Things I Have Learnt from Moving Abroad as a South African Moving to Canada

Aug 3, 2017

True to my realist nature, I had to write a post on my experience as a South African moving abroad to Canada. I sure wish someone had told me some of these hard truths before I emigrated from South Africa. It probably would not have changed my mind about moving, but it would have changed my expectations; my approach and inevitably helped the adjustment period. I actually wrote this post as a letter to myself at the peak of my struggle while adjusting to Canada (little did I know, I was probably suffering from Expat Depression), so reading it back was tough. Not being able to work, drive, get my own bank card, or vent to any one other than Craig (my husband & the main reason I was in Canada) made things even more difficult. But again, these are the realities you face when immigrating to Canada.

A Quick Note:

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Moving Abroad is not a walk in the park (for most people).

And I’m not just referring to the tons paperwork, costs and admin involved, because there’s a lot of that too. Mostly, I’m referring to the fact that once you move, you uproot your entire life, leaving behind your loved ones to start your life all over again, in a very different culture and climate. While the long term goal might be for the better, the process will be long, and difficult.

We’ve blogged about all the admin and paperwork we needed to immigrate to Canada, but it was and is so much more than that. Preparing mentally for what was about to come was the biggest struggle. We underestimated the serious life decision we were making, and by doing so, we weren’t prepared for the emotional moments that would inevitably come up. 

Do not take this decision lightly.

Moving abroad is not, and should not, be something you can just decide on a whim. Do your due diligence. Read up on everything you can so you can adjust your expectations. Consider the cost of living, healthcare costs, property prices and your potential earnings (minus taxes). Realize that initial set-up costs are going to stall your entire life. You might not be able to travel, you may have to make do with one car shared in a household and you may take a year (or years in our case) to fully furnish your house. Be sure you really want this. Be all in or nothing because if it doesn’t work, it’s not as simple as just moving again.

You’ll need a year or two to just settle in.

Be prepared for the time it will take you to settle down — some need much longer than others to truly call your new country ‘home’. It’s an individual process dependent on so many factors. Don’t expect it to happen any sooner and don’t pressurize yourself to settle faster. Give it time, you’ll need it. Nearly two years later, I still call South Africa “home”.

Consider why you are moving.

Ideally, you should be making this huge life-changing decision for the right reasons — long term reasons —and it has to be worth the move. Trust me, you’ll need to know exactly why you made this move so that you can remind yourself over and over when the time comes. In fact, maybe write it down and keep it somewhere accessible (it will become important later).

Strained finances make this much harder. 

Come with a plan based on all your research and enough money to survive the adjustment period. Plus extra, for just in case because let’s be real, shit happens, and so do unexpected expenses. You don’t want to be caught in the dark in a foreign country. Nor do you want to be stressed about every penny. Get on top of it from day one. If that means meeting with an accountant or financial advisor, do it.

Moving Abroad to Canada

Know the reality & be realistic.

If you can, visit the country you’re moving to during the worst weather, and do not play tourist. Go and see how the locals live, work, play and shop. Here is a post I wrote about some of the things you should know about living in Canada. Know what you’re getting yourself into and critically assess whether this lifestyle is what you envision yourself excelling in. Is this a life you can live? These are hard questions, but it’s the time to ask tough questions. I answer some of them here.

Read: What To Know About Living in Canada

Don’t presume to know any other country that you have not lived in.

Do not expect your new country to compare in any way to your home country. Every country, city and town has a completely different culture, mind-set, work ethic, educational system, housing and more. Most of it might even seem completely bizarre to you. This is called culture-shock and you’ll deal with it on a daily basis. Culture shock may be triggered by anything, but the usual culprits are the differences in living situations, food, transportation, and social mannerisms.

At first, the excitement of a new place will keep you going. (The Honeymoon Phase)

The reality of the move may only hit months later once the novelty has worn off. Like a holiday, you will reach a point when you feel like it’s time to go home. Except now, you can’t.

Your attitude is what will make it work, or not.

Be prepared for the good times and the bad times; it’s part of life and especially part of expat life. You will have to adapt to everything, and you need to be open-minded with a good sense of humour and tons of patience! I’ll say it again, this process is no walk in the park, but your attitude could make a huge difference. Be proactive, be positive and do what you have to to make this experience better for you.

Real Talk: Moving Abroad Caused Me Struggle with Expat Depression — and Here’s What Helped.

You won’t know it at first, but moving abroad involves a lot of risk and sacrifice.

In our case, what we gained in first-world proficiency, safety, travel opportunities and job security, we sacrificed in our day-to-day lifestyle, our culture and time with our loved ones. For each person it will be different. It’s a balance and, hopefully, it weighs down more on your new country so you feel like you made the right choice (most of the time). Nonetheless, there will still be days when you question everything. You WILL wonder what you are even doing here. It is normal and all part of the process.

It could be hard on your relationship.

Seriously. Moving across the world with your boyfriend or husband or for your partner, will not make your relationship stronger (like in some fairytale or RomCom). This kind of strain can make or break a relationship so don’t move if you aren’t fully prepared for that kind of challenge. Make sure you and your partner communicate about everything.

You’ll feel really, really lonely.

And that’s even if you are surrounded by many wonderful people. People in your town or city might gather to welcome you, but it will still be the loneliest, most alienating thing you have ever done.

