IEC Vancouver – Tips and Tricks

So you’ve got your IEC visa and booked your flights to Vancouver. Now what? I’d like to share a little of what I’ve learnt in the two months I’ve been here. I’m a Kiwi, so the comparisons I draw will be with life back in New Zealand but hopefully my tips will still prove useful for those from other countries.

Unless otherwise noted all prices are in Canadian dollars and do not include tax.

Insurance

Lets get the boring stuff out of the way first. As you probably know, you need medical repatriation insurance as a condition of your IEC visa. I went ahead and spent $$$ on the 2 year Down Under Insurance (DUI) policy. Arriving at the border they only asked for my entry letter and passport. I didn’t need to show proof of funds or insurance.

I’ve since learnt that if you are employed in BC at least 18 hours a week, you can enroll in the government health care plan. This would mean not having to do any paperwork or pay an excess when ending up in emergency. Presumably it also means you’d be treated without payment for accidents resulting from backcountry skiing or climbing which is excluded in the DUI policy. Details here: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/health/health-drug-coverage/msp/bc-residents/eligibility-and-enrolment/are-you-eligible/working-holiday-programs.

Take from that what you will – personally if I had my time again, I’d just get the cheapest possible policy to meet the IEC requirements and then enroll in the BC plan once I had a job.

Arrival

I bought my bike over in a big cardboard box and wasn’t sure how I would get it in from the airport along with all my other stuff. I needn’t have worried as it turns out the taxis all have very reasonable fixed prices (around $30-$35). You can pay with a card as well, so there’s really no need to get Canadian dollars out before you fly over.

There’s a fare zone map, with prices on this page: http://www.yvr.ca/en/passengers/transportation/taxis.

Money

Opening a bank account is probably job number one. Most of the major banks have a promo for new residents where you don’t pay monthly fees for the first year (it’s not all free like in NZ). Make sure you get one of these packages.

I ended up going with CIBC, mainly just because there was a branch near my hotel. Made an appointment and had everything sorted in under 30 mins – including getting a debit card on the spot. They’ve been good so far. App and website work well.

A good plan might be to use a major bank for your first year and then switch to Tangerine for the 2nd year. They have no monthly fees but are a little harder to sign-up for initially without a BC driver’s license or other ID.

Transferring money to other people is a little different here. Rather than just using their bank account number, there is this service called Interac where you ‘send’ money to their email address or phone number.

TransferWise is the way to go for transferring money to and from your NZ account. Low fees and super easy to use. If you sign-up with my invite link you’ll get your first transfer free: transferwise.com/u/nicholasw235.

A note on credit cards. It turns out you really do need one here. Deposits on car and ski rentals are one example. Often websites (eg. paying my mobile phone bill) will not accept international credit cards. Also some shops charge a fee for using debit cards, but not for credit cards which is super weird. Some cards also have useful benefits like covering your rental car insurance. Cards take a couple of weeks to arrive, so plan ahead.

Driving

One of the best things about Vancouver is the car-sharing services. Think Uber, but where you’re the driver. You’ll need a BC driver’s license which you can get easily as Canada has a reciprocal arrangement with NZ. You just go to an ICBC and exchange (yes they do take your NZ one) your license and pay a fee (around $30). Details here: http://www.icbc.com/driver-licensing/moving-bc/Pages/Moving-from-another-country.aspx .

The two main car-sharing companies are Evo and car2Go. Both are good. For Evo, use my referral code C000115783 to get 30mins free.

Phone Plans

Phone plans are expensive here. Shop around to find the best deal as the companies seem to have promos that come and go. The big three mobile providers: Rogers, Telus and Bell all have spinoff brands: Fido, Koodo and Virgin respectively. They use the same networks but seem to be rebranded to attract a younger / non-business audience. You’ll probably want to go with one of these spinoff brands.

I’m paying $45 a month with Koodo for 2Gb data and unlimited calls/texts which is considered a good deal here…

Temporary Accomodation

You’ll have a hard time trying to sort out permanent accommodation before you arrive, so best to book something temporary whilst you go flat hunting. It’s the usual suspects here: AirBnB, Hostels, Hotels (or a couch if you’re luck enough to know someone here). I arrived on the 14th of the month and managed to sort out a room to move into for the 1st of the following month. Over those two weeks I stayed in a couple of places:

  1. The Buchan Hotel – near Stanley Park. This appealed as I was able to have a private room and place to spread out with all my stuff. Similar price to a private room at a hostel ($80 ish / night). Would be a particularly good option for couples.
  2. HI Central – right in the middle of everything on Granville St. Good for meeting people, and breakfast is included. Big lockers in the dormitory rooms. Bad WiFi though.

