Your Canada posting

A families’ guide to living in BATUS

Overview

Whether you are housed in Ralston village, Medicine Hat or Calgary, the opportunity to live in Canada holds many benefits for embracing a different culture, travel and adventure sports, with some of the best skiing in the world.

With temperatures ranging from summer highs of 30C, to winter lows of minus 30C, and spectacular scenery, it is a great place to explore.

However, due to its unique setting, it can also feel an isolated and remote location for those who are not prepared. There are a few things to take into account before accepting a BATUS posting.

Please check our COVID-19 section for up-to-date information, as the coronavirus outbreak may affect the advice given on this page.

Contents

01   Everyday life

You will be in a different time zone to the UK (seven hours behind), so communication links with family and friends in the UK need to be planned.

The local supermarket is a 45-minute drive away in the town of Medicine Hat. There is a Canex store in Ralston village, which offers basic essential food items, but the choice is limited and it is expensive.

With limited public transport, some members of the community struggle if they can’t drive. Transport is provided three times a week to Medicine Hat and will drop you off in a variety of locations. It is on a ‘book-up’ process so if no one books it, the run will not happen. Information is provided by the UWO as part of your welcome brief about this service on arrival in BATUS.

With such hot summers and very cold winters, family life is different to the UK and the attached documents set out what families need to consider in the respective seasons to ensure their safety and wellbeing.

Newsletters:

BATUS winter newsletter 2019 – please note that this is in the process of being updated. We will add a new link when a new version is available.
BATUS spring and summer newsletter

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02   Passports

It is important to ensure that all family members have a valid passport. If you need to apply for a new or renewed passport, allow plenty of time for your passport to be processed and sent to you before you travel; at least eight weeks if applying by post.

If you are running out of time, then consider visiting the passport office in person to secure your passport.

You can claim back the cost of your passport for all immediate family members where renewal or initial application is necessary. Claim this in advance to avoid leaving yourself out of pocket, but remember to keep all receipts as these will be checked by your Regimental Admin Officer (RAO).

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03   Additional Needs

If anyone in your family has a disability and/or additional need, you will need to register this according to AGAI 108 to ensure that your family can be supported, both by housing and the medical centre.

For more information on AGAI 108, click here.

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04   Housing

Housing applications in Canada are by Manual 1132 which will be sent to families once Assignment Orders have been processed and contact is made. Any enquires regarding housing, applications or allocations can be directed to the housing email address which is DIORDOSTrg-Can-Housing@mod.gov.uk or you can contact AFF’s Regional Lead Canada at canada@aff.org.uk with any general queries at any time.

Families should note that there is a separate housing policy that is very unique to BATUS. Allocations are based on family size rather than rank. All  houses are fully furnished with adequate furniture, and are warm in winter and cool in summer. Most houses do also have a basement for additional space.

Gas, Electricity, Garbage and Water (GEGW)

There is no ‘fuel and light’ system in place in Canada like those that may have operated at  previous assignments.

In Ralston, water and waste costs are met by the Crown, therefore do not result in a bill.  Gas costs are met direct from the Service person’s pay, resulting in a debit for actual usage every three months (the costs are low as the gas price is subsidised).  For electricity, families in Ralston pay the nominated Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces supplier (currently EPCOR) direct and the bill is made up of usage and a delivery charge which is standard in Canada. It is your responsibility to ensure that the supplier has your correct contact and billing details although this will be explained to you on move-in.

The Canadian Forces Housing Agency (CFHA) owns, maintains and sustains the quarters that families live in in Ralston and is responsible for the contract for the electricity supply to the village. The contract is reviewed and re-tendered regularly to ensure it remains competitive. There is no National Grid in Canada that could be used by multiple suppliers hence Ralston is committed to whichever company is contracted to provide the supply to the base.

Families that are accommodated in Medicine Hat will pay their full GEGW to the local authority (which is explained at move-in), then claim back on a monthly basis ‘utility charges’ via JPA for water, garbage, refuse and the carbon tax levy.

Families in Redcliff are responsible for paying their gas and electricity charges to the local authority, with the Crown paying the water, garbage and refuse charges.  There is no requirement for JPA transactions for families living in Redcliff.

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05   Move-in/Move-out

Move-in – a minimum of eight weeks’ notice must be given to the housing team for your move-in.

Move-out – a minimum of four weeks’ notice must be given to the housing team for your move-out.

On the day of your move-in you will be met by the welfare team at your SFA. The welfare officer and housing officer will run through the same process as a DIO housing officer would do on move-in in the UK.

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06   ID cards

It is very important that at the first opportunity you visit the pass office to obtain a car pass and ID card for family members to be able to access camp. The welfare officer will assist you with this process.

