Oh Canada! 🇨🇦❤️

A beginner’s guide to a new country… Special post to document our first 90days in a new country!

🛬 After landing 9th September 2022 in this great country,

📱job #1 was to get a SIM card at Rogers carrying our passports as at this stage we didn’t have our Permanent Residency cards or local driving licences (more on this later). On the first business day, Monday 12th September, queuing 2-hours at Service Canada to get our SIN (Social Insurance Number).

🏦This enabled us to open a bank account in the afternoon, get a debit card and apply for a credit card… without a credit score in the country.

Staying in an Airbnb at The Beaches for 4 weeks initially, the hunt for a permanent accommodation started. Without knowing the town, everything was up in the air: East end, West end, Downtown, Mid-Up Town? Condo, House?? Thankful for a local friend recommending a real estate agent that we met in person for a briefing session and started visiting as early as 16 September in numerous neighbourhoods.

On the 5th flat, I was convinced! A new condo with lots of light (level 20), a balcony, central. The price was similar to Singapore, negotiable.

Then came the conversation on buying vs renting, given that rents were still high but the housing market was going down for sales (whilst interest rates were increasing). It seemed like a window of opportunity to buy before Spring 2023 as we wanted to settle in anyway. Speaking with a broker, given our jobs and incomes, borrowing wouldn’t be an issue, once we get payslips and an initial credit score. So the calculus was about paying rent for 12-months and lose the potential benefit of prices going down. We also heard about a new to Canada scheme that allowed us to deposit only 10% (which we had) for properties below $1M rather than the usual 20%. This made us consider this option, and the extra limitation of not considering places at 1.1 or 1.2M kind of helped us declutter all the offers.

We then had to decide between a condo vs house (and lots of visits to make up our mind). We discovered pet restrictions in some condos which meant our chocolate lab would not be accepted and moving forward got this checked before wasting time visiting. We limited our visits to places near the subway stations as we discovered that streetcars in Toronto are not a reliable mean of transportation. Remembering the amount of work in a house, we decided that for our initial home we’d like to stay downtown, close to entertainment and we can always move to mid-town or uptown for a bigger space later. Also, amenities like a gym and pool on-site would be nice given that it would be our first winter in Toronto and we were really scared that we wouldn’t find the motivation to go out to the gym if we had to step outside in the cold. At the same time, we quickly realised we also had to prioritise condos with reasonable maintenance fees (or including all, again we were so scared of our heating bill for our first winter here).

The initial Note became a massive spreadsheet to help decide, rank, prioritise properties with some colour coding and everything. Was the 2nd bedroom windowless? Was there a den or enough space in the living for a desk as we’d both mainly work from home?? Would the street be noisy with the streetcar???

These visits got us to discover the city… and we stumbled upon Kim’s convenience store from the TV show we started watching in Singapore. So many local references now make sense. We bought our winter jackets and Canada Goose when the weather was still mild early October, fearing they would run out of stock if we waited for too long.

With work starting for me 1st October, we moved to a bigger Airbnb mid-town and enjoyed the Halloween decorations and walks with our lab in the glorious autumn colours.

1st October, we visited the perfect 2-bedroom. A lot of the units we saw had construction scheduled (ruining the view) or a parking lot that would eventually become a tower. In this case, the view was above a lower tower in the same condo complex and we saw quietness in the middle of the bustling city with a school and green space nearby. We confidently made an offer right on Canada Thanksgiving weekend, ready to negotiate. The owner was overseas and the wait was killing us. 1st offer declined, we upped with a 2nd offer… same delay with the owner abroad… and it was declined again. The gap was just 5k to meet us in the middle but that lack of engagement made us stick to our guns. To be honest, the agents could have shaved their commissions to make the deal happen… it was probably not meant to be. I was so eager to end the search for flats as I started work Monday 3rd October. The unit was rented so we had to wait until the 90-day notice was served to the tenants anyway. We would have extended our Airbnb until January but that meant predictability of where we’d stay.

We were disappointed but got back on the search, aggressively checking condos.ca in the neighbourhoods that we liked across all our visits. Another round of clubbed visits after work on 13th October led us to The Merchandise lofts. Ex-Sears warehouse renovated 20 years ago. High ceiling, a dog walk on the rooftop and an indoor heated swimming pool, in addition to the gym and basketball court.