Partly, because you don’t fit in anymore.

You will almost always feel like a foreigner. No matter how hard you try to adapt and assimilate yourself into local life, you won’t fully feel like you belong. It will be difficult to socialise and relate to people and you’ll feel like you’re the only one battling this huge obstacle. Sometimes, you’ll even feel like a failure for not fitting in. If everyone else is happy here, why aren’t I?

Homesickness is a thing.

The smallest things start to overwhelm you with homesickness. You’ll miss things you never thought you’d miss. You’ll long for home, and familiarity. You’ll smile with comfort every time you find some sort of treat from back home and you’ll creepily eye strangers in public if you hear even a hint of a familiar accent in their voice. Feeling extremely homesick can contribute to developing depression, so you will have to find ways to manage the homesickness.

You will start to glorify home.

The homesickness peaks when you haven’t been back to visit in a while and you begin to forget all the bad things about home (and possibly even some of the reasons you left in the first place). You’ll see home in a new light, that light in which your new country may be lacking. Absence really does makes the heart grow fonder and more patriotic. Here’s where you repeat the reasons why you made the move in the first place.

Life at home goes on without you.

The realisation that everyone’s lives don’t actually revolve around you, and that they are all carrying on without you, will surprisingly come as a shock. This is probably because of all the dramatic farewells and goodbyes led you to think that your loved ones will miss you everyday. They might, but they will go on. Everyone does. And you’ll be reminded of this fact daily when you go onto Facebook or Instagram, and life has done just that – gone on.

You’ll miss out on a lot.

Exciting things will happen without you — friends will get engaged and married, babies will be born, and parties will be had — and you’ll miss most of it. It’s hard not to feel left out when you see Facebook photos. Being the one that leaves is always difficult, no matter how amazing the country is, missing out on these events, is often the toughest pill to swallow. This is when you need to go on with life too. You need to start enjoying life.

You also shouldn’t feel guilty about leaving people behind. 

Leaving family and friends is probably the toughest part about all of this. The hardest is dealing with the guilt that we’ve ‘abandoned’ our parents. Our parents are the ones who have struggled the hardest with our move. And although I think it’s important to help them and yourself through the emotions of being apart, feeling guilty is not helpful.  You’ve made the decision to move and that’s okay. Acknowledge that you miss each other and communicate it! That way, you can plan a visit sooner and support each other through the process. 

It’s difficult to make friends at our age. 

Making friends as an adult will make you wish you were in school again, when you didn’t actually have to think about it, you just sort of bonded with people. Trying to make friends as an adult can feel forced and unnatural, especially in a new place when you don’t quite gel with their culture. You might even initially resist the process. I mean why should you put in the effort? You have all the friends you need back at home.

This would be your first mistake because Skype dates can only go so far and sooner or later, you’ll need a hug in person. You’ll need your person and unfortunately, your partner just won’t do. This could be the number one thing we’ve all struggled with since leaving South Africa. Several of my expat friends have all eventually reached a point in their process of adjustment where they realised that they needed more support here.

But… Making friends should be your number one priority!

Once I started a job and this blog, it opened up avenues in order for me to find likeminded people that I could ‘gel’ with. I made sure that I planned coffee dates by reaching out to complete strangers on Instagram in our area and slowly, I started making friends that gave me support without them even realising it. To this day, if I am having a hard day or week or month, I call one my new friends up and head out for another coffee date. 

The bottomline. 

Your jet-setting Facebook page might be the envy of all your friends back home, but you’re going to feel lost and question every life decision you ever made. You might even have a midlife crisis (or breakdown) every few months. You might become abnormally obsessed with having the greenest grass in the neighbourhood, or getting six-pack abs. Whatever the response to this huge life-changing event, it is normal. You’re allowed to miss your home country. But just be prepared for it.

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I’d Love To Hear From You!

What did you relate to? Or if you haven’t yet moved, what are you nervous about? Comment below and add any topics that might be helpful for you! I’ll be sure to update my FAQ post here with all my answers to your most asked questions below.

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Adjusting in Canada, Leigh.

  1. Lorraine

    August 4th, 2017 at 7:32 AM

    Lots of great insights, I don’t know that I would have the fortitude to adjust all the changes, Thanks for sharing your insights!

  2. lcdorkin

    August 4th, 2017 at 8:37 AM

    Thanks so much Lorraine! And thank you for having a read! It’s definitely not easy, but then again, we are all stronger and more capable than we think. But it’s easier for me to say that I am a little more settled 😉

  3. Sarah

    July 17th, 2018 at 4:33 AM

    Thank you for this post Leigh. Hubby and I have been talking immigration for as long as I can remember, but we’ve never taken the leap. The urgency for this move has become more prominent within the last few years and we are now getting our affairs in order and looking for work in CA. All the points you’ve made is so relevant. I moved to the US to Au Pair when I was 19. I experienced each and every one of your realizations and then some, I remember crying so much. Even though it was one of the best experiences of my life and changed me as a person dramatically, I was able to come “home” after the year was over. An international move is no small event and not some little game. It’s a very tough choice. I appreciate your frank honesty, it’s refreshing.

