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: Where are you originally from?
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Houston, Texas USA
Q: When did you move here?
Q: Did you move here with a spouse/family?
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: My husband was in the oil and gas business
Living in Houston
Q: What do you enjoy most about Houston? 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?
A: It’s been a while since I have lived in Canada but the fresh mountain air, the genuine people, the different mindset, and overall home feeling I would say.
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. I was expecting a massive culture shock when I moved to Jakarta and so I wasn’t so surprised, but when we moved to Houston we really felt like this would be moving home and it really wasn’t.
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.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? 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 16.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Houston? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: The healthcare in the USA is broken. It was another big culture shock as well. 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. While you may think you are covered here, that really doesn’t mean no out of pocket expenses. 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. Don’t be careless. There are people who prey on people that are distracted.
Most people here are always packing heat (carrying a gun) either in their purse or in their car, so if you have the urge to get upset while driving and feel the need to express yourself, don’t. 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.
Q: Any areas/suburbs in Houston you’d recommend for expats to live in?
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.
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.
Meeting people and making friends
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. There is definitely an issue of discrimination around women, LGBT+ people and foreigners. 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? Any social/expat groups you can recommend?
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. 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.
Working in Houston
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 2009 I got a work permit - it took time, but I got one. I then rejoined the previous company that I worked for in Canada. We had an opportunity to get green cards a couple of years later, so we did.
Family and children
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for your children during the move?
A: It was tough on my child. 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 4,000 students. It was definitely daunting.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Find some people to lean on. 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. I am happy to reach out and give my opinion on the “lay of the land” based on my experiences here in Houston. 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. He replied, “if you love India, India will love you back 10 times more. But if you hate India, it will hate you back 100 times more". I think these are very wise words.
I feel that is the way of expats – it is all a mindset and we have the power to set the tone for our families, as well. I have found that the first six months, while very exciting, are also really tough. Especially if you have left good friends from your previous posting! So rewarding though, in the end.