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Moving Back to Canada

Resources for Expatriate Canadians returning to Canada after living in the U.S. or further abroad


You moved back to Canada...and life is not working out well


Couple adjusting to life in Canada

Sometimes a move back to Canada doesn't work out very well. Every year I hear from people for whom this is the case. If this is your reality then it can be helpful to understand that you are not alone. Most people find that what their life looks like after a return to Canada is not exactly what they had expected, desired, needed, and wanted before they moved back.

When this realization happens questions then arise:

"What should we do now? Do we make this work out? If so, how?! Or should we leave Canada again and go back to where we were before (or to a new place)?"

Great questions and again, trust that if you are reading this because you are coming to this point, or are at it already, you are not alone and any feelings of discombobulation, disappointment, frustration, anger, shock, and even possibly fear are authentic and understandable.

What comes next can be a gift or a curse.

It can be a gift if you dig in and find out more about what you expected Canada to be like for you, why those expectations weren't met, and what you really need and want in your life next. Then you can make decisions for moving forward from a place of new awareness and empowerment of yourself with fresh insights and understanding.

Or it can be a curse if in your frustration you immediately pack up and head back to where you came from. Some people do this and find they are right back where they were and the same reasons they left are still very real and potent factors in their life.

Or worse, it can be a curse because you feel powerless in your new Canadian context and your frustration grows until you end up in a dark place emotionally. Yes, it does happen to some people and it is really unpleasant for them to be in that place.

Let's explore the "gift" option instead, OK?


Chapters to explore...



Why you chose to move back to Canada and what you expected...


First: When you prepare to move back to Canada you are feeling the urge to do so for many reasons.


Here are some of the most common ones:

Hiking in Canada

To be clear: There is no judgement of the reason(s) you chose to return to Canada! This is not about "right" or "wrong", "good" or "bad". It is only about understanding the reason(s) you had for the decision you made to move back to Canada.

Suggestion: Take some quiet time when you won't be interrupted and write the reasons down. Openly, honestly, and fully. Leave out nothing. Judge nothing, including yourself. If it feels better to verbally process this, do so with a friend, spouse, or even with a counselor. However, note that when doing this with another person it is harder to avoid external blame or self recrimination. Choose someone who you feel very comfortable exploring your reasoning with and how your move decisions unfolded.

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Next: Why did you choose the location, context, and setup in Canada when you moved back?


Exactly what you wanted

Now that you likely understand more about why you decided to return to Canada, there were decisions made at the time about what you were heading towards and where that was in Canada. Here are some common factors returning Canadians share:

Again, be gentle on yourself if this process starts to bring up uncomfortable feelings. There is no right or wrong, good or bad. Just truth about what you desired, needed, and wanted in your future in Canada. This process may uncover some deeper and possibly very sensitive thoughts and feelings. That is natural and letting these thoughts and feelings reveal their truth is healthy. Unpleasant at times? For sure. But it is healthy to allow them into your consciousness so you can then do something about them.

Suggestion: As with the previous question, write down your reasons for the decisions you made around where you would move to Canada. If emotions do come up then just keep writing through them. Don't stop. Keep going...

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Your current reality in Canada


With the above clarity on why you left and what your expectations of Canada were you may find it useful to take an inventory of where you are now. This comes in two parts: Who you are right now and what your full reality in Canada is at this time.

Who are you right now?


Who are you right now?

This question is a very powerful one because between the time when you left Canada originally and when you returned you have become a different person. Some common dimensions of this:

For some people this section can be the easiest to reflect on and get clarity. For others this can bring up very, very challenging feelings. We may have childhood trauma with "what you want is selfish. You should do what your [family][spouse][parents][boss] want you to do." For a third time: Be gentle on yourself if considerations of who you are, what you dream you want in life, and what is healthy for you bring up strong feelings.

Suggestion: This is a powerful question. Take the time you need to reflect, discuss, and process this section. It can be helpful at some point to discuss insights about who you are with those closest to you. Then if you need to make some changes it won't be a total surprise to them.

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What is the reality of your life in Canada at this time?


While you may have a lot of clarity about what is not working for you in Canada at this time it can be helpful to step back and take a look at the bigger context and at what is working. Often the "pain point" you are dealing with at the moment can darken the rest of your life picture. Understanding the mix of what is not working and what is actually working can be helpful for making decisions on how to move forward.

Here is a case example to illustrate:

A case example - Sarah?Sarah

Sarah recently moved back to Oakville, Ontario with her family after living and working in New York City for 20 years.

