Now that the weather has warmed and the rain has (mostly) ended, I’m reminded that it’s almost been a full year since I moved to Vancouver. The experience has been amazing – if anyone ever tells you Vancouver is the best city in Canada, let me assure you they are most definitely correct.
So in this post, I’m going to reflect on the last 10 months and hopefully offer some guidance to anyone else who is thinking of moving to Vancouver from Toronto (or anywhere else).
In this post I’ll go over:
- Reasons for Moving to Vancouver
- Important Things to Know (neighbourhoods, transit, norms)
- FAQs (weather, money, making friends)
- Logistics (moving, finding an apartment / job)
Moving to Vancouver from Abroad? I believe this post will still be helpful if you’re moving here from outside Canada, however, I can’t speak to the process of applying for visas, residency and citizenship. This post is more focused on what it is like to move and live here.
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Reasons for Moving to Vancouver
Why did we leave Toronto and move to Vancouver?
As the outdoorsy, nature-loving tree-hugger that I am, most people expect me to say that I moved to Vancouver because I wanted to be by the oceans and the mountains – and that was totally a factor!
But the main reason that we moved here – in the middle of the pandemic – is that my boyfriend has a severe allergy to a few certain kinds of mould found around the Great Lakes. He was in a lot of discomfort and constantly needing antibiotics to keep his reactions under control. Eventually, his doctor recommended he leave the Great Lakes area and go somewhere that doesn’t have this variety of mould.
So we chose Vancouver.
To be honest, I was actually really reluctant and postponed moving from Toronto to Vancouver three times. I was anxious about moving during the pandemic and generally oppose abrupt changes (unbeknownst to most people, I’m a creature of comfort).
But in August we finally made the move and I’m so glad we did. For years I’ve been told I have a “West Coast Vibe” and in university I was repeatedly asked if I was from Vancouver. I now get it. This is my kind of place!
Why do most people move to Vancouver?
Obviously, our reason isn’t a typical one. Most people move to Vancouver for the outdoor lifestyle and (surprisingly) the weather. Oh and job changes, that too.
Is Vancouver’s outdoor lifestyle for you? Well, are you interested in any of the following activities:
- Hiking / Backpacking
- Skiing / Snowboarding
- Rock Climbing
- Walking in Nature
- Sitting on Beaches
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, then Vancouver is the best city for you in Canada. Hands down. No questions asked. I’ve lived in, worked in and visited a lot of major cities in Canada (almost all of them, actually) and nowhere else can you get off work at 5 pm, take public transit to a mountain, do an ~incredible~ hike and be back home for an early bedtime.
Likewise, I don’t know of another city where you have so many destinations within a short drive (one weekend you can go skiing in Whistler, the next weekend you can go surfing in Tofino). It’s insane how much there is here.
Vancouver is also way more chill than Toronto. I don’t know if it’s because Vancouver isn’t the financial hub of Canada, or if it’s just hard to be stressed when you can see mountains everyday, but there is a definite difference in attitude here.
The weather in Vancouver is… interesting.
On the one hand, Vancouver itself gets very little snow. This winter we had less than 5 cm in West Vancouver; downtown didn’t get any snow at all. My mom lived here in the ’70s and ’80s and never owned a winter coat. Similarly, it never gets that cold either. If you’re used to Toronto or Calgary winters, where the temperature can drop to -20 C and below, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Vancouver rarely dips below freezing.
That said, Vancouver has rain. Lots and lots of rain. In the winter, you can expect light-to-moderate rain and overcast skies pretty much every day. Seriously, you can go up to four months and seldom see the sun (more on that below).
But if you’re like me and you don’t like snow outside of skiing, Vancouver is perfect.
Important Things to Know About Life in Vancouver
The Neighbourhoods of Vancouver
Where you live in Vancouver will largely depend on your employment, life stage and finances. Because you’ll likely have a different set of circumstances to me, I can’t recommend a neighbourhood to you. However, I can tell you what I considered and why I chose what I did.
About Me: I’m a young professional with a remote job and I don’t have any dependents (kids or pets). We wanted to be in close proximity to downtown, the water and be somewhere very walkable (since we don’t have a car). For this reason, we chose Yaletown.
