Relocating to another country (art jobs, visas, etc.)



  • Hello everyone,

    As this is mostly a life matter and only partly pertains to art, I hope I did right in posting this in "General Discussion."

    There is something I am in the middle of planning, and I wondered how others on this forum would go about it - or have gone about it if you have been in a similar situation before.

    In short, my situation right now is that I will be relocating to Canada to join my Canadian boyfriend, but may only do so on a tourist visa. It's been scary and stressful to try and figure out my finances and my art career at the same time, since I'm only now slowly gaining direction in it. Others here who have had to do something similar, how did you make this work in terms of 1) jobs and visas in the new country, 2) savings, 3) your freelance art career, and even 4) mental preparation?

    This has been a long road for my boyfriend and me in our long-distance relationship, and I've been realising in recent times that any and all advice for our situation could potentially help us connect the dots together. As you are all also artists who have had to juggle your art career and life matters such as these, it would be helpful to hear what your approaches have been.

    Thank you for your time, everyone! I would be really appreciative of your help.


  • Pro

    @animatosoor Oh boy, quite a situation! But I may actually be ideally qualified to help you out. I'm Canadian and my boyfriend relocated here last summer to be with me. We have looked into all this up and down and if you have any questions don't hesitate to ask away πŸ™‚

    He came here on a student visa to start with and we are now looking to get him a permanent residence visa and a work permit. If you're going to Canada on a tourist visa, be sure that you're allowed to work here! Getting a work permit is a whole other kettle of fish.

    For jobs, the good thing about freelance art is that you can do it from anywhere, When my boyfriend moved here I actually relocated too because I lived in Quebec and my boyfriend wished to be somewhere where French wasn't necessary. We compromised and decided to settle in Ottawa, meaning I had to leave my permanent position as a studio artist in Montreal. I didn't find a studio job in Ottawa, but I was able to land on my feet really well as freelance illustrator. I work from home and easily pay for both our living expenses while my boyfriend studies. You can do it from anywhere so it does reduce the stress a bit.

    Moving is always stressful, especially to a different country. Even moving to a different province was very stressful to me. However you'll find that you take everything one step at a time and it's not so bad. And when comes the time to actually move, the anticipation is worse than actually going through with it. Change is scary, but in the end it's worth it ❀



  • @NessIllustration Thank you for taking the time to write out such a thoughtful reply. I'm really grateful.

    It sounds like you and your boyfriend have already crossed many of these hurdles, and that really gives me hope. Congrats to the two of you for making it work! I'm very proud of you, being a fellow LDR-er. XD

    As far as permits go: yes, it would be against the law for me to actively find work in Canada while there on a tourist visa, so I would never do that. I realise freelancing with my art while there on a tourist visa would be perfect since, as you said, it would be location-independent. Frankly, if I could be there for about 6 months on my tourist visa and freelance at the same time to sustain myself financially and pay the rent, I would be very relieved and happy. Eventually, we would work towards my getting a PR as well, but that would come later.

    If I may ask, and if it isn't too much trouble for you, would you be able to share how you set up your freelance art business before flying from your home to Ottawa to be with your boyfriend? What steps did you take to ensure that freelancing as an artist would not only be feasible, but would actually be a strong and steady enough source of income to enable you to sustain yourself in a foreign province and pay the rent? I understand some "setting up" would be necessary, and the steps I've set for myself in the coming months are to 1) build my portfolio, 2) create a website, 3) be more present online with my art and 4) try my hand at getting an agent. Would this be the right path?

    Thank you once again!


  • Pro

    @animatosoor My pleasure! Like I said, ask anything πŸ™‚

    Uhmm I don't know as much about tourist visas as the others, but make sure that freelance work is allowed! I'm not certain. Even temporary residents need work permits, and freelance is considered working just like any other job.

    As for the steps I took, at first I was looking for a full-time studio job in Ottawa. Problem is, there aren't as many studios here as there was in Montreal. I sent my resume to all 7-8 studios I could find and no one had openings. Then I started to panic! I looked for about 3 months without success and as my moving date was getting closer I was becoming more and more of a wreck. After a while I expanded my search to remote work opportunities. Eventually, I found a contract that would give me about 20 hours a week, and then another that would give me 10 hours a week.

    The thing is, once I moved and started, it turned out that the 20 hours place wasn't sending me as much work as they said they would, and the 10 hours place didn't pay enough for the amount of effort. So I started looking for other freelance gigs to supplement my income. Before I knew it, I'd become a freelance illustrator without ever really meaning to lol

    As you pointed out, being a freelancer can be a very unstable income. While all the steps you mentioned are very important, they won't necessarily guarantee consistent income until you're more established, and consistent income is what you need right now. What I recommend is for you to look for recurring work opportunities. Meaning, places that send you regular work every month. I currently have 2 recurring gigs plus an agent, and that means I have a certain amount of guaranteed income every month and it's not as stressful. I supplement the rest with a gig here and there and with my own shop.