Now in her 40's, Sarah is a mid-career professional with a new job in Toronto, a husband she met in NYC and married 12 years ago, and an 8-year-old daughter who she wants a healthy life for. Oakville is where Sarah grew up and moving back there was an obvious choice as she would be close to family and the life she knew and loved in the past.

After months of preparing for the move, making it happen, and setting up life in Oakville Sarah was driving up the slow-moving QEW highway to her office in Toronto one morning when she had a sinking feeling in her stomach following a sudden realization that she and her family had traded their busy, crowded NYC life for...a busy, crowded Toronto life.

That evening Sarah took a couple of quiet hours to herself with a mug of tea and took stock of her and her family's life right now. Here is what she wrote down:

What is working in my and our life:

What is working

What is not working in my and our life:

["(sigh)" This part took a few sips of tea from her mug first and the wish that the tea was actually wine, but Sarah took a deep breath and started writing]

What is working

Not usually one to cry Sarah nonetheless felt tears flow as she realized that their lives were heading down a "dead-end street" that she had thought would be a "highway to a better life".

Now what? How can Sarah move forward with these new insights?

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How to deal with the collision of expectation and reality


Sarah was wise. She did three important things that will help her situation:

Expectation versus Reality
  1. Sarah immediately acted on her sudden realization that all was not well. That night she sat down and dug into her situation. It is usually easier to just let such an awareness go and maybe say to yourself "I will spend some time on that this weekend when I am less busy." The weekend comes and goes, of course, and you don't take action. Sarah acted immediately and this means she can address the situation now, before it festers and leads to more pain for her and her family in the future.
  2. Sarah was honest about her situation. By taking time to herself in private she could feel safe to be honest. She wrote down her insights and analysis. By writing them down her ego could not protect her from the truth or any unpleasant feelings. It was right there on paper. No dismissing it and diverting her attention with the latest Netflix series. This is her and her family's life and she had the strength to face it truthfully to herself.
  3. Sarah let the tears flow. Yes, this is usually a healthy thing to do. The alternatives? There are many: Get angry at herself, suppress/repress the feelings that come up, fold the notes she made up and hide them away while pretending all was well, and many more possible actions that would avoid the feelings and avoid having to take action.

Because of the courageous and honest immediate action Sarah took that very evening she can now take next steps from a place of strength. She can do so before the life she and her family are experiencing risks coming to a sudden and painful stop on the dead-end street.

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Healthy commitments and steps to take at the junction of expectation and reality


Sarah's situation is just an archetypal case study and everyone's reality is different and unique, of course. But there are some healthy things you can do at this point that are common to most people's situation.

Here are some key ones:

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"Going back seems such an easy thing to do! We can just do a u-turn and re-start our previous lives abroad!"

U-Turn

Yes, it can and in some cases this is exactly the right thing to do. Some Canadians have done this and it has worked well for them. If you kept one foot in the country you left such as you have an open offer to come back to a job, you have a supportive community there, and you have the legal right to return and live there then a u-turn move out of Canada can be a very viable option.

But this is not usually the case!

There are many options in front of you for changing course when life is not working out after a move back to Canada. The three most common ones:

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"Isn't this just reverse culture shock?"

culture shock

"Culture shock" is a very predictable pattern that people go through when they find themselves in a new culture and many of their unconscious and conscious beliefs, mental models, and ways of doing things come up against small and large differences in the new place they find themselves in. Culture shock typically takes about 18 months to get through. When you move back to Canada you will likely experience some level of "reverse culture shock" as Canada has changed since you left and so have you.

"So isn't all this just reverse culture shock?" And therefore, won't all these feelings pass over time and everyone will just settle in and be happy?

The danger to assuming that adjusting to life in Canada "just takes time" is that this belief can hide real and important issues that need attention immediately. And worse, dismissing feelings with "oh, just quit complaining and get used to it" can cause irreparable damage to relationships and to one's own sense of self esteem, self worth, and empowerment.

How to know the difference between "reverse culture shock" and "our move back is just not working out"

First and foremost is to promptly go through a reflective exercise like the one noted above in this resource. Writing down why you wanted to come back to Canada, what you expected, who you are now, and what is what is not working will illustrate clearly whether what you are experiencing is a serious mismatch or not.

If the issues that come up in your reflection are deeper, in that they bring up really powerful feelings, then this is not reverse culture shock. Instead, it is life presenting an opportunity to create a blessing: Deal with what needs attention and avoid much pain and suffering later.

