New arrivals to Houston may find this former Western Frontier's urban sprawl overwhelming. For starters, it is the forth-largest city in the USA, and the wider metropolitan area has a population of more than 7 million people.
Janice Clow is a Canadian expat currently living and working as a realtor in Houston, Texas. Having lived as an expat before in both Australia and Indonesia, she uses her first-hand knowledge of the expat experience to advise new arrivals on their options for accommodation in Houston.
Follow her on Twitter jclowrealtor or read about some of her insights in the interview below. Q: What do you enjoy most about Houston?
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How would you rate the quality of life compared to Canada? A: Houston has been great to us. We lived in Jakarta and Adelaide, Australia, as well and it has been a fantastic experience. Houston, and in particular the Woodlands, take a little time to warm up to but then it is great. The city has so much to offer and it is very affordable. Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home? Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Houston?
Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock? A: I actually did. There was a huge culture shock — in weird things like food source and lack of rules, the obesity epidemic, etc. It was scary to me as I have really been passionate about this and I was shocked that it really seemed quite out of control.
What is cheap or expensive in particular? A: It is less expensive and you can have larger beautiful homes with pools for something that would be half the sq ft in Canada. Q: How would you rate the public transport in Houston? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car? A: No public transport in the Woodlands or in Cypress — a big shock, as well. Everyone drives, and drives fast!
Teenagers need cars the moment they turn Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Houston? Are there any hospitals you would recommend? A: The healthcare in the USA is broken. It was another big culture shock as well.
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In Canada, while I am not insinuating that our system is perfect — it really is unheard of to be out of pocket for basic healthcare. It just means there is a deductible that you have to hit first.
I am thankful that we are healthy. Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Houston? Are there any areas expats should avoid? A: Honestly, when I first got here people said to just be aware of your surroundings, which I think is really good advice anywhere. I would say you really need to fine tune those skills.
There are people who prey on people that are distracted. There is very little road rage here. Do not go on your own to places like Walmart or Target after dark. Just not a good idea. I was told this right from the beginning. I am a real estate agent and do open houses, which can be a little daunting at times but I always make sure someone knows where I am. It is just smart to be careful. Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Houston? What different options are available for expats? A: Excellent!
Fantastic investment and I work with mainly expats, so I have the lenders that will lend to expats and can run international credit. It is a fabulous opportunity, especially if the companies are paying your rent! We are currently in a soft market that is poised for buyers. Really good value for your money. A: Katy, Cypress, and my favourite, The Woodlands! The Woodlands has the best of both worlds in my opinion.
Great restaurants, bars, social atmosphere, people really careful of the quality of food, lots of bike paths and trails, very woodsy so it reminds me of Canada a bit. People seem very happy here and have a great quality of life. Taxes are very low in the Woodlands as well, comparatively speaking.
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The inner city is the cool funky place to live. There are some great public schools in the city if your kids are not going to private. Your money goes further as you go out. Traffic is not fun, so I would look at your commute for sure. Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.? A: I believe the locals are working through their issues. They have their fair share of challenges, no doubt. For the most part, the city appears tolerant though. Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
How did you go about meeting new people? A: I found people super friendly here, but it took time to actually go for a beer or a coffee. Other expats have said similar things as well. It is funny that we tend to gravitate to our Canadian and Australian friends for the most part. It seems like a coincidence, but maybe it is not. Kids sports got us engaged, but our true friendships are with other expats. Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends?
A: There is a group called Internations — I have not actually gone to that group. I would say get involved with the community that you are putting roots in. If you have kids, football is massive here and you will meet other parents there and through school.
I have met some great people at the gym, but I do find that you have to get out of your comfort zone and make the first move.
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If you are a new mom, dig around for moms time out or go to a gym that has child care to meet some other moms. Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit for the USA? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant? A: The first time we moved to Houston in I got a work permit - it took time, but I got one. I then reed the company that I worked for in Canada. We had an opportunity to get green cards a couple of years later, so we did.
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for your children during the move? A: It was tough on my. He was so happy in Australia, he was not keen on coming back. Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: They are massive. At the time we were living in Cypress, and the high school had around 4, students.
It was definitely daunting. A: Find some people to lean on.
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Someone to ask random crazy questions, like where should I get my hair done, who do we get insurance from, do we need flood insurance? All of these little things. It is a great city and has a ton to offer. A friend told me one time that before they moved to India they were in a taxi there and asked the taxi driver if he thought it would be a good place for them to live. But if you hate India, it will hate you back times more". I think these are very wise words.