Meet the expats – Kobus and Marie-France

We take a little break from life in Calgary to meet some South African/French expats living in BC. Kobus and Marie-France share their experiences of life in Port Moody, a city close to Vancouver.

Kobus has written a number of great books about life in Africa and being an expat. To learn more, see his Amazon Author Profile.

When did you move to Canada and what made you choose Port Moody?

We arrived in Canada in 1997. We rented a basement suite in North Vancouver and searched for a home. Port Moody had good schools, was more affordable than Vancouver and was closer to my work in Burnaby.

Where do you live in Port Moody? What do you like best and least about your neighbourhood?

We lived on Heritage Mountain from 1997 to 2004. The company I worked for sent us to Germany for two years and on our return, we bought a house further up the mountain in the Highland Estates/Evergreen Heights area. It is a quiet and comfortable area with nice neighbours and beautiful nature and natural trails. There is little we dislike about the area except maybe for the bears that raid garbage bins if left outside.

What do you love most about Port Moody?

It is a smaller self-contained town with everything you need, but it is also linked to Vancouver by Skytrain, so you can travel downtown for an outing anywhere in the big city and be back in the afternoon.

What do you like least about the city?

It is growing fast and property prices, especially along the waterfront, have gone up quickly in the recent past.

What has been the most challenging part about moving to and living in Port Moody and Canada?

Both my wife and I worked and travelled extensively before we met and after we got married, so it was not such a big adaptation. As with any country, there are many little things that you must learn about and adapt to. We found people very politically correct and quite touchy, so you have to be careful with the sense of humour and jokes.

What do you miss most about your home country?

My family that are still there and the sport. North American sport is not my cup of tea and I have not learnt to really like hockey (except if we play against the USA!). Most of the things I miss about South Africa are not there anymore or have changed so much I do not recognise it when I go back for a visit. The culture and value system has changed drastically and, in my view, lost to a certain extent what defined the people and what made the country.

For my wife it is quite different, France has essentially not changed and when we visit there, she can see her old school and identify with places she enjoyed as a child. The town looks very much the same as when she left, and the culture has remained the same.

Since my retirement I wrote a book about our interesting and strange life, mainly in reply to the family’s curiosity about why we lived in strange places and what I did for a job. Since I worked on classified aerospace projects, I could not discuss my work until some projects became declassified. The book is about adventures and happenings over time as I found myself in strange places.

“Top Secret and other anecdotes” was published both in Afrikaans and English. I also had so many questions from Canadians about South Africa, and Africa in general, I wanted to share the way we grew up and lived in South Africa. I wrote a third book, “Once upon a time I lived in Africa”. All three books are very popular, and I am now busy writing a fourth book.

Have you found it easy to meet new people and make friends?

Yes, and we also made friends with some ex-Rhodesians via work. We are quite busy with our own life and are not generally in need of lots of friends.

What’s the general lifestyle like in Port Moody?

Vancouver and Port Moody have a more laid-back coastal approach to life and are less competitive than some eastern parts of Canada. The lifestyle here is relaxed, and people spend a lot of time and money on outdoor activities. Our three boys thrived in the place and all obtained post secondary education and are happy to live in Canada.

What are entertainment options like in the city? Any great nightlife spots, restaurants, bars you like to go to? Any hidden gems you’ve come across?

Port Moody has several small interesting eateries and good family entertainment, especially in the summer at the waterfront with free concerts and fireworks etc. The great thing is that you can get on the Skytrain and enjoy all the big city’s pleasures and attractions.

How easy is it to get around in Port Moody/Vancouver? Do you need a car or does the city have a good public transport system?

Public transport is good, and we often prefer that to driving. As in most of North America, at least one car is necessary. Boating is also quite popular and most houses on the waterfront have a jetty and a boat. You can get all the way to Vancouver by boat.

How have you found the cost of living in Port Moody compared to your home country? What do you find expensive or cheap in particular?

We have been away for too long to make any sensible comparison. We found that most people here live very well, although houses are expensive.

What’s the economy and job market like in Port Moody/Vancouver? Did you find it easy to find a job?

If you are willing to work, it is possible to find a job. In the beginning you might have to start at a lower level than where you were before arriving in Canada, but hard work pays off and normally South Africans do well since they have a good work ethic.

How have you found the corporate/work culture compared to back home?

Again, we have been away from South Africa for such a long time that it is difficult to compare the current work culture in South Africa to that in Canada. I was in an executive position in quite a specialised field, so I can not generalise, but I found that the average work culture in Canada is more union-orientated and people were not keen to work late or overtime. It takes quite a different skillset to motivate and lead people in Canada compared to some other countries where I have worked before.

Do you have any other tips or insights you’d like to share with someone planning a move to Canada?  

The most important tip is that you should do it as soon as possible! Most people we know say that they regret not moving here sooner. The other thing to note is that many South Africans have this idea that all of Canada is covered in snow and ice and that winter is long and hard. Firstly, the west coast has a very mild climate and our area has only a few days of snow per year, normally just over Christmas and New year. The houses are warm and comfortable and after a few months the weather is not an issue. 

If you’re an expat living in Calgary, or anywhere in Canada, we’d love to hear your story, so please contact us to learn more about sharing your insights on our blog.


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