I have had Vancouver on my radar since 1997, when I had passed through town briefly on my way from Portland, Oregon to go skiing at the legendary Whistler Blackcomb. Although larger cities in general are not my preference, Vancouver stuck with me after all these years as a place that deserved more time to understand its charms. I had the fortune of revisiting the city recently to catch up with some friends from www.travelguystv.com, and I only left more fascinated with diverse Vancouver. It is a rare thing indeed when a big city lures this country girl in, instead of making me want to run for cover in the closest mountain range/desert/forest.
It looks like I am not the only one impressed with the city. Not only was it recognized as the Top City in Canada in Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s 2012 Readers’ Choice Awards, but it was also named the Top Destination in Canada in TripAdvisor’s 2012 Travelers’ Choice awards, and was chosen as the world’s “Most Liveable City” in 2010 by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a title it has been awarded eight times since 2002.For more than a decade, the city has ranked among the top ten of the Mercer Quality of Living Survey.
What makes Vancouver so special? For me, it is its unique brand of relaxed, casual cool. Vancouver effortlessly mixes a chic cosmopolitan vibe, with world class restaurants, wine, shopping, spas (oh my, whatever you do, do not miss www.mirajhammam.com!) and museums, with plenty of green space and the ocean and mountains a mere 20 minutes outside of the downtown city center. You can even sea kayak with orcas and humpback whales nearby! While it is a big city, it never felt bustling or chaotic – it felt overall very tranquil. Residents may be very well-dressed, but at the same time they also didn’t seem to get uptight walking slowly in the drizzling rain, enjoying the day. While the city has 2.3 million residents, it still felt like a very small town to me, one where you may cross paths with friends all the time.
This sea-level port city is known for its temperate climate year-round.Living in Vancouver, you will experience a much more temperate climate than in the rest of the country. Sheltered by the mountains in the east and tempered by warm ocean currents, the city has very mild winters. Snow is rare, especially in places close to or at sea level.
However, the surrounding snow-covered slopes are perfect for winter sports and breathtaking views of the city below. And how could outdoor enthusiasts not love a city where it is possible to ski in the morning and sail in the afternoon? As a ski bum who has skied all over North America, Whistler Blackcomb, an easy 2 hours from downtown Vancouver, reigns as one of my all-time favorite places to ski, (www.whistlerblackcomb.com) . With over 200 marked runs (some of the longest runs anywhere on Earth), 8,171 acres of terrain, 16 alpine bowls and three glaciers, not to mention some of the most badass backcountry skiing on the planet, snow lovers will be in heaven. Since it was the site of the 2010 winter Olympics, infrastructure is modern and top-notch, and hotels, shopping , and restaurants are abundant in the area.
I was enamored by the food in British Columbia in general. It seems as though the city has a huge commitment to using natural and local foods. It’s didn’t seem merely ‘fashionable’ or like a passing trend for restaurants to use sustainable practices, it just seemed like a priority of the city. Between this characteristic and the surprisingly delicious BC wine (which I honestly had never given a chance before), I was in heaven. One of my favorite hang-outs that I kept gravitating back to was Forage, www.foragevancouver.com, a farm-to-table restaurant at the warm and conveniently located Listel Hotel, www.thelistelhotel.com. The restaurantoffered up unpretentious comfort food that gives you a taste of the area (for example, smoked albacore tuna, blackberry and fir jelly, chanterelle mushrooms ,brown butter gnocchi, hazelnuts and squash). Another favorite was a city staple loved by tourists and locals alike, Joe Fortes, www.joefortes.ca, a place which cooked up the best steak I have had outside of Argentina and which offered incredible service even though the place was packed to the brim. I left there feeling like family. I am always in the mood for good homemade Italian, and I fell in love with a darling restaurant, Café IlNido, run with heart and soul, centrally located yet tucked away off of a main road, www.cafeilnido.ca. Had I stayed longer, I definitely would have gone back time after time, even if just for some desert and a great glass of wine. I also stayed at the modern boutique hotel The Loden, www.theloden.com, and its Tableau Bistro offered an inventive fusion of French and local Northwest cuisine.
For someone who loves ethnic food and diversity, I was shocked (and delighted) to see learn that close to half of the population speaks a language other than English as their first language. Neighborhoods such as Chinatown, Punjabi Market or Little Italy make living in Vancouver a highly multicultural experience.
When I wasn’t busy eating, skiing, or drinking BC wine, I was happily lost in one of Vancouver’s many museums. I have high standards when it comes to museums, and Vancouver did not disappoint. My days were spent between the Aquarium, www.vanaqua.org, the art museum, www.vanartgallery.bc.ca , and my favorite (when I was little I did want to be Indiana Jones. Ok, fine, I still do…), the Museum of Anthropology, www.moa.ubc.ca, which kept me enthralled for the entire day. Another afternoon was spent perusing the markets of Granville Island, which rivals Seattle’s famous Pike Place market, and gets extra cool points from me because you can choose to take a 2 minute ferry-taxi from downtown to it for a just couple of dollars.
