Toronto, Canada Report of what it's like to live there - 06/10/18
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. I have lived in multiple major cities in three different continents.
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 fly from Toronto to almost any destination in the Western Hemisphere, Europe, or Asia non-stop or with one stop. Travel times are typical for long-haul travel in the jet age. Flights within Canada and from Canada to the U.S. are much more expensive than similar flights within the U.S., due to the way the Canadian-government-regulated civil aviation system works.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most housing is in modern apartments (condos), or very old single family homes. Employees willing to live further away from the downtown (30-60 minutes by pubic transportation or POV) can often find newer, single-family homes in nice neighborhoods. However, be warned: Mission Canada is an LQA mission, and Toronto has experienced excessive increases in housing costs. In our opinion, the official housing allowance has not kept pace, and it seems as though it is increasingly difficult for staff to find appropriate, safe housing within a reasonable distance from the office.
It's my understanding that allowances have not changed for years, and I felt this made finding affordable housing very difficult. One can search for news articles about "Toronto housing prices" to learn more about the spiraling cost of housing. This seems to be probably the biggest bureaucratic problem official employees could face at post, and for me, a big morale problem. Knowing about this issue ahead of time would have helped me be better informed about bidding on Toronto.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is available, though prices are more expensive than you may be accustomed to. Canadian government-controlled supply of some commodities seems to result in higher prices than the free market would normally set.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing. You can get what you need through Amazon or a drive to Buffalo, NY (2 hours away), and sometimes for cheaper prices across the border in the US.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Everything is available, depending on your tastes.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
There is only a once-weekly mail run to the official mailbox/package facility in New York state across the border, so there seem to be significant delays with mail delivery. The Canadian mail system seemed quirky to me.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Expensive, and what you would expect in North America. Commercial maid services are available, and some people avail them.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
About the same as you would expect in any American city.
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?
All accepted and widely used, and safe.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Everything is available.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is all you seem to need.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
No, very ADA friendly.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, safe and affordable. TTC City buses, street cars (trams), and taxis, ride hailing apps, are available and cost-effective. High-speed GO train network links people from the suburbs to the downtown core. I wish we knew about that when we moved here; it would have significantly expanded our housing search area, given the ease of getting to work via high-speed rail.
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?
Any car you would use in the US is fine. Car insurance is double or triple US prices. Again, it seems to be part of the Canadian system.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, and it can be installed in 1-2 business days. Telecoms are more regulated in Canada, resulting in much higher cable/internet service than in the United States.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
It varies. Some people use their US plan with an add-on package, or some get local cellular service package contracts in Canada, often with a new handset in the deal.
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?
Yes, about the same as you would expect in the United States. No quarantine, but check with your sponsoring office for official paperwork to bring with you upon entering Canada. Strict pet registration and license rules with the city are in effect.
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 opportunities available.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
As you would expect in any North American City.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Semi-formal. Formal dress is rarely required, except for high-level events.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Relatively safe to very safe. Typical of any large, US city. Some parts are safer than others after dark.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is a challenge. Non-Canadians without the nationalized health system (OHIP in Ontario) seem to have experienced difficulty getting a family physician. Many use walk-in clinics, or visit physicians in Buffalo.
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?
Very good air quality. Proximity to the lake helps. Allergens at certain times of the year.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Toronto is a very nut allergy sensitive city. You can get plenty of options in restaurants.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
SAD can be a factor. Long, dark winter nights. Some folks use special lights from Costco.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Very long, cold winters (Nov to May). Cool and rainy in the summer. August is sometimes hot (above 90 F).
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Lots of school options. Most use the education allowance to pay for private schools.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
There are some schools that support special needs kids. As the CLO to put you in contact with one of the many families who are in this situation.
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?
Available, very expensive, very long waiting lists.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Everything is available. Ice hockey and curling are local favorites. Lots of baseball fans.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
You can't easily tell who is an expat.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's good for everyone, unless you hate big, fun, clean North American cities.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
So many seasonal activities throughout the year, and travel to Montreal, Quebec, etc.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Lots of parks and natural features in and near the city.
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Big sports, music, and entertainment scene.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How expensive it is to live here, the challenges of finding housing, and fully understanding the way certain work-related platforms run here.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Not sure. Its an amazing place, but the housing situation has taken its toll, due to living very far away in a very old, small house. People should be fully aware of how difficult and challenging housing can seem before bidding on Toronto.
3. Do you have any other comments?
You won't save money living here.