Friday, October 3, 2014

Our apartment

Here it is, our Victoria home. This is the landlord's entrance; ours is down on the left side.

There's a little entryway when you walk in...

 ...and then straight ahead is the kitchen. I love having a kitchen with a window after not having one in our last two apartments. This kitchen is also a good size, with plenty of counter space and more cabinets than we need at the moment.

The kitchen melds into the dining room (the photo of the kitchen was taken from near the dining room table). The table and chairs we got just happen to be really similar to the set we had in Buffalo.

The backdoor goes to a small backyard. Earlier the landlord had peppers and tomatoes growing in the little garden area on the left.

The dining room opens onto the living room. We keep meaning to put pictures on the walls but haven't gotten to it yet. We love our Craigslist fainting couch and the free armchair we got from a nice older couple who was moving to England.

On the right side of the house is the hallway to the bedrooms. Yay for our own washer and dryer!

Not much in here at the moment. Sadly the air mattress just started leaking so we don't have a bed at the moment--time for more Craigslisting!

This second bedroom is pretty empty except for the desk where I work.

And that's it! We still need a few more pieces of furniture but none of it's urgent (except the bed). We like the place a lot; it's bright with all the windows and the laminate floors are great for allergies (although the downside is that they always seem dirty because they don't absorb the dust and dirt like carpet would; it just sits on top and no matter how often we sweep it always seems to come back right away!). The location is also nice because it's halfway between downtown and the university, and within biking/walking distance of grocery stores, a post office, etc. The landlord doesn't allow pets, though, so we'll have to consider moving eventually, but for now we're happy here.

Monday, September 29, 2014

How (not) to temporarily import a car to Canada

As well as being the story of our experience getting our car registered in BC, this post is also meant as a how-to for anyone who, like me, ends up confused and frantically Googling as they try to figure out exactly what they need to do to get their U.S. car legal in Canada while they're here temporarily. Skip to the end for a list of the steps you'll need to take.

After packing up everything we own, driving across the country, dealing with our immigration issues, moving into our new apartment, cleaning said apartment (the previous tenant failed to clean upon moving out), buying furniture so we'd have places to sit and put our stuff, unpacking, and starting classes/remote work, Adam and I finally looked into what we needed to do about our car. At that point we only had 10 days to do whatever-it-was, because our U.S. auto insurance stopped covering us after 30 days out of the country. Unfortunately, we quickly realized that it was going to be complicated. 

ICBC (basically BC's version of the DMV) says on their website that if you're a student here, you don't have to register your car in BC as long as your current insurance will continue to cover you while you're here. Unfortunately, our insurance (AAA) won't. Hopeful that we could switch to another U.S. insurance company that would, I spent a long on Google trying to find one, but eventually gave up when I didn't find anything promising. (After doing all that research, I don't think that it's possible for a U.S. insurance company to cover someone in Canada for an extended period of time; ICBC probably just doesn't realize that, and thus gives poor people like us false hope). 

The reason I spent so much time looking into that before resigning myself to undergoing BC registration is that ICBC's out-of-country registration webpage says, "If you're bringing your car from the U.S., you have to import it before registering it. To find out how to do that, please see the websites of these federal government agencies." And then they link to three text-heavy websites that are themselves full of links. So when just figuring out how to import our car was obviously going to take a lot of time and effort (and after Googling a little and finding people saying that importing your car is confusing and expensive), I was reeeeeally hoping to avoid it. Adam and I even talked about going back to Washington and selling our car and just living without it, because it was starting to seem like it might not be worth the cost and trouble to keep it here. But we couldn't make a decision that drastic without fully investigating our other options, so finally I accepted my fate and opened the three websites.

