Immigrating to Canada? What to pack, what to leave behind
Updated: Apr 17, 2019
If you are lucky enough to fill a 40 ft container when you immigrate - no problem. You can pack it all up and send it over the seas! A note here, since we had a 40ft container, it is actually not very big as you might think. We didn't have a massive home in Cape Town and I like to live minimally - and that container was jam-packed. Many of my expat friends had to make decisions on the spot as to which boxes to leave behind, because their container was full. If you are arriving in your new country with only the bags in your hands - no problem! There are amazing stores here that will kit you out in no time. I will post links below for some ideas on where to shop in Canada.
My tips for packing a container:
Declutter. Months before your movers pack you up. Be ruthless! If you have not used items or worn items in the last 6 months, toss!!!!! It will not only help with the moving process, it also allows you and your family to process that you are actually moving and it is then that it truly starts to sink in and that the adventure is beginning! It can be difficult to do this with small children, where it can have the reverse effect, so guard their little hearts until its the right time to tell them or pack their toys! The best part about decluttering is arriving in your new country and things are organised, and you've brought the items you need and cherish versus 5 tea sets and all the Tupperware you think you might use one day!
You are not permitted to pack your own boxes. Most international movers are not what you expect. They operate on a different level - the process is completely different to a domestic move. You will have a consultant come over and assess your household, who will give you an estimate on container size and costs. You will have many options - one of them being Wardrobe Boxes (bliss). Your chosen movers will pack your goods for you as they do not want to assume liability for items you have packed yourself (they use tons of bubble wrap and paper) and of course illegal items that are prohibited such as alcohol and chemicals (most items in your garden shed or garage).
Clearly label boxes. Instead of labelling boxes by its description, I have found it works well to label by room! Perhaps on some you can write more detail but this helps when your goods arrive at your new home. I put a sticky note on each room door (eg. Georgia's Room or Dining Room) and the movers simply put the boxes into the correct rooms without me having to be traffic controller at the front door while its -15 degrees outside!
Leave appliances behind. Most appliances will not be compatible with the voltage output (South Africa is 220v and in Canada 110v). So give it away or sell it but don't bring any of it! Neither your beloved Nespresso nor your hairdryer! Most expats usually rent a home before buying a property. Every single rental property in Canada will include all electrical appliances already, such a bonus!!! Microwave, oven, dishwasher, washing machine and tumble dryer. Rather use the space for more household items to pack into your container.
Furniture. This is really up to you but in my situation where I had the container and have some amazing pieces of furniture that we had collected over time - it was important to have them. I am so glad we did. My favourite coffee tables, dining room table and chairs fill my space here in Canada and no one else has anything like it! Good solid, wood furniture is very expensive in any country but found it so much cheaper in South Africa. Looking back, I wish I had brought more! I left all the beds behind and bought new in Canada. As part of the adventure we promised the girls double/twin beds when we got to Canada.
Linen. Oh my goodness! This was interesting for me. Bring what you can - no need to spend extra money on things you have and love. One thing to note is that the sizing differs in Canada and most likely in other countries too. Duvet measurements for a Queen size is different to the sizing of Queen size in South Africa as an example. So if you plan to buy new duvets in your new country - your current duvet covers will not fit correctly. Also, when shopping here - you will see it is very popular to buy sheet sets (1 x fitted sheet, 1 x flat sheet and 2 x standard pillow covers). Duvets are purchased separately. Many people do not have duvets, they use their sheet set and purchase different comforters.
Tips for children and moving. I have a few expat friends that moved with kids of all ages. My advice to you is to pack as many of their comforts as you can (toys, books, bedding, blankets, etc.). Even better, try to pack as much of these items into your luggage when you fly so that they have them when you land. It makes the transition a lot easier. Small children take strain and we are often not aware of it because they have no idea how to express it (never mind this being all completely new for the parents who are dealing with a thousand things and also experiencing different emotions). All kids present differently to what you may expect, including mine and they are teenagers! My friend's 2 year old, quiet son ranted and raved and had outbursts of anger, while her outgoing son became quieter and would cry a lot more than he would usually.
As for Teenagers, mine were 16 and 12 and very heartsore to leave their friends behind. The hard part was fitting in at their new school when they are older, there is so much more to consider. So that's a heads up for you - in the end, the kids thrive here and make friends very quickly and start to speak Canadian within 2 weeks!
Lastly...unpacking is like Christmas all over again. The kids love it and its great to set up home with your things and some new things that you bought in your new country! Wait till you pull out the South African braai tongs you love (you know that one that your dad would snap together all the time when he took it out of the kitchen?). I am sure there are some wooden giraffe's in some expat homes and fabulous little reminders of home. Bring them, it's a great conversation starter with your new friends!
