Ottawa, Canada Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Ottawa, Canada

Ottawa, Canada 08/31/15

Background:

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

No, I had lived in Paris in the past.

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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?

DC -- we drove, but there are direct flights from Ottawa.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1.5 years.

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

US Embassy people choose their own housing in Ottawa, so you can get just about anything you like. Many people have small houses just outside of the downtown area. We live in an apartment right near the embassy.

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

I think it's slightly higher than in the US, but again, the drop in the Canadian dollar has made a difference. Beer is very expensive.

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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?

All the American chains are available. There are some really good restaurants, lots of pub-style burger places, and lots of touristy restaurants in the market. Prices are very high, but the Canadian dollar has dropped, making things more affordable for Americans.

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

None.

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Daily Life:

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

The embassy has a PO box in New York.

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

I imagine it's expensive, but don't know anyone who has it.

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

The embassy has a gym, but we joined a local gym. Cost is comparable to that in the US.

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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?

No problems.

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

Everything.

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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?

Ottawa is primarily Anglophone, though you do hear French everywhere. Since almost everyone is bilingual, it's hard to practice your French except across the river in Gatineau.

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

I imagine it would be comparable to any American city.

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Transportation:

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

All are safe. I think prices are about the same as the US.

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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?

Any kind of car is fine. I believe that insurance is cheaper if you buy snow tires.

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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?

I believe the cost is about the same as in the US. Most people have complaints about their service being slow and losing the signal occasionally.

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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?

We use Fido, which has been fine.

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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?

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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?

It's easy to get permission to work, but I don't know how easy it is to find a job.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Similar to large American cities.

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

Same as in the US

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Health & Safety:

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

No.

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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?

No health concerns, but we have had trouble finding a general practitioner. There is a shortage, and it is hard to find a doctor who is taking patients. A pediatrician was easy, luckily, but we have no one for my husband and me.

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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?

Very good

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

I would guess it's the same as the northeastern US for seasonal allergies. For food allergies, they are at least as careful as in the US.

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

The winter is cold and very, very long. Local people make a point of spending time outside in the winter -- skating and skiing are very popular. These help the time go faster, but it's still long.

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Schools & Children:

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

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

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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?

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

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Expat Life:

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

There are lots of expats, but I don't get the sense that there is a "community." This is probably especially true for Americans -- we blend right in.

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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?

Outdoor activities are popular -- skiing, skating, camping, hiking.

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

Yes.

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

Yes.

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

No.

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

Spending time outside has been nice. The canal, rivers, and parks are great.

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

Outside activities are great. We enjoy the market area, which has lots of small shops and restaurants. It's a bit touristy, but we like being able to buy our bread and vegetables at the outside market (at least during the warm months -- only maple syrup is available year 'round).

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

Maple syrup.

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

It is an easy place to live. Ottawa is beautiful, safe, clean, and has many more activities and amenities than one would expect in a city of this size.

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10. Can you save money?

Not really.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

That it is really pretty, and it is lively in the city center. It's a nice small city, basically.

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

Yes, I've enjoyed Ottawa.

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3. But don't forget your:

warm coat and boots.

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Ottawa, Canada 05/29/14

Background:

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

No, Frankfurt and The Gambia.

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2. How long have you lived here?

14 months. I just left.

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

U.S. 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?

LQA, so anything you can imagine. 5-30 minutes.

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

Very expensive; more than Europe. Eating out and buying groceries is shockingly expensive and the COLA does not make up for it. Good quality and variety.

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

None.

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

Same as in the USA, but why would you go?

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

Bad mosquitoes in the summer.

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Daily Life:

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

Embassy PO Box in Ogdensburg.

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

Expensive. No one has any.

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

Yes, at the Embassy. And The Athletic Clubs are very nice. Better than anything in the USA.

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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, you can.

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

All.

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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 good. French is good when in Quebec.

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

No.

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Transportation:

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

Yes. Safe, though expensive.

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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?

High clearance SUV with 4 wheel drive and snow tires.

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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, very fast, mainly through Rogers.

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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?

Verizon USA has a Canada/Mexico plan with 1000 minutes which was fine.

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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?

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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?

Yes, if you have French.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots.

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

Business.

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Health & Safety:

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

No.

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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?

No.

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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?

Great.

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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?

The weather is really pretty bad. Winter is 6 months long and fairly dark, not like the Rockies. Summer is worse than DC in terms of heat and humidity. The 2-3 weeks of spring and fall are perfect. This is the main problem for this post.

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Schools & Children:

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

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

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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?

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

Yes.

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Expat Life:

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

There is no expat community. Morale is low at U.S Embassy. No one is there who picked it because it is Canada, rather because of medical issues, family issues in the USA, special needs issues with kids. Anything but being interested in the work.

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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?

The same as in a U.S. city

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

Yes. Lots to do, though it is not the culture mecca of larger cities. Mostly outdoor stuff.

