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Home in a time of coronavirus

Home in a time of coronavirus

I contributed a monologue to the storytelling podcast What You Call Home, for their isolation series exploring how expats and others are coping with the coronavirus situation. Listen to me speaking it here. This is my text:

I’m Diane, a Canadian living in Edinburgh, Scotland. I’ve been here about a year and a half which is enough time for it to begin to feel like home. Whatever that means. I’ve never had a family home to return to, and I’ve lived in various parts of Canada, and in Mexico City. I think sometimes I put myself in situations where I don’t belong because that makes it normal that I don’t feel like I belong.

Part of what I love about my life here in Edinburgh is how history, art and culture slap you in the face at every turn. There are so many festivals, theatre, books, arts, science, everything.

I can be wandering in my neighbourhood and come across a building from the 1600s. The building I live in right now is older than the Canadian province I grew up in, where a building from the 1930s is super old. 

I love that there’s a castle overlooking Edinburgh’s city centre.

On Princes Street, the main street in the New Town – and by New Town they mean from the 1700s – there’s a giant monument to a writer. It’s for Walter Scott, but I’ll take what I can get.

There’s a writers museum, a poetry museum. The National Museum, the National Library. I’ve seen an original Gutenberg Bible and the stuffed remains of Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal.

Most museums are free, so they’re something you can dip in and out of on a whim when it’s raining, for example. It rains a lot here, which makes me feel at home after living in rainy Vancouver for 15 years.

And now, with the coronavirus lockdown, all that feels very distant. My reasons for moving here feel very distant. I’ve joked to friends that I didn’t move halfway around the world to be in a different living room. I try to get out for a walk once a day for our allowed exercise – I call it the government mandated exercise. I’m lucky that I live by the water and by a beautiful system of trails, and away from the busier city centre. But some days going out has felt like too much effort.

I do shower and get dressed every morning, because it makes me feel human, and wakes me up after a fitful night’s sleep. But makeup is a relic of the past, and I don’t put my contact lenses in anymore unless I’m dressing up for a fancy video call.  

In the early days I also joked that as an introvert with a lot of solitary hobbies, I’ve been preparing for social distancing my entire life. But I like doing stuff outside my home. I like going for dinner and drinks with friends. I do like people.

I like living alone, and I’m used to living alone. But I’ve had a friend from London staying with me for the past few weeks, who arrived hours before the UK lockdown was announced. It’s an adjustment to share my space, but it’s also nice to have someone other than the cats to share the daily anxieties.

That feeling that we’re all in this together is one comfort I find in this situation. Friends from around the world have been checking in on me and vice versa. I’ve done more video calls in the last month than the last 18 months since I moved combined. Some people I hadn’t heard from in a while reached out because I’m away from home. But this is home now.

Part of the reason I moved to the United Kingdom was to be closer to travel in Europe. I started gathering the paperwork I’d need for my visa when I worked on the Olympics in London. I was jealous of my coworkers talking about going to Paris for the weekend, Rome for a few days. In Canada I could fly for 6 hours and still be in Canada.

Being closer to the rest of Europe has meant having a front row seat to areas that have been hardest hit – besides hearing about it from the news, I have friends in Spain and know people here from Italy with friends and family in overwhelmed hospitals.

I was supposed to be in Spain in a couple of weeks but of course that’s been cancelled. As has a conference I was going to, a writing course I was taking, some theatre productions I had tickets to. Seeing all the cancellations roll in, and seeing my calendar transform into endless open days, made those early days of social distancing hit home.

It also made me realize how important crafting this life in my new home has been to me. My calendar had been full of the kind of activities that inspire me and give me joy.  

With all this time at home, I can focus more on the homebound activities that inspire me and give me joy. I could.

There are so many courses and activities online especially now. One of my favourite Vancouver musicians, Dan Mangan, has been doing Zoom concerts every Saturday evening from his basement, and that gives shape to my week. I’m watching the National Theatre productions that go live on Thursdays. I signed up for a writing course just for fun, and a digital marketing course for some professional development. But my concentration has been shot, so I’m finding it hard to be productive.

I’m baking and cooking a lot, because it feels satisfying to make something productive. I’ve become a cliché, making my own sourdough starter, though I haven’t actually got to the stage of baking bread yet.

I am still working, so that’s where my main productivity efforts go. And it is an effort, not always successful one.

