Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Californian in Calgary

What a Great Place, Eh?

Well, after thousands of miles of driving, one student permit, and a few weeks of living here, I can honestly say: As an American living in Canada, I think this place is great.

There are a few obvious differences up here compared to the States - they only sell butter in huge 1lb blocks, all of a sudden I have a need for my coin pockets with the loonies and twonies, speed limits are much lower, and everyone seems to want to be outside (at least now, while it's warm). But on the whole, it feels very similar.

One thing I particularly like is the transportation system. I can hop on a train and be downtown in about 20 minutes after leaving my doorstep. Along those lines, I just returned from Whistler, taking the bus from Kamloops to downtown Calgary and then the train the rest of the way. I also particularly like how most people up here seem happy, attentive, and resourceful. I've never lived in a place with quite that kind of societal vibe.

However, despite this being an English-speaking country with laws very much like home, I still needed to jump through the official hoops to become a student here. I thought I'd write the steps down so others could benefit.

To become a full-fledged member of society here, I needed:

  1. A Study Permit, which I applied for in person at the Los Angeles Canadian Embassy at the beginning of the summer. Their website instructions made it easy. I received the actual permit when crossing the border in August.
  2. A SIN Number, which took the longest of anything to apply for. Like a SSN in the States, I walked in to an SIN office and showed them my passport, study permit, and my offer of employment from the University. Once my employment contract was in the exact same format that they wanted it in, I got my SIN number right away.
  3. A Bank Account, for which I actually didn't need a SIN number, just my student ID card and some money to deposit.
  4. Health Insurance, for which I simply found a local application office and brought my study permit, my passport, and proof that I lived in Calgary (the proof I use was my new SIN paper with my address). The coverage retroactively started on the day I entered Canada.
  5. I also found Travel Insurance companies who provide health insurance for when I travel outside of Canada. I couldn't find any online information while in the States, but up here there are lots with brochures and prices readily available.
  6. Car Insurance, which students need to drive here even though they don't need an Alberta driver's license or an Alberta-licensed car. We have State Farm insurance in the States, and it exists here up in Canada too, so I just transferred the policies.
I also got a cell phone and some other things that aren't necessarily 'official' to live here, but are nice. I found most of the information I needed (like addresses of government buildings) to accomplish all the errands above at the International Student Center at the University. Most schools have such a center, they're very helpful.

So, as I sit here munching on Okanagan blue grapes and writing this, life is pretty good. Oh, and school is great too. I can't wait until Roy moves up here next year!

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