Geraldine Eliot is an ex-South African living in Vancouver, Canada. She runs her own copy writing and editing company and teaches at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). She is also a published poet, social media convert, and active blogger. Visit Geraldine at www.meerkatcommunications.ca or www.twitter.com/geraldineeliot.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Cape Town, South Africa.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Vancouver, British Columbia.
Q: How long you have you lived here?
A: Four years altogether, with a year and half back in South Africa in between.
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: My husband is from Vancouver originally, though he did live in South Africa with me before I emigrated. We don’t have any children.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: Personal reasons.
I run my own copy writing and editing company called Meerkat Communications, and I teach Business Communication at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.
Q: What do you enjoy most about living in Vancouver, how’s the quality of life?
A: Vancouver is a beautiful, laid-back city much like my hometown, Cape Town. It is a small city compared to most, surrounded by the sea and spectacular mountains. It offers a lot of outdoor and cultural activities that tie into the city’s multiculturalism. As with all places, there is a wide range of incomes and lifestyles, but in general, in my opinion quality of life is high. Vancouver is also the mildest city in the country in terms of weather.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about living in South Africa?
A: Vancouver has recently been rated the most unaffordable city for property, as well as generally being rated one of the world’s most expensive cities. Entertainment is expensive (e.g. eating out, alcohol etc), as is accommodation for both travel and living. Rent is incredibly high in most parts of the city, and the increasing gentrifcation of various areas is driving up prices.
I miss many things about South Africa, and Cape Town. Besides missing the amazing weather, I also miss the culture, the people, friends, family, the huge skies, warm seas, decent beaches and the accent.
Q: Is Vancouver safe?
A: Vancouver (and the Lower Mainland) is very safe, particularly in comparison to most places in South Africa. Property theft is probably the biggest issue in the city due to drug addiction and homelessness issues.
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Vancouver as an expat?
A: This really depends on your tastes and what you can afford. There are many great neighbourhoods, though the suburbs (outlying cities that form the Lower Mainland) are far cheaper than Vancouver itself. Downtown offers high density, high cost condo living, while areas like Kitsilano are more residential.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Vancouver?
A: Accommodation is incredibly expensive, though there is more variety due to split suites in houses.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Vancouver compared to South Africa? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Things like accommodation, eating out, alcohol etc are far more expensive that in South Africa. However, many “luxury” items that would cost a lot in SA are cheaper here e.g. electronics. Groceries are about a third more expensive than in South Africa.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: From talking to expats from various different cultures, and through personal experience, it is very hard to meet people in Vancouver. It is a very transient, rather “cliquey” city and people seem reluctant to engage with people who may leave the city. While an asset, the city’s multiculturalism also means that people often stick with people from the same culture, community or language group. I do not really mix with other expats, largely because I think I have very different reasons for living in Canada than a lot of the South Africans living here. My husband is also a local, which means I have a different experience to others who have come without a solid connection to the city or country.
About working in Vancouver
Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work?
A: The recession has definitely affected the city and surrounds, but there do still seem to be jobs. There are very few big business head offices based in Vancouver, though, and the vast majority of the province’s GDP is from small business. You have to also bear in mind that when you move, you lose your professional network along with your personal network, so it can take a long time to make the connections you need to get a job.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: Vancouver is very similar to Cape Town. Things move rather slowly and it takes a long time to get things done. In general, most things do, however, run efficiently (e.g. banking, government services etc).
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Vancouver?
A: It is a myth that there is free healthcare in Canada. Depending on your income, it may be free, but if you don’t have health benefits through work and you are not in a very low-income bracket, you have to pay a monthly fee that is very high. It is also very, very hard to find a family doctor that is accepting patients. There are very long wait times for surgery, especially for non-essential surgeries.
Appointments, in my experience, tend to be rushed and perfunctory. That being said, your medical does cover doctor’s visits, as well as services such as blood tests, x-rays etc, with no pre-paying/ reimbursement situation as with private medical aids in South Africa.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Give yourself a lot of time to acclimatise, not only to the weather, but to your new city. It can take a long time. Spend some time approaching the city as a tourist, enjoying the sights and getting to know the different areas. If you want to meet people, try and join groups/classes/activities that you enjoy. Local community centres offer a lot of these. If you only stick with ex-pats, you will remain an outsider and it will be much harder for you to settle in. Remember that although Canada is mostly English speaking, it is still a very different culture, and that can take a lot of adjustment. Remember, too, to ask for help if you need it. There are a lot of services for new immigrants to aid in job hunting etc.
~ Interviewed February 2010