Vancouver, Canada Report of what it's like to live there - 05/11/17

Personal Experiences from Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver, Canada 05/11/17


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 Europe, Africa and Latin America.

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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?

US. Very easy and quick to get back to the states. Sometimes it is cheaper to travel down to Seattle and fly out of there, but traffic down there can be brutal so we just fly out of Vancouver.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

US government.

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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 for us so we found our own housing, within the guidelines provided. It was great picking our own home but setting everything up cost us a lot of money out of pocket. I will not willingly choose to do another LQA post. Most families choose to live in North or West Vancouver to be closer to the schools. Singles and couples live downtown and have great access to work, restaurants, night life, etc.

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

Everything is so expensive here!!! The COLA does not cover the difference in price right now. We go down to the states once a month and stock up. We bought a freezer to keep in the garage for this purpose. If you have two incomes, you will be just fine. If you are a family living on one income, you will struggle.

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

Thankfully we are about an 1.5 hour drive away from Bellingham WA so we get everything we need there. All dairy and meat products sold in Canada come from Canada only so the prices are allowed to be high as there is no competition.

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

You can find everything here. Lots of variety, especially downtown. Cost is high so we don't eat out as much, but it is fun finding a new favorite spot.

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

We have had a few spiders and mice, but we are in the mountains. Outside we have had raccoons, bears and mountain lions. We actually have a neighborhood bear who doesn't bother us a bit. He walks down the middle of the road, seeing if anyone left some food out then makes his way back up the mountain. Kinda fun!

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Daily Life:

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

We use the DPO or cross the border to mail things. I have used the Canadian post before and it is fine, just slower and more expensive.

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

Very expensive here. Average is $30/hour and most companies want you to commit to a contract of several times a week.

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

Many options here that vary in price. Look at your local Community Center as they have speciality classes that line up with child care as well as a workout facility. Steve Nash fitness club is popular here and runs about $40 a month for unlimited entry.

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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?

Yes. Everything is like in the States.

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

Everything is here and available.

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

English is everywhere and you can find tutors in almost every language here.

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

Not at all. Very accommodating

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

Yes. My kids use the buses to travel around with their friends or home from school. About $1.25 per ride for the bus.

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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?

We have 2 SUV's and are glad we have them. We live up in the mountains and have needed the 4WD a ton. If we lived in the city, any car would be just fine. This is an incredibly rich city so you will see all sorts of expensive cars around town. You truly can bring anything you want.

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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?

Yes and they can have it up and running within a week of finding a house. You can choose your speed and GB allowance. We have high-speed and 400GB a month for around $100 a month. Since we live up in the mountains, we only have one company who provides internet up here but those closer into town have more variety.

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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?

Shop around as there are a lot of options. The issue we ran into is that the companies want you to have some sort of Canadian credit to get a phone. Since we didn't, I had to set up phones with several different companies so everyone in the family who needed one could have one. It was a huge pain. And you need to have a Canadian bank account set up before they will even look at you as a customer.

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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 quarantine and vets are great. We have cats and take them to a cats-only vet. They have been great. Services are more expensive, almost double than in the states, but I find the quality to be better than in the states.

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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?

I have heard it is fairly easy to work on the local market here. Minimum wage is just under $11 right now.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

This city loves volunteers so whatever you love or are in to, you will be able to find a way to volunteer in that field.

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

At work a shirt and tie is fine. Sometimes you can go open-collar. Public places are like the States.

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Health & Safety:

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

There are certain areas to avoid, only because of drug use and possible violence. The only issues we have ever had were with bears and mountain lions. Just be aware of your surroundings and be prepared when you are hiking or doing outdoor activities and you will be OK. We did have some raccoons break in to my in-laws' car, but they forgot to lock it and raccoons here are clever.

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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?

None. We go to the walk-in clinic here for small things and go down to Bellingham, WA for everything else.

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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?