  4. Nancy

    August 5th, 2017 at 6:08 AM

    Leigh, what an incredible read! Having moved to Calgary all by myself at one point (had no family and no friends), I can relate to many of these points that you listed in this post. Either way, I want to WELCOME YOU TO CANADA! We are super friendly, I swear and everyone will say sorry to you a lot! I hope you settle in well in Edmonton and if you ever have questions, please feel free to message me 🙂

  5. lcdorkin

    August 9th, 2017 at 6:39 AM

    Thank you SO much Nancy! That is so sweet. Everyone has been super friendly which has been a huge help. But it always helps to hear from someone who’s also had to settle in here on their own. It reaffirms that we are’t all crazy for thinking or feeling the way we do 😉 I will definitely shoot you a message! And again, cant wait to read all about your adventures! 🙂

  6. Lauren

    August 5th, 2017 at 6:19 AM

    Thank you so much for this article! I work in a foreign country and I have been here since 2011, I work in the middle of nowhere running a camp in the Serengeti. Hubby and I go home (SA) once a year for our annual leave, but so much of what you wrote really resonated with me!
    We hope to get back home eventually, we’re here because the money is great, but I definitely want to get back at some point.
    The fact that my family and friends carry on without me really bothers me, all the things I’m missing out on really bothers me and I am going to make an effort now to make my own life “happen” – instead of waiting for my next trip home. I really am wasting my life constantly waiting for the next trip home – there r 11 months I’m trying to rush through, but I’m going to try some of your advice! I really did feel like I was the only one with these feelings, because my husband is thrilled to be here and he doesn’t miss home at all, so I always felt guilty about how I feel.
    Anyway, I’m waffling ????
    Thanks again!!!

  7. lcdorkin

    August 9th, 2017 at 6:52 AM

    Ah, I am so glad that you found this article Lauren! I completely understand when you say you’re waiting on the next visit home. I definitely did that the first year and several other South Africans here are guilty of that too. It is so so normal. We all come up with certain coping tactics to keep our head above water in a foreign country. But I remember reading this quote by Maya Angelou: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style”. Once you can make the mind shift change (which is REALLY hard) you can move towards making the most of now, at least before you return back to SA.

    I one hundred percent know how it feels to be struggling while your partner is not. It was also a huge thing for em that he couldn’t really relate to how I was feeling. I kept telling him “he didn’t understand”. It was tough! I really hope things get better soon! I know that it is extremely difficult, and without the support of friends and family right there, it feels like Mount Everest. But if you ever need to talk, you’re welcome to waffle away to me! 🙂

  8. Marion

    August 5th, 2017 at 1:24 PM

    So true, Leigh. We immigrated to Ireland in 2000. The second day there, reality set in and I cried for 6 long months. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done. We moved back to SA 18 months later. Hard as the entire experience was, I’ve never regretted it …it made me look at home in a different light. When we visited Australia, I saw South African women experiencing everything I had and I realised it had nothing to do with any particular country but the process itself. It is hard!

  9. lcdorkin

    August 9th, 2017 at 7:03 AM

    Ah, I can remember reality setting in (almost too clearly) and I probably cried for 6 months too! It felt like a headspace I would never be able to get out of! It truly is the process rather than the country. I think us South Africans especially struggle, but I even know some British women that also struggled when moving. Immigrating is no walk in the park 🙁 But I am so glad you don’t regret your time in Ireland. I do think you end up learning a lot about yourself in and your partner throughout this process so I like to think that all those months (crying) was just a really long life lesson! 😉

  10. Rene

    March 7th, 2018 at 11:04 AM

    We are considering moving to Windsor, but so weary to make such a big life change. Would you do it again knowing what you know now?

  11. lcdorkin

    May 13th, 2018 at 1:35 PM

    One hundred percent, yes. The struggle was worth it. I just wish I had a better mindset earlier on in the move.

  12. Heidi

    April 5th, 2018 at 1:17 AM

    Hi Leigh. My husband, children and I have officially decided to emigrate to Canada. I would greatly appreciate it if we could have contact during the process so that maybe you could help us with random questions and advise. My husband and his son are Afrikaans and my son and I are English. I have lived in the USA for a year (au pair) and so have a fair idea of the area. We stayed in Connecticut which was close-ish to Canada. I’m not one to feel homesick and my whole family is super excited for the move.

    Kind regards


  13. Deidre Rossouw

    April 6th, 2018 at 6:20 AM

    2 things scare the hell out of me – bringing my kids over and putting them in an English school and leaving my mom behind. These are the 2 biggest fears I’ve got. I’ve lived in Scotland before and in London, but I always came back. So to go to a new country with permanent residency is a totally different thing.
    I loved reading your post. I realised everything is not “maanskyn en rose nie”

  14. lcdorkin

    April 29th, 2018 at 9:16 AM

    I feel you! I left my mom behind and it was tough because I’m used to doing a lot for her and spending time with her. But she has managed, and I think long term, she knows that this is best for us. Obviously she’s not at that stage where she needs a lot of extra help, and then it will be harder and we will have reconsider options. In terms of the kids, it depends how old they are but if they’re under 7, they’re likely to settle in easier here than you. If you’ve lived elsewhere before you know what it’s like and what you’re for though!

  15. Gideon

    April 8th, 2018 at 5:50 AM

    Hello Leigh, Awesome read.

