Friday, September 22, 2017

Living in Canada: A crash course from Michael Mezzacapo

The IJC offices enjoy an unbeatable view of the Detroit River. Photo: Michael Mezzacapo

After I learned I was awarded the Michigan Sea Grant fellowship opportunity at the International Joint Commission (IJC), I realized that I had a unique opportunity to reside in Canada for the year. Moving is never easy, let alone moving to a foreign country. Seemingly simple aspects of your daily life can become challenging due to certain regulations or requirements. Information about the immigration process can also be confusing and located in many different places. The prior Fellows have lived in the US and commuted to Windsor, as all of the IJC American employees do. My goal here is to give future Sea Grant fellows interested in the IJC a quick peek into the process of temporarily moving to Canada, should that be the choice of future Fellows. *The advice below is for informational purposes and not recommendations or guidance from the IJC or the U.S. or Canadian governments. No compensation was received and no recommendations are intended.*
1.     Housing: The first major hurdle to moving anywhere is finding a place to live. Windsor has a decent mix of apartments and houses for rent at rates cheaper than downtown Detroit, but they tend to go fast. Classified internet sites are your best bet for scoping out housing in the area. Consider renting a temporary residence through one of the major home share providers for a month to get a feel for the city and then make a choice on where you want to live. There are several neighborhoods and districts in Windsor; research each area and make a decision based on what fits your needs best. I chose to live in Walkerville, which is a neighborhood close to the IJC office but slightly quieter than downtown while still offering a great selection of restaurants, shops, and bars. I walk to work every day and have a great view of the Detroit River.
TIP: Think about renting a furnished place. I chose this route; it's far easier than hauling all your stuff over the border. Check home sharing sites which let you rent short-term; sometimes hosts will rent long-term contracts at discounted rates. Plus, you reduce the number of bills you have to pay because electricity, the internet, and hydro are usually lumped into your monthly payment.
2.     Transportation: Let's face it, cars are the dominant mode of transportation here. After all, this area is where the automobile industry was born. But the city of Windsor has an excellent bus system that is relatively cheap. You can even take the city-run tunnel bus across the border to Detroit. So don’t fret if you don’t own a car. And if you are bringing your car, you can simply keep your current U.S. state driver’s license and plates. Because the position is temporary, there is no need to import your vehicle or change your plates and driver’s license. I would suggest obtaining a copy of your automobile title, registration, and insurance and keeping them in a folder in case customs needs these.
TIP: You may need to find an insurance company that covers you in both the U.S. and Canada. Most larger insurance companies operate in both the U.S. and Canada.
3.     Cell Phone: This was something that nearly slipped my mind when researching the moving process. After all, you will be in a foreign country. There are a couple of options here: get a new cell phone plan in Canada or keep your U.S. plan. Be prepared to pay a hefty amount for both options. My service provider has a plan that allows me to use my phone in Canada as if I was in the U.S. (including unlimited talk and text), without any extra fees or charges. Many cellular providers in Canada provide similar plans, if you wish to go that route.
TIP: Get enough data! You’ll want a decent amount to use navigation applications, etc. Some service providers will slow your speeds after a certain amount of data usage in Canada. Also, some internet services won’t work when on a Canadian IP address. My suggestion is to get a VPN router application. This way you can watch your favorite programs or use your preferred paid streaming services.
4.     Importing your belongings and pets: Because I chose to rent a furnished place, I could pack everything I needed in my car. But bringing your things across the border can bring challenges in the form of paperwork and restrictions. You can find more information here. I suggest creating a spreadsheet of everything you are bringing with you and include its corresponding “yard sale” value. Ironically, the process of bringing your furry friend over is quite easy! Instructions for that are located here. But remember, your pets will need updated rabies vaccines. Also, make sure they are comfortable and have plenty of food and water, as crossing the border for the first time can take a few hours.
TIP: Make copies of your documents!
5.     Bank account: Banking isn’t all that different in Canada, but there are things to think about. Because of U.S. regulations, you can’t send your paycheck to a Canadian bank account. You’ll have to create a U.S. account with one of the Canadian banks first. Confusing? It certainly is. Essentially you create an account that you can have U.S. funds deposited into and then transfer those to your Canadian account. Other options are available too. For example, you can send your paycheck to an existing U.S. bank account and simply find a credit card that has zero foreign transaction fees and use that to pay for items. However, you’ll then have to pay high fees to withdraw money from the ATM in cases where cash is needed. Be mindful of the exchange rate and fluctuations in the market.

6.     Health care: Canada has universal health coverage, and this includes temporary workers. The process is easy and painless; find out more here. You’ll need to be physically in Canada for three months before you can receive coverage, but you can apply the first day you move. Purchasing temporary medical coverage while you wait is highly recommended. Check the internet for companies that offer a variety of coverage plans so you can find the one that best suits you.
Although there are similarities to living in the U.S., residing in Canada provides me with first-hand experience of life in another country. Windsor is a diverse city, and its residents have been warm and welcoming. I enjoy working with a binational staff and the opportunities it provides. Each candidate’s situation will be unique, and it is important to evaluate your own needs, desires, and finances. Although it may seem complicated at first, my suggestion is to break things down and take a closer look; you’ll be glad you did.

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