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

Yes.

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

No.

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

See above. Plus, great cycling paths. Also, amazing cross country skiing with 200 km of groomed track and the largest ice skating rink in the world because there is skating on the canal network with little snack places along the canal. This is one of the great cultural experiences here.

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

See above. Close to Montreal, Toronto, and Quebec cCty. Lots of small nice towns like Altmont.

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

Maple syrup, hockey, skis, bikes, warm clothes.

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

Amazing outdoor activities including the Gatineau Park for cycling, walking, boating. Without this resource, the city would be much less desirable.

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10. Can you save money?

No.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I knew what I was getting into. Have a good reason to be here or it will be a long few years for you.

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

No.

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

Thoughts of saving money, thoughts of good weather, thoughts that you know Canada or Canadians, because they are NOT the same as Americans.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sense of outdoor adventure and love of the winter.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

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7. Do you have any other comments?

I know athletic outdoor people who love it!

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Ottawa, Canada 07/25/13

Background:

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

Fourth experience including Europe, Asia, and Mexico.

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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 takes about 6 hours with connections to reach Denver or other regional airports (and it is not cheap).

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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

The contributor is family member affiliated with the U.S. 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?

We chose an older house within walking distance to work and schools. Others live in apartments even closer to work or in large houses on the edge of town. (there is something for everyone).

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

Ogdensburg must be the smallest town in New York to have a Walmart because half of Ottawa makes the trip across the border for cheaper milk, chicken, and anything made in China.

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

None, just expect to pay a deposit for every account you open (cell, bank, cable, rent...).

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

Canada is about 30% more expensive for everything but it is all available.

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

About the same as D.C. or Chicago.

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Daily Life:

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

Embassy has a mail bag, many Canadians have a PO box in New York.

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

It is available, I expect the rates are the same as DC.

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

Yes, including in many office buildings.

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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?

U.S. credit cards work just fine. Expect the locals to be confused a little as they all have a chip in their cards.

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

Yes, everything.

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

A complete telecom bundle is about US$125, just read the fine print.

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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?

English gets you everywhere but French would be expected if you work outside the Embassy.

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

Navigating the snow drifts. The building are mostly accessible but sidewalks and roads slowly shrink over the winter.

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Transportation:

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

It is all safe. The bus runs about US$3 per ride or US$100 per month.

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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?

Just bring winter tires (not studded snow tires).

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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, the rates are always changing so best to just check before you arrive.

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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?

Bell, Rogers, and Telus are the big ones up here. Many Americans keep their plans and add a "North America" plan.

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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?

Not really.

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

Cats and dogs are very common and are expected to be perfectly behaved. I would expect the care to be very good.

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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?

NO! An Ontario teacher certificate is required to be a substitute teacher and the local university floods the market, making it very competitive. The embassy has reduced the number of positions open to family members as part of the ongoing Federal budget issues.

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

Business formal (same as DC).

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Health & Safety:

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

None.

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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?

Medical care is present but not available! They will see you in the ER or dentist office but any chronic care will require a trip to the U.S.

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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?

Amazing.

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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?

6 months of winter, a short spring where anything and everything grows, a warm muggy summer, and a beautiful fall.

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Schools & Children:

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

No international or American schools. Every public and private school has the same curriculum set by the province. The schools focus on mastery and development so expect the material to be behind the U.S. They also do not want to pressure the students so do not expect detailed feedback or any type of criticism. It is especially hard to move in or out at the end of 9th & 11th grade as the math programs are not in sync. Our kids enjoy all of it but it has been a challenge.

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

The public schools make standard accommodations for mild to moderate special needs (I don't know about severe). The private schools make little to no accommodations.

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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?

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

Yes, expect most sports including hockey and basketball to start in September. Football starts in early August.

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Expat Life:

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

Invisible.

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2. Morale among expats:

Depends on how you feel about winter.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

After a year or so the neighbors will start talking. Most socializing is through work, kids schools or sports clubs.

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

Elementary school age families seem to really enjoy it. Singles and couples should expect to bring their own fun. Little to no expat community.

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

It seems accepting and boring.

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

None that I have heard of. Ottawa is a diverse town and Canadians seem to be better traveled than Americans.

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

The kids can walk to public school, day camp, and play hockey in the street with the neighbors.

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

Every outdoor activity you can think of: biking, running, snowshoeing, skiing, skating, sledding, curling, boating. They also have a few museums and theaters.

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

Hockey gear.

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

Winter sports, hiking, fishing, as a mid-sized city it is very walkable.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, as long as you rely on the public events and parks.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, it is a great place for the kids and the work can be interesting.

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

I guess your gun collection.

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3. But don't forget your:

Patience. It looks like the U.S. but everything just takes time.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Slings and Arrows series, The Don Cherry Story

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

The Power of Why was written by a local reporter, anything by Margaret Atwood, The Game by Ken Dryden.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Canada is a different country and they do things their own way. They also think a lot about the US and think we think as much about them.

