Toronto, Canada Report of what it's like to live there - 04/06/10
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?
Third expat experience.
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?
You can drive to Buffalo in 90 minutes, Detroit in 4 hours and Chicago or New York City in about 8 hours. Flights to New York are about an hour and are about 5 hours to the West Coast.
3. How long have you lived here?
2007 - 2010.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Affiliated with U.S. Consulate.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
This is an LQA post, which some like and some hate. You can choose you own place (although it has to fall within space limitations) but you are also responsible for things that GSO usually takes care of. Then there are the annual reconcilliations that seem to be wildly unpredictable with those thinking they will get money back owing and those thinking that they will owe getting money back. The procedure used to determine things like exchange rates and annual maximums seems somewhat shrouded in mystery. To me, being able to chose my own place and not have to deal with post to have repairs done was worth the negative aspects.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
About the same as the US with the exception of dairy. Cheese and all milk products are a lot more expensive in the US as Canada puts a limit on how much milk each cow can produce per month/year. Not sure if this is an animal rights thing or a way to keep prices up, but it sure makes for pricey dairy.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
For some reason I could never find that corn muffin mix that is ubiquitous in the U.S.But if you get a craving for it, drive to Buffalo!
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Yes. So many restaurants and so many kinds of food that it can be overwhelming to decide where to go. The negative is that with the three taxes (provincial food, provincial alcohol and federal) and tip, you end up paying about 30 - 35% more than you expect to when ordering.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Mail is dropped off and picked up once per week in the Buffalo area.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Canada has a program whereby live-in caregivers for children or the elderly can become permanent residents after two years of providing services. The participants do not have to stay with one employee the whole time so you can find someone looking for work in this program easily, but the difficulty is that you have to register with the government as an employer and then pay employer taxes, which makes hiring someone through this program somewhat expensive, totalling about $1700/month. You also have to have accomodation avaliable for them. Many of the caregivers are Filipinas with years of experience in Hong Kong so the quality of care is good. Housecleaning, childcare and cooking are amazingly provided by one person. Some of these individuals work weekends and evenings to get some extra money so finding a babysitter is never a problem.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, and one of the hidden delights of Post is the gym on the top floor of an office building where the Consulate rents additional space located one block from the main Consulate building. It is open 24/7 and free to all Consulate employees with a $30 deposit for a key card.
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?
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes - you get Buffalo network channels along with all cable channels you are used to like A and E, CNN, Discovery Health etc and also Canadian networks. Rogers has a monopoly and it is expensive though - about $150/month for the middle-of-the-road package.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Safe and reliable though expensive. A one way ticket is $3 and a monthly pass is somewhere around $120/month.
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?
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, about $50/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Don´t go with Rogers. Their plans are overpriced, they lock you into long-term contracts without telling you and their customer service is abominable.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Yes, similar to the US.
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?
Lots of people have had problems with this as most Canadian jobs will only hire people with Canadian work experience and credentials, which can be difficult and time-consuming to obtain. Puzzling given that Canadians try so hard to welcome immigrants in other ways.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Toronto is much safer that a comparable-sized U.S. city. I dropped my wallet at a huge downtown shopping mall and it had been turned into the lost and found with not a dollar missing within an hour.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Can be hard to access as Canadian healthcare facilities tend to look at you like you have two heads if you tell them you are private pay. They often don´t know what or how to charge you and ERs require you to put a credit card down and pay $500 before they will provide any care.
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?
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
A downside of a posting in Toronto is the weather. The winter to me seemed no colder than New York City or Boston but it did seem to drag on a lot longer and you can´t count on weather consistently above 50 degrees until late May/early June.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
There are lots of services available for special needs kids but it is hard to access them given long wait times and exclusively government sponsored health-care
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?
Plenty of preschools and daycares available, although they are expensive. Full-time is about $1200/month.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge - more than 50% of Torontonians were born outside of Canada.
2. Morale among expats:
When I first arrived there were a few malcontents and this dragged morale down, but it has been steadily rising and at this time is quite good.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
People tend to go their own ways after work and make their own friends, although you most likely find yourself spending time with people from work who you would spend time with if you met them at any other job. People are friendly but the Consulate community is not cohesive/insular(depending on your perspective) like at a lot of other posts.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes for all. Prior posters have noted that for singles you have to make an extra effort due to the size of the city, but counteracting this is the fact that there are immigrants from all over the world looking to meet new people.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Most definitely. Gay marriage is commonplace and the Gay Pride weekend is a huge city event.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not compared to most places in the world.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Fall colors, making friends with immigrants from all over the world, going to a different ethnic festival every weekend in the summer, running by the lake
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
About anything that you want to do - if you can´t find it, you aren´t looking hard enough. Except maybe year-round beaches.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Ice-wine and maple syrup.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Where to start - Toronto´s multiculturalism is truly fascinating and leads to all sorts of interesting ethnic eateries, festivals, clothing stores and neighborhoods. There are many theatre companies and tickets are astonishingly cheap, especially if you buy a season ticket. There are so many interesting neighborhoods to stroll through (in the spring/summer/fall) that you could never find them all. And all while being close to family and friends in the U.S. with access to pretty much any U.S. product that you want.
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely, though for a first-tour officer or someone else looking for an exotic experience, this might not be the place.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
idea that you will be treated any differently than any other city dweller, which, for me, was a plus. You can blend in and be anonymous.
3. But don't forget your:
warm clothes and interest in learning about other cultures.
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
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?
To truly enjoy Toronto, I think that you have to actively like multiculturalism and not just find it something to tolerate or ignore.