I know there are some soon to be or are thinking about it SWAPPERS reading this, and are intersted in hearing about some of the things to take care of upon settling in so here we go =)
Was it worth it? I will say yes, but honestly only for the use of SWAP on the Canada side and the help getting a bank account. Which is a pain – but I will get there. As I mentioned before I left, I started working with Britbound once my VAC appointment was completed, through their online portal. Here you fill out pages of questions, and start setting up things like your SIM Card, Bank Account appointment, Transfer Set Up and uploading your CV.
After filling the forms out, there is not much to take care of until your Arrival Session which is held every Tuesday or Friday. I chose to attend the Tuesday one, the very next day of my arrival, and I am glad I did. As much as all the information was very overwhelming, it helped to get a few things started. Here I received my SIM Card and was able to get my phone number set up, which is huge for looking at places to rent, applying for jobs, and well just about everything.
The arrival sessions consisted of a roughly two hours presentation by two of the Britbbound members, and then afterwards we went out for a complmentary pub lunch. I am not really sure what information was necessary in the presentation and what was just about listening to them share their stories – which while amusing, could have cut down the presentaton by an hour. Anyway some of it was important like learning the NIN process and how to get set up for National Health Insurance etc.
The pub lunch was fun, (and delicious) and it was a ncie way to get to know some fellow Britbounders, who at my session were all Australian or New Zelanders =) I was the black sheep Canadian, but after speaking with some others, this seems to be the usual occurance at these sessions.
Lastly, Britbound is ALL about their events. Which are happening, all the time and range from pub nights, to theatre nights, to day trips to longer trips. So there is no excuse to be bored or not be able to make friends, if the events interest you.
So what are my issues with them? Well not many but I did get a run around with my bank appointment, and I think they could have handled it a bit better and more truthful (see below). I am annoyed that they charge you to use their address for mail service (20 pounds for one month) when YOU HAVE to have an address for the bank account, so its kind of a silly system to make it “optional” when most will not have any choice. To their credit, they did refund me the money I paid to have my SIM card mailed to me in Canada, because it did not arrive in time before I left, so I only paid half of the mail fee. I just think that it should either just be made inclusive for the bank appointment, or just pretend in a different way because for most it really is not optional.
The other issue I had was that I felt like I was being “sold” on a lot of other things, like short term housing companies, or tour companies. The short term hosing was pushed on me a bit during my arrival session, and while it was a nice option to be given, I felt that I was being pressured to use their preferred company.
To finish it up, I do just want to mention that everyone who works for Britbound has been super friendly, and when I pop in to pick up my mail, they seem interested in how it is going with me and invite me to attend any current events. So I apprecicate hainvg them as a kind of support system, should I need it. I don’t want my issues with them to detract from the fact that they were all lovely and do genreally offer a good service.
The first technical item I had to take care of here was getting an Oyster Card! Basically this card is what let’s you ride the tubes and busses and some national railway services! Even if you are just visiting, it is recommended to get as busses will not accept cash anymore anyway and it make susing the tube very smooth. You can pick up the card from any ticket office, it costs a 5 pound deposit, which you receive if you return the card and then from there you can choose how much money to upload on the card. You can choose to use “Pay as You Go” or purchase a travel card which can be weekly or monthly and be per zone as well. Right now I am using pay as you go, and have topped it up with 60 pounds in the past two weeks. At some point soon, I am going to sit down and see if purchasing a weekly or monthly pass is better.Also you can register it online so that if it gets lost or stolen, your balance is protected. Anyway, the Oyster Card is essential!
So how do you get your Canadian funds into your UK bank account? Aside from the obvious choice of a bank to bank trnasfer, Britbound offers another option through the use of a third party called Forex. Based in Australia, with a Canadian and UK counterpart, they offer you internatinonal transfers at a lower cost fee and a one time exchange rate, vs. using a bank to bank transfer which charges you the echange on both ends and a much larger fee.
I had the BEST experience with Forex. They were available 24/7 throughout the week, while I was in Canada and upon my arrival in the UK. My only isue was that because I bank with CIBC, I had to set up a direct debit, instead of use the e bill payment option they offer with other banks. I originally thought that I had to set this up with CIBC, but after getting treated like I had no idea what I was doing by CIBC, I contacted Forex and realized that they set up the direct debit, I did not really have to deal with CIBC at all. So my advice is if you deal with any of the banks that they do not work with directly, tell Forex right away so you can get one of their other options set up. I chose direct debit, it was really easy to set up and they were very helpful along the whole process. I even received a phone call from a very friendly rep before I left for the UK, to make sure I was alright because I sounded stressed in my email to them.
Once your account is all set up, the process is really simple. You just “book a deal” with the amount you want transferred, they give you a rate and if you ar ehappy with that then you comfirm the deal. It took about 5 business days from the date I confimed the deal to be deposted into my UK bank account. You receive texts and emails throughtout the process updating you on what status the deal is in. All in all it was a smooth process with great friendly service.
Bank Account Part 1
This will have to be in two parts, as I am not 100% set up with my bank account yet. (It takes so much longer over here). The process is quite different from that in Canada. I suppose it is better security wise, but quite frankly it has been a major pain in my butt.
To start my bank account appointment was changed last minute by Britbound, down to the time and the bank. I was given nonsense health reason about my branch manager that required me to change the actual bank I would be dealing with. (The reason I know this is nonsense is that two gals that I had their appointments around the same time, got different health reasons for the same branch manager.) I also found out later that Britbound had a falling out with the original bank and had to switch last minute. I wish they had just been honest about that to us, instead of feeding us bs. Anyway…
I was literally one of, if not the, first person to work with this bank via Britbound. So that made my bank appointment a bit of a hassle and somewhat stressful. at one point, I was not sure the application would go through because of not having a permanent address. I was very firm and questioned why there was any issues as I was told by Birtbound that all would be fine etc. The branch manager (at TSB) was very pleasant and apologized for the hesitation, it was then that he explained thatthey had literally just started working with Britbound, so they were not sure the process either. It all worked out in the end, and I had a bank account within an hour.
The major difference here, is that they mail you your bank card and then in a seperate mail, they mail you your pin. So while I have had a bank account setup for the past week and a bit, I have not been able to acess i tbecause I am still waiting for my card to come in the mail. Because of the bank holiday monday, it should be very early this coming week.In the meantime I have been using their very friendly telephone bank service to check on the status of my transfer etc.
So there you have it, a bit of the technicalities for you. Stay tuned for some more as they come up in my time here.
– xoxo Veronica