    We are seriously considering moving to Canada. I lost my job 7 months ago and still cannot find proper employment in South Africa and decided to look into Canada after the agency here in South Africa suggested it. We feel we need to obtain a better quality life for us and the kids and also where we can be free to spend more quality time together as a family. We are used to no support system due to both our parents living at least 1000km away. The kids are still relatively young (7 & 9), so i feel the time is right. I think we will be able to deal with all the above mentioned obstacles. We would like to find out more about the areas in Canada where South Africans prefer to move to and might make the process a little bit easier to adapt to. And then especially information about the cost of living, as you said the one thing we do not want to do is arrive in a foreign country and struggle to survive.

    We would love for you to share any relevant information, Thank you

  16. lcdorkin

    April 29th, 2018 at 9:05 AM

    Thanks so much Gideon!

    I think you’re right — it sounds like now is the best time! In terms of areas, I think most South Africans would prefer the bigger cities Toronto or Vancouver. Toronto is fast paced and more like Joburg plus the weather is milder. Vancouver is beautiful in the summer, more like Cape Town, it gets major rainy seasons and can be grey throughout winter but no snow. Us on the other hand, in the middle more north, near Edmonton, get much harsher winters that last from October to now. We get -40 and loads of snow. BUT there are loads of South Africans that are living here and Calgary too. For us, we chose Alberta because of Craig’s job but the added bonus of being here is that it is cheaper — the VAT Tax is lower so food, clothes, liquor, etc is all cheaper. In Vancouver, we would earn less and pay more, and that wasn’t worth it to us when we could instead visit on wknds with the additional income. We’re happy here, but it’s no South Africa. Vancouver felt more like ‘home’ in terms of it being a city with lots to do like Cape Town.

    Cost of living is a difficult topic as it totally depends where you live, what you but etc, but I’ll give you a run-down on our life. When we arrived, we rented a property for 1400 CAD plus 300 CAD for gas/elec/water but that was considered a rural house — we live outside the city, so it’s cheaper. Groceries, we usually spend about 70 CAD every second day. Our cars cost 1200 CAD monthly bearing in mind they’re not the cheapest options, but insurance (especially on a ZA license) is expensive around 400 CAD — so get your Canadian licenses as soon as possible to bring that down. We ended up purchasing property down the line, and again because we’re considered rural that was cheaper for what we got – 440k CAD — in a big city that would be closer to 800k CAD. Mortgage rates are low though which helps. If you come in winter, you will need proper winter gear which can cost a lot especially for a full family. Jackets can be easy over 100 CAD, plus you need winter pants, under gear, winter boots, beanies, etc. Normal clothes aren’t too bad, sometimes they’re cheaper than SA. Petrol is around 50 – 60 CAD a tank. We don’t fill that often, but depends how much you would drive. Can’t think of anything else, but please let me know if there is something I missed!

  17. Henry Collins

    April 10th, 2018 at 10:17 AM

    Amazing post! Thanks for sharing.

  18. lcdorkin

    April 29th, 2018 at 8:50 AM

    Thanks for reading Henry!

  19. Verusha

    April 18th, 2018 at 1:24 PM

    Hi Leigh. Thank you for the insightful write up. I have recently decided to emigrate from SA to Canada in search of a better quality of life. I understand that it will be a massive undertaking but I think that it will be worth it. Please can you advise on the amount of money necessary for one to have when relocating. Regards…

  20. lcdorkin

    April 29th, 2018 at 8:50 AM

    Ooh, thats a tough one Verusha! I think it’s super dependent on what you’re doing. For us, there were two of us, and we had to get different visas, which altogether would have cost around 10k ZAR with the necessary verifications, documents, accreditations, couriers, etc. Craig also had to do exams to qualify in Canada (I only did mine later) but that cost over 30k each. Flights were around 14k ZAR each at the time. We need money initially to buy winter gear when we arrived and put down a deposit for renting a property (1400 CAD = 14k ZAR), plus a car rental — all of which meant that 100k ZAR (10k CAD) didn’t go very far. When planning it all, I would figure out what you need in terms of the immigration process amount and then the rest would be dependent on whether you have a job when you arrive (which I would highly recommend before arriving), a house lined up, a car, and if you will have any additional costs in Canada.

  21. James

    April 23rd, 2018 at 2:47 PM

    Before moving to England I was so worried for my brothers and sisters, they seemed so dependent on me . But I think moving away was the best thing that could happen to them! Thanks for sharing. Life at home does go on without you, and that’s okay.

  22. Ada

    April 29th, 2018 at 6:42 AM

    Well, searching through internet, looking for comforting answers to convince myself that the “move will be okay” are as naive as thinking everything WILL or SHOULD go according to plan… My husband, 7 year old son and I are seriously looking into immigrating tot Canada. Friends of ours moved there last month, the still seem happy…but that is just the “honeymoon phase”, like you said, reality will sink in when the “vacation is over”.
    This being said, this would definitely be the biggest move we will ever make!