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Ottawa, Canada 01/11/13

Background:

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

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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?

DC is a 90-minute flight away. Ottawa has non-stop flights to New York, Chicago, Charlotte, DC, Boston, Detroit, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, and Philadelphia. So, you'll need to connect through one of those cities or Montreal or Toronto.

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3. How long have you lived here?

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

(The contributor is affiliated with the U.S. Embassy and has been living in Ottawa for a year, a fifth expat experience.)U.S. 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?

Ottawa is an LQA post, so you find your own housing. It's up to you whether you want a house, apartment, townhouse, etc., and which neighborhood you want to live in. The allowance is pretty generous and should cover an appropriate-sized dwelling for your family. If you arrive before or after the summer transfer season, you will have a more limited selection, especially for houses, but you should be able to find something. Some arrivals arrange housing sight unseen to ease the transition, and GSO has info from several realtors who can help with that. Others take a trip on their own time/dime to house-hunt. If you don't have a place lined up to live when you first arrive, GSO will put you up in an extended-stay hotel for up to 60 days while you find a place to live. Finding a place can be stressful, but it's also refreshing to be able to pick out exactly what you want and where you want it after having housing issues at other posts.

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

You can find most U.S. products in Ottawa but with less variety, like three types of Cheerios instead of eight. Prices are higher for most items and especially for dairy and poultry. Ogdensburg, NY is about an hour away and has a Walmart and Pricechoppers grocery store, so you can get any U.S. product there. The only things that are hard to find are region-specific products. U.S. memberships at Costco work at the Costcos here in Ottawa.

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

Few. Maybe a couple of liquors and grocery products that I can't find here, but you can get almost anything you need here. It'll just cost a bit more.

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

Most U.S. chains are present. Subway, McDonald's, Burger King, etc. They even have a Five Guys now. There are also several Canadian chains. Generally restaurants are pretty good, but expect to pay 10-30% more than in the U.S.

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

None, really.

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Daily Life:

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

Post has a P.O. box and physical address in New York that embassy personnel can use. That means fewer restrictions on mail. You can order liquids, gadgets with lithium batteries, etc. The mail room makes mail runs 3x/week and every weekday for several weeks before Christmas. Canadian post is reliable but more expensive than U.S. post.

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

I'm not sure. I suspect that you could get a cleaning service, but prices would be as expensive or more expensive than in the United States.

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

Yes. The U.S. Embassy has a smallish gym that costs $150/yr. There are multiple private gyms around town and prices are a little higher than U.S. gyms. The two that come to mind are the Goodlife chain with multiple locations around town and The Athletic Club.

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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?

Easy to use and plenty of ATMs around. Canadian cards are Chip and Pin, so sometimes I get a funny look when they have to swipe mine, but that's all. You will need to open a Canadian bank account to pay your rent, utility bills, etc.

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

Yes, just about anything you could want.

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

Yes. A few over the air stations, cable, satellite, etc. Cable includes U.S. stations from Detroit or Buffalo. Costs are a bit more than in the U.S. and you can bundle with phone and internet like in the United States. The main providers are Bell and Rogers.

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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?

Ottawa is officially bilingual in French and English, but you don't really need French to survive. It comes in handy in Gatineau, QC though.

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

Not too many. I haven't paid very close attention, but most buildings seem to be built to similar standards as U.S. buildings.

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Transportation:

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

Yes, they are safe. A bus ticket for an adult costs C$2.60 each way.

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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 any U.S. car would be serviceable here and would not draw too much attention. Roads are in generally good condition, so no specific cars required for that. Parts and service are likely to be more expensive, but if you know what you need you can order it and the mail room will bring it up. Some warranties will apply in Canada, but check with the manufacturer for specifics. Snow tires are not required in Ontario, but many people have them. You can order online and the mail room will bring them up from NY. A set of 4 with wheels cost about $800 for my car. The CLO will organize a winter-for-newbies session with briefings from GSO, RSO, Motorpool, etc. on how to prepare your house and car for winter.

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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 pretty reliable. There are a variety of options depending on speed and GB of data you want each month. I pay about $60/mo for my package.

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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?

The embassy issues phones to officers. There are a variety of prepaid options and contract options available through the embassy, too. I have heard that you can get a U.S./Canada plan through AT&T or Verizon if you want to, but I just use Vonage for calling back to the U.S.

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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. Officially you need a rabies vaccination certificate, but no one bothered to look at them when I brought my pets into Canada. I drove up from DC, though, and did not go through an airport.

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

Yes, good vet care is available. Pet supplies are plentiful and similar quality to U.S. pet supplies.

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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'm not sure. A lot of jobs here require English and French, so that could be a stumbling block.

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

Similar to the U.S. but perhaps a bit more casual overall.

