Picking your life up and moving it to a foreign country is no small undertaking. It's fair to say that leaving loved ones, selling the house you've worked hard for, putting your dogs on a plane for God-knows-how-long, even giving up the job you've worked at for the past 5 years, is quite a big deal. But we'd made the decision to make the break and now there was no turning back. We broke the news to family and friends, we dreamed of our new life in Canada, and we visualised getting on the plane and leaving for that magnificent, diverse, breathtaking environment. Yet there was just one small matter to take care of... the visas.
We hired an immigration consultant to manage the application process. To emigrate to Canada, most people apply for a skilled workers visa by way of a points system. The consultant prepared the paperwork, coordinated requests for untold copies of college certificates and character references, and gave much valued advice at every stage of the process to ensure that we met the minimum number of points. She also worked on a 'no visa, no fee' basis, which gave us some small comfort when it came to parting with the princely fees required.
We attended immigration fairs, signed up to expat forums, spoke with distant relatives in our chosen new home, and undertook endless research on the web. This culminated in a fact-finding trip to Vancouver to research areas to live in, jobs to work at, and things to see and do. We were ready to go. However, the Canadian authorities were not ready for us to go. In fact, little did we know it but we were two whole years away from getting our visas. Two years of endless waiting, total frustration, and a complete lack of communication from the powers-that-be. There was nothing more we could do but wait.
In January 2003, the envelope landed on the door mat. Immediately, the house went up for sale and we got our pups ready for travel. I left my job early and began readying us for the move. In May, we were ready to leave but we had one small problem. After two years of waiting for this move, the bloody house wouldn't sell. The UK had invaded Iraq in all its military glory and the whole property market had changed. Buyers became nervous and houses wouldn't change hands. The seller's market became a buyer's market, with first-time buyers now calling the shots. We had offers fall through, buyers backed out, and our beautiful home stayed just that. Ours. The rental house was waiting for us in Vancouver so we had to make a decision - pull out or stay the course.
In May, I left for Vancouver, almost two months ahead of my family. I would set up our Canadian life and my wife would arrive to a new home, new friends, and new adventure. Unfortunately, she would also have the unenviable task of selling our house, dealing with the removal company, organising temporary accommodation, quitting her job, and putting two dogs on a plane. Our life-changing journey had got off to a slow start yet somehow we were already on the back foot...
For what it's worth, I've pulled together a quick top 5 things I'd recommend if you ever think you might move country:
1. Use the services of a reputable immigration consultant.
2. Book a fact-finding trip to your country of choice. Witnessing firsthand the actual look and feel of a place is many times more valuable than reading any travel brochure or Lonely Planet guide.
3. Start writing a list of things to do well in advance of moving. There are utility companies to contact, bills to be paid, houses to be sold, crates to be packed, dogs to be shipped. Write lists of lists. There can never be enough lists.
4. Employ a little patience. It's a long, drawn-out process and you've likely got a long way to go so don't go putting the house on the market just yet.
5. Be brave. Loved ones will be upset/angry/annoyed, friends may question your decision, and work colleagues will think you're mad. Keep reminding yourself of the reasons for leaving and stay the course in search of your better life.