We made an offer on the 14th October, a bit low. The owner came back quickly. We upped our 2nd offer… and it was accepted 15th October! 🎉

The plus here was that the unit was vacant and we could move in as soon as the paperwork was done. The question of the container arriving from Singapore eventually in December meant that we had to think about storing our furniture for few months for the first property. Here we could choose to extend our Airbnb until we had visibility on the arrival of the container in Toronto, clearing customs (which came last minute) or decide to camp in the new place with temporary Ikea furniture that we’d resell.

We choose to close the transaction 10th November before the banks close for the long remembrance weekend… and moved in 14th November from our Airbnb.

🏠We did it: 2 MONTHS AFTER LANDING IN A NEW COUNTRY, WE OWNED A PLACE! We’re grateful for the agent being super professional and the great recommendation to the broker and lawyer who walked us through the process step by step. It’s not easy when you’re in a new country, make such an important decision & purchase and don’t know what to expect.

There was a lot of work and renovation to do in the flat but it was big enough that we could live in one area and renovate in another one. We went back for measurements on 16th October and spent the following weeks ordering our appliances, choosing furniture and spending time at Lowe’s and Home Depot basically 😊

🔑As soon as we got the keys on 10th November, we started by removing the carpet and painting the kitchen.

❄️15th November: we had our first snow! And were caught by surprise. A daily trip to Canadian Tire fixed the lack of winter boots quickly. Phew!

There’s a feeling of freedom when you use the space and have barely anything. The air mattress was surprisingly comfortable and the duvet I chose warm. Slowly my desk got delivered, and the sofa. With our temp Ikea table, a microwave and kitchen accessories we were surviving on take-outs. Our new washer and dryer got delivered and we did the stacking ourselves (so proud). Then the stove arrived… and I could use my Italian espresso moka machine at home, yay! Boy we took advantage of the black Friday deals and the new dishwasher arrived.

Also, our PR cards arrived mid-November, we felt so local now!

🚢Of all things, suddenly the shipping company contacted us end of November as they had our container and needed us to come (in the middle of nowhere) near the airport to get a paper, clear customs etc… we rented a car and used that day to complete our administrative tasks that proved impossible in Toronto. Went to ServiceOntario in Mississauga to get our health card (OHIP) and to the Driver Test Centre to surrender our French driving licences in exchange for a Canadian one! Less queue than downtown (20min in each place) as we walked in and 2 weeks later the physical cards arrived by mail. We also got our Costco card and started shopping there. Now we really felt local.

And after waiting and chasing on our overdue container shipping, our boxes and furniture were delivered 28 November, on a Monday; not great with work as it meant cleaning and unpacking from 5pm to midnight.

💇I had already booked my hair and colour at Tony & Guy for 29 November (yeah, booking seem to be impossible end of the week and they’re closed on Sundays and Mondays so have to plan in advance). It was a nice refresher after so much manual work at home. It was nice that week to unpack and rediscover our own stuff (my favourite cup for tea, gifts from friends). Only my wine glasses were shattered, it’s okay I got new ones for Xmas. The champagne glasses were not! 🥂

After the disappointment of missing the 1st property that would have meant moving in January, my friend and colleague from Singapore rightly said that I would spend Xmas in my own house. And this is so true! 1 month into our new flat we were finally settling in, easing into the holiday mood with our dog’s Xmas toys in the boxes and we got some new ones for good measure! We created new traditions, discovering the Xmas market, choosing Canadian oysters at St Lawrence market, stocking up delicacies from Douce France and French Food Markets, finding a Galette des Rois (with the trinket inside) and Santa Xmas crackers. Xmas was joyous and I got the “feve” (trinket) so I was the Queen for the day 👑

We went to our first concert in years (Broken Social Scene) just before Xmas and it reminded us of London where we used to go out so much.

Then after Boxing Day, went for a NBA games, The Raptors vs LA Clippers. Action-packed and such a great atmosphere.

To end 2022, we went for a comedy show which was hilarious.

The rest of the holiday were some more renovations, flooring, painting the spare bedroom and den.

2022, you’ve been full of surprises. A lot of things got in motion a long time ago to make this life changing event happen. We are grateful for life giving us the opportunity to start a new chapter of our life, enabling us to settle in and call Canada home! 🇨🇦❤️