I’m lucky that I’m self-employed and mostly worked from home anyway. I used to go into an office once a week to do the communications for a small charity that supports people with disabilities. Now the in-person activities have been suspended, of course, and we’re all working from home. That work, finding information and resources for some of our most vulnerable people, keeps me from worrying about my own privileged situation.

I have clients in healthcare and financial services who have special communications needs now, so I’m hopeful I won’t lose too much business. I know other freelancers whose work dried up overnight, so working keeps me grateful too.

I was contracted to work on the Olympics and Paralympics this summer, but the postponement means a chunk of my income for this year is gone. We’ve been given contracts for next year’s postponed dates already, but my rent and bills are still due this year. I’m still hopeful I can replace that income, though, and it’s too early to worry about it yet.

As countries roll out their funding for employees and freelancers affected by these events, it drives home that I’m not really home. I’m not eligible for UK support, even though I pay taxes here, because that’s a condition of my visa – no public funds. I’m not eligible for Canadian support because I’m not a resident. I am eligible for public healthcare from the NHS, but I’m hoping not to need that anytime soon.

I knew all that coming here, though, and I came prepared. I’ll be ok for a while. But it’s still unnerving, to know that I’m on my own with no real social safety net.

I’m trying not to worry about things I can’t control – which feels like most things, at the moment. I try to limit my news intake to what I need to know to be effective at my job and to be a good socially distanced citizen. I try not to think too far into the future. Netflix is my drug of choice to stop my brain from spiralling into the worst case scenarios.

It’s at night, when I should be putting my phone away and trying to sleep, that I start doing things like researching the Black Death and the Great Depression. I laugh at myself for that — I mean, talk about worst case scenarios — but it’s been comforting. I think about the terrors and the rationing of World War II. Even before coronavirus, the war experience has felt closer to me here in the UK. And then when the shops were cleared of toilet paper and limits were placed on shopping quantities, it felt even closer.

It might sound strange, that those thoughts have been comforting to me. But they force me to think about what we’ve overcome. What’s history. We’ll get through this, too. Some day this too will be history.

Out of place

Out of place

The move to Edinburgh is the most obvious sign of the changes I’ve made in my life over the past few years. I read the book Designing Your Life after I was already well into the process – job quit, bags packed – and it felt like an affirmation.

In retrospect I could see the “prototyping” I’d done before coming to the decision to transition to self-employment and live in the UK. I wasn’t simply looking for a new job and a new home: I was attempting to build the lifestyle I wanted. I’d started the process before my brother died, so the fact that I was ready to pick it up again was a relief.

That lifestyle includes freelance work that often allows me to work where I want when I want, with the flexibility to travel mid-week, take courses or visit a museum during the day, and be more purposeful about where I put my attention.

That lifestyle is possible because of who I am and the resulting choices I’ve made along the way, too. I’m not particularly unconventional by many standards – no punk phases in my past – but I often feel out of place. I don’t have an easy answer to “where are you from?” It depends on the context. Not wanting marriage or children, being an atheist – these things separate me from the mainstream to some degree.

That feeling of being out of place – of knowing my loneliest times occur when I’m surrounded by people – is what propels me to embrace solitude, but also to seek new places.

What do I want, here in Edinburgh, starting over in so many ways but bringing more knowledge of myself than ever? I’m answering that question all the time. I’m nesting in my new home, traveling to new locales, learning new things, indulging in old comforts.

But designing the lifestyle I want is also a matter of immense luck.

This was my second Christmas here, and I’ve been able to rethink what Christmas means to me, too, away from expectation and duty. I’m not going to get all Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus or post-ghost Ebenezer on you. But one of the ways I’ve added meaning to the season has been volunteering with Crisis.

They offer services to homeless people year-round, and work on strategies to end homelessness altogether. Over Christmas and New Year they put on a multi-day event where they take over a community centre and offer food, clothing, showers, personal services like hairdressing and massage, activities, entertainment, and a safe and warm place to hang out. The idea is to provide a festive Christmas season for those who want it, and also to connect those who are receptive with ongoing support.

My role seems insignificant: I was a general volunteer assigned to the recreation area, tasked with sitting at the tables and engaging with the guests in games and conversation. What’s the worst that could happen, I lose at Trivial Pursuit? Almost finish a jigsaw puzzle that turns out is missing a few pieces? (Turns out I’d’ve been lucky to get close to finishing the damn puzzles.)