  23. lcdorkin

    April 29th, 2018 at 8:42 AM

    Thank you so much for commenting! You sound like you are being realistic about the move and that’s great — things never go to plan! It’s one of the many things I find frustrating about life, being the planner that I am! 🙂 I’d hate to ever discourage someone from moving but I think it helps if you know what you’re in for, rather than being disappointed when reality hits. I think you’re likely to settle in better knowing what you know! The move will be tough nonetheless, and if you’re prepared for that you can all help each other. Please shout if there is anything I can help with — answers questions, advice etc. Although, it seems like you’re better prepared than I was! I wish you guys all the best! 🙂

  24. Ada

    April 29th, 2018 at 9:40 AM

    I may seem prepared but, I think it’s only the research talking (not that I have much time to just sit and read for hours)…I wish!
    Thank you for replying to my comment, and yes, there would definitely be questions which only “real” people can answer and not the generated internet websites to show you just the best of the good life. Thank you for this kind of support!
    So, my husband is a qualified teacher with a B.ed degree. I’m almost finished with mine. I read that teaching in the Alberta province is more beneficial than in the east (Toronto/Winnipeg, ect). British Columbia seems nice but just THERE is where my next research lies… Is it really? How does the weather compare to SA? Would we be able to live just outside the big cities i.e Vancouver with these salaries and still be able to “live”… If you can help me with these questions or refer me to reliable websites, I would very much appreciate it! Thanks again for this blog!

  25. Chantell

    May 2nd, 2018 at 9:24 AM

    Hi Leigh
    Needed to read this! All the websites I could find paint a “what ya waintin for, come” picture.
    Others makes you think that you will be stupid to move. My sister and her family is in Alberta for the last 7 years now. So besides the fact that we will be leaving my parents and other fam behind, there would be an amazing support there.
    My boys are 3 1/2 and 5 1/2, and then there’s a little peanut on its way, due November.
    My greatest concern, are for them to settle in and adapt to school – We are Afrikaans, but they LOVE speaking English, actually they prefer it. So much so, that the OT suggested Speech theraphy, bleh….
    I just feel that we will build a better, safer life there.
    Thanks for your input and care, 🙂

  26. Claire White

    May 6th, 2018 at 7:49 AM

    Hi Leigh

    Was so refreshing reading your opinion on the immigration process and keeping it real.

    Like most people in SA we are considering immigrating and our eyes are set on Canada. There are so many emotions of excitement and nervousness but we feel it’s the next thing we need to do for our family. My husband is a chartered accountant and my kids are 8 and 11. The next question is what city do we choose to live in and the next big question is could we bring our dog and cat over without them dying of the cold! . Would love your advice on which city is friendly to families with kids or more south African cities and then the pet advice.

    Hope everyday you feel a bit better about the move.

    Regards xxx Claire

  27. lcdorkin

    May 25th, 2018 at 6:46 AM

    Hi Claire!

    Hmmm… City-wise, you’re starting point might be your preference: because I think at the end of the day, you really have to like where you live. We moved to a small town because we had to, but we would have preferred a big city because that’s what we’re used to. I think you will most probably find South Africans in every big city in Canada so narrow it down in terms of climate, job availability, living expenses and family-friendly cities. I can speak for Alberta (where we live) and the big cities there: Calgary and Edmonton. There are HUGE South African communities here because many doctors move to Alberta. These two cities are especially family-friendly to me: lots of parks, lots of family events etc. But we do have harsh and long winters. We’ve also visited Vancouver (British Columbia) often and love it there, but we would prefer to live in Alberta to earn more and pay less on cost of living (their VAT Tax is higher than Alberta). I can’t comment on Toronto, but I’ve heard good things and I know a few South Africans settled here, who might in the long term, move there. Bearing in mind, I think it will be more expensive (housing, groceries, etc).

    I’m so glad you asked about your pets & care so much! We only got animals here because we knew that our plan was to move and we didn’t want to unnecessarily put them through that but obviously not everyone knows that they’re going to move. We know a lot of people who have moved pets here but I know that some have struggled in the cold. Dogs would have to be kept in a warm/heated-space in winters, not outside. Our cats stay inside, so they don’t seem affected by the cold but I have seen many a cat walking through the snow here and they don’t seem phased. That said, they do always need to be able to get inside and in winter, most things are closed up so just be aware of that.

    Hope that all helps a little! xxx

  28. Tamarind Digges

    May 13th, 2018 at 6:55 AM

    Hi Leigh, myself and my boyfriend are wanting to move out of SA. I’m 20 and he’s 25 but if we were to move it would only be once I finish my degree (next year) – so Id be about 21/22 by then. He’s very interested in Canada. Would you recommend Canada to start a whole new life and start a family? Im really scared although I have always wanted to move, but i know that we would most probably have a better life abroad rather than here. What us your opinion on this?

  29. lcdorkin

    May 25th, 2018 at 6:31 AM

    Thanks for stopping by Tamarind! Oooh, a tough one! A better life is completely dependent on what kind of life you want. For us, we wanted to travel more, have financial stability and get a Canadian passport (as a fall back for our South African one). Because we’ve been able to achieve all that on my husband’s income (which is not easy, it’s just because he is a doctor), I feel like we have a better life in my opinion. We also don’t have safety or crime concerns, and life does seem easier in general. That said, we gave up having friends and family nearby, we have needed time to adjust and there are days when I miss Cape Town & the lifestyle we had dearly. If you’re looking for a new life and a place to start a family, Canada is probably a good place for you — it’s safe, very family orientated and reasonably easier to get into/depending on what careers/immigration route you go. But keep in mind the negatives too — harsh weather, high living costs depending where you live, long flight to SA, no family support with kids. Figure out your priorities and make a decision based on that! 🙂

  30. Janelle

    May 14th, 2018 at 8:40 AM

    Hi Leigh

    Thank you for the insight. I am a 27 year old female, born and bred in Johannesburg, South Africa. My fiance and I are considering moving abroad after we get married, so, possibly immigrate in next year and so far we have singled out Canada, because of the country being so open to immigrants and also, we just want a better quality of life and maybe once we’re settled then my mum can come stay with us. After reading your post it made me think about things that I never really deeply considered, like how hard will it really be on the psyche to immigrate? Since then, I have had some sleepless nights and I have been off and on, thinking if this is something I REALLY want to do. I have always wanted to immigrate to a country where things seem just a little better economically and safer, for the sake of my future and that of my future children. So thanks for giving me some food for thought, I have a tough decision to make now LOL.

