Friday, July 13, 2012

Immigration Challenges - Currency Confusion

This post is a guest blog post written by May Tartoussy (see bio below). May is sharing some of her challenges during her first year in Canada coming from Dubai:

If you lived in Dubai prior to coming to Canada you most probably have enjoyed the bliss of spending with minimum worry. Not wanting to generalize but chances are that you have. Of course having lived in Dubai doesn’t mean that you are not disciplined but here I would like to share my learning when it comes to currency conversion and how it was very confusing switching from the Dirham to the Dollar mentally. What worked and what did not work.

Moving from Dubai to Canada is a huge step and you will deal with a lot of changes and shocks, yes shocks because what you see on the surface is not it. These are just initial and first impressions. One of the things you will deal with is the currency conversion confusion. Of course you know and I know that $1 equals AED 3.5 but it will take you time to be able to deal with the dollar as a dollar not as a dirham. By the time you get to learn and understand the currency and its value you would spend much more money than you should. Chances are that you will come to Canada looking for a job which means you are using your own savings.

When I first came here December 2010, I was comparing everything to Dubai, starting with the roads to the malls, to the services (which I found horrible and doesn’t measure to 30% of the quality service that we used to get in Dubai), the only thing that I could not really compare was the currency. Although mentally I know that $10 is equivalent to AED 35 but when it comes to shopping, spending the $10 dollar felt like AED 10 so go figure the spending that I made according to that impression. 

Starting from taking cabs paying $60 so I don’t have to get my head around the transit system to silly grocery items that I really didn’t need paying $100-150 that felt like paying AED 100-150. And no matter what I did, whether it was do the actual conversion, to put it on paper it didn’t feel like I was spending in dollars and I guess the reason behind that was the fact that I was using my own money which in my head was always in Dirhams. I did not need to spend more than $3000 a month to live decently in Toronto but I ended up spending more than $6000 again that was bleeding on my savings. Do I need to say that I used to raise my eye brow when people around me change their buying decision for (a few bucks and sometimes for a buck). 

This confusion did not end until I asked around me to figure out the average salary for someone in my career level who is new to Canada and then I limited myself to that (actually a little less). I.e. creating a scenario for myself that I am getting paid this amount of money in Dollars per month. Then gradually I started to understand the value of money the Canadian way. One day I found myself appalled when I had to pay for the pop corn $7 rather than $3.50 before doing that trick, the difference in prices, discounts, offers, sales didn’t mean anything to me. And I’m not talking about pop corn of course; it applied to anything and everything. The money value, sales, offers, expensive, less expensive is nothing for us but it is huge for Canadians.. And I only got after applying that trick. I started to see it exactly like how they see it.

My advice whether you are financially stable or not, make an effort to understand the spending according to the dollar it will make a whole lot difference than keeping the dirham perspective. The quicker you get around this issue the better because this understanding will cascade down on the entire Canadian context. i.e the market, salaries, how life works here in terms of earning and spending etc... which means faster integration. Isn’t that what you need to do anyway??

Good luck and thanks for reading.


About May

May Tartoussy is the Marketing Manager at IQS Canada with responsibility to building awareness of the brand in GTA and Canada. Prior to joining IQS Canada, May served as Marketing Assistant Manager in Dubai Holding, the Dubai government conglomerate that owns many high profile developments and investments in Dubai and around the world.

May immigrated to Canada in December 2010 and has already become an active member contributing to the community in Toronto by volunteering in organizations and groups such as TIFF (The Toronto International Film Festival) and the Social Media Café Toronto


Unknown said...

Having 'Migrated' from Dubai this year, I can relate to you 100 percent!

And, You're also right when you stated that you found it odd, that it was only you who raised an eye brow or two to let go an item for just a few dollars!

However, I wanted to ask you a question. Have you changed in that regards? And if you have, do you like that change, or should I say are you comfortable with that change.

I guess, its a bit of a culture shock, all of a sudden to curb a 30 long year habbit of spending cann't just stop even in 300 odd days!

If you ask me personally, I'm not enjoying that change within me. The change that makes me think 10 times before i spent anything!!!

Unknown said...

Hello Ali,

I am very sorry I did not see your comment before. Please feel free to connect with me on

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