Of course it’s not that simple. Last year before my first shift I was anxious. What if I was terrible at it? I’m not great at small talk, and not used to working with people experiencing homelessness. We were trained well and told that if we felt we couldn’t manage, we should ask to leave, no hard feelings. The important thing was not just our own mental health, but for the guests to be surrounded by people who weren’t judging them. I didn’t think I’d need that out, and would have been horrified if I had, but knowing it was there was what made it easier to walk through the doors of the community centre that first day.

I wasn’t terrible, but that’s because it wasn’t hard. I observed and hope to emulate people who were much better at small talk than I am, but the experience didn’t feel altruistic. We were just people hanging out, in a place designed for companionship among those who wanted it, and solitude for those who didn’t.

A few guests thanked me, saying it was so nice to have a place where they were welcome. Not just tolerated, but welcome. Imagine having that feeling so rarely? I never feel so out of place that I can’t sit in a coffee shop or wander in a shop or find a park bench without fear of being asked to leave.

Some told me their stories, some wore their stories in their mannerisms, some just wanted to play Trivial Pursuit or good-naturedly mock my attempts to finish a jigsaw puzzle. The stories were about mental illness and addiction, or injury and illness, or precarious employment, or family breakdown, or all or none of the above.  

I thought of my mom’s mental illness and alcoholism and how lucky we were that she and her kids were looked after by others. I thought of coming home from school to be told to pack our things and head to a hotel, and then a friend’s home, and then other temporary accommodation, and how lucky we were that there were places to take us in. I thought of how it’s a luxury to feel out of place when I have a place, and how quickly luck can change.

Home is where the art is

Home is where the art is

It’s been just over a year since I landed in Edinburgh with two bags of clothes and sundries, followed by two cats and five boxes of stuff.

If home is actually where the heart is, the cats were the biggest factor in making even Chateau Mildew feel like home instantly, and I’ll write more about the process of bringing them over soon.

But though I only brought marginally more stuff with me with this move compared to my time in Mexico, this is the first international move I’ve considered indefinite, getting rid of rather than storing the rest of my belongings. So what I brought is what defines my comforts of home.

The stuff was mostly clothes and shoes, some towels and bedding, and, most importantly, arts and crafts I’ve picked up in my travels. I used a service called Send My Bag, which is basically a user-friendly way to ship luggage and boxes via a courier but using their wrap-around service – it was DHL that actually picked up, shipped, and delivered my boxes. For the amount I was bringing over — i.e. not an entire household, but more than I could bring with me on the plane — the Send My Bag service was easy, had great customer service, and wasn’t nearly as expensive as I imagined, or as using a shipping company would have been.

I’d unframed what could be unframed for their travels, and now that I’m settled into my first unfurnished flat in Edinburgh, I’ve finally unpacked, reframed, and displayed the artworks and knick knacks that bring me joy and remind me of various stages in my life.

I brought the large canvas I was given as part of my contract completion bonus with the Vancouver Olympics, a view of the now-convention centre, then-International Broadcast Centre, by an acclaimed New Westminster artist. It was sent in the same special art box as the large abstract painting I created during a press day organized by my friend Sharon for an art-related television show, which I’m absurdly proud of even though it’s just colourful squiggles on a white board.

I carefully packed two mirrors from my time living in Mexico City – one of which made it to Edmonton then Vancouver then Scotland unscathed, the other which has now given up its rectangular shape and opted for more of a parallelogram.

I brought assorted prints from Ecuador, New Orleans, Key West, a Vancouver 2010 poster. There’s a photograph given to me in my first professional job working for the Alberta Playwrights Network, geese flying next to a boat they’d imprinted on, a thanks from the winner of our playwiting competition for prodding the provincial government to finally give him his prize money. (The prodding didn’t actually help, but he appreciated the effort.)

And then there’s the assorted objects and special books I’ve collected that remind me of a time in my life, especially my two years living in Mexico City or my time in each Olympic destination since Vancouver — London, Sochi, Rio, Korea — or that bring fond memories of a trip or a person.

Can I claim the robot that inspired my tattoo is art? Why not. It’s on my desk, along with a picture of my brother and then-baby nephew, alone on display from the shoeboxes of photos I unalbumed to bring with me.

