Living in limbo: tips for staying sane while you wait for your visa

We waited for over a year for our permanent residence visa for Canada. We applied via the Express Entry system, and while the general processing time is six months, our processing dragged on way past that. Needless to say, the wait was long and painful.

I recently shared this on one of the South Africa/Canada forums and I hope it helps all of you also playing the waiting game.


Ours was a very smooth process from the point of deciding to emigrate to Canada and the work that began after that, such as doing our IELTS, organising our WES assessments, and gathering docs till our ITA and then getting everything finalised for the big submission and receiving our AOR. We worked quickly and efficiently to get it all done and we thought, wow, this has actually been pretty easy, and judging by the recent fast progress of others to receive a decision, we reckoned, and really hoped, that we were in for a short wait. 

Boy were we wrong…

And as the months ticked by, we really felt the pressure of this whole thing crashing down on us. We sold our house, but had a good deal in the process as the new owner only wanted to move in the next year, so we were going to rent back from her. But we got a shock when, four months down the line, she changed her mind and decided to move in earlier. It’s really no fun getting notice to move out your own home! But we were fortunate enough that my parents generously offered for us to move in with them while we waited. We sold everything and were left with about ten boxes to our names.

It was terrifying and liberating at the same time as we have come to realise how much we had and how much less we can live with. But of course, living in someone else’s home with no end or answer in sight came with many of its own challenges. A huge blessing was that our children were so happy being at granny and grampa and we were able to spend great quality time with our family.

The wait is agonising – there is no way around it – and the most frustrating is not knowing when an answer will come. Your future is totally at the mercy of the Canadian government and once your application is sent in you have to realise that you’ve done your best and it’s now out of your hands, it’s out of your control, and that’s a scary prospect. You have to let go and have faith in the process. 

There are days when this is easier, and then there are the dark days where you question everything and feel like giving up, feel sad and despondent, want to run away and wonder if all this stress will be worth it. You question all your decisions and have a mini freak out at what lies ahead and, of course, google a million ways that things can go wrong.

I’d like to share a few tips and thoughts for those currently in the application process and waiting for that all important “golden email”. Some of these I tried to put into practice myself, some I had to keep reminding myself of along the way to try keep sane. Perhaps you can relate and I hope it helps those still in the trenches of the application phase and the agonising wait to know what your future holds:

Have realistic expectations of the process. Have your short-term goals, but also realise that emigration is a long-term exercise and a long and winding road. Processing times are merely a guide and it could go quicker than the six months or it could stretch out much longer. While it’s good to keep informed of the current processing, don’t compare your application to others – each is judged on its own merits and how easy it is to verify your information and your own profile and background. If it’s taking longer than usual that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong – there are so many factors at play that will determine the length of time it takes. And by comparing yourselves to others you will only drive yourself mad, feel resentful when others succeed before you and create more paranoia and stress than necessary. Save your sanity and rather keep focused on your own application. 

Live in the moment and always keep an open mind. You have your whole life ahead of you, so what’s a few months or even a year waiting? This is just one small window in time and it too shall pass.

Find your tribe and your community. Connect with those in a similar boat – build a support network and share the journey with those going through the same thing. Commiserate and share victories and disappointments. Support one another and help where you can to answer questions, offer words of support or just a shoulder to lean on.

Realise that everyone is going through their own journey and has had their own hardships to endure through the process. So, even though someone’s application may have been approved in lightening speed, don’t underestimate the long journey they may have taken to get to that point – potential months of redoing IELTS to improve scores, issues with education assessments, perhaps previous application rejections. So, it’s likely they still had many of their own struggles, so don’t begrudge them, be happy for them and celebrate their success alongside them.

Don’t stress about which visa office is processing your application. It’s a myth that any office is faster than others. Our application was initially processed in Sydney and then moved to Ottawa, which is supposed to be one of the “faster” offices, and look how long our application took.

The best way of understanding what’s happening with your file is to order GCMS notes. This will give you a good indication of what’s been done and said by the immigration officers reviewing your case, and if there are any problems then you may be able to preempt any further delays by sending any relevant or additional documents.

Live your life and don’t let immigration consume it. Enjoy your time with your family and friends and enjoy and celebrate the good that SA has to offer instead of always focusing on the negatives. Spend quality time with your loved ones and with people who are supportive of your choices in moving abroad.

Be more discreet about who you tell about your plans or risk the constant “have you got your visa”, “how’s things going with your Canada plans” questions from everyone until you want to punch the next person in the face who asks you.

It’s easy enough to do it yourself, but don’t let anyone make you feel any less worthy if you’ve decided to work through an agent. Not all agents are scammers and many can provide valuable input. But at the same time, make sure you do your own research and due diligence – understand the process for yourself. Be informed, don’t just walk into this blindly. Take control of your own future and keep informed in every step of the process. Agents can’t speed up the process and they certainly can’t guarantee success.

Be happy for others and celebrate their victories. I know it’s not easy sometimes when all you wish is for your own good news, but we’re a community and we need to stand together.

Be flexible and expect the unexpected. Immigration is not always a smooth process and if you can’t handle the paperwork and then the wait, how will you handle the move itself? This is all building resilience in you so you need to embrace the lessons you learn along the way.

Don’t speculate as to why it’s taking so long – you will drive yourself mad playing all kinds of negative scenarios in your head. It’s not healthy for your sanity.

If it’s meant to be it doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. Even if it’s the right path for you, there may still be many obstacles in the way. It’s how you overcome them that counts.

The application is only just the start of the journey and we know that the really tough part is coming. And we know that this has all just been preparing us, making us more resilient, getting our minds and hearts ready for the crazy adventure that we’re about to embark on.

Put your life into perspective. In all likelihood, while you wait, you have a roof over your head, food on your table, friends and family who love and support you, qualifications and a job (else how else would you qualify for the visa in the first place?). Don’t stress about the future – as the Bible says, “do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow’s worries will worry about tomorrow”. Take each day as it comes. Live life!

It will happen all at the right time and when it’s meant to.

Have faith that things will work out as they should. Pursue your dream. Go for it. Don’t lose hope.

We’re so excited and can’t wait to make Canada our new home!


2 thoughts on “Living in limbo: tips for staying sane while you wait for your visa

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  1. This is so helpful! We are in this exact situation. I really appreciate your tips. Sometimes someone just has to remind you of these things. Thank you for writing your experience. Hope you guys are settling in well.

    Liked by 1 person

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