Yaletown is part of the downtown peninsula, near False Creek. I like how this area is incredibly walkable: everything we need is within a 15 minute walk, and fun areas (like Granville Island and Davie Village) are within 25 minutes. There are tons of parks and the seawall is nearby. The downside is that the area gets very little natural light (so many tall condo buildings).
We also considered Kitsilano (and later considered moving from Yaletown to Kitslano) because the area is just so nice. Kits Beach is amazing – it’s one of the best beaches in Vancouver – and 4th Street runs right through the centre of Kits and has tons of fun restaurants and shopping. Plus, there are no condo buildings so there is tons of light! But because there are no condo buildings, there is very limited housing (especially rental housing). Kits is also the most expensive neighbourhood in Vancouver. So ultimately, we stayed in Yaletown.
We briefly looked at Coal Harbour and the surrounding area, which is like the Vancouver equivalent to Toronto’s financial district and waterfront. Most of the condo buildings are modern and glass (and very pretty). One thing I love about Coal Harbour is its proximity to Vancouver Harbour and Stanely Park. The drawback is that the area is quite expensive. If you are super wealthy, there are some amazing apartments with incredible balconies and rooftop patios. But if you are working with a smaller budget, we found the apartments to be really tiny here.
The West End (and nearby Davie Village) is a really fun neighbourhood in the downtown core. It’s very close to English Bay and False Creek (yay, water!) and has tons of great restaurants and stores. The buildings are older here than they are in Coal Harbour, but the rent is more affordable. We didn’t consider the West End since the buildings are older and we didn’t want to risk aggravating my boyfriend’s mould allergy.
North Vancouver / West Vancouver
These are the neighbourhoods on the North Shore and, according to who you ask, are separate to Vancouver itself. There is tons of housing here – both detached and condos. The big upside to living on the North Shore is that you are super close to the mountains (yay, hiking, biking and skiing!).
The downside is that traffic is a nightmare. The only way to get a car from the North Shore to downtown is with the Lion’s Gate Bridge and driving through Stanley Park, which is a three-way road and can get extremely slow. It’s also important to have a car if you’re living on the North Shore because the bus system isn’t the best.
Mt Pleasant / Commercial Drive / Vancouver South
This is basically just the rest of Vancouver. It isn’t near downtown, although there are decent transit options to get you downtown. We didn’t consider these areas because they’re further away (and likely would require a car) and aren’t near the water. To my knowledge, these areas are better for families who want a semi-detached or detached house that want something more affordable than what Kits or Point Grey can offer.
Transit & Getting Around Vancouver
There are a few methods for getting around Vancouver:
- Buses – Bus routes go all over the city and are the easiest (though not speediest) way to get around North and West Vancouver without a car. When you’re downtown, it’s way faster to walk than bus.
- SeaBus – This is a pedestrian ferry that goes from Waterfront Station (downtown) to Lonsdale Quay (North Vancouver). If you’re on foot or biking, it’s often the fastest way to go between downtown and North Van.
- Aquabus & False Creek Ferries – These are smaller ferries that cross False Creek. They’re a super convenient way to go between Yaletown and Granville Island & Kitsilano.
- Sky Train – The Sky Train connects Vancouver proper with the suburbs around Vancouver (i.e. Burnaby, Richmond, Langely, West Vancouver, North Vancouver, Surrey). If you need to go a far distance in the Lower Mainland, you’ll probably end up taking the Sky Train (see below).
Uber / Evo
If you don’t have a car, you can also use Uber and Evo. Uber is well-known and worldwide, but Evo is more specific to Vancouver. It’s basically car sharing. You create an account and then you can ‘borrow’ Evo cars that are parked throughout the city. You’re charged for the time and distance you use the car for.
Norms and Tips for Living in Vancouver (like a Local)
Invest in a good rain jacket – As I’ve said a few times, Vancouver gets a lot of rain in the winter so ensure you have a good rain jacket. This is the one I use.