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Health & Safety:

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

None at all. There are some petty crime issues, but usually it's things like items stolen from unlocked cars. Ottawa had something like 7 murders in all of 2012.My U.S. hometown is 1/2 the size of Ottawa and had 3x as many murders last year.

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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?

No specific medical concerns to the region. The embassy has a medical unit staffed by a local nurse practitioner. Local care is good, but U.S. embassy personnel are not part of the Ontario health insurance system, so getting in to see GPs and specialists can be difficult. Many people go to Ogdensburg, NY or further into the U.S. for care whenever possible.

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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. There's little to no pollution in this area.

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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 four distinct seasons. Summer is beautiful with some hot/muggy days. Fall is nice with the beautiful changing leaves and crisp air. Winter is brutal with lots of snow and temperatures that can easily get down to -20F. Spring is transitional but beautiful once the snow and ice have melted and the city has cleaned up after it.

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Schools & Children:

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

I do not have kids, but there are a couple of schools here that people use. I honestly don't know how well people do or don't like them.

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

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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?

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

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Expat Life:

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

Not sure. We blend in pretty well here, so I don't rely on the expat community too much. There are lots of embassies, multinational companies, etc so I suspect it's decent sized.

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2. Morale among expats:

It depends. A lot of people like it for the high quality of life, but some people are frustrated by being more on their own with LQA, drivers' licenses, license plates, etc. after serving at multiple posts where the embassy handled those things for them. As always, the dynamics of your specific office can also affect morale.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Lots to see and do. Entertaining is similar to the U.S. in a mix of entertaining at home, in restaurants, etc. It's very easy to make friends with locals, so it's easy to have a nice social life.

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

I think that there's something here for everyone. There are lots of family friendly things to do here. There's a decent amount of things to do for singles and couples, though it's not a bustling metropolis like Toronto or Montreal.

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

Yes. Canada is pretty accepting in general and I believe that Canada allows gay marriage and for gay Canadians to petition for visas for their spouses/partners.

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

Not to my knowledge. Canada is pretty accepting and progressive.

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

Trying winter sports, having such a normal life, cultural events and festivals, Canadian friends.

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

Gatineau park for hiking, snow shoeing, cross country skiing. Lots of museums. The RCMP training facility. Skating on the canal. Side trips to Toronto and Montreal.

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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 wear. Inuit and First Nations crafts. Maple syrup (yum!!).

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

Proximity to the United States, travel in Canada, nearby natural parks, friendly neighbors/coworkers/contacts, museums, green space, etc. A regular P.O. box instead of pouch so there are fewer restrictions on mail.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes. Most everything here is more expensive than in the U.S. but your rent is paid for you so unless you have visions of grandeur, you should be able to save well.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely. I love it here. It's so nice to have a normal life here, to be able to make friends and not second guess their motives or feel wildly out of place socioeconomically, and to be relatively close to friends and family in the United States.

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

Nothing. It's an LQA post, so you'll need your furniture and everything.

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3. But don't forget your:

Savings for your first few months at post. You'll have a lot of up front expenses and it can take a few pay periods for your LQA to kick in.

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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:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Unless you've got a lot of winter experience, do some thinking ahead of time, but wait until you get here to order winter gear. Talk to locals and embassy people who have been here a couple of years to see what you really need and what you don't. That way, you'll spend less money on things you don't actually need.

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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. 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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3. 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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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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Ottawa, Canada 08/14/10

Background:

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

No, Cambridge (UK), Havana, Canberra, Santiago, and Jakarta.

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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?

Washington, DC area. Most people drive to Ottawa so that they have their cars right away. There are direct, city-pair flights from IAD to Ottawa, however, and it takes about an hour's flying time.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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

U.S. Embassy posting.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is completely up to you, since it is an LQA post for U.S. Embassy employees. Most people choose to live in Rockcliffe Park, New Edinburgh (with about 10-20 minute commutes) or Westboro (20 minutes). Single folks tend to live in very nice condos downtown. Many live in a building two doors down from the embassy, giving them a few minutes' walking commute. Our military and law enforcement types tend to live way out in Kanata or Nepean, so they can have McMansions. They have 30- to 60-minute commutes, sometimes longer in the winter.

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

Great grocery stores, much like in the U.S. They don't have the enormous variety that you would find in a Giant or Harris Teeter in the suburbs of DC, but they beat every other country I've been in. The cost of groceries is breathtakingly expensive. We spend double what we did in DC. We usually spend about $700 per month for groceries -- and we are not extravagant eaters for a family of four with two toddlers. It was not out of the ordinary to have one or two months during the year when we spent $1000 on groceries.

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

None. We drive 50 minutes to the Ogdensburg, NY WalMart and Price Chopper when we need to get things that are too expensive in Canada.

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

All the usual suspects that you'd find in the U.S. except Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme. Tim Hortons is fine, though don't say that to Canadians --who have an almost religious-like fervor for their coffee and donut holes ("Tim Bits"). One of my Canadian work contacts looked like he was going to cry when I mentioned that I missed Dunkin' Donuts' coffee."What's wrong with Tim Horton's coffee?" he bleated.