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07   Spousal employment

Employment opportunities are limited for spouses. Government employment is only available to Canadian citizens.

Dependants’ work permits

In order to work in Canada, dependants must obtain a work permit. An application form for a dependants’ work permit will be included in the arrivals’ pack that you will receive once your Assignment Order is confirmed.

The application can be completed before arrival or once you are settled in your SFA in Canada.  When completing the application, the address used must be your Canadian address.   The application must also have the applicant’s and spouse’s original signatures.

Once completed it will need to be scanned and emailed to the BATUS Arrivals Clerk whose details will be included in the pack.

The application will then be sent to Ottawa for processing and once returned you will receive an email explaining the next process for when you land in Calgary to commence your posting.

There are two types of work permits: generic and open. An open permit is essential if you intend to work with children or in health care. To obtain an open permit you must have completed an Immigration Medical Exam (IME) prior to arriving in Canada or this can be done once you have arrived and are settled into your SFA. The cost of the medical is at your own expense.

If you have any queries about work permits prior to receiving the pack or wish to find out where in the UK the medicals can be completed, then do not hesitate to contact the BATUS Team at CTG-BATUS-0GPMailbox@mod.gov.uk or alternatively, email AFF at canada@aff.org.uk.

The main opportunities to work on camp are in the Canex or within childcare settings. If you plan to work from your home, you will need to apply for a business licence. Please note that if housed in Medicine Hat you will not be able to run a home business from these properties as they are leased on different contracts to the houses in Ralston and landlord liability will not allow any home-based businesses to be approved. The base commander will need to sign off on any plans to work from home in any capacity if housed in Ralston.

As detailed above, if you are hoping to work in childcare, Canada insists that you have an open work permit and for that you would need to have completed the medical examination as a condition of your permit. Many spouses complete the medical in the UK which means that, upon arrival in Canada, they can immediately acquire the permit ready to start work. The medical costs around £400 and unfortunately this is a personal cost and will not be refunded by BATUS.

For spouses seeking employment with children in the pre-school sector, it is also essential to bring transcripts and parchments of any UK qualifications. Both parts of the qualification are required to show the specific units that have been passed. If spouses don’t have or can’t obtain their qualification parchments and transcripts (if their educational establishment is no longer in existence, for example) then to be employed at either of the pre-school establishments in the village, they have to take the Level One childcare qualification, which is a free online 50-hour course organised through the Military Family Resource Centre in Ralston village.

If you are hoping to work in the fields of medical, dental or social care, then there are specific challenges regarding recognition of UK qualifications. If these are areas relevant to you then contact Elaine Giles at the Military Family Resource Centre vfp.coord@gmail.com and she will be able to provide you with some additional information.

There are two organisations which employ the majority of spouses seeking employment in Ralston village. Both organisations fall under the Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Service (CFMWS).

Personnel Support Programmes (PSP), which employs spouses in areas such as recreation, demands ‘UK reliability screening’ of every applicant for any job to accompany their application. This screening can only be obtained from within the UK. However, the second organisation (the Military Family Resource Centre) does not require that screening.

Volunteer opportunities

With limited paid employment opportunities in Canada, an alternative option could be to volunteer; not only will this bridge any gaps in your CV, but you’ll also be making a positive contribution to the community.

There are numerous volunteer opportunities in Canada, including SSAFA, animal rescue and rehoming centres, youth groups, victim support and the food banks for example.

If you are considering undertaking employment or training during your posting to BATUS or have any questions, contact our AFF Regional Lead Canada at canada@aff.org.uk.

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08   Claiming National Insurance contributions following an assignment to Canada

Whether you have been working in Canada or not, as a Service spouse or civil partner you will be able to claim National Insurance credits to maintain your National Insurance record for any time spent accompanying your soldier in Canada after 6 April 2010.

These National Insurance credits will protect your entitlement to the basic state pension and certain contribution-based Social Security benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance.

You can apply for your credits by obtaining a form from the welfare officer which will be stamped and verified to confirm your entitlement to claim. These forms do also form part of the exit pack that you will be given towards the end of your posting at BATUS.

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09   Education and childcare

The key aspect to note is that children are taught within the Canadian education system and they start school at a later age in Canada than in the UK.

Also, whilst the school year is the same as the UK, running from September to August, the class your child will be placed in is determined by their age on 28 February, not 31 August.

There is NO service children’s education (SCE) provision for children in BATUS, but there are two dedicated SCE teachers employed to work in the school in Ralston village to ensure that an appropriate curriculum is followed.

