Tim and Kamila are expats from South Africa and Slovakia who made the move to Canada. Between them, they have had their fair share of travelling before moving to Canmore, a relatively small town with mountainous surroundings. Together, they create and write Expat in Canada, a platform helping others move to and settle in Canada.
Read more about expat life in our Expat Arrivals Canada country guide.
About Tim and Kamila
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Tim is from South Africa. Kamila is from Slovakia.
Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Canmore, Canada
Q: When did you move here?
A: April 2019
Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: Before moving to Canada, we travelled to more than 60 countries combined. Before arriving in Canada, Kamila used to work as a flight attendant and was based in Dubai for three and a half years.
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: We moved to Canada together as a couple.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: After many years of travelling, we both decided it was time to find a country to settle in. Canada seemed to fit all of our criteria – beautiful nature, safety, economic stability, freedom and adventure.
Living in Canmore
Q: What do you enjoy most about Canmore? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home countries?
A: The best part about living in Canmore is that we are surrounded by mountains and turquoise-blue lakes. It’s close to Banff National Park and some of the top-rated tourist attractions in the world, such as Lake Louise and Lake Moraine. As it is so close to national parks and mountains, there’s a lot of wildlife in the area.
Canmore attracts a lot of tourists from around the world but also local Canadians who enjoy the outdoors. It’s a small town with a pleasant atmosphere full of cute local art shops and cafés. Canmore is a paradise for people who love outdoor activities. The activities range from hiking, mountain biking and kayaking in summer to skiing and snowboarding in winter. It has fewer tourists than Banff so it doesn’t feel overcrowded.
Compared to our home countries, Canada offers more economic stability. It also feels safer, has great medical care and education – factors which contribute to a good quality of life.
Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: We are lucky to say that we haven’t had any negative experiences in Canada so far. On the contrary, people have been welcoming since day one. What we miss most about home in Cape Town, South Africa is the abundance of sunshine, the ocean and delicious food. We also miss our family and friends.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: No matter how big we thought Canada was, after arriving it seemed a thousand times bigger. Alberta alone is ten times bigger than the whole of Slovakia. You get used to driving long distances out here in Canada. The biggest cultural shock for most expats that we have spoken to is the Canadian winter. Surprisingly, we found our first winter in Canada much better than expected. As long as you have proper winter clothes and live in a well-insulated house, you will be just fine.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to South Africa and Slovakia? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Canada?
A: Compared to South Africa and Slovakia, the cost of living is higher. However, it evens out with the income that you can earn in Canada. The costs of internet and phone packages, dining out and inland flights are higher in Canada compared to our home countries.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Canmore? What is your most memorable experience of using Canmore’s transport system?
A: Canmore has free local bus transport which is a great benefit. The town itself is quite small so it’s possible to get around on foot. As Canada is a big country, public transport doesn’t cover all areas. It’s essential to have your own car if you want to move between cities.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Canmore? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals?
A: We are both pretty healthy so fortunately, we haven’t had the need to use the healthcare system and don’t have any personal experience to comment. From what we’ve been told, Canada's public health system is of high quality and funded by the government. It appears to be very well structured. Most of the basic healthcare expenses are covered by public insurance with a few exceptions. Dental care is generally funded privately through employment-based insurance.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Canmore or Canada? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: We found Canada to be very safe. In fact, Canada ranked sixth out of 163 countries according to the Global Peace Index in 2019. That said, it is always wise to be cautious, especially in large cities. Most of it is common sense. Make sure to always lock your car and don’t leave your personal belongings unattended.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Canmore? What different options are available for expats?
A: Canmore housing (including rent and real estate properties) can be quite expensive compared to other cities in the province of Alberta. This is mainly because it is a lucrative touristic area. Another reason for higher costs is that there is often a higher demand than the capacity of rentals available. It’s easier to find accommodation during the low season.
Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Cochrane can be a great option for someone who wants to be close to the mountains and a city at the same time. It’s a small and affordable town between Calgary and Canmore.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Canmore?
A: As we mentioned before, we have found Canadians to be very welcoming, respectful and friendly. We were pleasantly surprised by the genuine curiosity and hospitality we experienced from everyday Canadians. Multiculturalism is a fundamental part of Canadian culture and the country’s politics. Many people living in Canada are a first, second or third generation of immigrants, so the Canadian culture doesn’t make you feel ostracised as an expat. Instead of judging other’s differences, Canadians appreciate and embrace the uniqueness of each culture. This is probably one of the reasons why Canada ranks so highly when it comes to the quality of life.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: We found meeting new people and making friends to be quite easy in Canada. A good place to start is by befriending your colleagues or finding out about local events and meeting people with similar interests. You can start by searching for Facebook groups with other expats.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: We mix with both locals and other expats. We find whenever we travel to new places that Couchsurfing is a great platform to connect with locals and expats alike. Fun fact: this is exactly how Tim and I met. We share some more tips on how to make new friends in Canada on our blog. These tips apply to any location in the world.
Working in Canmore
Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: We arrived in Canada on an open work permit through the IEC programme (International Experience Canada). If you are from one of the countries with which Canada has bilateral agreements and you are under the age of 30 (in some cases 35), it is a relatively easy way to get a temporary work permit and we did this ourselves. It requires a lot of paperwork.
As we have really enjoyed our experience here, we are now in the process of transitioning our visa into something more permanent. Having an immigration consultant can be helpful and we have consulted with a few. We recommend using an immigration consultation to pinpoint immigration routes based on your specific case. After you figure out which route to take, you can either use an immigration consultant or handle the visa application process yourself. You will find most of the information you need on Canada’s official government website. There are also plenty of forums and Facebook groups for people who are in the process of immigrating to Canada.
Q: What is the economic climate in Canmore like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: Canmore is a touristic town. You can find many job opportunities in the hospitality industry. In some cases, employers provide staff accommodation as well. The main tourist season is during summertime and around Christmas. It tends to be more difficult to find a job during early spring and autumn. The main online platforms to find jobs in Canada are Job Bank, Indeed, Glassdoor, and Kijiji. It might be a good idea to visit a job resource centre in your area. The job resource centres list available work at their branches and provide free services to help assist with your resumé, interview preparation and some tips on the local job market.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Canmore or Canada? Did you have any particularly difficult experiences adapting to local business culture?
A: Resuming your professional career can be quite challenging. Your previous credentials might not be acknowledged in Canada, so be prepared to start from scratch. It is helpful to network and prepare as many job references as you can before immigrating. Creating a profile on LinkedIn is a good place to start, where you can start researching companies and networking in your field.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Canmore or Canada?
A: Adjusting to life in a new place can feel challenging at times. With this in mind, we put together our blog and a starter pack guide which enables expats to get organised faster once they arrive in Canada. With this platform, we help expats uncover information that will make their transition into life in Canada easier and more convenient. Although starting from scratch in a foreign country can be stressful at times, getting outside your comfort zone builds resilience and brings a sense of adventure. Canada is a great place to live. In our mind, it’s worth the effort.
► Interviewed May 2020