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

Enormous mosquitoes during the summer. I mean huge! They seem capable of carrying off small children! Also, tiny little biting black-flies are also annoying in the spring and summer.

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Daily Life:

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

Our mail room makes a thrice-weekly run to the Post Office in Ogdensburg, NY. It works pretty well. We mail our Netflix disks on Monday and receive the new disk on Wednesday.

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

Widely available but prohibitively expensive. Many folks at post have brought nannies from other posts.

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

Many gyms, including a basic (but very good) one in the basement of the embassy -- with shower facilities available, too.

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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?

Just like in the U.S.

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

All denominations are widely available.

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

There are three major national English-language dailies and a local one, too. Cable TV packages are popular, and they usually include all the U.S. networks as well as the upstate NY PBS station, so you don't even miss the Jim Lehrer News Hour.

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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?

French is not really necessary in Ottawa, but it is helpful if you cross over into Quebec. But it is still not required. When Canadians find out that you are American, they will start to use "eh?" at the ends of their sentences much more frequently. They also spell certain words differently: grey, defence, and labour, for example. It seems to rub them the wrong way if you point that out.

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

Noting notable. It's very accessible. The only concern would be the heavy snowfalls that make pathways icy and bumpy. The city does a great job of snow removal, though.

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Transportation:

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

All are very safe; trains are quite expensive. The average bus trip is C$3.25 each way. If you buy voucher tickets ahead of time, you can get a discount to C$2.50 each way for a daily commute total of $5. Parking around the embassy is $11 per day, so it usually makes more sense to drive if you can get two people in the car, especially in winter. Taxis are pretty expensive, compared to the developing world, probably the same as getting one in DC, perhaps slightly more -- given the exchange rate

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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?

The Honda Accord is the most popular car in Canada, just like in the U.S. Gas is much more expensive in Canada than in the U.S., but many folks do have SUVs. You don't really need them in Ottawa, though, as long as you have good snow tires during the winter.

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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?

Really good high-speed internet is available, but it is really expensive due to a lack of competition and the high exchange rate. We get our internet, home phone, and cable from Rogers, and we pay C$160 per month -- which is about what they all charge. I see that you can get the same deal in DC with FIOS for $100/month.

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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?

The embassy provides employees with a BlackBerry, and offers family members (at your personal cost) extra phones as part of their overall agreement with our service provider. The price for the personal phones seems to be pretty good. Otherwise, many companies offer pay-as-you-go phones and a wide array of plans. They tend to be extremely expensive, compared with U.S. prices, given the comparative lack of competition and the high exchange rate.

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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?

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

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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 don't have any personal experience with this. I don't sense that there are a lot of opportunities for non-Canadian citizens, given that Ottawa is a government town. I could be wrong, though.

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

Same as in Washington or the state of Maine, or in any government offices in DC.

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Health & Safety:

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

Crime is very low compared with other cities of a similar size in the U.S.

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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?

Healthcare has probably been our major source of unhappiness. We are not able to be part of the Ontario health system, and as a result, we find it very difficult to get in to see GPs and specialists. It took us a year to get on the rolls with a pediatrician, and he was less than impressive. Many folks choose to drive to the hospital in Ogdensburg to avoid the months-long wait for specialists. Our children were finally allowed to enroll as patients at the medical clinic at our local grocery store, but they refused to take my wife and me as patients -- so we have no doctor. The embassy has just created a medical unit, just like in the developing world! We will have a part-time MD and an RN who will be able to give shots and do well-baby checks. This will be operating from February or March of 2011 and will alleviate many of the concerns that we had during our first two years here.

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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?

Excellent year 'round.

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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?

Six to eight months of some of the most bitter winter weather I have ever encountered. Two to three months of a soggy, bracingly-chilly spring. One to three months of absolutely beautiful summer weather. One to two months of gorgeous autumn weather with piercing blue skies, crisp, dry air, and abundant sunshine.

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Schools & Children:

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

No international schools, but there are several private schools. Many kids go to Ottawa public schools. Most people seem to be fairly happy. My kids are too young for school, so I've not had any personal experience with this.

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

I don't have experience with this, but I also have not heard any major complaints.

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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?

Preschools are plentiful and run the gamut in price and hours. Daycare is a real concern for those who have preschoolers and want to work. Some embassy folks have brought nannies from previous posts with them. It is prohibitively expensive to employ Canadians as nannies. Canada has agencies that will (for a fee) bring a nanny from the Philippines for you, but that is really expensive, too. We have been very very happy with our cooperative preschool, but my spouse is a full-time mom, so we can do the monthly cooperative duties. Single parents -- or situations where both parents work -- would not be conducive to the co-op environment.

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

Too many to name through the City of Ottawa's recreation department: from toddlers to teens. Very affordable, too.