    You can find recurring opportunities anywhere where they advertise freelance jobs (like Behance, etc) but also job sites like Linked In, Monster, Glassdoor, etc. Look for terms like "remote artist" or "off-site illustrator". You will find a lot of studios offering contracts when they need regular work, but not enough to hire a full-time employee. It may not be your ideal career but it's ideal to get started: it gives you a consistent income, experience, reputation and contacts while you build your presence online and portfolio. It's worked well for me and I cannot recommend it enough!

    Other thing I recommend if you're into that, is trying your hand at selling products yourself such as art prints, printed gifts, etc. I just opened a clipart shop! It's a lot of work and it's really hard to get it going, however it can be really worth it because 1. it's fun and rewarding! 2. it's a part of your income that depends on nothing but you.


  • SVS OG

    Sounds exciting but very daunting. Just to add to Vanessa’s suggestion on how to get to freelance work, I suggest going to facebook groups for children’s book authors. There a lot of self-publishing authors who are looking for illustrators. However, most of them haggle too much and can be too demanding. I suggest sifting through them for the readonable ones. I hope this helps.



  • @animatosoor Ah I'm kind of in the reverse situation where I'm moving back to Australia after living in Germany for three years with my partner (and being only a few months here as a full-time illustrator). But that's really exciting to be moving!

    My advice would be to check out some expat forums or groups in Canada cause they'll definitely have the low down on the artist bureaucratese - where and how to register, tax, health insurance, and even visas πŸ™‚ I'm still in the starting stages of my illustration career though so can't quite share any meaningful experience on how to get that engine up and running.

    Following this thread and cheering you on at the same time hehe



  • @NessIllustration Thanks for the heads-up - I'll do more research to confirm that freelancing while there on a tourist visa would be allowed.

    I will look into remote work opportunities as well. I've searched for them before, but I need to get into doing that again. I've looked at Behance, LinkedIn and even Upwork, but it's been very challenging to put myself out there to even try for these jobs due to how nervous I've been about my abilities over the years.

    It's interesting that you mentioned selling prints, since that is something I have been seriously considering getting into in the near future. I'm looking into creating a few collections/series that I could sell, either on Etsy or directly on my website (which is in the planning stages).

    Overall it sounds like remote jobs and recurring gigs would be the way to go, and I no longer want to sit on my hands and bow to my fears. I'm tired of my fears.

    When trying for remote jobs without any serious prior client work to show, would you recommend sending them a link to a solid portfolio website with personal projects you've set for yourself? That is the strategy I have in mind right now, but it's pretty much my only one - apart from eventually trying for an agent. I just wonder if it would be enough to land any of these remote jobs.

    Thank you for all the wonderful insight once again.



  • @nyrrylcadiz Thanks for your suggestion! I'm adding this to the notes I have on this subject matter, haha. Looking in FB groups is not something I'd previously considered, and it's definitely helpful. πŸ™‚



  • @NelsonYiap Thank you so much for this, Nelson. It is good to hear that you've also had experience relocating before!

    I will look into expat forums and groups in Canada some more. While I've searched them before, I've never actually taken part in any discussions there, and it would probably really help.

    It's really exciting for me to see you grow in your illustration career - just know that I'm rooting for you as well!


  • Pro

    @animatosoor I know it's scary to put yourself out there! It is for everyone, but maybe especially for artists because we always seem to doubt ourselves. Your work looks extremely beautiful and professional though, there is no reason you wouldn't be able to get work, unless you keep yourself back and don't try. Over the years, I've seen many artists that were just okay, not amazing or anything, get a ton of work just because they put themselves out there and apply for everything. There is a LOT of work out there, enough for everyone, and you just have to be brave enough to ask for it πŸ™‚

    Your style seems like it would fit amazingly well in picture books, so also send your work to book publishers!!

    I would also suggest you start now, don't wait for everything to be perfect! A website can take a long time to build. The first couple rounds of applications I sent, I simply did it with a Behance portfolio (a .myportfolio.com website, it's free with Creative Cloud and takes just a few minutes to build from a Behance profile). It's much faster than setting up a website and allows you to start at least! When you send out portfolios to agents or publishers, it takes months before they get back to you. So don't put it off until you're in the middle of moving!


  • SVS OG

    @animatosoor i’ve found a few jobs there but like I said, you have to be picky with which client to work with. Some are just looking for the cheapest artist they could find so you have to be careful with those.



  • @NessIllustration It means a lot to hear this from someone with work as professional as yours, and who's been published! It's very helpful to hear your viewpoint on what my art looks like (to you). Thank you for the compliments! This year I am going to be trying for lots of jobs, and if I don't get them, then, hey, at least I would have tried, and maybe I would even get constructive feedback.You're right about the amount of jobs out there, and how we need to get out of our own way sometimes.

