Why we called it quits on our Canada working holiday

Why we called it quits on our Canada working holiday

In October 2014, we started a working holiday in Canada that was meant to last a year. We ended up back home in New Zealand after three months. Here’s our story of why Canada wasn’t the place for us.

Ever since visiting the United States for the first time together in 2011, we had wanted to return to live and work there. The country just resonated with us – we loved the affordable lifestyle (yes, it does depend where you live, but in general compared to New Zealand, it’s cheap!), the vibrant cities, and the incredible variety of landscapes. For us, coming from little old New Zealand, the US seemed like a land of opportunity – and we’re sure it is for many people.

Manhattan skyline

Manhattan skyline

Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible for New Zealanders to live and work there. In many other countries like Canada, the UK, parts of Europe and South America, Kiwis under about 30 can quite easily get working holiday visas, which allow us to live in said country and work for a year or two. But for some reason (I’m looking at you, US Government) there’s no such thing available for young New Zealanders in the States. The irony is, young Americans can live and work in New Zealand for a year under a working holiday scheme! Totally unfair.

Anyway. Rant over.

So we settled. We decided to travel in the US for some of 2014, and then live and work in Canada under the working holiday visa there for a year. Canada and the US are neighbours, so we thought that while in Canada we could explore that country as well as spend lots of time in the States. In a previous post, we wrote about how to get the working holiday visa and set up in Canada.

We spent a wonderful six months travelling around the eastern US, fell in love with New York City (what we would give to live there…) and generally had a lot of fun. When our tourist visa ran out, we headed to Vancouver, British Columbia via the beaches of Mexico (have to love those cheap flights from the East Coast!).

NYC from the air in a helicopter

NYC from the air

Getting into Canada with a working holiday visa as a New Zealander is a pretty simple process (covered in more detail here). However, finding decent work on a working holiday visa isn’t so easy, and this, among other things, was what led to us quitting Canada.

Finding work

Under the working holiday visa, you can apply for any job you want, which is awesome. You can work at a ski resort, in a café, in an office, build houses, or whatever takes your fancy. What is not so awesome is that many employers, especially those advertising for more qualified or experienced people, may not want to hire people that are only going to be around for a year. Unlike Australians, who can renew their visa as many times as they like until they’re 30, New Zealanders only have that single year.

A further issue for us was that we had decided to visit New Zealand for a friend’s wedding three months after arriving in Vancouver, so we could hardly apply for long term jobs and then ask for a month off after such a short time working!

Sun dogs on Blackcomb

Sun dogs on Blackcomb

We wanted good jobs too. Coming from well-paid jobs in New Zealand, and seeing as we were going to be living in Vancouver for a year, we didn’t really want to be stuck working in retail or hospitality. As a trained climate scientist, I was looking for work in my area of expertise. But unfortunately at the time we were applying for jobs, there were zero opportunities in that space, especially for people on a working holiday visa. So, in light of this, I got a crappily paid sales job (that I flat out hated from day one) to get me through until we headed home.

Shaun, a qualified builder in New Zealand, found it pretty easy to get work, but the wages in Vancouver were about a third lower than what he was paid in New Zealand. This was primarily because he isn’t a so-called ‘Journeyman’ who has Canadian qualifications, hence the limitation on earning potential in that industry.

Montreal old town

Montreal old town

The cost of living in Vancouver

Vancouver is one of the world’s most expensive cities to live in. We knew this before we decided to live there, and so we weren’t shocked at all – we actually found it cheaper to live in than our home city of Auckland! However, the wages just don’t match up with the cost of living. Minimum wage sits at about $10.50, which gets pretty stretched when you have to pay hundreds of dollars in rent and food each week! We were working in lower paying jobs than we had at home, but our outgoings per week were pretty similar, so we just weren’t saving the kind of money we would have liked for future travel (and our upcoming wedding!).

best food in vancouver

Meat & Bread porchetta sandwich

You can’t travel much while working full-time, and Canada is a bloody big place

We had figured that living in Canada would present this awesome opportunity to do heaps of travel in an exciting new country as well as visit the US. But we were quite wrong. It seems really stupid to say this, but seeing as we had full time jobs in Vancouver, we couldn’t do a lot of travel outside the city (especially given our limited earnings). So it didn’t feel much different to living at home, except that we were living in a new city (which was cool and not to be forgotten! Vancouver is a very nice place to live).

And one other really dumb thing that we never really thought about was that Canada is so bloody huge. If you only have weekends in which to escape the city, it’s quite hard to get anywhere in Canada! We would only want to drive a couple of hours after work on a Friday, and from Vancouver there aren’t many places within only a few hours’ drive – Whistler, Vancouver Island, and into the top of the US are really the only viable options (and we are gutted we didn’t make it to the Island). Before arriving in Canada, we envisaged camping weekends in the Rockies, wine tasting in the Okanagan, etc. etc. However, we found this just too hard in the short time we had off work. And aside from that, it was autumn and heading into winter when we were there – so the weather wasn’t on our side.

Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge

Vancouver’s rain sucks

Yeah, it really does. And apparently, we totally arrived at the wrong time of year for weather! October through December are the rainiest months of the year, and we sure saw a whole lot of that. It’s a shame, because Vancouver is a really great city, and I imagine that it would be an absolutely fantastic place to be in the summer – all the parks, beaches, hiking and mountain biking trails close by… But we just didn’t see it. At one point, it rained for two weeks solid. With no breaks. Serious! In the end, we just couldn’t deal with it. I think if we had arrived in the summer, our outlook on the place would’ve been much different.

Back in New Zealand

So in the end, while on our visit to New Zealand, we truly realised what a great place our home country is. Aside from the high cost of living, our lifestyles here are fantastic. The majority of our friends and family are here. We can go on bush walks half an hour from downtown Auckland, and to fantastic beaches ten minutes from where we live. There are many places to visit within a couple of hours of driving.

We earn more, and therefore can afford to do things we couldn’t do in Canada. Of course it’s not all about the money, but sometimes it makes a big difference. One of the major things for us living overseas was that we wanted to experience life overseas – going out for drinks, dinner, shows, and so on. We just couldn’t afford to. So we made the big decision to stay in New Zealand and call it quits on Canada. Yes, it sucks that it didn’t work out there, as much as we wanted it to. But we think we have made the right decision for us at this point in our lives.

Sailing in the Bay of Islands

Sailing in the Bay of Islands

We’re loving being back home. We’re always going to be travellers, and living in New Zealand isn’t going to change that. It’s a little further away and more expensive to get to other countries, but it’s not impossible! We are also lucky to have quickly found jobs since we have been back – I’ve restarted my Climate Scientist position at the company I used to work for, and Shaun has landed a great job as a manager for a construction company.

We really liked Canada, as much as this post may not seem like it. The people we met were amazing, and there were many, many great things about being there. It just wasn’t the right place for us to live at that time. We look forward to returning to Canada one day purely for travel – we’ve left a lot to explore!

Have you ever moved to a country and left soon afterwards? Where was it, and why did you leave?

Skiing at Whistler Blackcomb

Skiing at Whistler Blackcomb

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