“Welcome to Canada!”
The agent behind the Customs and Immigration desk said routinely as I handed her three passports and the landing papers.
I had deliberately avoided the urge to down a couple of beers on the flight from London Heathrow to Toronto Pearson. After all, I wanted to create a good first impression on the screening official who I believed had the final say in accepting us as landed immigrants, or not. Alcohol in my breath may not sit well in the scheme of things.
As the Customs Agent shuffled papers and cross-checked our information with a computer terminal on her desk, I turned and flashed a reassuring “I got this covered” smile at my wife and six-year-old daughter. I wondered what was going through their minds. I felt a pang of guilt as I looked away. For all practical purposes, we had walked away from what was considered to be a reasonably comfortable lifestyle, family, and friends. All in pursuit of the Canadian version of the American dream!
“Sir, how much money are you bringing with you?” The agent had stopped typing and was now looking directly at me.
I froze! I was not sure if this was a trick question.
Surely, the Canadian immigration officials ought to know the restrictions imposed by the Indian Government on foreign travel. Unless you were travelling on business, the limit was twenty US dollars per passenger. Sixty dollars to move and settle in a new country!
Until then, it had not occurred to me that it did not make sense. I had made arrangements with my sister, who lived in Mississauga, for some “seed money” to tide me over the first few months. Sensing my hesitation, the agent smiled and said: “I know that you are only allowed twenty dollars per head.” She paused, and added, “It’s OK if you are bringing more, we like it.”
As she handed our passports back and wished us good luck, I mumbled something about my sister and having a place to crash for a few days.
As we walked out of the terminal to be greeted by family, my emotions were mixed. I was happy that we had made it through. Yet, I was anxious about what the future would hold for us.
Stepping out on the curb, I breathed in the cold November air. I had never been to a place that was as cold as this before. Slipping into the spare jackets specially brought for us, we piled into the waiting cars and onward to my sister’s home.
As I settled into the car and took in the clean streets and the traffic, I thought to myself: if most Canadians were like the Immigration Agent, we would be fine!
My spirits were back up; I couldn’t wait to get home, and try some Canadian beer!