Sunday, August 30, 2009

How to call Ireland from Canada/US

Making phone calls here, and to here, is confusing the hell out of me, because there are different rules if you are calling a mobile phone than if you are calling a landline. You actually DIAL differently depending on what you are calling - landlines have area codes, for example (Dublin's area code is 1), but mobile phones do not. And unlike the changes that have been in place at home - where you dial the area code regardless of where you are calling from - it's old-school here, so if you're in Dublin, you don't need to dial the Dublin code. Or at least I think. I will figure this out and write a more comprehensive guide later, but for now, I am interested in one thing: how my family and friends back home can call ME here.

Calling from Canada/US:

- The first thing to know is that when making an international call, you need to 'get out' of the country. To do this, you dial 011. That's why international numbers are always listed with a ++ in front of them. The ++ stands for whatever code you need to dial from your own country in order to signal that you are calling internationally.

- Then you need to know the country code that signifies Ireland. This is 353. I know this is confusing, because the country code for Canada and the US is simply 1, which, to me, has always just meant 'long distance'.

- Then it gets a bit more complicated. Generally, the phone number consists of an area code (one or two digits), and then 7 more digits. I'm just talking landlines for the moment - mobiles are for another day.

- Dublin's area code is 1, and it seems like most phone numbers - the 7 digits - start with an 8.

- So, to call a Dublin landline from Canada, you dial:
011 353 1 8XX XXXX

- Now, if the number above were a Dublin mobile, and you were still calling from Canada, you would omit the single '1', which is the Dublin area code. I don't know why.

I learned some of this through trial and error, some of it by looking doe-eyed at acquaintances here and pleading for help, but most of it from this site: How to Call Abroad. It's a great site to bookmark forever.

But really, all of this is hardly relevant if you just set up Skype on your computer. It is free to set up, and free to make calls to any other computer with Skype on it. FREE.

One last thing: Ireland is currently 5 hours ahead of Toronto. So if you want to catch someone in Ireland before, say, midnight, then call them before 7pm your time. If you feed the phone after 7pm, Gizmo turns into a Gremlin. The cool thing is that if you are an insomniac, and you're awake at 4am, you could call your Dubliner friend right away, and it would be a very decent morning hour in Ireland. I've just put a clock at the top of the right sidebar - it lists the current time in Dublin.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dogs are meant to poop outside

I was meeting a new friend for dinner tonight in the Temple Bar area (I know I know it is touristy, give me a break, I've only been here for a few days!), and decided to go for a little walk first. My intention is to walk around as much as I can, so if I find a great flat, I can confidently decide in an instant whether or not I would like living in that neighbourhood. Dublin's not really that big, if you plan to stay within 2km of the absolute centre (which I guess I would poinpoint as the O'Connell Bridge, but maybe living here will change that attitude).

My mission was to find some soap - just a nice bar of soap made from, you know, pure ingredients, essential oils - the usual. It takes a while to find a Kensington Market-like space when you are in a new city, but I hold out no hopes for finding anything as cheap and down-home as Sugar and Spice.

I found a great bar of lemongrass soap at Down to Earth on South Great Georges Street, and decided that was my new scent. Bright, lively, ready-for-anything. It was 4 Euros, and seeing this kind of soap at home is often 4 dollars, I figured this place was on the mark. I've decided not to convert currencies anymore - it's too painful. The numbers stay the same, even if the conversion speaks of highway robbery.

I left the chipper guy at the counter of the store, and continued walking south. Oddly, Dubliners call this 'walking UP the street,' which is confusing, seeing I have always associated 'UP' with walking north. But maybe I am too attached to maps, which place the north arrow at the top...

I had a few minutes before I had to turn around and head back to Temple Bar for my dinner date, so I popped into Penny Farthing Cycles Shop, thinking I might find out if they had any second hand bikes that were suitable. Air Canada was going to charge me $275 to bring the bike over - $225 for an extra 'bag', and $50 for the that 'bag' being sports equipment -- and I figured that it would cost the same to bring it back, which just made it not worth it.