If your child is due to start school during your tour, or is currently aged four to six years, then you will probably need to live in Ralston village, and will be given a priority for a quarter there unless you state otherwise. There is no formal education provided for children of this age in Medicine Hat or Calgary.

  • Families based in Ralston village will have access to Ralston School, which caters for children from kindergarten to 14/15 years.
  • Families based in Medicine Hat may opt for local schools for every stage of their children’s education.
  • Families based in Calgary will attend local schools.

Secondary school

Generally, it is not recommended to bring children who are 14 years or above, as the local secondary schools are Canadian schools, only delivering a Canadian curriculum.

If a family has children aged 12-14 years, they will be contacted to ensure they are fully aware of the differences between the systems concerning education and families will be advised to look at alternatives such as boarding school or other ways to remain in the UK with relatives etc. If a family has children aged 14-16 years, they will be contacted to discuss cancellation of the assignment unless alternative education options (previously listed) are in place.

GCSE education is not possible in Canada, nor is supported distance learning available for this age group. Support of children with Special Educational Needs is also difficult in BATUS.

It is strongly recommended that you discuss your children’s needs at the earliest opportunity with Mrs Sonia Stanton at sonia.stanton@prrd.ab.ca, or contact CEAS for further information and guidance.

In 2017, Defence Children’s Services produced an Educational Suitability Review paper, which families can access to enable them to make an informed choice.

For families who do decide to take children older than 14 years with them, it is recommended they attend Eagle Butte (Secondary) School located on the east side of Medicine Hat.

A school bus is provided from Ralston as the journey time is about 45 minutes during the summer and can take anything up to 1.5 hours during the winter.

Childcare

Childcare is provided by the Military Family Resource Centre. The licensed daycare facility is called Kiddie Kare and is a programme for 0-4 years 11 months. The programme hours are 8:45am-2:45pm daily if the community need is there and the minimum number of children to attend the session is met. Sessions are all-day sessions and must be pre-booked. All enquiries can be emailed to Becky Verishine (Child & Youth Services Co-ordinator) at mfrc.childandyouth@gmail.com.

Educational suitability reviews

If you would like the latest educational suitability reviews for Ralston, Medicine Hat and Redcliffe, Alberta, Canada please contact the Children’s Education Advisory Service (CEAS).

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10   Medical & dental

All entitled family members can access medical and dental care on camp.

If a specialist referral is required, you may be seen in Medicine Hat or Calgary. You will be allocated an Alberta Healthcare card, which entitles you to basic and emergency care within Alberta, but if you travel out of province, you will need to obtain travel insurance similar to what you receive to travel abroad in the UK.

The health visitor for BATUS families is based in Ralston village and the ‘Healthy Child Programme’ is followed as it would be in the UK. Immunisations will be given according to the Canadian schedule but the health visitor can provide advice and assistance with this.

Families should note that there are no UK midwives available and the maternity system is very different from UK. However, full pre-natal and post-natal care is available under the Canadian system supported by the health visitor located in the village.

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11   Pets

The import and export of pets between Canada and the UK/Europe is very expensive. As a general rule, the larger the animal, the greater the cost will be. If you are planning on bringing a pet, then you will need to complete the pet’s section on the form that accompanies your arrival pack.

On arrival in Canada, you need to register your pet, for free, with the HEM and PSP. They will give you a tag, which your pet wears around their collar, so it can be easily identified if lost.

If you are hoping to bring your pet then it is advised that you start to research options early. You will also need to seek permission to keep a pet and not all houses in Medicine Hat will allow pets so this may limit your housing options.

There are limited off-leash areas to exercise pets in Canada. Dogs and cats must be leashed or contained in gardens in all areas of the village and Medicine Hat unless you are in a dedicated off-leash area. On move-in pet owners will be advised of which areas are on or off-leash. Cats are never allowed to roam free.

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12   Cars

You may be able to bring your current car to Canada on the two main sailings, generally in November and February, if space is available. However, you will drive on the opposite side of the road to the UK and your vehicle must be suitable for the harsh Canadian environment and temperatures. Most families do purchase a car on arrival – often from the family that they are taking over from or other families moving out.

Driving licences

Serving personnel assigned to BATUS may drive in Canada on a valid UK driving licence in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

It is possible for dependants to drive in Canada on a valid UK driving licence for the first 90 days (day 1 taken from the day you arrive in Canada). After 90 days you are required to obtain an Alberta driving licence (there are no exceptions to this rule).

To receive an Alberta driving licence without completing a full Canadian driving test you will be required to hand over your UK driving licence to the Licensing Officer. Once handed over the original licence is not returned to you, but sent to the Serious Investigations Unit Canada, who will validate your licence and destroy it after five years.

