How I Survived My First 5 Years in Canada

As I write this article, today is exactly 5 years since I moved to Canada on Jun 1st 2015.

I was born and raised in Dubai.

“Surviving” would be an appropriate term for someone who was spoiled with money, luxury and hired help that I took for granted.

If I could sum up my survival in the first 5 years in Canada into one word, it would be “Humility”.

The hardest part of surviving in Canada is raising small children in your first years. Back in Dubai, I could afford a live-in nanny. One could hire them with negligible salary demands from any of the third world countries that surround Dubai.

With a flattened income disparity in working classes that is Canada, this was obviously not possible for me.

I got a great job at a great company that paid 3 times less than what I earned in Dubai (tax-free).

We proudly gave birth to our first Canadian born son, and my wife chose to be a stay-at-home mom, with no employee insurance benefits as she never worked since we arrived.

Here’s how I survived on a single income.

On Housing

It’s pretty much impossible to own a house on your own in Ontario today. Unless you are planning to rent out rooms to strangers, borrow money for a fat downpayment from your family or live in a tiny condo.

Our first dwelling was an old roach-infested 1200 sq ft. apartment building in Brampton.

Quite a step down from the marble-floored 3,000 sq ft. apartment we lived in Dubai.

We spent two years there and moved out to a refurbished rented townhouse when our son was born. Even though I got two promotions which certainly helped us to upgrade to better rented facilities, I cannot still afford a house.

At the time of writing this, even with a 20% down payment, I still need to set aside $3K per month for living expenses for mortgage+tax+utilities+condo fees.

Even at a $100K income, that’s half your take-home salary.

Lesson Learned: Save money! The day you decide to move to Canada, start saving like there’s no tomorrow! You’ll need it to put up a fat downpayment for your house.

On Travel

Dubai is a small city. Everyone drives. Public transport was for those who could not afford a car, mostly blue collar workers or entry level low paid workers.

The sheer size of Canada still gets to me.

While living in Brampton, I had to commute to Toronto everyday.

Even though I was fortunate to own a car, the commute would have been stressful to be stuck in all that traffic on the 401. Heaven forbid, if there are snow ploughs slowing you down.

So, for the first time in my life since college, I used public transport to and from work. It was a 2 hour commute each way – 15 min Walk + Bus + Metro + 15 min walk.

But that commute allowed me spend my time efficiently. In fact, I even wrote a book on the GO Bus on the way to work.

An accomplishment I’ll always be proud of.

On Weather

Hailing from the middle east, you’d think the Canadian winters would have frozen my blood.

Surprisingly, I adapted well. I realized that the same strategies that were used in Dubai to avoid the heat was used here to avoid the cold – stay in doors, turn up the heat!

What I found really funny was how people would do the opposite to avoid the weather.

  1. Dubai – find shade | Canada – bask in the sun
  2. Dubai – enjoy the breeze | Canada – stand behind walls
  3. Dubai – condensation on the outside | Canada – condensation on the inside (so freaking annoying to mop it up)
  4. Dubai – stay indoors during summer | Canada – love the outdoors during summer

On Healthcare

Thankfully, I don’t have a lot of experience here.

While Canada has a great healthcare system, I do know that specialists are hard to find.

It depends on your risk and supply of specialists of whatever ails you.

For example, I hear that if you need to get your knees looked at, there are doctors available for that.

But my colleague needed to get surgery done on his back. No doctor would touch him, or they extended an appointment out by several months.

He could not suffer for that long, and just went back to Romania to get the surgery done and paid for it himself.

Bottom line – don’t risk it! Take care of your health!

Today, I survive by doing yoga, responsible weight training, some cardio, and have a 10-minute dental regime. The main reason I use my family doctor are for my kids vaccinations and my annual check up.

The best way to survive Canada’s healthcare system is to do whatever you can to never use it!

On Lifestyle

My siblings and I are gamers. They are still back in Dubai, and told me about this hot new game that’s come out.

They didn’t think twice about buying it.

Had I been back in Dubai, I would have beat them to it.

Here, I don’t even have a playstation.

It’s not just about the cost. It’s about the fact that I now value every second of my day. Between my full time job, running a business to supplement a second income, and taking care of my kids, I have to be more productive than I ever have been.

Deep down, I know I’m a better person for it.

The playstation can wait.

On Career

Hands down, this has been the best part of moving to Canada for me.

Career opportunities here are endless if you know how to survive corporate Canada.

I got a job that was at the same level as I had back in Dubai, and by understanding Canadian work culture, I was able to push myself to get two promotions in three years.

I don’t have exceptional qualifications, and I’m not as talented as my peers. I just know how to navigate the Canadian work culture. It’s the only reason I’m able to survive a decent lifestyle on a single income.

I wrote an article on the 45 Lessons I learned about Canadian work culture here.

Survive and Thrive

Moving from Dubai to Canada has what I call the “IKEA effect”.

The quality of life isn’t as “VIP” as Dubai, but the fact that you have to DIY your way through life makes you better person and gives you a sense of pride in what you accomplish.

Things that I do today that I never did/had before arriving in Canada:

  • Be recognized by senior management of a large enterprise organization
  • Start my own business
  • Author a book
  • Read two books a month
  • Start a blog
  • Contribute to the community
  • Helping others with their careers
  • Meditation and Yoga
  • Spending more time with family outdoors and in

Here’s to you survival.

“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become.” – Stephen King

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6 Responses

  1. Whao! What an inspiration. I’m so glad to have people who motivate others and speak the truth to encourage aspirants like us that though the road is rough but the end justify the means.

  2. Hi Colin,
    Thanks for sharing your journey. Your right when you say, the reason for you surviving so far is “Being Humble”. Whenever I read any of your posts, it always gives me a sense of “Possibilities”. There’s a lot being focused on what lies ahead, what you can achieve yet what you should expect and how much you would need to put in to get ahead of the race. Migrating to Canada from Dubai, has always been a dream for me, but more like a goal; which I am yet to achieve and hopefully one day I will.

    So thank you for your continuous humility in guiding people like me who may not be as fortunate as you but still have hope of a brighter and better future!


  3. I’m also in Dubai at the moment taking the steps to move to Canada with my family, I find your content spot on, I’m hoping I’ll be writing a similar story 5 years down the line from the True North!

  4. Hi Connel! Thanks for sharing your journey. It’s really inspirational one. Very much benefitted by your posts. Thanks for your guidance.

  5. Thank you for sharing your beautiful journey of inspiration. It surely gives hope to us as we keep on with our plans and goals for immigration to Canada. I have been following you, listening to your webinars and all . Hopefully, I succeed in the near future for my family as a single mother on a single income that wants a decent lifestyle for my 3 children.

  6. Very interesting, inspirational and gives hope to those on the track…for me, it’s a wonderful experience lesson!!

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