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[Interview] Jeff, an American Globetrotter Settling in Nova Scotia

Jeff Parker
Jeff Parker

Jeff and his family live in a fishing village just outside Halifax, on the east coast of Canada. After years of managing IT information security, Jeff now runs his own consulting business out of his home. This allows his biggest passion: being around his two young kids.

Jeff knows from his own experience and believes in his heart that anyone can live a more fulfilling life by experiencing life abroad. Jeff has perfected his guidance and has helped many others go from debt-strapped, 9-to-5 lives to happier (and cheaper) lives overseas. Feel free to browse his blog for his musings, practical advice and write him directly for help!

1)     Why did you decide to move to Canada?

We came to Canada mostly because it was my wife’s “turn.” She’s Canadian, from Nova Scotia.

Since meeting each other 15 years ago, we lived elsewhere: South Korea, US, and Czech Republic. Since marrying, we have 2 children. So, we felt it was time to make our home in Canada: for the grandparents, for the kids, and for us. No doubt, it was a rough transition to start, but it’s been about 3 years and we have positively no regrets.

Will we stay here for the rest of our lives? No friggin’ way, but that’s us.

2)     Did you find the immi­gra­tion process difficult? Which immigration category did you apply in, and how long did it take for you to get permanent residence status?

We found the process to be less difficult than the US’s (wife gained US citizenship in 2006, 6 years after starting). One thing where the Canadian Immigration process “shines” is it understands that you and a spouse/partner are humans. By comparison, the US process was cold and intolerable to likely situations, such as “we’re married” or “we’d like to live together while we wait.”

Canada was much easier, allowing me to live in Canada with my wife and our children. On paper, I was essentially a tourist. It was 14 months after applying that I got my open work permit, allowing me to start my own business (or work for anyone if I wanted). It was an additional 9 months or so before I got permanent residence. So, I was a tourist for 2 years.

Could I travel outside Canada during my process? Yes, I crossed into the US and back into Canada with ease because I could provide proof that “my PR application was sent and is pending” – magic words to the border guy.

Immigration can be most difficult for anyone who needs immediate gratification. If you can accept the “hurry up and wait” mentality required of you, then you’ll be fine. If you have trouble waiting for the toaster to pop up, then immigration will be a total bitch. In short, I just say “have patience – they’ll get back to you.”

3)     How did your kids adapt to the move?

Surprisingly well. Kids are more resilient than we often give them credit for.

That said, they are a product of their environment and their lives to date. We overheard a great example just last week at the dinner table. My five-year son asked his seven-year old sister what school he’ll be going to. He finally asked “And will we go to the same high school, too?” Her reply? “Well, maybe, but who knows…we may be living somewhere else by then. We could go to high school in Vietnam for all we know!” My wife and I looked at each other with a “Wow, okay…” glance. And maybe they will.

One huge advantage of having grown up in different places: ability to make friends easily. Both my children are outgoing and their peers seem to gravitate to them naturally. From my son’s pre-school report: “good self-image, happy and outgoing li’l guy, always a pleasant personality and excellent attitude.” That’s describing a five-year old who has learned to adapt to bigger changes than most adults.

4)     Do you speak French? Any funny Canadian vocabulary you picked up in English?

As an American, I know far less French than your average Canadian. But it’s not a big disadvantage unless you really wish you could work a civil servant job. It’s important for Canada-hopeful Americans to know that some provinces aren’t nearly as bilingual as say, New Brunswick or French-centric as obviously Quebec. In Nova Scotia, you only need “sirop d’érable.”

5)     How do you find the cost of living here compared to the US?

Higher. In our case, much higher. When we compare New Hampshire (no sales or income tax) to Nova Scotia, it hurts. Here, tack on a hefty 15% sales tax on top of already higher priced products. Gallon of milk = $5.70. Gallon of gas = $4.90.

That said, health care = free. University = far, far cheaper. 

6)     What has been your biggest culture shock so far?

Our transition from Prague, Czech Republic to downtown Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Think: from Cinderella’s castle to Batman’s Metropolis. It was a very tough year.

Our idea was to rent in a shithole depressed area for a year, while we stabilized enough to buy a house just where we wanted. Looking back, it worked well, but the transition was hard while it lasted.

There hasn’t been any real, lasting culture shocks. I feel by now, we understand a culture shock is the reaction to differences unexpected. We overcome the “shock” because we expect to feel the difference. We choose to change and adapt, rather than fight it. So, there’s little shock. It’s when you don’t expect any differences, that the culture shocks are most felt…that’s why many expats suffer from “reverse culture shock” when returning.

7)     What aspect of life in Canada did you adopt right away?

Speaking English. I’ll admit, in Prague I was getting frustrated with the Czech language. I’m no stranger to learning foreign languages, but Czech got to me in a bad way after just 2-3 years there. When we set sail for Canada, I was most looking forward to hearing and speaking only English.

8)     What’s one thing you don’t like in Canada?

Airfare is so very expensive here. I miss the super-cheap fares of Europe. When we lived in Prague, we could fly many hours across countries for 1/10th the cost of flying anywhere within Canada. Of course, having to buy four seats compounds the problem.

I should add, when you compare distances, airfare is most expensive for domestic travel. It’s almost always cheaper to fly to Cuba than across Canada. It’s cheaper for east coast residents to get to Europe, than to the west coast, where they spend less to get to Asia. Things that make you go Hmmmm.

9)     What’s the best part about living in Nova Scotia?

My wife. Her family. Having for once the option to say, “Let’s go to grandma and grandpa’s house!” and it doesn’t involve baggage claim or even an overnight stay.

10)  What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming an expat in Canada or elsewhere?

Do it. To absolutely anyone, in any situation, I suggest they spend just a part of their lives in a different place, different culture, among different people, food, even language.

Travel with the intent to relocate. The “to relocate” part forces us to have to adapt, not just tolerate.

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