Going through my belongings to narrow them down to two suitcases, two cats, and five boxes wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be. I’ve been Marie Kondoing since before Marie Kondo was a thing, and stuff is only stuff … unless it’s not, unless it forms part of my memories, my heart, my home.

Chateau Mildew

Chateau Mildew

Toward the end of September I’d just landed in London after more than nine hours in the air, with another short leg to Edinburgh to come after this layover. Years of contemplation and months of preparation brought me here. I’d gone past comfortable to stagnant; I was ready for a change.

I’d turned on wifi as soon as I got a signal after border control, and not long after, an AirBnB message notification popped up.

I’d booked a cheap-ish, cat-friendly flat in Edinburgh for six weeks to give me time to find more permanent accommodation. It’s not easy to find a place that allows pets, either on AirBnB or more permanently, so I felt lucky to get something that wouldn’t require a mortgage.

It read, in part: “Sorry about this but we have just discovered a wee issue in the flat- nothing major, just a fairly mild damp smell in the shower room. We’ve had someone look at it and they’ve said they’ll need to do something about it at some point. We can either wait until you’ve left to deal with it or sort it quicker while you are there to get rid of the smell- you can see what you think when you get there.”

[An aside: In the latest episode of the hilarious Derry Girls, the “wee English fella” James says he hates that “people here use the word ‘wee’ to describe things that aren’t even actually that small!” Here being Ireland in that case, but the same holds true in Scotland.]

I replied to thank him for letting me know and I’d see what I thought after I arrived. I wasn’t thrilled, but I’m adaptable, and I’ve stayed in some very questionable accommodation in my life.

When I arrived at this questionable accommodation, the host’s mother let me in as arranged – though a little late. Her son had given her a different time than the one we’d arranged, so luckily she’d arrived early in order to do a bit of cleaning. Unluckily, my early-to-her arrival meant she didn’t have time to do much of that.

Exhaustion acted as beer goggles and all I felt was relief that the 13 hour journey was over, the flurry of pre-move activity was behind me, and that I could soon collapse into the rickety-looking bed, relief that my new life was about to start in earnest.

“It’s very basic,” she said apologetically as she brought out the vacuum cleaner. Two Ikea couches, a full kitchen, a bed crammed into a small bedroom, a shower. Each room was separate, including a room with a toilet and sink plus a room with a bathtub/shower and sink. It would do for six weeks.

After she finished her rushed clean while I sorted my baggage, she kept asking if I wanted anything else, apologizing again that there was no tea, coffee or milk as advertised in the Airbnb listing. “Please go away” was how I felt, but “no, thank you, I can go for a walk to pick up some things and then I’ll just go to bed” was what I said. She was lovely. I was exhausted.

She left me a container of soup and some buns that were likely for her own dinner, and then I was mercifully on my own. The cats would arrive the next day, but in the meantime I could get settled and sleep. And despite the creaky, uncomfortable bed, I did sleep.

The next morning, the exhaustion goggles were gone. I had a shower. That’s when I realized the smell was coming from inside this room, permeating the flat if I didn’t keep the door closed. I kept the door closed. I could still smell it, but not as strongly.

The carpet was stained outside the bathroom. It was stained in more places than that, but there was a large patch on the other side of the wall from the bathtub. Clearly a leak. I hadn’t noticed at first but the tub didn’t fit the room; its snout had been lopped off in order to cram it into the available space. And in that space, I suppose, water was accumulating and things were growing. If it wasn’t a ground floor suite, the downstairs neighbours would likely have a flood – but on the other hand, the owner would likely have fixed the issue by now.

There were multiple sprays designed to cover the smell of mildew in the closet. This issue was not new. Not a surprise. I wondered how many guests had left positive reviews because they felt too guilty leaving an honest one. “Cheap, allows pets, smells like mildew.” I told him I’d rather they get someone in sooner rather than later to fix it. I could have contacted AirBnB and asked to be relocated, but my options had been very limited when I booked the place months before; I didn’t have faith that they’d arrange something suitable.

You can get used to a lot if you set your mind to it. Sometimes I thought the smell abated, sometimes I thought the sprays worked, sometimes I thought I was just used to the smell.