Another great way to spend a day is at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, www.capbridge.com. While downtown Vancouver boasts skyscrapers, they are no match for the towering 1300 year old Douglas fir trees that fill this reserve. Whether you want a gentle walk along a more solid bridge system, or the Cliff Walk that is for the less faint of heart, the park is memorable and a great breath of fresh air, right outside the city.
Sold on Vancouver yet? Interested in living there? To me, the only downfall of the entire city that I can see for expat wannabes is price. While it was fine for a vacation, to live there, for me, may be cost-prohibitive.
Housing:In relation to average incomes, Vancouver has the third-highest housing costs among English-speaking cities worldwide. The average price of a home there is higher than any other place in Canada, and according to the Canadian Real Estate Association was $684,000 in 2012.
In Vancouver, you have the choice between many attractive neighborhoods, each with its own distinct feel and population mix.The neighborhoods west of the downtown area are among the most popular residential areas in the city proper. In Kitsilano, residents enjoy the sandy beaches right at their doorstep and a beautiful view of the nearby mountains. Another attractive option is Vancouver’s northern districts, across the Lions Gate Bridge.The city’s most exclusive residential areas are found in the West End, close to the University of British Columbia. West Point Grey and Shaughnessy are known as Canada’s most expensive neighborhoods and boast many historical, luxurious homes.
More and more expats are deciding against moving to downtown Vancouver, preferring the nearby metro areas, as housing is considerably cheaper there. Most places are well connected via public transport, and commuting times are decent. Popular communities among expats include Burnaby, Surrey and the Tri Cities of Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody.
Even if you plan on renting, the city is quite expensive. 1 bedroom apartments and suites in downtown usually start at around $900 per month. If you’d like to move to Vancouver’s more exclusive areas or are looking for a place with ocean view, expect to pay $1,500 or more. 3 bedroom apartments or townhouses are available from $3,000.Moving to the suburbs such as Coquitlam and Surrey may only cost you half of what you would be paying in central Vancouver: from $600 for a 1-bedroom apartment and around $1,500 for a 3-bedroom home.
Health Care:One of the many amenities that come with living in Vancouver is the high standard of health care. Basic medical care for people living in Vancouver is covered by the Medical Services Plan of British Columbia (MSP). The MSP is financed by taxes and transfers from the federal government. In addition, there are monthly premiums to be paid by every insured person living in Vancouver, based on family size and income. Currently, monthly premiums range from $64 for one person to $128 for a family of three or more. Expats living in Vancouver are also eligible for MSP-coverage, provided that their work permit is valid for more than 6 months. However, there is a three-month waiting period for newly-arrived residents before they can be included. For those who are covered by the MSP, basic medical care is then free. This includes general practitioner and specialist treatment, diagnostic x-ray and laboratory services, surgery and maternity care.
Work:With the nation’s largest port and the western end of the transcontinental highway, Vancouver is a major gateway for pan-Pacific trade. Numerous companies have their national and international headquarters here, especially in mining and forestry. Biotechnology and IT are increasingly important industries as well. A flourishing tourism sector and a vibrant film industry (10% of Hollywood’s movies are actually filmed there) contribute to the great reputation Vancouver has in employment opportunities.
But finding a job there is not always easy. Canada already has a high number of skilled home graduates. The market for lucrative graduate jobs, therefore, is highly competitive, and the fact that you speak fluent English is not exactly as marketable as it may be in other parts of the world.
Nevertheless, with a degree and work experience in the right field, expats interested in working in Vancouver still have many opportunities in areas such as IT and bioengineering. And those who can work from a mobile office know that with the correct setup, one can work anywhere in the world.
I know a lot of people from the US do not think of traveling or moving to Canada. It is so close that it does not come up on people’s lists of places to check out – many people think that they need to make a trip that is culturally much more extreme. But for some, familiarity and close proximity to the US is a good thing. The fact that it is a mere 3 hours from Seattle means that one could still easily enjoy what they love about the US, while maintaining residence abroad. In Vancouver, you can speak English, and feel pretty much at home with the customs and traditions from day one.
If you have not been to Vancouver yet, I urge you to check it out. I know that it is a city I will be drawn back to time and time again, and I am already looking forward to my next visit. Have you been? Did you love it as much as I did? What do you recommend about the city? Please leave your comments below for other readers.
You can follow Cathy Brown on Twitter at @LatinAmerExpats, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.