Wonderful air quality. Allergies can get bad with everything blooming in the spring but it is worth it for the beauty.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

This is a very dark and dreary place and we have all suffered from a vitamin D deficiency. If you suffer from migraines, Vancouver could make them worse just from the pressure systems that comes through here. Depression is a massive issue here and it shows during the winter.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Winter blues is HUGE! Lots of suicides around here during the fall/winter/early spring months. I had no idea it was this bad before coming here. Make sure to put your family on a vitamin D supplement. Bellingham, WA is not far from here so if you think you need more than vitamin D, there are doctors and specialist there that can help.

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

Dark and dreary. Rains a ton. We personally prefer the dark and dreary weather, but this was a little much for us. Cold most of the year Homes do not have air conditioning. We had one week of it getting over 90 degrees and then it cooled back down and we were fine.

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Schools & Children:

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

The public schools in North and West Vancouver are amazing! They are very much like the public schools in the states and will accommodate special needs. Collingwood is a private school that is a college prep school and is fantastic. They have a KEY program for special needs but they only accept 6 kids per grade level and most kids move up each year in the program. There are many private schools to choose from around here. Most of them have great reputations.

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

The public schools are required to make any accommodations needed. My son has a learning disability and the school has been great with keeping up on his IEP and keeping me informed. My son is extremely happy with his school. Most private schools have programs also, but they are allowed to limit their intake to whatever numbers they desire. There are specialized schools in Vancouver, but they might not be close to where you want to live. Some schools have programs that allow the kids to go to a public school then attend "class" after school for brain training. Eaton Arrowsmith has several programs that kids can do after school in a different setting to help suit their needs.

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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?

Pre-schools are available and can be pretty pricey. There is a free program called Strong Start that is put on by a few of the public schools around town and requires the parents to stay and interact with their kids in a classroom. It is so much fun! There are a variety of preschools around town. The local community center has a drop-off program that is $10 an hour or you can sign up for certain days and times for a flat fee. The public school preschool program is 3 days a week for 2.5 hours a day for $300 a month. I did find one place that charged $700 for 3 days a week, 4 hours a day. So do your research before committing.

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

The schools have great after-school programs and you can also find city leagues as well as classes at the community center. The schools will make you pay a fee for your child to participate in after-school programs, but the fees are not as high as the city and community center fees.

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Expat Life:

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

This city seems to have more foreigners than locals now. We hear on the news how the prices of housing is driving local Canadians out of the province. Everyone is really spread out here so you make your friends wherever you go.

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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?

Everyone I have met has either been from church or from my kids activities and school. I am not the most social person, but I'm sure there are local running groups or other groups similar to that who get together. And the nightlife here is huge so....

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

This city is good for everyone. The only downfall it has is it is expensive so it is harder for families so you can't afford to do as many things.

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

Very much so. Vancouver is incredibly accepting of everyone.

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

No problems.

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

This is the closest my kids have come to the states in YEARS. We live much closer to family now and have been able to see them more. That has been the highlight to living here.

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

Tons of outdoor activities, if it ever stops raining. Whistler isn't too far away. Lots of night markets during the summer. Grandville Island will always be a favorite of mine.

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

There are a few First Nations items you could pick up, but be prepared to give away your first born to pay for it. Gorgeous work and designs, but again, expensive.

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

Close to the states, great healthcare and schools, lots of activities available for everyone.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Just how expensive it really was. We were warned, but the warnings weren't strong enough. We did know about the $10,000 we would spend in the first month or two living here and getting settled. We didn't know that we would have to use up our savings just to survive. We had to put down the deposit on our house and we won't get that back until the end of our 3 years here. So that was $4000 we weren't expecting to be out. We want our kids to do the things offered here that aren't offered in other countries we have been in, but it is breaking the bank. If you have two incomes, you will be fine.

Drugs in the schools are very big here so make sure you talk to your kids about it beforehand. Thankfully it seems to be getting better.

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

I don't think so. We are not as happy here are we thought we would be, which is sad because Vancouver is a great city. It just isn't the city for us. Might have something to do with the vitamin D deficiency.

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

Warm weather clothes.

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4. But don't forget your:

Outdoor gear and snow gear.

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