There were other quirks to get used to. The blinds, it turned out, wouldn’t roll up or stay up, so I got creative with some hair elastics to force some light into the gloom. The ground floor windows were, however, frosted so passers by couldn’t see in. Which meant I couldn’t see out. The already rare winter light was further filtered, meaning I kept all the lights on. The better to see the carpet stains with. I got used to the gloom.

At least the carpeted areas felt solid to stand on. The bathroom and kitchen tile seemed to cover a wooden grid and I felt like one wrong step would have my ankle trapped in the world of the mildew. That felt true more than was true, but I got used to not making wrong steps.

After regular messages from the landlord about how difficult it was proving to find a plumber, I gave up. Finally, a few days before I was to make my escape to my shiny new flat, they set a time. The plumber arrived, identified the problem, and called the owner with the bad news: the attempts to patch up the bathtub had failed, further patches would fail, and the only solution was to rip up the room, remediate the damage, and reinstall the fixtures.

Did the owner give approval for the work to go ahead? HAHAHAHAHA no. Maybe he did after giving it some thought. Maybe he continued to tell people “oh by the way it turns out there’s a wee damp smell”.

As I sit in my cozy new flat, which smells only of my cooking, with unfiltered light coming in, I realize I hadn’t gotten used to the gloom; I let it descend. Sometimes you need the change.

Here’s my VoIP number, so call me maybe

Here’s my VoIP number, so call me maybe

With all its downsides highlighted lately (cesspool of political division, actual fake news calling real news fake, and violent trolling, anyone?) it can be easy to forget the Internet is magical, allowing the world to shrink in wonderful ways. In the roughly 18 years between my move to Mexico City and my recent move to Edinburgh, times have changed enough that we all have computers in our pockets, connected in sometimes too many ways with people around the world. My relationships with many people are no different here than they were in Vancouver, because of the ease of communicating online. And now I’ve set up my Vancouver phone number so calling me is no different for my fellow Canadians than it was before.

Even though I’ve never been a big fan of phone calls, when I was planning my big move from Canada to Scotland, one of my concerns was giving up my Canadian phone number. I’ve had it so long — since arriving in Vancouver from Mexico City — and it’s out there in ways I don’t always know with freelance clients as well as acquaintances (and spammers). So I explored Voice over Internet Protocol solutions that allow you to port your existing number, and luckily I discovered they do exist. You need a VoIP provider and then either an actual phone that allows for a VoIP connection or, as I’m doing, a “softphone” app.

I landed on using as my VoIP provider but don’t remember what led me to them — a simple Google search, I think. The “.ms” is the country code for Montserrat, but they seem to target customers in the United States and Canada, don’t require a contract, allow you to use a wide range of devices and apps, and allow porting of your existing phone number. Not all numbers can be ported, but they have a search function that allows you to check before you sign up.

You can get a new phone number from them, but I was less concerned with having a Canadian number than with continuing to receive calls from my existing number. Today, for example, I have a phone meeting with a Canadian client and I could tell them to keep using my Vancouver number. No fuss over how to dial an international number, no long distance charges for them. (Friends and relatives, this applies to you too.) I always have the do not disturb function on so I don’t get notifications while I’m sleeping, so no one has to worry about forgetting about time zones and waking me up.

Setting it up is relatively easy, though I did have to send proof of my identify (as in scanning and uploading my passport with any private bits blacked out). If you’re not a telephony geek, don’t get bogged down in all the options and terminology in the dashboard; follow the step-by-step instructions provided in the Wiki. They have responsive chat help as well.

I’ve set it up so that calls to my Canadian number are automatically forwarded to my UK cell number, and I set up voicemail in case that number is busy or unreachable — and voicemails are sent to me as sound attachments to an email so I don’t have to sign in to hear them. Because of that, I haven’t missed a single scam voicemail telling me I owe the Canadian Revenue Service money and am going to jail.

I’m currently using the free version of an app called Zoiper to make outgoing calls from my cell phone or computer. The app does allow you to receive incoming calls but keeping it on in the background is a serious drain on battery life and doesn’t always seem to work. There are paid options to apparently make it work better which I’m avoiding given how little I believe I’ll use it. The wiki has a list of actual phones you can use plus other apps, but I landed on Zoiper because the free version seems to provide all the features I need.