My recommended stores:
IKEA: Basic furniture (bed frames for kids, cots, storage blocks, book cases, kitchen storage, some kitchen items, lighting, rugs, bedding, artwork, mirrors): Mostly free delivery. I do not recommend IKEA for everything though! Firstly, you need to build every single item (pour yourself a glass of wine... or pay the kid next door). Items such as a chest of drawers are not sturdy, the backboards are very thin MDF - they fall apart. The lining of the drawers are also flimsy. So be sure to check it out when you visit the store. I bought beds for our girls at IKEA and mattresses elsewhere. They are great. I had to change some of the lighting that I couldn't bear to live with in our rental and got very plain lighting options at a good price here. Bedding is great too and reasonable. Disclaimer lovely people: Do not be tempted to buy everything here, it is easy to throw things into your trolley (cart!) as you drive it through that maze (I never know where I am there). Plus you move in an anticlockwise direction - seriously, you need to unwind or go the other way for a bit after this shopping experience (thats probably the cause of my rotator cuff on my one arm).
HOMESENSE: Eclectic/Modern/Contemporary furniture & Linen. They also have fabulous lighting, hundreds of cushions, accent rugs and loads of bedding. If you like modern stuff - you will love this store, its my favourite place to find some nice pieces. I have bought a huge rug, wooden industrial bar stools, artwork, towels, throws for our beds and even gorgeous stylish dog beds (They had Tommy Bahama dog beds for $30!!!). Very well priced for the style I love. They have kitchen items too. This would be my first stop. Because their items change continuously, they do not have an online store. They have ottomans imported from India for instance. Go and see!
BED, BATH AND BEYOND: This place is also a must. I never walked into this store until a year later. Really worth the visit. I recommend this place for towels (huge selection) and all bathroom items. Buy toilet brushes and toilet bins/trashcans here. They are very good quality. They sell glassware, crockery, fabulous kitchen items and even kitchen appliances. They have a selection of "Verimark" type products thrown in! I was sucker and threw in the facial hair remover with the gold tip. Its actually awesome!!! Best product I ever bought here was my Simple Human kitchen trashcan. Its narrow but long and tall, so it only fills up in a week which is fabulous if you have a family of four! Foot pedal. Metallic, no finger prints. I love it almost more than Kevin!!!!
RESTORATION HARDWARE: Ok this place is next level and a lot more high end than my stores listed above. This is a furniture store. It's simply amazing. If you had ever shopped or visited Block and Chisel in Cape Town - this is it with a touch of modern and contemporary furniture. It is located at Yorkdale Mall and has a restaurant in the store with chandeliers hanging from the trees creating a fab setting! Take me there!!!!!
POTTERY BARN: Furniture store with lighting & decor. This store has a few locations in Canada. They cater for everyone. I find most of their stuff to be modern farmhouse styling, which I love! Top quality.
WEST ELM: If you know Weylandts from South Africa, this store is rather similar (contemporary furniture, linen, rugs, artwork and decor). They have a store in downtown Toronto where you can look at the items on the floor and then order. I bought a few items from West Elm after visiting their store. I bought a leather modern recliner and a L-shaped sofa, an industrial standing lamp, our bed frame and a leather 3-seater. I am so thrilled with these items. They are made very well and was well worth the wait for them. They are freighted from the US and delivery includes a "white glove" service. This means that the items are installed in your home - yessssss! It was worth paying a bit extra to get such a fabulous quality product.
WAYFAIR: This little (or rather large) gem is a lifesaver. This online store is so geared for us expats! I have bought so many items from this store. At first, I was not keen to shop line for items I could not touch or feel. Let me tell you - they do everything they can to help you feel comfortable about your purchase and opening your wallet! You need to get clued up on what's what. Always use the filter to flag what your are looking for eg. Wood, Coffee Table, storage, rectangle. There are 1000's of items and you will be scrolling till your finger falls off and its too overwhelming. Once you have select these items you should be much closer to finding what you want. The range is from low end to very high end. So they cater for all your needs. They have everything bar a husband on that site! Outdoor furniture, fire-pits, Christmas decorations, outdoor lighting, rugs, bathroom stuff, lighting, artwork, its amazing! I have shopped loads here!
LAST TIP: It is a great idea to sign up for Consumer Reports (Consumerreports.org) - if are into the detail and like look at comparisons and ratings of products, then this is really worth every cent, especially when there are so many brands you might not recognise in your new country. It is $55 for a years subscription. We used this site to make informed decisions on: best mattresses (left side sleeper, right side, tummy, back, memory foam, pillow top, gel - really and then all the brands.. you spreadsheet people are going to love this for bedtime reading), cars, humidifiers, treadmills etc. It is an amazing site and actually very interesting.
All the very best with your moving day, take pics ! And so it will happen, your journey will begin across the mighty waters! Stay positive, and we'll find you (join the expat FB forums) and give you the support you need!
Stay in touch,