Finding a Room

Most rooms changeover at the start of the month, so in an ideal world, you will have arrived near the middle of the month – long enough to find a place (hopefully) but not so long they you are splashing the cash on temporary accommodation for too long.

I’m going to make your decision making easy and suggest that unless you are particularly cost conscious, you look for a room in one of the following areas: Downtown (West End / Coal Harbour / Yaletown / Gastown), Kits or Main St. These areas all have cool stuff happening nearby and are close to public transport.

As a single person looking for a room in a shared flat/house, expect to pay between $750 and $1100 per month. Sometimes hydro (what they call electricity) and internet is included, sometimes not – don’t worry too much about that as both are much cheaper than in New Zealand.

Craigslist is where most places are listed here. It’s a pretty clunky site, but OK once you get used to it. Definitely make use of the price and postal code filters to help you narrow the list down. I’d suggest avoiding listings with text like “Great for students / internationals” as they are likely just looking for soft targets to rip-off, or those without any details about the other roommates. There are also a bunch of people trying to rent out the living rooms of their apartments, which sounds pretty awful…

Good luck!

Finding a Job

I’m not going to spend too much time on this because I imagine your experience will vary depending on what line of work you’re in (I’m a software developer), but I thought I’d make a few observations for those intending to further their careers whilst in Vancouver:

  1. It was harder than I was expecting. There is definitely a bias against those here on a short term visa (which is probably fair enough), so you will need to work to present yourself as more attractive than the local competition.
  2. I got very few replies submitting applications from back in New Zealand. You really need to be here, have a local phone number and preferably an address, on your resume before recruiters will take you seriously.
  3. Almost exclusively, the companies I heard back from were those where I had applied through some sort of back-channel, such as a referral (even from the newest or most tenuous of connections). This is probably the biggest takeaway I can give you – meet some local people in the industry / companies you want to apply for and submit your resume through them. Obviously forming these connections is easier said than done, but they often pop up in unexpected places and it’s worth following up.

Buying Room / House Stuff

Moving from New Zealand, I was all excited about how much easier it would be to buy stuff on Amazon. Turns out that’s not the case. Vancouver might only be 3hrs drive from Seattle, but we’re still very much second class citizens when it comes to Amazon shipping.

That said, If you’re not too fussed on quality, and just want cheap bedroom linen and the odd kitchen appliance (like a decent toaster for $10), then I’ve found Walmart online shopping to be the easiest. Delivery is free and you can choose to have your package delivered to the nearest post shop, so it doesn’t matter if you’re not home.

Fun Stuff

Whistler

Skiing at Whistler is a good time. Unfortunately it’s also super expensive. A massive American company with the appropriately sinister sounding name of “The Vail Corporation” bought the Whistler/Blackcomb resort in 2016. They’ve since jacked up all the prices which the locals are all very sour about. Basically you get OK prices if you buy a season pass, but day passes are just really expensive.

Here’s a couple of tips to minimize the damage:

  • The Epic Rides bus gets you there and back for $35, and they leave on-time (even on the snowiest day in Vancouver all year).
  • Rent ski gear from one of the private ski shops, rather than from the resort. A particularly good option is Coastal Culture Sports in Creekside. When I’ve been there it’s been super quiet, the staff are helpful and they give you good gear.
  • Creekside is a little village just south of the main Whistler Village. It has a ticket office and a gondola which goes up Whistler mountain, joining up with everything else on the resort, so it’s a good alternative to the busyness of Whistler Village. You can still ski down to Whistler Village for lunch if you want to check it out (and to get better and cheaper lunch than what’s on the mountain).

 

Food for tramping

Having recently done a few multi-day solo tramping trips I’ve gotten reasonably good at throwing together a menu that keeps me going, doesn’t cost the earth and tastes decent. I thought I’d use my recent Travers Sabine trip as an example.

A few other things I try and keep in mind:

  1. If I’m travelling around a bit in the car before starting a trip, I won’t bring stuff that might go off without refrigeration for a few days (eg. cheese).
  2. This menu is for one person. I might plan a similar menu (just with double the quantity) for two people, but for larger groups it would make sense to use fewer pre-packed meals and use more raw ingredients. Lentil-based meals are a great option for larger groups.
  3. To conserve gas, I prefer meals/ingredients that don’t have long cooking times. Couscous requires much less cooking than rice for example (although I think rice tastes better so I’ll do that when in a hut where gas is provided ;).