So there I am in this (admittedly kind of grotty - I should have known) cycle shop. The fellow said they had very few used bikes, but then a woman on the phone placed her hand over the mouthpiece, and said "How 'bout that silver-and-grey Ladies' that just came in? It's not serviced yet, but it's a 16."

Well, I am short, so 16" would be perfect. I proceeded to the back of the shop to inspect the bike. There was a very large boxer moving around, but he seemed friendly enough, and didn't jump on my head (dogs for some reason like to come up and lick me on the face, no matter how far my face is from the ground). He pointed out the bike, but it was in a big stack, so I moved around back to inspect it. I was talking about derailleurs and the like - making myself out to be the knowledgeable cyclist that I am (or pretend to be), and I noticed this...smell.  I was thinking, phew, that doggy sure does smell! Then I realised, um, that is the smell of...poop. Dog poop. And yes, I was standing in it. Great big fluffy piles of it.

On the concrete floor of the shop.


The guy was like "oh no, I hope you didn't step in it." I looked down, and there were, like, TEN PILES of poop at my feet. Under my feet, actually. That is WAY MORE than a day's worth. WTF? Who DOES that? I mean, a warning would have been nice.

Let's just say that several toilet paper rolls and visits to a grotty bike-grease covered bathroom later, I was in St. Stephen's Green, not paying homage to Joyce and Bloom, but wiping my soles for dear life. I was a little late to meet my friend at Temple Bar, but... I had a pretty good excuse. And oh ya, the bike sucked.

Friday, August 28, 2009

PPS Number

So I popped out of the shower this morning, stood out the window to check the weather, and found it sunny and mild. Got dressed, finished my extra-strong Marks and Spencer fair-trade tea (which I think is only extra-strong because they put more in each bag), and got ready to head out. But in the minutes between dressing and exiting, I had The temperature had dropped, and the sky was covered in ominous, dark clouds.

When people say it rains a lot in Ireland, it really means that it rains many times in one day, not that a lot of water comes out of the sky during any given instance. This is very different from Toronto weather, where it either tends to be rainy all day, or not rainy all day, and the amount of rain, especially during fantastic August thunderstorms, can be torrential. But back to my topic...

I went to apply for a PPS number today, which stands for Personal Public Service Number. At home we call this a Social Insurance Number. The last time I got one of these, I was 15, and applying for a Christmas job at The Bay. I didn't know that I had to take care of this myself, because, funny, my world-class institution of higher learning neglected to mention it (anytime over the last 4 months). But no bother, the guy at the bank told me where to go, because in addition to requiring an address, one needs a PPS number to get a bank account. So off I went in my newly changed clothes to find the Social Welfare Office on Tara Street. I found it, and found the little machine that gives you slips of paper with your number in the queue, but tacked to the front of that little machine was a notice saying "PPS Allocations have moved to 20 King's Inns Street, Dublin 1". Apparently they are reducing the number of offices that issue the numbers, so check here before you go.

Now, I didn't know where King's Inns Street was, but luckily there was an information window, with only one woman standing in line. This will take me no time at all! But, there was no one at the window on the official side. About 10 minutes later, a social welfare office worker showed up, she had a five second exchange with the one woman in line, and off she went again for another 15 mintues. I was starting to feel a bit irritated, because I only needed directions, and a confirmation that they were still open. Finally I decided to ask the one woman in line - the one taking up more time than I think one person should, and her response was great: "Aw geeze, I don' know where dat is. Well, it's in Dublin 1, and sure, that's the north side. So you just go up to the north side."

Now, I have only been in Dublin for a couple of days, but I know that Dublin 1 is central and north of the Liffey, and that Dublin 2 is central and south of the Liffey. But I also know that the 1 and 2 are postal codes, which means they cover, oh, about 2 square kilometres each. I supposed I could zig zag through hundreds of streets until I found King's Inn Street, but the concomitant problem is that many streets are not named at each intersection....I did a lot of walking in circles this afternoon - all around here:

View Larger Map

I finally found the office, was issued a number that seemed very far away from the number currently being served, and went off to do some shopping. I kept checking back in, but after an hour and a half, they were only 12 numbers later, and there were still 20 people ahead of me, but only an hour until closing. I went off for another 20 minutes, only to return and find they had just passed my number. How did you do it, I asked? But there was no answer; instead, I elbowed my way to a wicket as soon as someone left, and pleaded. The guy wasn't impressed, but he helped me nonetheless, and now I only have to wait 2 weeks to receive it in the mail! Fortunately, he gave me a number to call on Monday to find out: (01) 704 3281. Now everyone can use it!