  31. lcdorkin

    May 25th, 2018 at 6:24 AM

    LOL, so sorry about the sleepless nights! Haha I always feel so guilty that SO many people read this and it might at times seem more overwhelming and off-putting? I just think it helps to know what you’re getting yourself into, but like I’ve said in other posts, I don’t regret a thing. My life has changed drastically since moving: we travel often, I have work flexibility even though I’m not yet working in law yet, we have financial stability, and no crime concerns. Life just does seem a little easier on a day to day basis so I think long-term, the compromises you do have to make, are worth it!

  32. Tasha Byard Wilks

    May 17th, 2018 at 1:06 PM

    Hi, I am very interested in the all the questions that everyone has, I want to know is did you use a immigration agency or did you do it yourself. And which agency is the best option, my husband is a qualified class A spray painter for automotive and commercial vehicles and seems to be interested in moving from South Africa to British columbia. Where should we start.
    Thanking you

  33. lcdorkin

    May 25th, 2018 at 6:16 AM

    Hi Tasha, we didn’t use an agency, we did it ourselves so I can’t comment on the best agencies. The best would be to find someone who did and use their recommendations. Always be mindful of scams! But if you did want to do it on your own, and you don’t qualify for express entry (not sure?) then the starting point would be to look for job availability in BC. Hope that helps!

  34. Chantel Alcock

    May 23rd, 2018 at 1:40 PM

    Holy Moly these words have hit home.
    I’ve been living abroad in Malawi for the last 7 years with my husband. We got married here, had 3 amazing, sometimes irritating but mostly awesome children born here and we have recently made the decision to move back to my home country, Canada.
    I am nervous and anxious, scared and unsure, excited and totally physically ill at the thought of uprooting our lives, the only life our kids know, to move across the planet. The last time I sold everything and moved across the worls was over 8 years ago when I was a young 20 something following a boy I met in my small Canadian town and got on a one way trip all the way to Scotland. Hes now my husbamd and I dont regret a thing, because now here we are, living and loving life in Southern Africa. However things are different now. We have kids. Small kids. How do we know we are making the right decision for them and their future?
    How do we know we are going to thrive and be successful?
    How will we make friends?
    All these things are on my mind constantly.
    So I thank you for this post.
    You’re brave and inspiring and keep on keeping on..

  35. lcdorkin

    May 25th, 2018 at 6:12 AM

    Ah, Chantel, I loved your comment! It’s so real! Thank you!! We all have these thoughts when we’re about to move but it’s true — making the decision for kids too adds a unique element to the situation. We didn’t have that immediate concern (we have no kids yet) but we thought about the long term benefits for our future kids and we knew moving was the best option for us. That was based on financial stability, lack of crime & safety concerns and knowing for sure that they would always have an option to return to SA one day, but would also have the Canadian passport to fall back on. From friends here who have moved with kids, the kids have seemed to adjust well and probably much better than the adults. For most of them, they settle into school and playdates and then life carries on. You will likely make friends through playdates with your kids — that’s how it worked with all the South Africans here with kids. For us it was actually a little harder to make friends because we didn’t have kids (it’s a little isolating)! I do know that most of our friends with kids have considered the option of one day moving back to be near family, buy if Canada is your home country, you might be near family support this side too! I hope some of that helps just a little to ease your mind! x

  36. pravs

    May 24th, 2018 at 2:54 AM

    Hi Leigh
    A well written article without the fairy dust which we are akin too, I am at a crossroads in my life, Currently going to be 46 in July 2018, toying with the idea of emigration, Canada is one of my choices, I am reasonably well qualified. My question to you is how difficult is it for a single person(no kids, ehhhh none that i know of anyway) in this age group to make reasonable success in Canada and does Canada allow duel citizenship. I am a strong person who has lived on my own for about 15 yrs with lots of experience, sadly hitting a lot roadblocks in South Africa.

    Any thoughts/advice/comments are welcome.

    Any thoughts

  37. lcdorkin

    May 25th, 2018 at 6:01 AM

    Thanks so much Pravs! Your question is a tough one — I think it depends on so many factors: where you’re going to live (small town vs big city/what you’re used to/prefer), whether you will struggle to get a job in what you want to do (conversions/not many jobs depending on areas), whether you will have any support at all this side/or even need support (some people don’t), for examples. That said, if you’ve read this article and you still want to make it work, you can and probably will, but you will need to adjust like anybody. You sound like a strong person with a good and realistic mindset which I think helps! I do think living on your own in a familiar space with support nearby will still be somewhat different to a new country, where you will likely experience culture-shock and more isolation initially. That said, people in your age group have usually moved on from running around kids and are more open to making friends and socialising — in fact, I have socialised more with older people than younger adults for that very reason and they have been a huge help in me settling here. Hope that helps — If you have any specific concerns based on that, please let me know and I’ll try answer! As far as citizenship, we can hold dual citizenship but we do have to request to keep our SA citizenship before applying for Canadian citizenship to keep and hold both passports. Thanks again for stopping by and commenting!