Adjusting to life in Canada when it is not working out is not something to "brush off" as only reverse culture shock. It takes work to understand what is really going on so that you can address the causes of distress and change your future for the positive. And sometimes it is true that returning Canadians should not "adjust" at all but instead should pack up and leave Canada again.

Yes, reverse culture shock exists for Canadians returning home after many years in the U.S. and further abroad. Most of the time adjustment to a "new" culture can be handled over dinner conversations and by having personal and family favourites (foods, events, activities, people, places) that then focus attention on the positive aspects of life in Canada, counter-balancing the negative cultural aspects that were not expected and welcomed. This then sets the stage for moving through the cultural adjustment phase in a healthy way.

In summary: Reverse culture shock affects almost all returning Canadians to a lesser or greater degree. And it can usually be dealt with pretty easily. If, however, life in Canada is clearly not working out then there is much more going on that needs attention than just reverse culture shock.

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Summary: When life is not working out in Canada...do something about it


Those people who promptly and openly address the challenge of life not working out in Canada as expected through personal reflection, honesty, and openness with those closest to them have the most success in "fixing" their life context and creating a brighter future.

These people choose to treat the realization that things aren't working out as a "gift".

Those people whose lives become a "train wreck" after they move back? They delay, divert, ignore, hide from, and avoid the truth that things aren't working well until life gives them a painful result: Divorce, health issues, mental issues, financial mess, and emotional misery.

These people choose to treat the realization that things aren't working out as a "curse".


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Experiences shared by Canadians after their return


Alison Bradley shares here simple statement on her experiences of moving back in 2021 and her attitude for the future:

"I would be lying if I said it hasn't been a bit of an adjustment, but this too shall pass."

Wendy Caroll shares her experiences, considerations, and decision to return to the U.S. in 2021:

Moving to Canada in Aug 2020 after 45+ years in the US has been the greatest mistake of my life. We are planning on returning to WA state. So many unexpected issues have become evident.

Canada is NOT the Canada I left behind, even though i have visited family regularly over the years. I had become a visitor to Canada and didn't see how it was changing.

I've spent a lot of time trying to discover why I feel I don't fit in Canada and among them is my need for friendships that have history. At 69, I cannot replace friendships that have taken 15 or more years to develop. I miss those friends dearly and cannot imagine spending the rest of my life in Canada trying to build relationships that cannot be built.

I don't know how to be Canadian. It's difficult. The metric system baffles me, how banking is done frustrates me, how businesses operate and poor, in my opinion, service irritates me. I just don't know how things work here and, at my age, I'm tired of learning new things.

I want the comfort of what I have known for 45 years. I want to live where I know how things work. Not living here for so long I don't understand cultural references - I wasn't her when (fill in the blank) happened. I don't get the nuances.

It's like straddling two worlds and as I get older I think I need the familiar. I thought I was moving home to Canada only to discover I was moving away from home. I'm currently planning to return to the US and am very concerned about how my family will react to that. It's not an easy decision but I find as I play out in my mind how I will feel to be back in my familiar neighborhood I find comfort in the thought.

I love you, Canada, but you have changed and I have changed. I'll visit regularly and am proud to have grown up here but my heart is now elsewhere. I tried.
Read More

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Your ideas, considerations, and experiences?


Your ideas? Your thoughts? Your experiences?

Please share your thoughts, considerations, experiences, and wisdom relating to returning to Canada and making the move work out for you (or not!) I will post them here as help for others. Along with a credit to you will be a big thank you on behalf of the many people you will be helping!

Thank you!

Paul Kurucz


Latest update to this page: June 2021



Would you like help with your move?


Paul Kurucz

Would you like help with your move?


Paul Kurucz

Would you like help with your move?


Paul Kurucz

I offer professional support to help you prepare for a smooth and easy return to Canada so you can feel confident and organized!

Your questions about when to move back, taxes, investments and finances, bringing back your household belongings, health care, and more will be answered promptly and professionally, with resources to back up what you need. My 18 years of supporting over 1,200 clients gives me a depth of expertise across all aspects of planning and returning to Canada.

Paul Kurucz - Canada


A happy client:

Hi Paul,

Just to update you - we landed and sailed through customs! So thank you so much for all of your advice...It was a thoroughly pleasant experience.

This is to say thank you for everything. Your advisory has been so incredibly helpful and saved us considerable time and removed room for error.

With best wishes,

Caroline

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