face painted with maple leaves, and I’m enjoying beers with new friends. I’d been in Canada a month, staying in a hostel whilst preparing for my new life.
That short time in Canada had already profoundly effected me. It was amazing. Vancouver was indeed as gorgeous as it looked in the photos. I’d already made many friends, been hiking, swimming, played football with immigrants from all over the world, and played beer-fuelled hide and seek. One night, the hostel was full – I had to leave. Undeterred, my friends and I hung out in the lounge all night, watching films until we passed out, and in the morning checked back in. The receptionist smiled wryly. He knew the trick, but didn’t care. Canadians were great, easy-going folk. As I sat on the beach that afternoon I looked across the waters of the Burrard Inlet to the snowcapped peaks beyond. “I could stay here,” I thought.
Getting closer to a life in Canada
Another six months passed. It was Christmas Day. I’d established myself in Vancouver, and was sharing an apartment with Thomas and Sophie – two new friends. At the time I was jobless, barely scraping by – but happy. The three of us were in Whistler together. I rented a snowboard and went riding for the first time in two years. Suddenly, I remembered why I loved snowboarding, and realised the magnitude of having north America’s largest ski resort on my doorstep.
A few days later I was sat in a bookstore downtown with Sophie. That day my life changed again. I found a photography book entitled “Vancouver: Then & Now”. I flicked through the pages. Photographs from Vancouver’s founding in 1886, to the present. As every page turned I fell in love with this place a bit more. People had moved from all over to start a new life. I wanted to be part of that. I saw an image of a Vancouver sunset, from the peak of Grouse Mountain. It was beautiful. You could see for miles. Something clicked. There was no way I was leaving. I wanted my part of this Pacific revolution. The decision was made.
Fast forward another month. I’d looked for sponsored jobs in journalism, my profession, but got nowhere. My non-renewable visa was running out. If I wanted to stay, I needed sponsorship from an employer. Then fate lent a land.
Since being in Vancouver I’d hung out at a local cafe, Mink Chocolates. I had a buddy working there, and had befriended the other staff, and the owner. One day I explained my plight to Alesia, a Belarussian girl working there. She stopped me mid-sentence. “You know I’m emigrating through here, right?” she said. What? How? She explained: Vancouver was hosting the 2010 Olympics. As a result, tourism related companies could employ foreign staff to stem the influx of visitors. That was it – I needed a job there.
Soon after, I was on the road to staying. Marc, the owner, employed me, and I was learning about artisan chocolate and coffee. He’d send off to Canadian Immigration for an Expedited Labour Market Opinion, to look at the labour situation in Vancouver and decide whether a foreigner could have this job, rather than a Canadian. It came back positive. I was granted a two year work permit. I could stay in Canada, and after nine months of work I could apply for British Columbia Provincial Nominee Status – meaning the BC government wanted to keep me. I was granted it. Now I could apply for permanent residency.
Jumping through legal hoops
I jumped through all the hoops. It took another three months for that certificate to be issued, and then I spent another month completing paperwork for the residency application itself. It was hugely extensive, and something I tackled myself, due to lawyers being an expense I could not afford. It was stressful – one missed signature, incorrect photograph, and it could be over. I checked my documents, double-checked, got friends to check, checked again. Eventually, I submitted everything. I remember the day. The office to mail the application to was five minutes from work. I hand delivered it.
Six months passed and I heard nothing, then one day I received a letter requesting a medical. I passed it. Apart from that, there was no communication from immigration. By then, I’d been in Canada over two years. I was very settled, I had a great group of friends, my whole life was there. I needed to stay.
And then one day it happened. It was April 2011 – three years since I’d boarded that plane from London and gone to a new country with one bag, and my hopes and dreams. By then I knew Vancouver intimately, was extremely knowledgeable on all things Canadian, and was basically a local. I arrived at work, the job I now knew like the back of my hand, was on first-name terms with my regular customers, and could make a perfect Cappuccino, whilst grinding a shot for my up-coming skim Latte, and still talk to the mining company guys who came to the cafe every day at 8:20am sharp. Before my shift I checked my emails. A message from Canadian Immigration. My permanent residency was approved! This was it!
Getting through the Canadian-US border
Fast forward another couple of weeks. I’m at the Canadian-US border. I’d sent my passport to have the immigraton visa attached. Receiving it back, I took the short trip down to the frontier to “land” as a Canadian Landed Immigrant. I was so proud, and patriotic about my adopted country. I loved Canada. Before I could land though, I was told by the burly immigration official that I had to ‘flagpole’. What’s that, I wondered. Two minutes later I strolled down a path, past a stoned marked “Canada” on one side, and “International Territory”, on the other. I left Canada, and returned.
I re-entered the office, a feeling of suppressed elation, apprehension, joy, and fear engulfing me. What if there was a problem? What if they told me to leave? The burly officer looked through my paperwork. After questions about my past, and me signing a form he broke into a smile. “Welcome to Canada,” he beamed. I almost fell over. I was so happy. “Thank you,” I mumbled – barely able to speak. It was over. I asked the officer if I could shake his hand. He grinned. “Of course,” he replied. “Enjoy yourself.” And with that I left. Mission accomplished.
Since securing my future in Canada I’ve gone on to do many different things. During Vancouver’s winters I visit Whistler regularly, snowboarding with my friends. Every trip is as fun as the next. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth every penny. In the summer? I hike, jump off increasingly high objects into the ocean, kayak, cycle, and generally have endless fun. Right now, I’m travelling, exploring more of the world that opened up to me after I made the decision to discover this wonderful place we’re so lucky to have. I will continue this journey for a while, but ultimately I will return to Canada – a land of freedom, happiness, and endless potential. That cold day in February was the most pivotal day of my life. Thanks, Google Image Search.
About the Author
Ben Allen is a freelance writer from Northamptonshire, England. In 2008 he relocated to Vancouver, Canada, after wanting to make a change in his life. Not happy being in one place, Ben has just been on the road undertaking a hitchhiking trip around the Middle East. Now he’s returned to North America where he’s thinking about the next step. You can follow him on Twitter @ballenuk and read more about his adventures at www.benallen.ca.