Fortunately I didn't have to spend much time on two of them, but the first one (for the Registrar of Imported Vehicles, or RIV) actually listed the instructions for importing your car, so I started reading, clicking from link to link and making a list of what we'd need to do. A little ways in--after they'd already started instructing you on how to start the import process--they linked to a page about being exempt from the process. And guess who's exempt? Students, for one. So suddenly I was being told we wouldn't have to go through "RIV registration"--but did they say what parts of the process I'd just been reading about "RIV registration" actually consisted of? No. No information whatsoever about what exactly being exempt from it meant--just that we were. So I knew we didn't need to do everything the website said (relief!), but had no idea what it was that we still did need to do (stress!). It was super frustrating. I read the websites more and did some Googling, trying to find other people who'd been in this situation talking about it, but I only found one blog post describing the temporary import process, and even from that it still wasn't clear exactly what we'd have to do (especially because BC's rules are somewhat different from Ontario's, where the blog author was). 

So, finally, I called the RIV to ask. I found out that since we were exempt the process would be free and actually pretty simple; we just had to go to a CBSA (Canadian Border Services Agency) office and get a Form 1. So I called CBSA to ask where I could get that form, and they told me to go to the office downtown, where we'd gone before to deal with our immigration issues. But when I went there and explained our situation and asked for the form, the officer asked, "Do you have your husband's study permit and your vehicle title with you?" Which I didn't, because the person I'd talked to on the phone hadn't mentioned that I'd need to bring those.

So Adam and I went back the next day, paperwork in hand, but this time the officer said that since he was the only one there, he couldn't come down and look at our car like he needed to to complete the form. So he told us to go to the other local CBSA office later that day, and there would be people there who could take care of it. So we dutifully showed up, and then, finally, an officer looked at our car and stamped the form. I had to specifically ask him for a B15 form, though, which ICBC's website had listed as necessary but he seemed to think strange that we needed. (Side note: These agencies--CBSA, the RIV, and ICBC--just don't know how to coordinate anything. None of them understands what the others require, which is a big part of why the process is so unnecessarily messy.)

I had figured out that (as part of the registration process, not the temporary import process) we'd have to have our car inspected, so we got that done too. On Friday afternoon, with a folder of car-related documents, we showed up at an autoplan broker's office--because you don't actually go to ICBC to get your registration and insurance, but rather to an independent broker. Fortunately I'd called ahead and found that we'd need to bring our birth certificates and passports as proof of identity, so when we went in we were confident that we had everything we needed. 

And we did, except that, after the agent started going over our paperwork, she discovered that the VIN had been mistyped on our inspection report. They couldn't accept the report with an incorrect VIN, so we had to pack up all our documents again, drive back to the place that had done the inspection, and get a corrected report. At that point it was too late to go back to the broker that day, so we had to wait till Monday, today, two days before our deadline.

It took two hours, and there was one moment where we thought we might have to go back and get another inspection report because the odometer reading on the one we had said kilometers, when of course it's actually in miles, but that ended up not being an issue and now it's done! Canadian auto insurance is super expensive, though, and if you file a claim it gets even higher. But we did what we had to do, and now we're BC legal, just in time.

The moral of this story: don't own a car in Canada! Rely on a bike, or the bus, or a scooter, or your feet. Or, if you're willing to pay the high insurance cost, then buy a car here instead of in the U.S. Except that now I'm going to give you a handy list of what you need to do to bring in an RIV-exempt vehicle and get it registered in BC, so actually, go right ahead and bring that car, because unlike me you'll actually know what to do.

1. When you enter Canada, tell them you need to get the vehicle registered here and ask them for a Form 1 and a B15. The Form 1 should be stamped by them twice. The B15 is a "casual goods accounting document" and will show that you paid zero tax on the vehicle, since you don't owe any for a temporary import.

If you're only researching this after arriving here, like us, and the border officers didn't say anything about your car when you entered (also what happened to us), call CBSA and ask where you can get a Form 1. Then go there, being sure to bring your study/work permit and your car's title. Make sure you get the B15 in addition to the Form 1.

3. Once you're in Canada, get your car inspected at an approved facility. Here's the list for BC; I assume the other provinces provide lists as well. Make sure all your info is correct on the inspection report!