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Expat Life:

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

Very large, but it is hard to tell, since most Americans just blend in with their Canadian neighbors.

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2. Morale among expats:

Much better than when we arrived. Our management section has made great strides in helping us navigate the Canadian government's bureaucracy and utility maze.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Just like in a small city in the U.S.

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

This is a great city for families and couples, especially those who enjoy the great outdoors and don't require household help as you would have in the developing world. Singles have been less happy, wishing they were in the more cosmopolitan Toronto or Montreal.

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

I've not heard much about this from gay colleagues. It is a small city, so it's probably like being a gay person in Akron, OH or St. Paul, MN.

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

It's a hyper-tolerant city, almost to the point of parody, since the citizens and government bend over backward to embrace (and to create the appearance of embracing) diversity.

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

Living in a real neighborhood for the first time in our Foreign Service career. We know our neighbors and interact with them frequently -- unlike in other posts where we live behind walls, or our neighbors were so far above or below our socio-economic level that a real friendship was just not possible.

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

There are many museums, live theatre, symphony, wonderful Gatineau Park just across the river, miles and miles of bike paths along the river and through the woods, great restaurants and cafes. Each neighborhood has a community pool that is open during the summer and staffed with lifeguard/activity leaders who watch over the kids and engage them in fun games, too.

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

Local woodcarvings, maple syrup?...we've not really found anything, to be truthful.

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

This a cosmopolitan city that has lots of parks, parkways, off-road bike paths, public (river) beaches, and crystal-clear mountain lakes. also, excellent public transport that is safe and efficient, great museums, little traffic, and friendly locals. The city and inner suburbs are extremely walkable, which is a great change from other posts. Many embassy families enjoy seasonal rentals of lake houses, which come in all price ranges on the thousands of beautiful lakes throughout Ontario and Quebec.

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11. Can you save money?

There's no getting around the fact that Ottawa is an extremely expensive city, especially now that the Canadian dollar has been around equal for most of the past two years. We have been able to save some money, but we live modestly and conduct our lives just as if we were in DC (no extravagant trips, no shopping sprees or frequent meals out). We save 50% less, though, than at our previous hardship post in EAP. Not a complaint, just an observation.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes. We were very unhappy when we first arrived, since the embassy gives you almost no support because everyone believes that a posting to Ottawa is just like being assigned to DC -- but with a housing allowance. This isn't the case, but that is the belief. Now that we have sorted out the suboptimal experience of LQA and finding medical care, we are glad we came. It's been a really good experience personally and professionally.

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

malaria suppressants and surfboards.

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3. But don't forget your:

hiking shoes, bicycles, winter boots and jackets that are -40 degree rated.

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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:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

LQA was not a great experience for us, and I'm not sure I would ever go to another LQA post. Ottawa is in the grip of a still-expanding property bubble, so many people are eager to sell their overpriced houses here. Not many people are interested in renting houses, so it ended up being very stressful to find housing. In the end, we found a very nice place to live in, and we've been very happy with our neighborhood. The winter here is like nothing I've ever experienced. Growing up in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., I thought I knew winter, but I didn't know anything. The first time my lungs froze (even though momentarily) was an experience I will not soon forget.

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Ottawa, Canada 11/11/09

Background:

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

No. Various cities in Europe, Asia, South 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?

With direct flights to London Heathrow and Frankfurt, it's pretty decent now. But generally, you're stuck with transiting through Montreal & Toronto which can be painful.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Off and on throughout the last 30 years. 3 years currently.

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

Corporate/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?

The suburbs (Orleans, Kanata, Barrhaven) feature the same banal urban planning with typical suburban houses spread out amongst a sea of big box stores. Although public transit is available, it is often inefficient in some of these areas. I'm sure if you drive around these areas, they are equivalently as banal and homogenous as any suburb in DC, Atlanta, etc. The more urban areas closer to the embassy (Glebe, New Edinburgh, Rockcliffe, Westboro) are considerably more expensive and feature your typical variety of 50-120 year old character homes. These neighbourhoods are much nicer to live in and very walkable to embassies and government offices downtown. There is a certain charm to them and they feature a far more vibrant lifestyle (think Georgetown but on a much smaller scale).Cost:Rockcliffe - 1 Million +Glebe/New Ed/Westboro - 500K - 1 MillionBurbs - 250K - 600KThere's also many condos springing up in the downtown core in the 200-600K range. For rentals, houses in the urban core are in the 1800-3500/month range and move pretty fast. 2 Bdrm Apartment in a good building/area is about 1500-2000/month.

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

Much cheaper than Europe but there is still a 10-15% premium over the US prices (and then there's the sales taxes tacked on top of that).

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

You can get everything here...if not...Ogdensburg is a 45 minute drive from downtown to the border. It's usually a function of price (i.e. the 15-20% premium depending on currency fluctuations and taxes).

