Toronto, Canada Report of what it's like to live there - 11/16/15
Personal Experiences from Toronto, Canada
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. Previously South East Asia, South America
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Chicago. Easily accessible by direct 1.5 hr flight or driving for a day (about 9.5-10 hours with stops for food, bathroom, etc)
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
LQA post. Reimbursements can be a headache. Make sure you have a cash float when you come here of at least $10k and it will make your life easier.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything you could possibly want is available. But it's more expensive. A costco membership comes in handy. Or go to Buffalo do a large pickup and drive back.
You won't want for anything in Toronto. But you will pay more.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing. There is nothing you might need that you couldn't buy in Toronto (and depending on where you're from, you might find you can get more in Toronto than back home). Prices are more expensive on a lot of things. But what I'd suggest is rather than worrying about shipment, get settled and figure out the lay of the land for you personally, and if you want to load up cheaper, just drive to Buffalo.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Most of the main chains are here. But more expensive. Anticipate a 15-25% increase over the U.S. (although, it depends on how the currency is doing).
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Not that I've noticed.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
For international mail, the consulate. Domestically, there is Canada Post.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Expensive. It's not common to have domestic help. Our cleaning lady was US$80 for 4 hours every two weeks (and that was standard).
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. I think that a gym membership can be expensive, but many apartment/condo buildings have them. Something to look for when you're finding accommodation because it will save you money.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Everything works fine. But find out what your fees will be before using your ATM to withdraw from a Canadian back. You should open an account here. You'll need it for rent. You'll also need it for utilities, I hear, they're not included in rent.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
All of them.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It's an English speaking city...and you need to know it.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Not many. There are some areas where there are old buildings that might not be accessible. The Distillery District has cobble stone roads, so it would be hard to get around. Overall, I think it would be the same as a large US city.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Everything is safe. The public transit is very clean. Taxis are not cheap. Also, traffic downtown is horrible so it's not unheard of to rack up US$10 on your cab meter going a block.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Pretty much anything is fine. Parking downtown can be hard to get, so you'll do better without a massive SUV. But if you have one, I suspect you'll still be fine. Keep in mind, gas is expensive.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, it's available. I forget the exact cost, we had it bundled with cable and home phone.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Check out pricing. Plans are more expensive here than in the U.S. but you also have to factor in international fees if you're keeping a U.S. provider. The service here is good, fast. Streaming is easy, high quality.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Nope. Lots of vets, including emergency clinics. It's common to have pets here (especially cats and dogs).
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
No, not on the local economy. There are lots of volunteer opportunities in pretty much area you'd want. But if you're looking for a paying job it's problematic.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The same as in the U.S.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not really. Toronto is one of the largest cities in North America, but it's also one of the safest. It does have it's big city problems (there is some gang violence) and the other usual stuff (meaning keep your car, front door, and bike locked up). I've never felt unsafe living here.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Not really. Unless you can get a family doctor (which is a bit tricky) then you're looking at going to a walk in clinic. The quality is fine but the wait times can be long, especially during flu season. Emergency service is fine...I fell and broke my ankle, badly which necessitated calling 911 for an ambulance (long story), and it came promptly and my experience in the emergency room at the hospital (in downtown Toronto) was about the same as I'd expect in the U.S.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Fairly good. Similar to any large North American city. Downtown is mainly gridlock with accompanying exhaust.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Four seasons. Winter and summer seem longest. Winter is similar to north east U.S. Winter can be long and cold (but, again, about what you'd get in NYC or Chicago). Summer is far more humid than I would have guessed before coming here.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Toronto is an English speaking city and you don't get "international schools" the same way you would overseas. We don't have kids, but I'm told that the private schools here are extremely good. From what I've been told, your opinion of the public school system will depend on where you're from (meaning, I've heard people say that the public schools are very good and also that they're average)).
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
I couldn't tell you personally. Anecdotally, I'm told that you don't get large daycares here like you do in the U.S. Most people seem to have a nanny. I've never asked about the cost of one. But compliance with the law when hiring a nanny is important, so don't plan on just paying someone under the table.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, from what I hear pretty much everything is available. Ice hockey and soccer seem especially popular.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Toronto is very mulitcultural and there are lots of expats here but I wouldn't say there's really a "community." Morale depends on the individual/family. If you're heavily dependent on a foreign service/expat "scene" for your social activities, you might have trouble. If you're fine striking out on your own you'll love it here.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Pretty much everything. Restaurants, bars, night clubs, ballet, theater, opera, film, museums, outdoors stuff (even in the city). If you get bored here it's because you're a boring person.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's good for everyone!
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, definitely. I think Canada was the first country to legalize gay marriage. There is a large gay population in the city. People here are very tolerant.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I've noticed. The city is very multicultural.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Great restaurants - and very ethnically diverse...no matter what type of food you want, they'll have a restaurant (and probably more than one). Good cultural scene (art gallery, museum, ballet, opera, Toronto International Film Festival). Decent shopping. Good out of city trips within driving distance (local skiing, Niagara Falls, Stratford Festival, Ontario wine region).
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Enjoy the many restaurants, check movies at the Toronto International Film Festival (happens every September). Head up a couple of hours north of the city to ski in the Blue Mountains. Enjoy time in the summer in "cottage country". Go to Stratford or Niagara for a day.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
I dunno. Fresh produce at the St. Lawrence Market? Ontario wines? Maple syrup? My favorite purchases were some Aboriginal art - but they were from British Columbia, so not exactly "local".
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
A beautiful, clean, safe city. Tons to do. People are friendly.
10. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely! I love it here. It's been my favorite tour.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
"high alert" mentality that tougher posts might have given you. This is a big E Easy tour.
3. But don't forget your:
Toque and mittens!
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
The Adjuster (Atom Egoyan)
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Do you have any other comments?
I absolutely love Toronto. It's a fantastic place to live.