I can send and receive texts as well through the app, and the texts can also arrive via email. They come in chopped up into 160 character segments, which feels archaic, and for my ease of use I would rather use iMessage, Messenger, or other ways of instant messaging instead. But the ability to receive texts I wasn’t expecting has already come in handy.

The cost is minimal. You have the option of a monthly plan that includes unlimited incoming calls, or pay 85 cents per month for each number plus less than one cent a minute for calls. Unless you’re setting this up for a business with multiple lines, or you’re superchatty, I can’t imagine the monthly plan being cheaper. Because I have my Canadian number forwarded to my UK number, I pay for both an incoming and outgoing call (incoming from my caller, outgoing to my UK number) but it’s still a negligible cost for the amount I will use it.

So even now that I’ve moved to Edinburgh, if you have my Vancouver number, you have my number. In the immortal words of Carly Rae Jepsen, call me maybe?

Thanks, Grandpa Wild

Thanks, Grandpa Wild

I don’t remember how I heard about the UK Ancestry Visa, but it was when I was working in London for a month on the 2012 Olympics, hearing my local coworkers talk about their weekend trips to Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, etc. So my desire to take advantage of an easy live/work visa thanks to my Grandpa Wild’s birthplace was fueled by jealousy and wanderlust. I gathered the paperwork I’d need back then, thinking I’d want an escape after my brother’s death, but it took me another six years to want to break out of my comfort zone after that profound destabilization.

Finally realizing I was ready to proceed was the first major decision that kicked off a series of seemingly endless major decisions, so I plan to explain here some of the more complex or interesting logistics I’ve faced as I approach The Big Move. The logical place to start is with acquiring the visa itself — a process that both made me feel lucky to have such an “easy” method of living and working in another country, and made me feel like the universe was conspiring against me to make my life difficult.

One thing I learned was that other people’s experiences are only so instructive. Specific processes change over time, and some seem to differ depending on where you’re applying from. So keep in mind this was my experience in mid-2018, applying from Vancouver.

Am I eligible?

The requirements for the Ancestry visa are reasonably straightforward. You need to be a Commonwealth citizen who has a grandparent, living or dead, who was born in the UK (you or your parent can be adopted and still qualify, but step-relationships don’t qualify). You have to apply from outside the UK, be able and intending to work in the UK, and have enough money to support yourself and any dependants. You don’t need to have a job lined up already. It allows you to live and work in the UK for up to five years, which you can renew for another five years. At the end of the five or ten years you can choose to apply for indefinite leave to remain and eventually, if you want, citizenship.

If you have a parent born in the UK your path is easier. If you have a great-grandparent or beyond who was born in the UK, your ancestry won’t help you get you a visa, but there are other visa categories you could check out.

The devil is in the details, of course. How much money is enough money to land with? How do you prove you’re able and planning to work? Google was my best friend through this, leading me to visa services, expat forums, and the guidance document on the UK government website, intended for the officers who review applications. None of them offer concrete answers, but visa services and other applicants provided estimated amounts to have on hand and for how long, and advice on documents to provide to prove your employability, among other things.

If you have questions, it seems like UK immigration charges you to answer emails or phone calls, and others suggest the information was less comprehensive than what they found on expat forums, so I managed my questions on my own.

The process

To apply for the visa, you fill out an online application form and then go to a “biometric appointment” where they take your fingerprints and picture, as well as your passport and the documents you will include in support of your application. They do tell you to have everything you need at that appointment, but I had read elsewhere that you left the appointment with your documents to courier them yourself. That wasn’t true at least at this time and place — they took everything and submitted it for me. You then wait up to three weeks for your passport to be returned with — or without — the entry clearance inside.

Others online talked about getting an email saying a decision had been made and the passport was being couriered back (with no information on whether the application was successful or not), but I didn’t get that email – I just got an email a week after my appointment to say they received it and would start to process the application, and then a courier at my door after a couple of weeks, luckily with the stamped passport and a letter I need to show the UK immigration officer on arrival. From there, I pick up my “Biometric Residence Permit” at a post office in Edinburgh close to the address I provided in my application form.

