Toronto, Canada Report of what it's like to live there - 04/29/18
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?
Not first. Caracas, VE; Garlstedt, GE; La Paz, BO; Kabul, AF; Jerusalem, Jerusalem; Kirkuk, IZ; and Bogota, CO.
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?
Phoenix, AZ, USA, 5-12 hours depending on connections, timing, 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?
Local Quarters Allowance. We lived in a condo in the Shangri La hotel building. Commute was 10 minutes by foot. One bedroom, 2 bath with den which we used as a guest room/TV room. Downtown in "Entertainment District."
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
COLA covered the cost of living difference. Pretty much same for product availability except for Latin American ethnic foods. Mexican cuisine, for example, was problematic.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Not possible but dairy products made my spouse ill. She does not suffer from lactose intolerance in the USA, so it was strange.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Nothing in particular.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Nothing in housing.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Post makes a mail run to a Buffalo shipping point once per week. This is a major weakness with the post and needs to be considered carefully. No DPO/APO, no direct pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
First world wages, so expensive.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Look for a living situation that has that included in the rent like we did. Otherwise, many gyms available in the greater Toronto area (GTA).
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?
Yes, safe, no issues.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Same as USA.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English, some French helpful in Montreal and Quebec City.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Not anymore than in Washington, DC.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, public transport good but overcrowded at rush hours.
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?
Think about going outside the GTA in winter. 4WD was quite useful. Many Canadians have two sets of tires, winter and summer. Many companies will store the set you aren't using after they switch for you.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, but, surprisingly, internet and cell service seems like something from the old East Bloc days. In the afternoon, our building's high speed internet slowed to a crawl when everyone got home from work. We had Bell 25 Mb/s.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Only Rogers seemed to work well. I had service with Wind/Freedom Mobile which was abominable in Canada (small coverage areas and crappy connectivity when in the area). Worked better in the USA because included roaming was ATT.
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?
Yes, no quarantine for our cat.
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?
Some worked in financial services. Local salaries seemed to be less than USA once adjusted to parity.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Same as USA.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual, formal dress was worn in civilian settings once or twice a year. Opera season dress ranges from black tie to jeans.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Like any big city.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Single payer, private sector delivery. We used urgent car/walk-in clinics for routine care and physicals. I pushed to get a primary care physician mostly for getting insights into the Canadian system but never used him after the intake physical. Buffalo is nearby for USA providers. All healthcare in Canada is pay-as-you-go for us and you request reimbursement from your provider per your plan.
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?
Generally no problem.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Think about the cold.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
The "winter blues" is quite a real issue in Canada.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Canada. North. Cold in winter, hot/humid/bugs in a very short summer.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Don't know but most attended local government or parochial schools. Parochial schools are government-funded in Canada.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
As difficult or easy as in USA.
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?
Yes, yes, expensive.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, with fees.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Can't say, everyone blends in. There are some organizations like Democrats Abroad that are social entres.
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?
We joined a "city club" and met a lot of Canadians through it. This is a very British tradition. The University Club is next door to the Consulate and the www.rcmi.org is a couple of buildings farther down. There is a Faculty Club at the Univ of Toronto and the Albany and National Clubs were also available.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, Yes, Yes. Like being in a strange version of the USA.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, friendly and accepting.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Similar to USA. Same issues, but in my opinion, Canadians don't see it.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Travel locally, get to cottage country and the cottage experience. Don't waste time traveling to other countries though (that is what most mission personnel seemed to do).
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Get to know someone with a sailboat and learn sailing on Lake Ontario! Get bikes if you don't have them.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The theater, opera, ballet, and arts are world class. We had season tickets to various arts seasons.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How cold Canadians seem to be beyond superficial pleasantries. Many really don't like the USA or Americans but act politely which Americans can confuse for friendliness.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Bring it all. You can even do fresh water scuba.
4. But don't forget your:
Coats, long johns, cold weather outdoor exercise gear, etc. Skiing locally is fun and really podunk; charming and you can keep up your chops. Go to the Laurentians for at least one ski trip and then think West.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?