And a good umbrella – While you’re at it, also get a good umbrella. Tip – A lot of shops and restaurants have bins at the entrance where you can put your umbrella while you’re inside. This is to prevent the umbrella from leaving rain droplets all over the inside of the restaurant / shop.
Beware of bikers – The people of Vancouver are extremely friendly and cheerful… until you step into the bike lane. There are tons of bike lanes here and the easiest way to piss off bikers is to casually step on the bike lane without looking, walk on the bike lane as a pedestrian or stand in the middle of the bike lane taking pictures. Stay on the sidewalk.
Skip Starbucks – I have long been a dedicated Starbucks drinker and Vancouver has dozens (hundreds?) of locations. But there are even more independent cafes that are most definitely better. While most Vancouverites won’t think less of you for choosing Starbucks, they’ll probably recommend their favourite cafe to you and (strongly) encourage you to try it.
Get out of the city – There are a ton of great places to explore outside of Vancouver. Right up the Sea to Sky Highway, you’ll find Whistler and Squamish. Take the ferry to Vancouver Island and explore the capital city, Victoria, or the popular surf town, Tofino.
FAQs about Moving to Vancouver
Is Vancouver really that expensive?
Yes… and no. Housing in Vancouver is really that expensive. Unless you’re moving here from Toronto (or London, San Francisco or New York), you’re going to find it pricier. Here are some typical rent costs for reference:
Average Price for One Bedroom Apartment (source):
- Vancouver (overall): $1950
- Downtown: $2150
- Kitsilano: $1875
- Mt Pleasant: $2030
But honestly, other than housing, I don’t find it more expensive than Toronto or Mississauga, and I only find it marginally more expensive than London, Ontario. Groceries and restaurant meals are pretty similar. Gas and utilities are a bit more expensive. You can see a cost of living comparison of Toronto vs Vancouver and London ON vs Vancouver.
Is it easy to make friends in Vancouver?
So I can’t answer this from personal experience since I moved here during a pandemic and “making friends” wasn’t exactly following Health Guidelines. But I’ve spoken about this with a few of my existing friends who have lived in Vancouver for a while.
Overall, Vancouver is a difficult place to make friends. This is especially true if you didn’t grow up here or go to the University of British Columbia. Many people are already part of a natural friend group – either from their high school or from UBC. In that sense, Vancouver is unlike Toronto; lots of people move to Toronto after university and are all looking for friends. Meanwhile, many people from Vancouver stay in Vancouver.
According to my friends, the best way of making friends is by joining clubs and activities (for example, joining a climbing gym or yoga studio, or by participating in a hiking challenge). Also, it helps to work in a place with people of a similar age and life stage to you.
The final piece of information I got about making friends in Vancouver is that it can be easier for international expats, especially those from community-oriented places like India. Vancouver is a very multicultural city and it’s easy to find welcoming communities of people with a similar background.
How bad is the rain?
I don’t think it’s the rain itself that drives people crazy in the winter, but rather the persistent lack of sunshine.
The rain is never very heavy – it’s mostly a light-moderate drizzle with periodic days of overcast (without rain) and periodic days of heavy rain. But there are very few blue-sky days. It’s like the weather equivalent to Chinese water torture: a few drops are insignificant, but after a while, the relentlessness of the drops can drive you mad (or a little depressed, in my case).
That said, I would still rather have the long stretches of rain than the heavy snowfall of southwestern Ontario or the extreme cold of the Prairies.
I think it’s also important that you find activities that get you outside in all types of weather. I still went hiking throughout the winter and I would regularly see mountain bikers and cyclists as well. That helped a lot with my mood.
How is the job market in Vancouver?
Hmm, this is a tricky topic and it really comes down to what you’re comparing Vancouver to. There are plenty of job-hunting websites that can tell you the statistics, so here I’ll provide you with a few anecdotes.
I have friends who have been trying to move here for nursing and teaching, and they’ve told me that aren’t many openings. When there have been openings, the salary is similar to what they are currently making, but the cost of living in Vancouver is so much higher that it doesn’t make financial sense.