Birth certificates

When I first learned of the visa, I gathered the birth certificates I’d need — the long form that includes parentage are essential. Getting my grandfather’s was surprisingly easy. I ordered it online, paid a nominal fee, and it arrived in the mail. Getting my father’s was more difficult – at least at the time (2012), Alberta required you to go to a Service Alberta location in person or jump through hoops that were even less convenient. I didn’t live in Alberta but was there a lot that summer, so I stopped by and had to sign an affidavit that I was his daughter and he was dead before they would release it to me. I’ve seen enough crime shows to know that people use dead people’s birth certificates to create new identities so I get it. I think.

Because my ancestry is on the paternal line and my last name is the same as my grandfather’s, and the birth certificates include parents’ names, my line of decent was clear without submitting marriage certificates. Some people will need to supply those too, if that’s not the case.


This visa category doesn’t require you to have a job before you arrive, just to prove that you’re able and planning to work. Previous applicants indicated that a resume and registration with a job search website was adequate. I want to continue as self-employed and a business plan and possibly business finances are apparently the ticket to prove that, but at the time I was waffling and ended up applying for a couple of jobs, and I submitted an invitation to a Skype interview. That single email printout gave me confidence in my application and also in my ability to job search once I was settled if that’s the direction I decided to go.


No one will give you a concrete answer about how much money you’re supposed to have on hand, unlike some other visa categories. Based on advice I read from previous successful applicants and from the websites of companies that charge people to assist with visa applications, I felt around $5000 would be sufficient and that it should be in your account at least 3 months prior to your application date — they want to make sure the money is truly accessible savings. I put that money into a separate account in March, and added to it in the intervening 3 months, so I ended up with just over $6000 earmarked for the move by the time I applied. I went into the bank to get a stamped and signed statement of the last three months (you can’t just print out your online banking statement) to prove how much I had, and how long I had it.

I did let them know in my application that I was only accounting for money on hand but I would also have proceeds from the sale of my condo, and gave a lowball estimate of that. But since I didn’t offer any proof, and the bank statements for that savings account should have been enough, I doubt they took that into account.

Some of the information on the official site is vague, which I suppose gives immigration agents more leeway to consider each application as a whole. But would it kill them to give more guidance on the kind of bank statements needed, for example?

Application form surprises

You can apply for the visa up to three months before you want to arrive. I had originally aimed for May or June but ended up postponing until September, so had to wait until June to apply. It was a happy day when I discovered you can fill in the online application and wait to submit, because seeing the actual questions answered a lot of my questions. Even after consulting with Google, Ph.D., I was surprised by some of them, so not having to/being able to rush the process was a benefit.


The first surprise was that, despite warnings that you shouldn’t book travel until you were accepted, the application form asked for a specific date of arrival and the address of where you would be staying. I’d been thinking mid- to late-September, depending on plane fares and availability of a pet-friendly AirBnB where I could stay until I found a permanent place. Since I couldn’t work backwards like that, I had to pick a date.

I plucked a date out of thinnish air — September 22 — and booked a week at a pet-friendly hotel with a generous cancellation policy. What I wish I’d known, or looked into or pondered logically better, was what that specific date meant. I wanted to make sure I’d be ready to go by then, thinking it might be a deadline if it wasn’t just a guideline for them. In reality, you’re provided with an entry clearance in your passport that is valid from that date for one month. So I couldn’t arrive until Saturday, September 22, and have until October 22 — but that first date is already the last date I wanted to arrive, and it turns out because of shipping the cats, I needed to leave on a weekday. So September 24 it is, arriving September 25 thanks to the magic of time zones.

Travel history

The other surprise was that I had to list every trip I’d taken out of Canada in the last 10 years. My love of travel was less of an issue than the fact that I’ve been living within a short drive of the US border. I ended up going through my passport stamps, Facebook pictures, and then cross-checking my email for etickets to ensure I got at least the trips that went beyond an afternoon of shopping.

Work history

You have to provide your work history, including answering if you’ve ever worked in media, civil service, etc. Those don’t seem to rule you out — I answered yes to media — but depending on the circumstances maybe it would raise a flag for them? Even though they consider self-employment sufficient for their work requirements, and in fact you can be unemployed as long as you are looking for work and have sufficient funds, I had a moment of concern wondering if my freelance status would hurt me. However, there are ample free text boxes and I used one to explain that I had quit a permanent job of many years in order to work on the Olympics and then make this move.


