The 3 hardest things about moving overseas

By Cole Atkinson

The 3 hardest things about moving overseas

Chances are when you move overseas, you've never done it before. There's no blueprint, no previous experience to draw on and no "How to Move My Life" blog posts to read.

This was exactly the case for my wife and I when we sat on our bed one night in the middle of 2016 and made the decision then and there that we needed to make this happen. We had always thought about experiencing life outside of New Zealand and our isolated little paradise in the corner of the world.

Coming up on 30 years old, I had an epiphany of sorts one evening; nobody comes knocking on your door from the other side of the world with an opportunity for you to take. You've got to make that part happen. Sounds simple; but up until this point I must admit, subconsciously, I had been waiting for that knock on the door.

Exactly how we decided to move to Canada is probably another story entirely, so for the purpose of this post I'm going to skip ahead to our arrival and dive straight into it.

The 4 hardest things about moving overseas - Toronto
Midtown Toronto: One of our first photos in Canada (Yes, I am wearing a Habs Toque in Toronto)

Once we had decided to move, and all the way through to our arrival, the things we considered important consumed almost all of our time - and normally rightly so. Finding a place to live, making a plan for jobs and income, and arranging to get our small dog Charley into the country (it's no small task, getting a pet from one country to another) and of course doing everything we needed to for visas and immigration.

These were all things we should have been focusing on and concerned with; they're important. However, we missed one small thing. A lot of the things we were focussing on were everyday things! Getting jobs*, finding a house, travel logistics are all things that we'd already done before at home, yet we were putting all of our energy, time and worry into these tasks. And as it turns out, we were pretty naive to think this was all there was to it. Don't get me wrong, getting a roof over your head is important, but in the context of moving overseas and never having done it before, here are the 3 hardest things we found about picking our lives up and settling in another country.

The 4 hardest things about moving overseas - our dog Charley
Our Cavoodle, Charley, shortly after arriving in Canada (Cold AF)

1. Grocery Shopping

Random, I know. But taking the time to do grocery shopping, and navigate the amenities in a new country in general, is an absolute energy suck.

Countdown and Pak n Save in New Zealand become Valu Mart and Sobeys in Canada - and the names are the easy part. Every brand of food and packaging that you've come to know doesn't exist any longer. Vegetables and meat are pretty much the same, but just about anything in a packet or a can is like learning another language. Seriously, it's like you're learning how to buy your food for the first time; that in itself is depressing, I'm a grown man!

Thank the lord that Canada has some sense and uses the metric system, I have no idea how I would fare with our friends to the South a few hours.

All in all the thing that you used to do on a Sunday night with your eyes closed is now a huge deal that took me sometimes ~90 minutes in the beginning of our stay here. It sucked. Only a couple of months ago, roughly 10 months into our time in Canada, did I say to my wife that our local Sobeys (our "favourite" grocery chain) was feeling like home. We totally took for granted how over a number of years your local grocery store, restaurants, coffee shops, everything just become second nature. Get ready to learn all of this over again from scratch.

Whittakers Chocolate
We found NZ Chocolate...!!!

2. Money admin

Not to be mistaken for money itself (or lack thereof, when moving halfway around the world). No, I'm talking about being treated like you've never had a bank account before. Never paid bills before. Never had a car or a job before. If learning how to grocery shop from scratch wasn't depressing enough, now everyone thinks you're a teenage kid that can't be trusted with a car or a home or a bank account. You're literally starting from scratch.

I gave my insurance company 7 years worth of no claims history. Our bank proof of our home ownership and mortgage with bank balances. Everything. But I may as well have put the statements through a shredder and spent my time on other things; it meant absolutely nothing. Our banker actually told us he would give us a credit card with a $500 limit if we put down $1,000 in term deposit as security <insert laughing joy emoji>.

You can get there, with a lot of talking, meetings, phone calls and paperwork. followed by more phone calls, and more paperwork. But after you've gone through all of that, getting a bank account or your internet hooked up will feel like you've just closed the deal of the fucking century.

p.s. don't move to Canada if you want cheap car insurance or mobile phone bills.

p.s.s. if you want to book a holiday, get ready to borrow some kind friend's credit card and pay them back in daily installments that your bank restrictions allow.

3. Our network

I left this until last, because it's arguably where I was entirely the most naive yet has had the biggest impact on us, without doubt.

You forget that at home your circle of friends are generally people you have known for some time. Im talking about that close circle of people that you can probably count on one hand type-of-friends. You met them at school, you grew up with them, you played sports with them. Now you're an adult, how the hell are you meant to do this again?! In a way it was like my marriage had just broken up and I was facing the reality of learning how to date again. Awkward.

In all honesty, when we moved to Canada this was last on my list of things to consider - it should have been first. I thought give it a few months, we'll meet a good group of friends and away we go. Granted, people at Shopify where I work (and Canada in general) have been extremely welcoming - I could hardly have asked for a better bunch of people. But making friends is not something that you can rush, let alone put any sort of deadline or amount of time on.

Culturally, Canada and New Zealand are relatively similar. So barring a few funny accent jokes, we've been lucky enough to surround ourselves with people that share in the same fun and values that my wife and I do. I can only imagine this would be a 10x harder task moving to somewhere with a completely different culture and/or language.

However, my advice would be to exercise patience, go out of your way to step beyond your comfort zone and introduce yourself to people. Making acquaintances might happen in weeks or months, but making friends will take far longer. You've got to be prepared for this. There will be a lot of weekends and evenings where you might have normally messaged a friend to do something, but that void will be empty for some time, and I was totally naive to think this wouldn't happen.

The 3 hardest things about moving overseas - your network
Leaving behind your network will likely be the hardest thing about moving overseas

On one hand, moving overseas has been nothing like what we had expected. On the other hand, it's be everything we wanted. It's been extremely difficult and at times downright depressing, but incredibly rewarding. The people we're meeting, the experiences we're having (and continue to have), the places we're seeing, and the careers we're embarking on; we feel extremely lucky, but also very proud that we made this happen. It doesn't all fall into place.

* I simply cannot write this article without giving the biggest shoutout to Shopify. Aside from coming to work and loving my job everyday and the environment they provide, they took a risk and hired me when I was still on the other side of the world, and supported me through this transition. More than 50 other companies either never responded or dismissed me - I'm so glad that they did. Get in touch with me if you want to talk about Shopify - we're hiring all over the world.


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