  38. Liezel Myburgh

    June 28th, 2018 at 12:34 AM

    Hi Leigh,
    Thanks for the great read.
    Could you please suggest websites to search for possible positions in Canada?
    Kind regards,

  39. lcdorkin

    June 28th, 2018 at 7:35 AM

    Hi Liezel, thanks for commenting! By positions do you mean any work positions, or for a specific profession?

  40. Liezel Myburgh

    June 28th, 2018 at 10:10 AM

    Work positions please

  41. Tasha Moodley

    July 12th, 2018 at 2:44 AM

    Hi thanks for the information! I am a South African teacher with 12 years of teaching experience. I have a masters degree and am considering immigrating to Canada. I have 2 kids age 3 and 8. My husband is in the sales industry. Which place would you recommend us to live in? Do u know of an agency I can apply through to get a job before coming to Canada?

  42. Nishara

    July 19th, 2018 at 3:07 AM

    Hi Leigh, Excellent read
    My husband and i are both in our 40s both work in the motor industry in Gauteng. We have been contemplating about moving abroad and have decided on moving to Canada. The information from your experiences are so eye opening. We have 2 young daughters, aged 14 & 13 and wants to make a better life for our family. Our girls are at the stage where they have an understanding of the reason for the move and making a better life. My family are eager to make the sacrifice for a better safer life. I have been in contact with a few companies in the industry.
    I just dont know how and where to start. What is the schooling system like. Is is difficult to find employment if you are not in a professional field? Any additional information you can offer will be most appreciated…. Thank you

  43. Donna Oakes

    July 22nd, 2018 at 9:45 AM

    Hi Leigh,
    Your right up brought back all the emotions I felt whilst living in Amsterdam…but that was 18years back where I had no husband or kids.
    We have since discussed immigrating to Canada and have gone as far as making contact with an agent in Canada that rather promptly called back today…wanting to get the ball rolling.
    I know what this entails, I’m somehow aware of the tedious journey that lies ahead. We have no one that side….but each other.
    Our kids are very young and I know that they, more than us will benefit mostly with the transition. thoughtful step at a time.
    Thank you for the reality call in this write up.
    Bless u

  44. Tertia

    July 29th, 2018 at 5:27 AM

    Hi Leigh,
    Thankyou so much for your blog post.

    My husband & I have been discussing the prospect of moving to Canada for the last few years. We haven’t taken any initial steps as such but we at a space now where we feel ready. We have a little boy aged 6 and 2 cats. We are aware it won’t be easy to immigrate but we willing to put all the long work in to get us there. With everything happening in our beloved country we just want a better quality of life for the family. We don’t want to subject out son what we’ve gone through. We are both self employed. I would like to know what are the steps to take to get the ball rolling. We aiming to move to Canada in 2 years time.

    Thankyou again for helping us fellow South Africans!


  45. Nicole

    August 1st, 2018 at 12:56 PM

    Hi Leigh, loved your post. I’m needing a bit of insight as my husband and I are discussing and weighing our options. To tell you about myself and my family, we are fellow South Africans, looking for a better future for our 2 small children. I’m struggling to decide if I’ll like the weather in Canada, I know it will be no easy task to adjust coming from warm and sunny Durbs. What is the weather like on average where you are? Are the Canadians easy to get along with? A lot of the research I’ve done points to the natives being “boring”, I hate stereo typing, and my boring and someone else’s boring could very well be different. My husband and I are very easy going, we typically have no filter and say what we feel. We are very sporty, we like getting out and even play Xbox (which I’m sure my husband still take in his carry on wherever we go!) Any advice or research I should do would be greatly appreciated.

  46. lcdorkin

    August 1st, 2018 at 8:12 PM

    Hi Nicole!! Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’m also a Durbanite! So I can relate about worrying about the weather. I still wear flip-flops until the last minute in Fall/Winter. Look the long Winter is far from ideal. We live just outside Edmonton, in Alberta which is further North, so we do have a harsher winter, but it’s not really that bad. We do, however, insist on a beach getaway Feb/March so we don’t go crazy from the cold. Some days can go as low as -40, some winter days are just 10 degrees. It all feels the same because you’re geared in winter clothes and the houses are all heated. The weather hasn’t been a major issue for me with our adjustment, but we do get over it on the 5th month. If you feel like weather could be an issue for you, look to cities that have milder weather — maybe more South. Vancouver is milder, but gets rainy and grey which might not be a better option. As for the Canadians: I really struggled initially! I’m an outspoken, pretty confident person, but I felt like I couldn’t relate to many Canadians when I got here so I actually became introverted. I also feel a bit out there when I say certain things too. Most Canadians are conservative in their views. I have since been able to connect with people but most Canadians aren’t as friendly as South Africans (I would say) — which is funny because they’re known to be friendly. That said, I think it’s a struggle to find ‘your’ people wherever you move. If you guys are sporty, you might enjoy the outdoorsy stuff here — even in winter, loads to do like ice-skating; snow-shoeing; skidoing; skiing etc. We’re actually going to Banff this weekend to go hiking in the mountains which is fun! If you’d like to learn more about the areas in Alberta, Canada you can look up some of our blogs in Calgary, Edmonton, Banff and Jasper, to see whats around this province. We have posts from different times of year so you can see what we wear / what we do / etc. If you have any other questions, or suggestions on blog topics that will help, please let me know!