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

The particular Mexican, Lebanese, North Indian, Persian, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Carribean, and African restaurants I frequent are just as good as the best restaurants of this variety I've been to abroad (in those same countries!). Most of them are sadly not advertised in any touristy brochures so it is not surprising people could be woefully dissappointed with Ottawa's culinary offerings. Again, we don't have the quanity of restaurants you'll see in Montreal/Toronto...but given the diverse base of people in the city, you can find good quality cuisine of any type once you know where to find it. This is one of biggest misconceptions about this city!Fast food is readily available. Cost is probably more than what's available in equivalent sized US cities but I would imagine cheaper than Manhattan and on-par with DC.

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

Mosquitoes are quite nasty in spring/early summer around the urban area. More exotic bugs (black flies, etc) can be found in the more rugged terrain located on the Gatineau side of the river.

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Daily Life:

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

I hear it gets driven up from Ogdensburg. Otherwise, Canada Post is no better/worse than USPS, UK Mail, etc.

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

Ha! It cost me 400/month for a cleaning service to clean my 2700 sq foot home twice a mouth. Actual domestic help would be 10-15/hour at least. Full-time, live-out nannies are 2400/month. Even fairly wealthy families living in million-dollar homes typically don't have much in the way of domestic help due to the cost!

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

Many. Usually high quality...sometimes exorbitant cost but you're pretty much guaranteed to be within a short drive from one anywhere in the city.

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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?

ATMs are widely available but probably cost a fortune for people with international debit cards. Credit cards are widely accepted but American Express is not always accepted due to the hideous fees they charge retailers in Canada. Banking in Canada will definitely be a step back for people coming from the US.

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

Anything and everything! You'll notice more Catholic churches here and there is actually a Catholic school board that is almost as large as the public school board.

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

Plenty...but likely more expensive than anything in the US. But I have a hard time believing there are things you can get in the US that you absolutely cannot get in Canada.

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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?

English is fine everywhere, but French is spoken widely on the Quebec side of the border...and there are some unilingual French-speaking people, particularly in the smaller towns nearby in Quebec and east of Ottawa on the Ontario side.

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

Winter time is difficult but Ottawa does have snow clearing down to a science so it's not as horrific as it would seem to be. In the summer, it is probably on par with any other forward-thinking city in terms of accessibility.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are expensive...it's basically 15-20 bucks just to take a cab anywhere in the downtown-ish area...and 40-70 bucks to get one from downtown to the burbs. Taxis and buses are safe with incidents being quite rare. However, public transit isn't exactly cheap and it can be inefficient if you're going off the beaten path.

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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?

Realistically, you could drive a Mini Cooper in the general urban area of Ottawa with All-Seasons on it and be fine. If you're really concerned, a good set of snow tires will do the trick...no need to buy an obnoxious SUV to handle winter. You don't need to go overboard and buy a Hummer!

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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...40/month...likely more expensive than anything in the US but on par with Europe/Asia.

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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?

Impoverished countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have better plans than we do! We are getting robbed because of the Rogers/Bell Canada Monopoly. The actual telecomms infrastructure is good and reliable. However, my iPhone 6GB plan costs me 70 bucks a month with voice and data combined...comparable to most other countries...again, you need to do some research to find deals comparable to normal wireless markets abroad.

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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?

Not generally.

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

Lots available.

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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?

That would be difficult due to restrictive labour regulations on non-citizens/permanent residents. Also, in Ottawa, many of the jobs (esp. government) require bilingualism which is a big negative if you don't speak French. Kanata is Ottawa's version of San Jose and until the downturn, was a very vibrant tech community. It still is in some respects but probably not as easy to find employment as it used to be.

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

Generally less-formal with ultra-casual in the more high-tech type employers.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Very good.

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

Not much at all...but there is petty crime. Murder rate is much lower than most similarly sized cities around the world (including the US).

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

I've found care at the Ottawa Hospitals and good clinics in the downtown core to be comparable to anywhere else...with emergency care as quick as you'll see anywhere. If you need an MRI for a non-urgent issue...be prepared to wait. But seriously, the doom and gloom about our health care from others is quite overblown IMO. I have a great family physician and for any serious medical issue I or my family members have suffered from, I have received excellent care and didn't have to pay a cent...except for meds (where my company plan can cover the portion not funded by our provincial plan).

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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?

The biggest misconception is that it is cold year round! Normally, December 1 - April 1 represents winter, when there is typically a decent amount of snow & ice on the ground. Temperatures range from -5 to -20 celcius. Fall is beautiful and is typically from about Sept 15 - Nov 15 with temperatures ranging from 20 to -5 celcius. Spring is often very short as we typically get a couple of weeks of 15 to 25 celcius weather before the heat and humidity arrives. Summer temperatures range from 15 to 35 celcius. Heat waves often resemble summertime in any East Coast US city. Many people like the fact that there are 4 distinct seasons in Ottawa.

