Vancouver, Canada Report of what it's like to live there - 10/06/08
Personal Experiences from Vancouver, Canada
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Hanoi, HCMC, Manila, Santiago (Dominican Republic).
2. How long have you lived here?
More than a year.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Work for the U.S. Government.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
About two and half hour drive from Seattle depending on border traffic. Get a NEXUS (trusted traveler) card to fly through the border.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Singles and small families usually live in downtown condos or townhouses, which are expensive and very small compared to what you could get in an American city. Beware of ads that say 1,000 sq. feet, it will feel like a closet. Downtown housing in Coal Harbour, West End, or Yaletown will be within walking distance to work. Larger families live farther afield, usually in North or West Vancouver, where the houses and yards are much larger. Commutes from there depend on traffic but not anything close to say a Falls Church to downtown DC commute.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Most people go to the U.S. to shop, even Canadians. The same products are much more expensive in Canada than they are in the U.S.Bellingham, WA is about an hour and a half from downtown Vancouver and it has all the box stores and Trader Joe's.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Lots of ethnic restaurants. Vancouver tend to be a bit overrated for its food. If you like Japanese and Chinese food then the city is great but other types of food are not exceptional. It's very expensive to go out. If $6 beer is your idea of happy hour, Vancouver is it.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The Consulate maintains a Post Office box in Pt Roberts, WA. If you don't have one, get a U.S box office in one of the border towns, where you can order stuff online without paying Canadian prices.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Canada runs a caregiver program that allows you to bring in a caregiver to work for you. You must meet minimum wage and other requirements, similar to the U.S.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Fraud and bank scams are common in Vancouver but access and availability are similar to American cities.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Every denomination is available.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Cable is a little more expensive than the U.S. but you'll get Canadian and U.S. channels.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Canadian is pretty easy to pick up.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Very little I imagine.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
It's the 51st state.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No. Very expensive. Skytrain and buses are US$2.50 per trip, minimum.1-mile crosstown taxi ride, US$10 (including tip).
3. 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?
Any car is good. Vancouver doesn't get that cold, rarely going below freezing during the winters. But if you want to head to the mountains during the winter, an SUV and chains are good.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Expect about US$60-$100 per month for high-speed.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Things change but all the cell phone providers are expensive and require a three-year contract if you want the best deals on phones.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Cell phone service in Canada is more expensive than the U.S. Try to get a North America plan that will include the U.S. for long distance.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
All you need is a work permit to work but good jobs may not be as easy to get as you may think. The skilled job market is a bit tight, even by U.S. standards.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
People are fashionable, maybe because of the movie industry here, and dress pretty well in downtown, better than D.C. At work, trousers, dress shirts and ties are sufficient.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Excellent! Vancouver is the most beautiful and clean city I have ever lived in.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Lots of petty crime including pickpocketing, car break-ins and burglary. The homeless (and drug-addicted) population is noticeable in most downtown areas. Don't ever leave anything in your car, even for a few minutes.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
You qualify for Canadian health insurance if you live more than 6 months, it's very cheap (~US$1,000 per annum for family of two) but you have to deal with socialised healthcare.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The most beautiful summers for about 3 months followed by 9 months of constant rain, cold, and cloudiness.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Kids tend to attend local public or private schools. I don't have kids but haven't heard any complaints from people who do.
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
People tend to like Vancouver for its beauty and easy lifestyle. If you're looking for NYC or LA, go elsewhere. If you enjoy beautiful summers and rain for nine months out of the year, Vancouver is for you.
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?
Coming from Asia, Vancouver is a bit boring. Socializing takes more time and effort. Bars, clubs, etc. are plenty. But if you're looking for a tight expat community, you're not going to find much. Vancouver is like a hodgepodge of bedroom communities.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
For all. May be a bit boring for singles. Going out is very expensive. Vancouver has the feel of a provincial backwater city (think Nashua, NH).
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Vancouver is just like a hip, American metropolis with its own gay/lesbian district.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Vancouver is extremely diverse and people seem to get along better than in American cities. There appears to be very little racial friction but the ethnic groups tend to stick to themselves. Iranians in North Vancouver, Chinese in Richmond, and Punjabis in Surrey.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Outdoor activities abound. Everything and anything you can think of to do outdoors, you can. Skiing, kayaking, rowing, hiking, etc. However, there are very few public gathering areas except the mall. The city core is not as interesting as say Seattle.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Maple syrup and hockey sticks.
9. Can you save money?
How? I haven't figured that one out yet.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, yes and yes.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Everything and buy it in Washington state if necessary.
3. But don't forget your:
Outdoor and winter gear. Summers are a waste if you don't hit the outdoors.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Any Hollywood movie. The stock footage and background scenery are usually filmed in Vancouver.
7. Do you have any other comments?
If you're looking for a relaxed and chill city, Vancouver is it. Don't expect excitement and action.