4. Go to an autoplan broker. Find one on ICBC's website--there are lots (and it doesn't matter which one you go to). When you go, bring:

  • Your Form 1
  • Your B15
  • Your inspection report
  • Your car's title and registration.The registration isn't listed as a requirement on ICBC's website, but when I called the broker's office they told me to bring it, and they kept it as well as the title. (Edit: The broker actually mailed the registration back to me about two weeks later, along with the original B15.)
  • If you haven't obtained a BC driver's license, your passport and birth certificate as proof of identity
  • Letter(s) from your current/previous insurance company stating that you haven't had any claims. These will get you a discount on your insurance. Here's ICBC's info about the discount.

The autoplan broker will get you set up with (expensive) insurance and give you your plates and registration sticker, and then you'll be all set. You won't have to do anything with the RIV or get any modifications made to your vehicle, so by all means, remain blissfully ignorant about that whole process--I wish I had!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Biking Victoria

Adam and I bought bikes recently at a used bike shop called Recyclistas. Besides selling bikes, they repair them and offer classes on how to repair your own bike. They're located right by the Galloping Goose Trail (fun name, right?), which is a rail trail that starts in Victoria and goes out west to what I think of as the wild part of the island (I may be wrong, but my impression is that besides Victoria, Vancouver Island all small towns or wilderness). We wandered around looking at the bikes they had outside until someone asked if we needed help, to which we answered, "We know nothing about bikes! Show us some good ones!" The guy looked at us, asked our heights, and then said, "Try that one, that one, and that one," able to tell right away what bikes would fit us even though they all looked pretty much the same to me. We rode different ones around on the trail and each found one we liked, so now we're real bike owners! (I feel like the Walmart mountain bike I got when I was 10 and had until we moved doesn't count.) 

It's easier to bike here than I expected; the streets in our neighborhood aren't busy at all, so most of the time you're not riding with cars, and when you do get to the busier streets they often have bike lanes. Some don't, but I've only had to bike on those a little bit so far; it's normally easy to avoid them and just go a different way. Yesterday I biked to the post office, and today Adam and I dropped our car off at the shop and biked home. That was great--super convenient since we only have one car now--except that it was 8:30am and raining. We were both soaked, freezing, and exhausted (it was mostly uphill) when we got back, but I was still glad we did it--cheaper than paying for the bus, and better exercise!

I'm weirdly excited about getting around by bike; I guess it's just because I've only ever biked for fun before, rather than using my bike to get somewhere I needed to go. Until I moved to Buffalo I lived in the country, so you couldn't just bike to the post office in under 10 minutes (also, my family currently lives on a mountain--biking down is great, but going back up is brutal!), and where I lived in Buffalo it was too scary to bike much; there was always so much traffic and most streets didn't have bike lanes. So it's cool to live somewhere where biking is possible and encouraged.

part of the selection at Recyclistas

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Impressions of Victoria

Some things I've noticed so far about our new home--it's:

  • Expensive! - Gas is about $4 per gallon, milk is almost $5 a gallon. That'll take a little getting used to.
  • Beautiful - There's the coast, mountains in the distance, and lots of flowers and trees.
  • Friendly - People are more outgoing then in the U.S., from cashiers to the people we're buying furniture from off Craigslist. When they find out we've just moved from the U.S. they have questions and advice and are just generally willing to strike up a conversation and/or help us out.
  • Eco-friendly - The city collects kitchen scraps separately from garbage, the University of Victoria has recycling receptacles with all their trash cans, and an auto repair shop I've looked into has a "Green Products and Services" section on their website where they tell how they recycle everything they can and use environmentally-friendly products.
  • Hilly - This may just have struck me because Buffalo was super-flat, but it seems like we're always driving up and down.
  • Bike- and pedestrian-friendly - There are crosswalks everywhere and lots of bike lanes, although some places don't have them, which makes it seem scary to bike. But I guess it must be okay once you're used to it, and it seems like all the drivers are very respectful of bikes.
  • Easy to get around - It's a small city on an island, so maybe that's a given, but it's been really nice since we arrived not knowing the area at all.
tonight's sunset