For anyone working in business, there are significantly fewer openings because Vancouver isn’t home to many head offices. This was something I faced in university when I was applying to jobs out here. There’s Lululemon, Telus and BC Hydro, but besides that, there isn’t much. There aren’t many consultancies, banks or financial firms either. However, those positions that are open tend to pay quite well.
On the other hand, Vancouver can be a really attractive place to work if you’re in something related to forestry, mining, environmental consulting or construction. This is because there are so many natural resources firms here.
Logistics of Moving to Vancouver
So I’ll be the first to admit that I had a very privileged experience in moving to Vancouver that a lot of people couldn’t replicate. I didn’t need to find a new job. I didn’t have to move furniture. And my boyfriend and I had a relatively easy time finding a place to live (which isn’t most people’s experience).
I’ll still go over what we did / experienced and suggest a few resources to help you with your move, but I probably won’t be the most helpful resource here.
Moving your stuff to Vancouver
What we did (aka what we didn’t do)
We were really fortunate in that we didn’t have to move our furniture to Vancouver. This is due to the fact that my boyfriend and I have a somewhat transient lifestyle – we both move around quite a bit and never know how long we’ll stay somewhere when we arrive.
I moved out of my Toronto apartment in July, but instead of moving my furniture to Vancouver, I moved it to my parents’ house in London, Ontario. To make things easier, we chose to stay at a furnished apartment in Vancouver. Now, this is obviously more expensive than staying in an unfurnished apartment, but it is perfect for temporary accommodation while you get yourself settled in Vancouver.
What you can do
There are tons of moving companies that can support you with moving your stuff to Vancouver. Here are a few pieces of advice I’ve picked up over the last few years of moving:
Do not move IKEA furniture – It’s so cheap that it’s honestly not worth the hassle of moving. Plus, it isn’t exactly the most sturdy stuff so you may end up breaking it during the move (RIP Malm desk).
Be realistic about the amount of stuff you need – Unless you’re coming from Toronto, you’ll likely find yourself in a smaller apartment / house than you previously had. Housing is expensive (more on that below) so most people end up downsizing. That means you need significantly less stuff.
Finding housing in Vancouver
Finding an apartment or house in Vancouver could be an Olympic sport. With vacancy rates less than 1%, it can be very difficult to find a place (and even harder to secure it).
When we first arrived, we stayed in a furnished apartment on a month-to-month basis while we got familiar with the city and looked for other places. But due to low occupancy rates associated with the pandemic, we scored an excellent rate and stayed. If you don’t have that option, here are some resources:
Facebook Groups – I’m a part of the group Housing and Sublets in Vancouver, which honestly isn’t that helpful. There are so many posts per day (definitely turn off notifications) and only a fraction of them are relevant to you. If you need to find a place with roommates, however, Facebook Groups are probably your best bet.
PadMapper / Zumper – These websites are helpful for getting in touch with property managers at condo buildings, though the vacancy you see online isn’t always accurate. But once you have the contact information, you call the buildings to set up viewings and be notified if there are vacancies.
Real Estate Agent – When in doubt, get professional help. I was at my favourite cafe recently and overheard a pair talking about the real estate market in Vancouver – I learned they both were real estate agents – and it actually gave me a sense of relief. The older one knew everything about housing in the city (perhaps I was eavesdropping a little too much…) and I would totally trust him to find a place for me. If you’re looking at houses or purchasing a condo / apartment, definitely go with an agent.
Finding a job in Vancouver
There are tons of resources online for finding a job, so I recommended doing a little research on that specifically. LinkedIn is a good place to start, as are traditional job hunting sites like Indeed. If you have any friends already here, reach out to them. Networking is huge in Vancouver (as it is in Toronto too).
I kept my remote job when I came out here, so I didn’t need to find a new job and can’t offer much more advice.
Moving to Vancouver – Final Thoughts
I hope you’ve found this post helpful and have a better idea of what to expect when moving to Vancouver. Although the move itself can be cumbersome and inconvenient, it’ll be totally worth it once you get settled in and start seeing the ocean and mountains every day. If you have any questions about life in Vancouver, leave a comment below or send me a message on Instagram!