  47. Joan

    August 4th, 2018 at 1:27 PM

    Hi Leigh. Thanks for your honest sharing! Uncanny how I came upon this post a whole year after it was written, just when I needed to hear that others go through the same struggles. Really, that life going on without you thing, the expat-low (or just it call it being homesick and lonely), plus the strain on a relationship, oh man! Couldn’t help shedding a tear or two, as one so easily blames oneself for having bad coping skills, when the challenges are in fact just very normal.. and having them does not make you unhappy, just real.
    We’re settled two hours east of Edmonton, in a small rural town – a lovely community, but very different from anything I’ve ever known, so always feel a little odd even when hanging out with people I now consider to be good friends. As South Africans I think we tend to share more openly, and Canadians get a bit overwhelmed by that, haha. (I thought Afrikaners were reserved, but Canadians sure beat us there… )My children have coped really well, which as a mom is maybe one’s first concern. We homeschool, and the resources available here are simply incredible, plus we love traveling and have visited so many amazing places in the two years we’ve been here. (Can’t wait to go and dig through your travel posts and photos, and harvest some ideas…)
    As for people who are still deciding, I do not think there is a right or wrong answer when it comes to leaving your home. I do not regret our decision because of privilege and richness of our experiences here, but at the same time I would not have regretted not going through all of this either, as I really value what we do have in SA. My conclusion is that you make the best decision you can, and then it is all about the attitude you approach it with. Make the best of it, and it will end up being the right one. Blessings and strength to everyone out there still weighing up the odds, and thanks once again Leigh for sharing!

  48. lcdorkin

    August 6th, 2018 at 5:24 PM

    Oh, wow Joan!! So much of what you said is exactly how I felt and why I had to eventually post this because I knew others had to be feeling it too! If you’re two hours from Edmonton, that’s not too far from us! We’re also in a small, rural community and that’s half the reason I struggled too — just so far removed from our previous life in Cape Town! Which town are you in? I am SO glad you found this post and shared your experiences!

  49. pertunia ntwe

    August 6th, 2018 at 10:31 AM


    I’m a 30 year old single woman who want’s to move to Canada next year.
    I’m working with an agent to help me find work that side.
    How much would a a single person need to save before moving that side

  50. Ulda du Plooy

    September 11th, 2018 at 2:44 AM

    Hi Leigh,
    Your blog is a great reminder to all expats that you are not alone, no matter where you are. Thank you for sharing your feelings and experiences so honestly.
    I came across your blog almost 2 years to the day my husband and I decided to move to China to teach English. Man oh man, it was such a massive change and the rollercoaster of emotions you described are exactly what we went through. We are now plotting a new move and your wonderful blog has turned our attentions to Canada and the great opportunities that it has.

  51. Leigh

    September 11th, 2018 at 7:57 AM

    Ah, that’s amazing! Canada has truly been a blessing for us and I am sure it will be for you both! And from what I’ve heard, people who have gone through the rollercoaster of emotions (ie. adjusting to a new country) before they move to Canada, adjust better so there’s one positive! 😉 Let m know about your joinery and where you end up!! x

  52. Afonso

    October 3rd, 2018 at 12:25 PM

    Hi Leigh!

    Been following your blog and this post for some time now. And I would like to thank you for the realistic view and raw experience shared! I’ve been having this constant back and forth dilemma of moving to Canada and completing my studies in accounting ( specifically because I’m 23 and feel like I’ve literally based my entire life in Cape Town- friends , family , experiences , accessibility etc. Do you think this is the right time to make a move?) With that being said, do you have any advice in terms of cities that are “student friendly” and is something like Cape Town I guess? Also in regards to studies , any tips you may give? As I have completed my accounting degree here in Cape Town and I feel the whole evaluation process might require me to redo my undergrad or some bridging course to continue pursuing a career in accounting in Canada. I’d appreciate any insight ofcourse!

  53. Leigh

    October 7th, 2018 at 7:42 AM

    Hi Afonso!

    I now exactly what you mean: leaving our home was tough! Especially Cape Town, because it’s truly the best city to live in! But we still feel like we made the best decision even though it was hard. The right time to move would probably be once you have completed all your studies. Are you going the CA route? As far as I know, it’s pretty easy to move over with Accounting degrees (easier than law for sure). So I don’t think you would be required to do anything further, as the Accounting degree is recognised here? You’ll have to double check that one — there might be something online about that. Student-friendly cities that I know of would probably be Vancouver (very similar to CT with very grey, rainy winters) and Calgary (our favourite but harsh winters) or Edmonton where we are (but our weather is even worse, & the city is a bit more backwards compared to CT but amazing University: U of A). Being in a student-friendly town would be hugely helpful to you in settling down and getting to meet more people. Hope that helps! Let mw know if you have any other questions!


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