Yamamori Noodles, yummm

Today my new colleague Lisa took me on a city centre walking tour that had three themes: cheap eats, cheap electronics (my request), and useful libraries/archives (isn't this everyone's perfect walking tour of a new city?) We had lunch at Yamamori on South Great Georges Street, but I see that they have two locations. The atmosphere was fresh and lively, but not swank and chi-chi as the cheese-oid music on their website might suggest. Around 1pm, we seemed to be the only people in the place, but by 3pm it was packed - a fact that I only realised when I noticed I was sort of yelling at her over my bowl of noodles.

Happy to find ramen on the menu, I ordered the seafood version. (Ramen is hard to come by in Toronto, and the one new place that features it in TO -- Kenzo Ramen on Dundas St. -- proved to be a bit disappointing when I went there a few months ago with my friend Phil). Anyhoo, in expensive Dublin, I was expecting that for 10 Euros I would get a tiny bowl with canned salad shrimp and pollocky fish balls. Moments later, a massive steaming bowl of fresh seafood, veggies, and noodles arrived. The broth was a silky miso-garlic combination (I couldn't taste the oyster sauce that was listed on the menu), the prawns tasted like lobster, and overall, it was very good. I even had to leave some behind, but that might be blamed on the jet-lag. Thanks, Lisa!

P.S. Speaking of foods tasting differently, the cottage cheese here is DEElicious! It tastes...cheesier.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Health Insurance

The Ontario government says that it reimburses health costs incurred outside of country for Ontarians still covered by their government health insurance, but the catch is that they only cover the costs at a fixed rate, and that rate is very very low. It's worth paying attention to the not-so-subtle message scattered liberally, in bold, across the Travelling Outside Canada page on the website of the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care: 'you are strongly advised to purchase additional health insurance every time you leave Canada'. 

 So...I conducted some research into private health insurance, because my world-class Dublin institution does not provide that for me, and you never know when you might get hit by the LUAS and require emergency health services. I have to keep telling myself to look right and not left when I prepare to cross the street... I've had travel insurance many times in the past, but it's significantly different when you plan to be out of province for an extended period of time. There are essentially two kinds of health insurance relevant to those planning to be abroad: travel insurance, and global expatriate insurance. These types depend on your situation, and they are mutually exclusive.  I'll try to make this as simple as possible, because it took time and lots of questions for it to become this simple for me:


1. Travel Insurance
If your Canadian government health insurance (GHIP) is valid for the entire duration of your trip, then this is the kind of insurance you must purchase.

It is cheaper than the global expat option, and the coverage is far superior (e.g. up to $5-million, or unlimited). The next question, of course, is: How do I know if my GHIP remains valid? This is a very scary question for a Canadian, who, if you're like me, has never seen a doctor's bill or hospital bill in their lifetime, let alone actually paid a GP, referred specialist, or hospital or emergency room for any kind of service. We've got it good. The short (but not complete) answer is that your insurance remains valid as long as you are not away from the province for more than 212 days in any 12 month period. I say the answer is not complete because if you've been coming and going a lot in the 2 years prior to your big expat adventure, the rules may differ. Refer back to the Travelling Outside Canada factsheet. So, that's the bad news for those leaving for over 212 days. The good news is that under certain circumstances, you can apply for continuous OHIP eligibility beyond those 212 days. The certain circumstances currently include:
  • study outside of Canada
  • work outside of Canada
  • missionary work outside of Canada
  • vacation or other reason outside of Canada
Fortunately I fit under the second circumstance, but the last one seems to include anyone!!

So, off I went to line up (join the cue) at my local OHIP office to apply for an extended absense with continued coverage. And oh ya, I had to bring several documents. Out came that hosting agreement again (see section above on Work Permits), along with proof of Ontario address (driver's license or utility bill), proof of citizenship (I used a passport), and another proof of identity (I used a credit card).

