Toronto, Canada Report of what it's like to live there - 07/13/15
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?
No. We have been posted throughout Asia, Europe, and the U.S.
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?
D.C. It is about a 2-hour flight.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Working for the U.S. Government.
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, so housing is totally up to you, depending on your allowance. We lived in a condo downtown that was very expensive, but great --- only about a ten-minute walk to the consulate. Parking is limited at the consulate, so keep this in mind for the winter. It does snow a fair bit here, and snow plows are sometimes quite slow in coming, so be careful and watch for ice when walking.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are expensive. We took advantage of the short drive to Buffalo for weekend grocery-shopping trips. When shopping locally, we could easily spend $200 a week just on groceries. Compare that to $100 at WallMart in Buffalo. Also, be sure to check out St Lawrence market for cheaper produce and meat products.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Spices, clothing for winter, and a good pair of winter boots --- you will live in them!
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
You can find fast food, similar to that in the states, but it is very expensive. We paid almost $20 for two cheeseburger meals from McDonald's. I believe that the government of Ontario is trying to encourage consumers to choose healthy food by increasing the taxes on fast food. Tim Horton's coffee was cheap, though. They have great coffee and are an option to Starbucks.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None that we have encountered. There are raccoons, though, that seem to be a problem for those living in standalone housing or in townhouses that have their own garbage cans.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic pouch and also local mail to our place.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Fairly expensive: around $15 an hour and up.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, they are available but costly. Our condo building had a gym and pool that we took advantage of since the cost was included in our monthly rent.
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?
Surprisingly, some restaurants and cafes would only accept cash (that sounds a bit like tax evasion!), but most places accepted credit cards. Be mindful that when dealing with Toronto Hydro, the provider of electricity and water. They will only accept cash or Canadian bank accounts or credit cards. So you will need to open a Canadian bank account to pay these bills as well as your rent for housing.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
All religious denominations are available.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None, English is spoken everywhere. But if you travel to Quebec, some French will definitely come in handy.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Perhaps in downtown areas more than in the suburbs. We found some sidewalks to be not great for strollers, so I imagine this would be difficult for those in wheelchairs or elderly folks. Some older buildings do not have elevators and do not provide for wheelchair access. But some do, so it depends on where you go.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
They are fairly safe but very costly and not efficient. Take advantage of monthly or yearly passes!
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?
Anything can work as long as you have snow tires! Unfortunately, this post doesn't offer diplomatic license plates, so you will have to get Ontario plates and buy car insurance through a company that is based in Canada.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Available, but costly. We got a package with cable and internet for around $70 a month. Some months would be higher though. We originally went through Rogers, but switched to Bell.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We went with Koodo mobile, a local company, and paid around US$60 a month for a month-to-month contract.
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 are available, but I'm not sure about quarantine.
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?
There are some opportunities, but you will need a work permit. There are also some job opportunities at the ci suite.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots of volunteer opportunities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work, office, public anything goes!
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Take the same precautions you would take anywhere in the world. Canadians are pretty trusting, almost to a fault. I have had numerous occasions in coffee shops where strangers would ask me to watch over their stuff whilst they went to the bathroom. There was a recent bomb threat against e consulate, and there have been shootings connected to terrorism. Immigration seems to be fairly easy here, so it's no surprise that such attacks have occurred.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No health concerns, but I would invest in a humidifier, because the air can get quite dry. Prepare for constant cold. It is quite common to get the flu a lot here. Medical care is quite good, but a lot of places don't accept U.S. Health insurance. Only recently did a hospital downtown start taking U.S. Health insurance, so apply for OHIP after being in the country for six months.
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 is fairly good, although in downtown areas it not as great as out in the suburbs.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Just the usual cold and flu precautions.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Winter is very cold, and it's winter for a good 8 months of the year. Canadians would say otherwise, but it is brutal.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The public school system seems to rival private ones here. We didn't have personal experience, but a lot of families we knew had great experiences with the public schools.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
We didn't have any experience with this, but we did know a few families who chose this post because of their special-needs children.
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, they are available, but they are expensive. Nannies are an option, but they are also quite expensive: think $15 and up per hour. It's also difficult to find a nanny to trust. We went through a few. So when you find one you like, hire immediately! There are also drop-in centers throughout the city that have circle times and activities for young kids, from newborn right up to elementary age. Most drop-in times are free, so take advantage!
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes they are available.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The U.S. Consulate itself is a fairly small community, but with CBP it is larger. Morale varies. It can get depressing during winter, as there is literally no sunshine for weeks at a time. The consulate is understaffed, and personality differences in management can be difficult --- especially with Ottawa and LQA issues. Be sure to keep all of your Toronto Hydro receipts. You will need them for reconciliation at the end of your first and second years.
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?
There is a lot to do here: movie theatres, concerts, restaurants. Night life is quite good, too.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for all! There is so much to do!
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Excellent. The premier of Ontario is a lesbian, and marriage equality has been present for almost a decade (maybe longer). Canadians don't really care if you are gay or not. People are very accepting here!
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is a subtle prejudice against people of color and definitely against First Nations people, Metis, and Inuits. It's not "in your face", but it is definitely present in the Canadian government's policy towards First Nations groups. That said, Canada is still probably one of the most accepting multicultural countries that I've ever lived in. There are lots of festivals from different countries.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Catching up with old friends, making new friends, and traveling throughout Canada.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
We took advantage of the short drive to Niagara Falls. It is about a ninety-minute drive from downtown. There are various wineries, and Niagara on the Lake is beautiful. The city itself has many nice parks and lots to do. The TIFF movie festival is also a lot of fun.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Vacations, maple syrup, and First Nations items.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Close proximity to the U.S. Close enough for family and friends to visit.
10. Can you save money?
No. Even with COLA, the cost of living is on par with D.C and New York. But if you save all of your receipts from grocery shopping, eating out, etc, you can apply for tax rebate, as diplomats are tax exempt. It is quite a time-consuming project, but it is worth doing. We would get back around $400-500 a month on taxes from our normal spending.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How expensive it is and how high the taxes are.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Maybe. It was a good post for our family, but career-wise it was a waste of time.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
winter boots and winter clothes.
5. Do you have any other comments?
Save your tax receipts and be prepared for the cold!