    I will start sooner rather than later, that's for sure. My mistake in the past years was to keep my art to myself, telling myself "I will share it with the public when it's good enough." And that never worked. Adam Duff's two videos on this matter (along with Will's, Jake's and Lee's advice) were huge kicks in the butt. I'll put the Adam Duff videos here in case anybody else who's reading this is in a similar position with their art-related anxieties, and need to hear this:

    Is Your Art Good Enough For The Public?
    Why You're Afraid to Share Your Art Publicly

    As for starting now, I was previously delaying the actual building of my website, thinking "Oh, I'll create it when I have my 12 pieces!" But I'm coming away from this discussion thinking it's best to start building it right away. I'm going to be working on that alongside creating new pieces for my portfolio.

    I currently already have a Behance portfolio, but my page is fairly new and I'm only now learning how to properly use it. I will look into building that up once again. Thank you for the reminder to not put all of this off till the moving has started. And overall, thank you for being such a wonderful fellow artist!



  • Thank you, @nyrrylcadiz. I will keep this in mind when looking through those FB groups. 🌻


  • Pro

    @animatosoor Holy hell, did you just say Adam Duff? Oh my, I didn't know he had a Youtube channel! Adam taught me for a semester in college, he taught a 2D animation class!



  • @NessIllustration He taught you a semester in college?! Oh my God, that's awesome!

    His YouTube channel is full of inspiring golden nuggets. Full of them, hahah, like the two I shared in my post above! There was one I listened to just the other night while painting, and it made me tear up a little bit.



  • Me and my girlfriend are also moving to Canada early 2020 ! We have working holiday Visas, so we are allowed to work - but beyond that i'm also wondering how to go about it.

    Where will you be moving to? I'm hoping there are some decent studios or at least art/design-related companies I can get involved in to avoid getting stuck in a 'day job' again - but freelancing would be my dream!

    The advice in this thread already seems good, and I think being proactive and hunting for work in lots of different places is the best bet, and having enough savings to give yourself some breathing room too.

    will keep an eye on this thread, nice to see we're in the same boat though!!



  • @AndyIllo Wow, that's awesome, and really exciting news!

    We're looking at Toronto. We were there a couple months ago, and loved it there, but because I didn't have any part of my freelance art career figured out then, and I was on a tourist visa, I didn't have any way to work. That was stressful, and I want to learn from my mistakes for the next time I'm there.

    What about you - where in Canada are you looking at? πŸ™‚

    Congrats on the working holiday visas! Were they difficult to obtain, by the way? My goal in the coming months would definitely be to proactively look for remote jobs/freelance work, as well as be more present online with my artwork. Both of which I'd most certainly slept on over the years.

    If I come across studios or freelance work - if you are interested in that - that I think you might be interested in, I would send them your way!

    As a side note: I joined this forum because I wanted to gain direction in my art, grow as an artist and meet fellow artists; and I knew there would be warm folks here, but never expected this level of warmth! Hearing all your experiences makes all my future plans feel slightly less daunting, if that makes sense; there's this "communal" feeling. 😌



  • @animatosoor Toronto looks ace! Nice to go and see the country first, but also good that you can learn from that πŸ™‚

    We are currently looking at going to Vancouver but also a bit concerned about the cost of living there. Maybe some Canadians in here can advise where has a good creative scene?

    The Visa was a bit of a hassle, it's a lottery basically, so you enter your name and then you MIGHT get chosen to apply. Different countries have different quotas but thankfully the UK had quite a few places. The application itself was easy enough but lots of hoops to jump through with things like police background checks, references from employers etc.

    Yeah that would be awesome!! I can do the same for you if you'd like, I don't have any experience with children's books, but i'm interested in getting into publishing doing things like book covers, so If I see anything I will let you know!

    I have also slept on self-promo, so getting my name out there is my main goal too- I'm finding Instagram a surprisingly good way to network with art directors, but who knows if it will develop into work...

    and yeah this forum is an amazing community!! Still more of a lurker at the moment but I read it every day πŸ™‚


  • SVS OG

    @animatosoor @AndyIllo Both Toronto and Vancouver have thriving arts scenes like most big cities I suppose. Each has a different feel - Toronto I guess is more urban, multicultural vibe while Vancouver is more outdoorsy, enjoying nature - type vibe? In my head I imagine it is like the difference in vibe between NY and LA.

    I came to Canada in 1988 and now some 30 years later can honestly say it was the best decision of my life. Although I still get homesick pangs especially in the dead of winter, (I am originally from the Caribbean so my first winter here was a bit of a shock, to say the least😳 ) I wouldn't change a thing. I can't really help with info on the various visas etc. cos a lot has changed since my move and I know nothing about the professional arts scene but I wish you both the best of luck with your move!

    P.S. Happy We the North Day!!!!!πŸ˜ƒ



  • @AndyIllo Thanks for sharing your experience with the working holiday visas. I'm happy to know that you managed to get it!

    Also, thank you for keeping an eye out for children's book opportunities - I would definitely appreciate that. πŸ™‚

    Your editorial work is beautiful, by the way. Very inspiring stuff. Definitely write to magazines you're interested in working for if you'd like more editorial work!

    Self-promotion can be tough work. It doesn't come easy to me, and I'm still learning the ropes.


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