Because they’re so vague on how much money they want you to have, I was startled to see how much detail they wanted on your current living expenses, projected living expenses in the UK, income, and move costs. It doesn’t say great things about my financial acumen that I found it difficult to fill out my current living expenses, but some of that is complicated by overthinking the definition. For example, in one of the sections they broke out accommodation, and in the other they didn’t. I did the best I could with my current expenses and was grateful for the University of Edinburgh’s cost of living estimates for their foreign students. I added a certain percentage as an “I don’t want to live like a student” bonus.

There wasn’t a line where selling my condo fit, so I added it to the “anything else you’d like us to consider” open-ended questions.


One multiple choice question was if you have friends or family in the UK, to which I answered no. Thanks for making me feel like a loser, UK Immigration. There wasn’t a “well, I know some people but calling us friends would stretch the meaning of the word” option so in the open-ended question about what I planned to do once I arrived, I mentioned knowing some people but not well, hoping to settle in Edinburgh, integrating into the community by using coworking spaces and joining Meetup-like groups, blah blah blah to give them a sense that I have considered the practical and social aspects of moving to a new country.

Supporting documents I submitted

What I submitted erred on the side of minimalism, but my philosophy was I would give them what they asked for and no more. Easier said than done in some cases where their ask is vague, but that’s where some research came in handy. I submitted:

  • Birth certificates
  • Passport
  • Resume
  • Job interview invitation
  • Savings account bank statements of the last three months

Supporting documents I wish I’d submitted though I obviously didn’t need them but they would have eased my mind

After attending my biometric appointment I had my confidence shaken by employees who didn’t seem to know what they were doing. (It’s a contracted facility to gather your information, not UK immigration officers with decision-making power, and they were in training. One didn’t recognize that I had the right birth certificates.) So naturally I went home and googled “U.K. ancestry visa declined.” More than once. In various permutations.

I only came across two stories: one woman whose sister was rejected because she had around $2 in her bank account. Duh. The other gave me more cause for concern — it was a man applying with three dependents who was rejected for not having enough funds, and for not proving that his accommodation — a family member’s home — was sufficient to house an additional four people for an extended period of time.

I also discovered fellow paranoid people who listed what they’d submitted to ask if it was enough. What I submitted in comparison was definitely minimalist.

In what should have been a comforting discovery, I found statistics for one quarter from last year that indicated only around 5% of ancestry visa applications were denied. But someone has to be in that 5%. I knew I was eligible; the question was did I adequately prove my case, or did I make some random error in my application? If I’d searched for denial fears and stories before submitting my application, I might have beefed it up to ease my mind with some of these things:

  • A printout of the hotel booking, with an added explanation in the application form about my accommodation plan. It seems so obvious that a hotel would be a short term solution while looking for a long term rental, I didn’t explicitly say that. So the story of the rejected man had me worried. Maybe he thought it was obvious that staying with his family member was a short term solution. (Or maybe it wasn’t supposed to be short term and he had made it clear that was his long term solution, but without knowing more, my imagination took hold of me.) This is the one item I would have submitted if I’d thought of it. It certainly couldn’t have hurt.
  • Proof of current income. I deliberately didn’t submit this because they don’t ask for it and I worried I’d be penalized for being self-employed, despite knowing that’s a legitimate status for this visa. Still, I was unsure if, say, the statements for my chequing account would help by showing I was earning enough money, or hurt, by showing irregular payments. Because the application form asks for your current job information, they knew I was self employed, so it likely wouldn’t have hurt. But going with my “give them only what they ask for” philosophy, I chose not to.
  • Overall financial picture. Related to the above, I actually had two printouts from the bank, only one of which I used (the savings account to show I had sufficient funds to get settled). The teller also printed off an overall picture of my accounts, including chequing, mortgage, credit card and registered savings accounts, but again I shied away from providing more detail than asked for. (Then again, the UK visa site only says “bank statements” — the information that it’s savings they’re interested in came from third-party sources). I could have overthought this to death: if I showed my mortgage, shouldn’t I prove that I was selling the condo (but it wasn’t listed yet)? The answer is likely no, it wouldn’t matter since I already said I was selling it, but my uncertainty even now reinforces my minimalist policy: why give them information they didn’t seem to need, when it might raise more questions? I had the printout at my biometric appointment and I’d meant to ask there if I should submit it … until I realized the employees knew less than I did about the process.

So that was my experience, leading to a successful visa application. Questions? Fire away. Want to share your own experience? Please do!