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5 Good Decisions that Made My Life in Canada Easier

Yep, may want to avoid these... one of the many "payday loan" business in Ottawa, September 2016
Yep, may want to avoid these… one of the many “payday loan” business in Ottawa, September 2016

After various articles on making faux pas and mistakes, arguing with people and embarrassing myself, you may wonder how I survived into adulthood and motherhood and managed a working life—I know I do. But there is another side to the story. Indeed, sometimes, I get it right, instinctively or by luck.

As I was drafting the “5 Mistakes I Made in Canada“, I realized that I did make good decisions along the way. So even if “little miss perfect” stories are not as entertaining as goofy moments, I wanted to share this “insight in hindsight”. May they inspire you!

Building a nest egg

In a country where buying endless amounts of junk is a patriotic way to support the economy, I’m a traitor. I’m a saver, I don’t have debt and the balance of my credit cards (only two!) is paid in full every month.

My financial situation is a product of luck and work, born out of fear and necessity. “Luck” because I have no student debt since I completed my degree in France where tuition fees are low (and I had a scholarship). “Fear and necessity” because at 19, when I came to Canada, I had less than €2,000 in my bank account and zero safety net. My parents aren’t rich and my siblings were still tween and teen, so I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) rely on them for financial help. I had to work and save money, period—and this is exactly what I did. I’m not wealthy but I’m okay—and so far, I avoided big financial troubles.

Pro tip: Learn how credit cards work and don’t get sucked into the “I’ll pay it off tomorrow” mindset. In North America, everybody is trying to sell you something. You probably don’t need that much material comfort and that many life upgrades.

Keeping my record clean

I’ve never gotten in trouble, and as far as I know, I’ve never knowingly done anything unquestionably illegal or immoral. My criminal record is clean, my credit score is good, and I paid my last library fines years ago, before getting into ebooks.

Granted, few people screw up their record on purpose because you know, you fight the law and the law—usually—wins. But beyond moral considerations, keeping a clean record is very important to me. As a traveler, I want to be able to cross borders easily. For instance, Canada may not allow persons with DUI convictions to enter the country, and many Americans crossing casually have been turned away at the border. As a freelancer, I hold several security clearances to work on sensitive or classified information, and I’m sure any misdemeanor or conviction can make them hard to keep.

Pro tip: Watch your credit score. Credit checks can be part of an employment screening process, especially when a position calls for financial duties. Even if this widespread hiring practice may be questionable and verging on discrimination, it does exist. Officially, only a history of credit fraud or extreme financial irresponsibility can cost you the job, but be responsible.

Mastering paperwork

If France taught me anything is that you will always need that one official document you lost a long time ago. In a country where everyone has a story with l’administration française, I learned to document processes, keep my IDs up to date and file important paperwork. This way of doing things was really helpful during the permanent residency process, and later when I applied for various Canadian IDs—SIN, health card, driver’s license, etc.

I also try to keep track of my duties and rights as a French citizen—I’m registered at the embassy, I vote in major elections, I’ve just renewed my French passport, I filed my most important French documents (diplomas, birth certificate, Livret de famille, etc.).

Pro tip: If you want to keep a copy of your permanent resident card for your records, scan it before going to your citizenship ceremony—you will have to hand it over the day you become a Canadian citizen. Do keep track of your trips outside Canada throughout your permanent resident days to make sure you are still meeting the residency requirements and to check your citizenship eligibility easily.

Meeting residency requirements

The main rule of eligibility for Canadian citizenship is easy: “You must have been physically present in Canada as a permanent resident for at least 1,460 days during the six years immediately before the date of your application.” And in order to maintain your status as a permanent resident, “you must live in Canada for at least two years within a five-year period. The two years may not need to be continuous.”

I was very careful to meet both requirements and the path to Canadian citizenship was very straightforward for me. I often get emails from people who lost their status because they never actually lived in Canada after becoming permanent residents, and it always strikes me as a complete waste. I understand that life happens and sometimes circumstances are such that you have to go home but don’t take these requirements lightly—Canada is serious about them.

Pro tip: know your rights and duties as a permanent resident. Read them. Understand them. You’ll be fine.

Being adventurous and open-minded

I had never dreamed of becoming a Canadian citizen. Frankly, I wasn’t sold at all on the North American dream– I have moral issues with capitalism as an economic system. But I also had nothing to lose, so I chose to embrace my new Canadian life and made the most of it. I embraced opportunities, showed up at interviews even though I didn’t have the whole set of skills required, I worked hard, I tried different career options, I took risks, I failed a few times… but overall, it paid off. Life turned out okay.

One of the great perks of traveling or moving abroad is that you get a second chance. Alone in a new land, you can break free from traditions, expectations, and pressure. They do catch up with you at one point—ask Jason Bourne, you can’t erase the past—but use this momentum to do something productive and different.

Pro tip: A “Fake it till you make it” can actually work and North Americans tend to value a positive can-do attitude. Don’t be shy, promote your skills and be confident!

In hindsight, what were your best moves when you started a new life abroad? Do share, I can use more tips!

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