2022-03-07T11:24:09-05:00Aug 27, 2021|

Risks and returns: Weighing challenges and opportunities moving to Canada from China

From an interview with Josh Li.

Josh Li is an associate at one of the largest asset management companies in the world, in Toronto. He grew up in China and at 18 moved to the U.K. to study. At that time, the global financial crisis struck and his family, like many others, was strongly impacted by the recession. This gave Josh the incentive to work hard at his studies and prepare himself for the future.

Josh came to Canada in 2014 and worked for his uncle. But while the position was a good first step, it was not where he saw himself in the future. His greatest risk was to become comfortable in a job and not achieve his career goals. Josh shares his story of taking risks, grabbing opportunities and enjoying the returns of coming to Canada.


It was -50 °C the day I arrived in Canada. I landed in Winnipeg on January 1st, 2014, and I wasn’t prepared for the Canadian winter. I only wore a jacket, and it was so cold. That first day was a challenge, but this was my new reality and I had to adapt: when challenges arise, you face them and then get back on track.

At 18—my last year of high school—I went to the U.K. to study. My parents weren’t convinced I’d be able to do really well in the Chinese national entrance exam, because during high school, I was more interested in having fun and hanging out with my friends than studying for exams. So my parents decided I should go somewhere else to receive a proper education.

During that time, the financial crisis hit and it had a big impact on my family’s finances. That really made me think about my future. I got serious and worked really hard at my studies: I worked my butt off! I got my Bachelor’s of Finance degree, and I received a scholarship for my Master’s degree in Finance.

When I finished university, I had two options: return to China or live elsewhere. I evaluated the choices and decided I could better use my Western education in a place like Canada. Also, Canada had handled the financial crisis really well. The Canadian financial system is well regulated, and the economy is strong. So I thought, “Why should I go back to China?” and I tried out Canada.

There was a work opportunity for me in Canada. My uncle had a manufacturing business in Winnipeg, Manitoba and the company sponsored me through the Manitoba Provincial Nomination Program (PNP). My first job in Canada was in his factory doing accounting. Although this was not the job I was looking for, I invested my time doing accounting reconciliation. The problem was the work was not challenging me enough.

Newcomers face different challenges and risks

Moving to a new country is challenging and comes with risks, but I was spared some of the challenges that other newcomers often face. Because I had studied in the U.K., I didn’t have to learn English, and was already familiar with the culture here. As my uncle is already established here, I have some connections in Canada and I was able to find a place to live. Winnipeg is a very friendly city and Canadians are warm and welcoming to newcomers. The greatest risk I faced was staying in a job that was not right for me and not reaching my goals.

After a year, I looked into continuing education to improve my skills and credentials, to pursue my goals. I did my CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Level I exam in June, and then completed Level II the next year. I applied for an open work permit, found another job with a much larger company that aligned with my experience in finance. Taking those courses definitely helped me land that job.

I joined my new company at an entry level position and worked there for almost three years. I had one promotion, but I realized that there was very little internal mobility at this company, which meant few career advancement opportunities. I decided I couldn’t stay there forever, so I took a risk, quit my job and left Winnipeg for Toronto, which has a much larger job market.

I have a couple of friends in Toronto, but I didn’t really know many people in the financial industry. Contacts from my previous company really helped me by providing some connections within the Toronto banks. These connections couldn’t necessarily get me work, but they could give me insights and advice. The one thing they all told me was that Toronto had lots of opportunities for growth.

The other piece of advice I got was to grab those opportunities and start working in the field right away. Once you have a job, it’s easier to find another one. You are making money and can start looking for a decent place to live, and have better food. You’re better prepared when an opportunity presents itself. I took that advice and grabbed an opportunity that came to me: I was in. After a few months, I knew this was not right for me, so I started looking for other opportunities. A month later, I found my current role.

The returns far outweigh the risks of moving to Canada. I am now working with a great company where there are opportunities to grow. I bought a home in Toronto, and I’m happy here. I am now well-established in Canada.

Josh’s top five tips on making your move to Canada pay off

1. Find your niche

You’ve got to understand the country really well. For example, before I came to Canada, I knew that oil and gas, financial services, and manufacturing were among the top contributors to the Canadian GDP. You can find your place in these areas, because if you have experience, if you know your niche, you can bring a different perspective to such an amazing country. Do your research, learn what the country’s all about, and figure out where your opportunity lies.

2. Take risks

Be brave enough to try. Many people are cautious: they don’t like to speak up for opportunities. But opportunities rarely fall in your lap; you have to be active, to go get them. Instead of waiting for somebody to reach out to you, you have to be proactive. Put yourself out there and reach out to other people. Here in Canada, especially Toronto, people are willing to help.

3. Be prepared

If you are going to take risks, be financially ready for that. It might take some time, because your foreign degree is not well known by recruiters or because you don’t have a strong network yet. Make sure you have enough financial resources to support you. You can’t come here and tell yourself, “Okay, I’m going to come to Canada,” and not have a plan. Before you come, do your research, have some plan in terms of the area you want to get into, which city you want to live in, and have the financial resources to back you up.

4. Set deadlines

I think if you’re active enough, if you start reaching out to people, there will be opportunities. However, you also need to give yourself a timeline. Set targets: “Before this date, I need to find something for myself”, and adapt if necessary. You can’t keep delaying or telling yourself there are no opportunities here. There are also many opportunities for furthering your education in Canada. Worst-case scenario, if you don’t find your job within your deadline, you could go back to school. I’m doing an MBA program at U of T right now.

5. Don’t worry

Canada is a great country. I consider Canada my second home now. I think Canada is one of the most friendly countries among all G7 countries; people are willing to help. Canada welcomes newcomers. The people embrace diversity and Canadians respect cultural differences.

So come to Canada and be as ready as you can. Come here with a plan, and start implementing it. Eventually, you’ll achieve your goal and will establish yourself in your new home.