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Welcome to Canada

I wish I had kept up blogging when I moved to Buffalo, if only for my own benefit, because now I have no record of those pretty major experiences (my first real move away from home, my first real job). So I'm going to start blogging again now that Adam and I have moved to Victoria (in some ways an even bigger change), for that reason as well as so that I can keep people updated. I want to share stories and what's going on with us, but I'm not always good at sitting down and writing to people individually, so this will be one place where I can post the best stories and most important news so that I don't have to write/say them over and over. (Yes, I'm lazy. But no, I don't intend to give up on communicating with people individually! This should help me be better, not worse, at keeping in touch with people.)

Anyway, one story that I've been promising to tell people is about the immigration issues Adam and I had to deal with when we arrived in Canada. He'd applied for his study permit online back in June and it had been approved shortly afterward, and as far as we knew he just had to have the approval letter with him to show to the border officers, and then they would actually issue the permit. So we got off the ferry on Monday morning, after a beautiful ride from Port Angeles, WA, thinking we were all set to enter the country. But then the first officer we saw asked us if we had proof that we had funds to support ourselves while in Canada, and when we said no and couldn't even pull up a bank statement on one of our phones because neither of us have smartphones, they sent us inside to the office.

We quickly found out that we should have had multiple documents with us--the acceptance letter from Adam's school, documentation relating to health insurance coverage in Canada, and the evidence of funds. And adding to the unpleasantness of the situation, the officer who informed us of this was intimidating and even a little rude. She asked us a lot of questions after finding out we didn't have the documents, and we didn't know what the outcome was going to be--was she going to say everything was okay if we gave her enough information, or was she going to send us back to the U.S.?--until she told us she couldn't issue our permits, but would give us a day to collect the necessary documents and come back. She made sure to emphasize that if we didn't show up at the scheduled time--9:00 the next morning--she would issue a warrant for our arrest, adding, "we will come find you."

We ran off to a Tim Hortons to get online and access the documents we needed and then got them printed at our apartment later that day, after unloading our many boxes of stuff. The next morning we got to the office a little early and sat outside in the cold waiting. When the officer finally came out and talked to us, we showed her the documents and waited. After looking over everything, she said that we needed to show that we had applied for health insurance in Canada, not just that we could apply, which is what we had done. So we left the meeting still without our permits and with a second mandatory appointment, this time later that day.

We were frustrated because the officer hadn't made it clear the day before that we needed to apply for health insurance before she could grant the permits--it had sounded like we just needed to show her that health insurance was available to us and that we could afford it. And we were still frustrated about the situation in general because we didn't know how we were supposed to have known that we would need to have all this documentation at the border--the school hadn't told us, and the information Adam had gotten upon the approval of the permit hadn't said anything about it. But we ran back to Tim Hortons and applied for the insurance and printed the confirmation page and showed up for our next appointment. Unfortunately both appointments had conflicted with orientations for Adam's PhD program, but there wasn't anything we could do about that. 

At the second appointment the officer was finally happy, and we got our permits (Adam's for study and mine for temporary residence; I'll be getting a work permit as well but it's still in process). Of course we were really relieved, but it had been so stressful that I told Adam I would probably have nightmares about that officer, and I actually did have a dream that night that we had to go back to the immigration office again. The whole thing also felt ironic since I work at an immigration law office. I guess I should have brushed up on my Canadian immigration law! Anyway, it's all okay now but at the time it was kind of awful, and not a fun way to start off our time in Victoria. We were both worried about getting sent back to the U.S., which would have been really bad with Adam's classes starting our third day here. 

Once my work permit is approved I'll have to leave the country and reenter in order to get it, which is a little scary, but it should be okay because now we have a pile of documents all ready!