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Schools & Children:

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

Private schools are available but are atrociously expensive. However, public schools in the Glebe, New Edinburgh, and Rockcliffe neighbourhoods are considered very good due to the generally more affluent base of people they draw upon...and, IMO, are just as good as any good public school in the US.

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

Although funding cuts are always floated around, these programs do exist in schools and some do a better job than others.

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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?

Daycare is in short supply and is generally costly. Given that the government provides a benefit to new mothers up to 1 year, there is a real shortage of daycares taking in children less than a year. Home-based care is generally in the 800-1000/month range. Daycare in an actual centre can range from 1000 - 1800/month...and these are non-profit facilities!

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

Lots of different programs...hockey, skiing, skating in the winter. Football (US & Euro), baseball, volleyball, etc. in the Spring-Summer-Autumn months. I cannot see how this could be an issue for anyone other than those expecting Beach Volleyball and snorkelling in the dead of January!

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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 enough but not huge. The embassy/diplomatic crowd is pretty stuffy and probably on par with what exists in most places. And like the political/parliamentarian types, they typically stay within their own little social circles and don't generally mix with the "locals" so much...probably further skewing the impressions people get of this city.

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2. Morale among expats:

Depends. If you really do take the time to explore the city (and not the usual stereotypical tourist traps) you will definitely enjoy your time here much more. Like anywhere, it really helps to know someone knowledgeable about the city.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Compared to Pittsburg, Portland, Liverpool, Frankfurt, Minneapolis...great. Compared to Paris, Chicago, NYC, and even Montreal/Toronto...it is on a much smaller scale with less variety. But then again, Montreal is only a 1.5 hour drive away.

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

Families: great. Couples: depends. Singles: depends. If you are expecting Manhattan, you will be dissappointed. But realistically, you can find pretty much any cuisine you'd want in Ottawa restaurants. Again, if you adjust your expectations to that of any mid-sized US/European city, I'm sure the nightlife is on-par with what exists in places like Austin, Portland OR, RTP, Canberra, etc. Again, if you live in the suburbs, you will think this city is pretty boring...but if you try to live closer to the trendier, more happening parts of town...your opinion of the city will be vastly different. I cannot emphasize this point enough to people!

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

Again, it depends. In the more urban neighbourhoods, it is widely accepted and gay/lesbian people can and do integrate quite freely and openly with the non-gay/lesbian types in the city. Going out to the 'burbs or areas with concentrations of certain ethnicities typically results in a much frostier reception. But overall, I would think it is better than most places in North America.

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

In general, no. Unlike in Europe and in many places in the US, religious and visible minorities are well-integrated/represented throughout the city. The wealthier areas tend to be more WASP-y with the suburbs and lower income areas featuring a pretty diverse mix of people. You do still hear pretty ignorant remarks about people of different backgrounds and the more WASP-y environments aren't always the most welcoming of people of colour/different religious beliefs. But while racism/prejudices are more subtle...people are, by-and-large, far more accepting of different ethnicities than what I've seen in other cities around the world. NOTE: as per Obama's election...Ottawans are in love with all things American now and went completely gaga over his visit to the city! In the Dubya days, you'd better think twice about announcing your US heritage...esp. if you are a Republican!

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

Great outdoorsy type stuff to do on either side of the river. Again, once you know of the right restaurants to go to, this will also be a source of fun and interest. There are the usual array of galleries and museums but I've found they can be a bit of a dissappointment compared to what's available in other capital cities (DC, London, Paris, etc). Contrary to what people may think, there is a pretty decent nightlife in the Byward Market, Elgin St. area, and Westboro...just stay away from the student meat-market type places as there are quite a few of those given the concentration of post-secondary institutions in the area. Ottawa is a very green city with a nice, liveable downtown that doesn't feel like a concrete jungle. Due to the influence of the French speaking population, it is as much European-influenced as it is US-influenced.

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

Maple Syrup, "poutine" and other unique French-Canadian cuisine, and, IMO, very nice artwork from local artists (heavily influenced by the outdoors/nature surrounding the city).Also, I think Ottawa has a nice eclectic collection of boutiques that offer some nice local/Canadian designers (at reasonable-ish prices).

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9. Can you save money?

Compared to Tokyo, Manhattan, London/Paris...yes. Otherwise, probably not.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes. I think the city is vastly underrated and gets a disturbingly bad rap from some people (esp. some of the posters on here!).

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

Nothing. Given the diversity of seasons we have, I doubt there's anything you can leave behind...except for maybe surfboards as there's no real surfing anywhere nearby.

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3. But don't forget your:

Winter clothing, boots, snow tires as you will be quite surprised as to the amount of snow we get.

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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:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

I am shocked by the negative reviews on here about Ottawa! I find if you spend some effort to look for it (or talk to someone with knowledge of the city), you will probably be able to find whatever you need. Restaurants, nightlife, housing, parks, and facilities are probably more than adequate for 99% of the population out there.

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