If you are in possession of a valid driving licence from another country, please check here  to see if your current licence can be exchanged for an Alberta driving licence.

If you have any questions, contact your Unit Welfare Officer or canada@aff.org.uk.

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13   Banking

All military personnel must have a bank account into which pay and allowances can be paid. It is recommended that you maintain your UK bank account throughout your Canada posting, but once in Canada you can also open a Canadian account and will have the option to split pay between your UK and Canadian accounts according to your needs. Opening an account is a relatively simple process and will generally be required in order to obtain a credit card, which is useful for travel, as most hotels will only accept credit card bookings online. Retaining your UK bank account will be useful to meet the needs of regular UK payments such as standing orders or direct debits for insurance, mortgage repayments or hire purchase and for deposits and benefits.

Bank cards with the VISA, MasterCard and various other symbols may be used at Canadian ATMs. There may, however, be a charge for using the cash point by your UK bank. Your bank can advise on any charges that you may incur. A chip and pin service is offered at the Forces post offices with the limits on withdrawals set at £250 per week and a maximum of £1,000 per month per entitled person.

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14   Staying connected

Telephones and internet access

Telephone, television and broadband packages are available, but are more expensive than the UK. The only provider able to service Ralston village is Shaw and they will contact you on move-in to arrange set-up. Houses in Medicine Hat have more options on which provider to use.

Your quarter will be fitted with a telephone port, but will not be connected to a service, or have a telephone. Many telephones are sold on the local Buy and Sell page for Ralston but they are relatively inexpensive if a family decide they want a landline. Most families tend to just use their mobile phones.

Mobile phones

There is a selection of mobile phone networks available but they are significantly more expensive than in the UK. Most UK providers do now allow “roaming” within the UK so it is worth checking with your current provider to see if you can continue to use your UK mobile phone in Canada. You can then obtain an app on arrival to provide you with a Canadian phone number if you find that would be of benefit.

Handsets are particularly expensive to buy in Canada. You can bring your handset to Canada with you, but will need to ensure that it is unlocked to all networks.

If you don’t want to use your UK mobile while in Canada, then you should contact your network provider to arrange disconnection prior to arrival.

Television and radio

BFBS delivers TV and radio in Canada through their station that is based in Ralston. Chat 94.5FM is the local station and country music is definitely the norm for all stations except BFBS.  Most families also use Netflix or Amazon as Canadian TV does differ markedly from the UK!

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15   Work life balance

As BATUS is a training area during the ‘prairie season’, some jobs require the serving personnel to spend extended times away from the family, so be prepared for single parenting on occasions.

Many families find the long summer holidays a great time to return to the UK to see relatives.

Overall, the chance to live in Canada is an amazing opportunity. If you love to explore new places and experiences, then Canada could well exceed your expectations.

Moving out

On receipt of your next Assignment Order, you can start planning your move.

Getting your family back to the UK

Documentation/UK entry requirements

Everyone travelling must have a valid passport with at least six months remaining to present at both exit and entry airports/ports.

Ensure that you have the correct documentation required for travel, not only for entry into the UK but also for transiting countries en-route to your final destination, especially if you are intending to tie the trip in with any leave periods. Please seek advice from your UWO.

Visa requirements for non-EEA citizens

Please visit the Foreign & Commonwealth section for all information.

Getting UK job-ready

Start looking for work at Forces Families Jobs.

The MFRC can assist with converting UK-style CVs to Canadian resumes and also back again for return postings to the UK.

Checklist

You will need to:

  • Check whether your current contents insurance covers your belongings whilst in transit.
  • Sell or arrange transit of your vehicle and think about options for your next posting.
  • Cancel any Canadian contracts in advance of leaving.
  • Close any Canadian bank accounts.
  • Don’t forget to check what documentation any pets need for travel.
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16   Alternative sources of information

Alternative sources of information can be found either through the other Families Federations or the HIVE and iHIVE:

Families Federations:

Naval Families Federation
RAF Families Federation

HIVE

On behalf of the chain of command Army HIVE delivers information, arrival packs and deployment packs to support the military community on a variety of topics. In some locations support is available face-to-face through a network of HIVE Information Centres and HIVE information support officers, as well as online through social media https://www.facebook.com/ArmyHIVE and www.twitter.com/ArmyHIVEinfo

iHIVE

The tri-service International HIVE (iHIVE) provides location-specific guides and information available to download from the iHIVE blog at ihiveinfo.blogspot.com and the local iHIVE blog at ihiveinfo.blogspot.com/search/label/North%20America

If you have a question or would like to receive the latest pre-arrival information to help you make an informed choice about accepting an assignment to BATUS, please contact us at canada@aff.org.uk

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