Ottawa, Canada Report of what it's like to live there - 09/18/23
Personal Experiences from Ottawa, Canada
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. I’ve also lived in Europe and Asia.
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?
DC area. Driving or flying to Ottawa is easy and quick.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What years did you live here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
US Diplomatic mission.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Finding a house is competitive. Most houses are old and not up to standards acceptable to the US Embassy. If you don’t have kids you have a lot more options. If you have kids it will be a challenge to find something that meets Embassy’s standards and size restrictions. I understand there used to be more flexibility, but now the standards seem to be more strict.
There is no parking at the Embassy, so you will need to take a bus or pay to park in a garage. Typical embassy commutes range between 10 and 45 mins. Smaller families/singles could find housing within walking distance of the Embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
This place is very expensive. Even with a Costco here the COLA doesn’t cover the increase in our grocery expense, even though we are rather frugal. Everything is available but the prices will shock you.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing. It’s all available here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Food delivery doesn’t seem as prevalent as in other countries; even the US has better food delivery than Ottawa. Lots of great restaurants, though.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
The gnats, bees, and mosquitos are crazy in the summer. They all die in the winter though.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch. Local post is adequate. too.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
It’s way too expensive here.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Lots of great gyms here, although they are much more expensive than in the US.
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 and yes. All embassy personnel must get a local bank account to pay rent and the fees are at least $4/month at your own expense.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Lots of services for any and all faiths.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is the dominant language. Having some French helps but is not necessary. Quebec is a 5 min drive from the Embassy and they speak French there.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
No. Most everything I’ve seen is accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Safe, but more expensive than DC. It costs $3.70 for a one-way trip on the bus. That is the cheapest option to getting to work every day because you likely won't have a parking spot at the Embassy. The buses take a long time though because they have a lot of stops. One day the city might get its light rail system working, but not anytime soon, though.
2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?
Any vehicle is fine, although getting it fixed here is more expensive than the US.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. You order it when you secure your own house.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Many US plans include Canada roaming. Check yours before coming
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?
Vets, kennels, and care is widely available and high quality bit expensive.
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?
These are about ten full-time jobs for spouses at the Embassy. Otherwise you can work on the economy with approval.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots. Many churches and civic orgs where one can volunteer.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Suit and tie at the Embassy. Less casual for the private sector.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
It seems the area around the Embassy is among the more dangerous parts of the city. It's my understanding that colleagues have been harassed, assaulted, and mugged nearby. There are lots of homeless around, most of whom are harmless, but many seem to act unpredictably. There are also many carjackings throughout the city.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Quality of medical care is great but getting in is hard. It will take six months or more to get in with a specialist, even with an Embassy referral.
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?
It’s ok but the change of seasons here can wreak havoc on someone with asthma and allergies.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Be careful in the spring and fall as respiratory issues abound.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Not much sunlight here in the loooioong winter. Summer is amazing but winter is long and dreary.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is fine about five months out of the year. Temperatures can get extremely cold (-30!) in the winter.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Great school options - public, private, Catholic, Christian. Special needs, classical, IB, immersion…you pick, but pick EARLY! The private schools fill up fast!
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Some do, some don’t.
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, and they are very expensive - similar to DC, each school is different in their after/before school offerings. The school day starts later here - around 8:30 or 9, depending on the school, so that factors into a spouse’s work availability.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. Anything you want, although they are expensive!
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It seems like everyone is an expat in Ottawa, which is nice. The expat community in the city is everywhere. I feel as though the embassy community morale seems to be lower, and likely because of LQA, understaffing, and lack of a community among personnel.
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?
So many clubs and organizations!
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, yes, and yes. I will add that any bigger families may have a difficult time navigating the LQA housing regulations.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
It’s easy to make friends here because there are so many expats.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes. You see the flag and groups everywhere from the schools to businesses to the government.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
None that I’m aware of.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Lots of great trips close to Ottawa.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Too many to name. Quebec in particular has a lot of beautiful places to see.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Diversity, close to the US, it doesn’t feel foreign at all.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How expensive it is!
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I wouldn’t move here for a job with the embassy again, but maybe with the private sector. I would get paid more, have greater freedom in where I live, and I could actually drive to work without having to pay $240/month for a parking spot
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Ideas of sheltering your kids from things they might not see much of in a more conservative and/or wealthy part of the US. Everything from drugs to homelessness to sexuality is fully on display here.
4. But don't forget your:
Very thick winter clothes and ice skates!
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Learn about hockey.