Here’s the food I took for 5 nights / 5(ish) days on the Travers Sabine:

Here’s how that breaks down:

Breakfasts

  • Oatmeal (1/2 cup per morning) – combine with 1 1/4 cups water and as much milk powder as you like (maybe 1/4 cup).
  • Cinnamon/nutmeg mix and brown sugar to go on oatmeal.
  • Coffee

Snacks

  • Muesli bars
  • Whittakers peanut slabs
  • Scroggin/nut mix – I like the Pams Super Foods range – also good to sprinkle a bit of this on oatmeal at breakfast.
  • Olives
  • Energy balls (often I make these at home)
  • Gingernuts

Lunches

  • 2 days – crackers with chutney and salami
  • 3 days – Sealord tuna sachet and crackers

Pre/post dinner snacks

  • Tea
  • Cup-a-soup
  • Chocolate

Dinners

  1. Indian MTR meal with 1/2 cup couscous – these meals are super tasty and cheap ($3.50 from Pak ‘N Save) but are not dehydrated so are a bit heavy. I tend to have them just on the first night.
  2. Packet pasta with salami
  3. Packet pasta with salami
  4. Packet pasta with dehydrated peas
  5. Absolute wilderness dehydrated meal with couscous
  6. Extra/emergency dehydrated meal

Trail Runs in New Zealand’s South Island

A brain dump (in a routhly north to south order)

Anything and everything on the Abel Tasman Track. North of Totaranui tends to be less crowded and so an especially good choice. Water Taxis can provide transport if needed.

Nydia Track

From the Cobb Valley road – up the up the Lake Peel track, along the ridge track and back down to the road

Lake Rotoiti Circuit (23km)

Charming Creek Walkway (9.5km oneway)

Avalanche Peak – a good loop option from the village is to run up the Mt Bealey Track, scramble over Mt Bealey, Lyell Peak and Avalanche Peak and descend via Scotts Track.

Hooker Valley – go early to avoid crowds of tourists in the summer

Up South Temple Valley to the hut

Upper Clutha tracks (eg. Alexandra to Clyde)

Up the Dart River from Chinamans Bluff carpark (or the full Rees-Dart if you’re really keen)

Routeburn Track (and any of the other great walks in the region)

Hosting Upsource with Docker – DNS Dilemmas

Currently at work we are using an open source source code management tool called Kallithea. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be under active development any longer and is in general a bit unstable and lacking the features we need in a growing development team. For me the biggest pain point was not having a nice web interface to browse and review code. We’re currently evaluating other options (BitBucket, GitHub, VSO/TFS etc.) and trying to decide whether to self-host or not. This process is taking a bit of time, so I went looking for something to tide us over until we came up with a more permanent solution. This lead me to Upsource, one of JetBrains’ latest incarnations.

Upsource is web-based tool for browsing and reviewing code. The handy thing with Upsource is that it tacks onto your source code hosting tool, rather than being an all-in-one like the systems we are looking at moving to. This allowed me to quietly install it without ruffling any feathers and let members of the team decide whether or not they wanted to use it. Luckily I had a spare Linux box running Ubuntu on which I was quickly able to get it installed and hooked up with LDAP.

The interesting part came a month or later when the next version of Upsource was released (February 2017). As well as a bunch of handy new features (full-text search FTW) they also announced that new versions were being published as Docker images. This sounded like a good idea and one which would make future updates easier, so I followed the instructions to migrate my Upsource instance to being hosted under Docker. Unfortunately I found that after starting up my new version of Upsource inside a Docker container, it could no longer resolve internal URLs; neither those pointing to the source code repositories or to the LDAP server.

A bit of Googling revealed that this was a known issue with Docker on recent versions of Ubuntu: https://github.com/docker/docker/issues/23910. It sounds like it’s resolved in the latest version of Docker, but I couldn’t work out whether that had been released yet.

Luckily someone had already written up a handy blogpost showing how to get around the issue: https://robinwinslow.uk/2016/06/23/fix-docker-networking-dns/#the-permanent-system-wide-fix.

I went with the ‘quick fix’ approach described there:

  1. I ran this command to find the IP address of the DNS server running inside my company’s network. This spat out two contiguous IPs for me, so I just choose the first one.
    $ nmcli dev show | grep 'IP4.DNS'
    IP4.DNS[1]:                             10.0.0.2
    IP4.DNS[1]:                             10.0.0.3
  2. Added a –dns 10.0.0.2 argument to the docker run command I used to start the Upsource container.

Problem solved!