Ottawa, Canada Report of what it's like to live there - 12/24/10

Personal Experiences from Ottawa, Canada

Ottawa, Canada 12/24/10

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, this is our third overseas posting.

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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?

It is about a 12+ hour drive from DC. You can have a night paid for if you drive up.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We have been here for 18 months.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

US Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

People live all over. From downtown in highrises, swanky Rockcliffe Park and New Edinburgh to way out in the suburbs with DC-type commutes.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Everything you could need can be found it Ottawa, though at a price. For example, milk is about $10 for 4 liters. A lot of embassy people drive the hour south to Ogdensburg NY to stock up on dairy products and meat.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Nothing.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Everything you would find in the States except Arby's. Maybe a little pricier than in the US.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

There are several specialized small grocery stores around town. I am sure they are very pricey. The bigger grocery store chains sell organic produce.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

We have not noticed anything unusual.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We have a PO box in Ogdensburg NY, and the embassy mail truck brings up the mail a few times a week.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Not affordable. Maybe Molly Maid-type set ups are, but no one has a full-time maid.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, though they are not cheap. The embassy does have a small gym to use for a fee.

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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?

Banking is a pain in Ottawa. Most people use RBC, and there is a fee for everything. You can only deposit money into one branch near the embassy, and their exchange rates are hit-and-miss at times. You will need a local account, as Ottawa is an LQA post, and you have to pay your own bills up front. Do not expect to ever qualify for a Canadian credit card.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, all kinds.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

All are available. Most US TV comes from Detroit stations for some reason.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You just need to speak English, though most worker types are French speakers who also speak English.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

It probably would not be too difficult.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

A bus ticket costs $3.25 one way. Lots of Canadians take the bus. Taxi's are pricey.

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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?

Almost anything goes here, but you will need snow tires. Most people order them from the States, and the mail truck will bring them up for you.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

There are two main monopolies on internet/home phone/cable - Bell and Rogers. We have Rogers and pay about $200 a month for the bundle. There is still nothing to watch on TV.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

There are little stores at the malls. They are a pain here just like in the States. Our son has a pay-as-you-go plan and it has worked out fine, though is not fancy.

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Pets:

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?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Available but expensive. Some people take their pets to Canton NY for care.

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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?

Not really. You get a letter from the Canadians, but it seems like there is a lot more to getting a job. I am not sure any spouses work on the economy.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Similar to DC, but snow boots and parkas in winter.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

There are occasional car break-ins in our neighborhood. Recently someone has been stealing Christmas lights off houses.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

There is a myth that the embassy is getting a health unit. I have heard this since we arrived 18 months ago. Still no health unit. We drive down to NY to see a doctor. One of us has had surgery in NY at the little hospital, and another in Vermont at the big fancy medical school. Walk-in clinics are very hit-and-miss, and it is almost impossible to find a GP here. The embassy has a 'deal' worked out with a local GP, but we find he is never there and spends the whole summer at his cottage without any kind of partner to see his patients. I find his practice way too annoying to deal with, so we just drive an hour south. I have kids who get lots of ear infections and strep throat - medical care was much easier at our last 3rd-world post.

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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?

Good, no pollution at all.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Ottawa has 4 seasons complete with heavy snow in winter.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Schools are poor here in general. If you high schooler gets into Elmwood or Ashbury, consider yourselves lucky. Ottawa has a boarding school allowance, and more and more people are using it. High schoolers at public schools are forced to take classes like 'Canadian law' and French 1, but that is for kids who have had French every single day at school since junior kindergarten. Also, kids at Canadian public schools do not typically take the SAT or apply to American colleges, so you will receive no help there.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Unless your kid goes to one of the special-needs schools, probably very little.

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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?

They are here and not cheap. Public Junior Kindergarten is free in Canada, however, and your child can go for a little less than 3 hours a day. A few embassy kids have gone that route.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, through neighborhood groups or rec leagues.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Large. It seems no one is from Ottawa. We have met a lot of other expats through our kids' schools.

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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?

Like in DC, it is what you make it. Restaurants are generally not cheap and often not that good. People here are friendly but busy with their lives as they might be in the States.

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3. Morale among expats:

LQA, mediocre schooling, and difficult-to-obtain health care make Ottawa hard for some. It is also cold!

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes to all of the above if you are not overly worried about schooling issues or you enjoy the great outdoors.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I would think so.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

There are a LOT of immigrants in Ottawa. There are also anti American sentiments on occasion - read Wikileaks. Your kids may hear it at school, though nothing too nasty.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

When they say try to embrace winter they mean it. We have enjoyed sledding and just spending more time outdoors.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Skiing, ice skating on the canal in town, boating in the summer, lots of parks. Travel to the States is somewhat easier. It's about a 10 -hour drive to NYC.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Winter sporting equipement and Items with maple leaves painted on.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Ottawa has no pollution and most people speak fluent English.

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11. Can you save money?

Not on your life.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

No we would not. With 2 young children and a high schooler, poor schools and poor health care have made us miserable at times. Also, the LQA and little-to-no help from the embassy made arrival harder than it should have been.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

American flags to fly on the house.

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3. But don't forget your:

snow boots, parkas, sleds, hats, mittens, electric blankets and so on

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Little Mosque on the Prairie and The Border as mentioned in wikileaks..though they are about Canadians in general, not Ottawa specifically.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

We have made some good friends here, though not through the embassy. There does not seem to be a strong sense of community within the embassy because everyone is off doing their own thing. But the people are nice enough.

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