2. Global Expatriate Insurance
If your are no longer covered by your government health insurance, then you must purchase Global Expatriate Insurance.

There are not that many companies that offer this kind of insurance, and it is more expensive than travel insurance. The good thing is that you can purchase travel insurance to cover you for the first portion of your trip, when you still have valid GHIP, and then global expat insurance for the later part of your trip, when your GHIP has run out. But if you can, get your GHIP extended as per instructions above, and go with standard travel insurance.

I learned about the differences between travel insurance and global expat insurance partly by talking to insurance companies on the phone, and partly by talking to the very helpful Gary, who works at the Canadian OmbudService for Life & Health Insurance. The OmbudService is non-partisan, and provides excellent assistance in navigating this rather complicated (but hopefully after reading this, crystal-clear!) situation. Gary assures me that all of the other folks are also equally helpful, so you don't need to ask for him specifically :)

You have to check out the different companies and policies yourself, but the one piece of advice I will give is this: stand-alone insurance companies proved to be quite cheaper than insurance offered through the banks or Blue Cross. And their policies were comparable, or even better.

Visas and Work Permits

Before setting off, I made sure that my passport was valid until for at least 6 months after the end of my contract, and I found out that as a Canadian, I do not need a visa to enter the country. This does not mean that I can enter Ireland and stay indefinitely, however (more on that in the next section). You can check out the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service website to see what the visa situation is for your country of origin.

Even though I was recruited by the university, most everyone planning to work in Ireland requires a work permit. Check into this early, because at last count, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment noted that they are just now getting to applications that arrived over 3 months ago. The Department processes applications in the order they are received, and the following link shows you where you might be in the cue: Current Processing Dates. And oh ya, the permit is not cheap, either. One alternative, if you are 18-35 years old, is to apply for a work permit through SWAP. It's a bit cheaper, and they help you through the process both before and after your arrival.

Things are a little different for researchers; my employer provided a hosting agreement at no cost to myself, which is a kind of work permit created by the EU exclusively for researchers. I made sure that the hosting agreement was in my hands well before I had to leave Canada, and so far I've had to pull it out at the airport, the bank, and even at my institution to prove I was working there! If you go this route, you'll need to send your institution two passport photos. It's not easy to find the link to hosting agreements on the above website, because it is housed under the section on Enterprise, Science, and Technology. You can find it here. You're on your own if you are searching for similar goverment sites for other European countries, but at least you now know this kind of agreement exists!

One small but very important point about the hosting agreement: you can bring along your children and spouse under this agreement, but you must provide the authorities with a marriage certificate for the latter. The definition of spouse in Canada is much broader, with common-law and same-sex couples having most of the same advantages and obligations as legally married couples. I understand that common-law does not cut it for purposes of the Irish hosting agreement, but I am not sure what they would do if presented with a marriage certificate by a same-sex couple legally married in Canada, seeing that Ireland does not currently allow same-sex marriage, despite the public's growing support for it.

A Canadian Expat in Ireland: Preparation and Arrival

So, I've just arrived in Dublin from Toronto. I have a one year research contract at a world class institution, Dublin is a fantastic world-class city, but I don't know a soul in the city, and this is my first time living abroad. I know that I have a lot to learn.

I am hoping that this blog will serve as both a record of my travails, and as a guide of sorts to others contemplating the same kind of move. I'll start with the boring but important stuff first, and then I plan to paint this town red and get to the good stuff about Dublin...

There are many things one must accomplish when arriving in Ireland without EU passport, and each thing seems to depend on the other one already having been accomplished. For example, I need to find a flat ASAP, but when I find that flat, I have to provide a deposit. Well, one needs a local bank account in order to write a cheque (unless you want to carry around a couple thousand Euro in your purse or pockets). Guess what the banks want in order to get an account? An address. Back to square one. I also need an address in order to get myself a mobile phone with any decent kind of monthly plan. But many letting companies advertising on (the major accomodations listing site) ask you to 'text' them - using your mobile - to set up an appointment. Hello again, square one. And finding a flat and bank account assumes you've actually already entered Ireland, and there are a few things you need to do before you arrive at the airport and hope that they let you stay. So, onto these boring but essential details...