What’s your wish?
On one of the expat Facebook groups recently, a question was asked. “My husband has been offered a job in Vancouver. We have a 3 year old and a new baby. Where should we be looking for houses?” Cue a barrage of great advice and discussion, but mostly “Kitsilano”, “Kits”, “West 4th (Kitsilano)”, “Kits”.
Now, I like Kits. We go there every few months, either travelling through to UBC or parking at the beach to walk to Vanier Park and Granville Island. I love the funky stores, the pretty houses and the coffee shops, the yoga culture and the Sunday morning brunch crowd. It has great access to downtown and an English pub where you can go to watch the footie on the big screen while eating bangers and mash. There’s a large expat community, and lovely schools.
But then I started wondering about this young family. Are they city people or country people? How long are they staying here? Do they have family and friends who will visit? What’s their budget? How do they feel about commuting? We were all offering our advice, based on our own experience and needs, but not asking what they need. So here’s my top questions for those trying to find a place to call home in Vancouver.
1. What’s your time-frame? Our friends moved to Cyprus for a fixed 2 year contract, and immediately every friend, family member and distant acquaintance rushed to get their holiday booked. Oh, we all said we were going so they didn’t miss home too much, but who were we kidding? If you are on a short term contract, you’d better expect to have visitors and you’ll want a house with guest rooms and easy access to transit and tourist sites. Even if this is a permanent move, you can expect a few visitors in the first few years, but the stream tends to steady after a while. Your time-frame may also determine whether you will choose to rent or buy but we would always recommend renting for the first year anyway, just to be on the safe side.
2. What’s your budget? You’ll get more space in both the house and garden further out from the city. Port Moody and Coquitlam are great value for families and there are good commuter links. You’ll get even more in Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows but commuting downtown starts to become an issue. If you are going to live so far away from town, can you afford 2 cars because cars and insurance are expensive? But moving a group of toddlers around on public transport can be exhausting in the long term.
3. Who do you want for neighbours? Do you want to live with similar people from the angle of ethnicity, religion, gender, or would you like to experience something really new and exotic? We have friends who lived in West Vancouver and confessed that the majority of their friends were expat Brits, and they were very happy. The Mayor of Richmond is tackling the difficult issue of persuading shop owners to post signs in both Mandarin and English. Right now, areas of the city are entirely signposted in Mandarin, and there are a few malls in Burnaby which are purely Korean. Our first house was in a complex where our neighbours were Italian, Québecois, American, Mexican, English, Bosnian, Japanese and, of course, we were all Canadian. Our pot luck suppers were awesome!
4. Who is coming with you? If you are bringing a baby, a teen and your old Mum, you will need to consider their needs. Childcare is at a premium and each city is having to take some serious action to address the problems. Schools and opportunities for teens are plentiful but quality varies. Senior community groups are popular and we have found the healthcare outstanding, but we benefit from work-sponsored health insurance – the basic government sponsored care can be just that – basic.
5. What experience have you had of living overseas and moving house? If you have been living in the same house for the last 20 years, seeing the same friends and family every day, what kind of support have you put in place to help you make the move? Moving house really is one of the most stressful things you can do, and moving overseas is exponentially more stressful. Have your children moved schools before? Your moving dates, start-work dates, living plans and visitor schedules should take this factor into account.
6. What do you like to do? If you are going to miss Digestive biscuits, a pint with the lads and the footie, there are places to find those things. There is every kind of sports club, from hockey (ice) to kabbadi to soccer to quidditch to hockey (field). There are dance clubs, arts centres, choirs, foodie clubs – you name it, it is here. Do your research first, though. Even if your hobby is mainstream in your home country, it may be different here, and you don’t want to find that you have to commute 2 hours to take part.
There are a thousand things to think about, and a thousand decisions to make. Sometimes you may have to take that leap of faith and trust it will work out. After all, we did, and it didn’t turn out too bad!