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Living in Toronto

A Comprehensive Guide about Living Well in Toronto

Living in Toronto could change you forever, from the soles of your feet, to the soul inside you. With its nightlife, colorful restaurant scene, museum, and art galleries, it is a vibrant city. Once its influence rubs off on you, you might never want to live anywhere else.

Need to move abroad? Organizing an international relocation is not something you should do on your own. As expats ourselves, we understand what you need, and offer the essential services to help you move and live abroad easily. Contact us to jump start your move abroad!

In this guide, we tell you about how to find an apartment in Toronto, plus the average rent prices in the city. We also compare different neighborhoods, and describe what it’s like to live in popular neighborhoods such as Kensington Market and West Queen West. Plus, we discuss transportation, and warn you about the mistakes to avoid when looking for housing.

Life as a Foreigner

In 2019, Toronto was ranked one of the 20 greatest cities in which to live, and the second best city in North America in terms of quality of living. It was also ranked the best city to find love in Canada, partly because it has so many single people. ­

In Toronto, you can look forward to top restaurants, shopping, nightlife, as well as arts and culture. It is hard to miss the Toronto Eaton Centre, with more than 230 stores. This shopping center connects with PATH, an underground pedestrian tunnel linking nearly 30 km of walkway.

You can connect with the country’s roots by seeing indigenous art at Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and McMichael Canadian Art Collection. You can also enjoy a night out in the King West area, where there is a plethora of restaurants and bars. 

What is it Like to Live in Toronto?

It can be expensive to live in Toronto but the retail and social options, and the multicultural communities, mean you can achieve an excellent and fulfilling way of life.

Is Toronto Expensive?

The average cost of living in Toronto is 45,500 CND (34,500 USD), which is higher than in any other city in Canada. You can get more information about the cost of living in Canadian cities in our guide on Canada.

Is Toronto Safe? 

In October 2017, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Safe Cities Index ranked 60 major cities around the world in regard to safety. Toronto came fourth with a score of 87.36 out of 100, just behind Osaka, Singapore, and Tokyo. The report scored cities on factors such as digital, health, infrastructure, and personal securities.

In this index, Toronto ranked sixth for digital security, suggesting the city is well-prepared against things like cyber-attacks. However, gun crime has been an issue in Toronto, and in 2018, there were 51 deaths by firearm out of 96 total homicides. This was the highest number of gun deaths ever recorded in a single year in Toronto. This figure was an increase from 39 gun deaths out of 50 homicides in 2017 and 41 out of 75 in 2016.

Nevertheless, British Columbia and Quebec are statistically less safe than Toronto in terms of the number of homicides, with 118 in British Columbia in 2017 and 93 in Quebec in the same year.

Road Safety in Toronto

Authorities are making efforts to improve safety on Toronto’s roads –– one of the projects being run is the Art of Distraction Campaign. The campaign uses items either belonging to people who have died on Toronto’s roads, or items relating to their accidents, in installations, accompanied by the stories of how they died, to remind road users and pedestrians to pay attention on the city’s streets.

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Tips and Practical Information

Once you land in Toronto, you will probably need to buy a few essential items like food and toiletries. In the city, there are a few big-name supermarkets you should look out for that will likely sell what you need, such as Loblaws, Real Canadian Superstore, and Sobeys.

Supermarkets in Toronto

Loblaws is the biggest grocery store chain in Canada, with 46.7 billion CAD (35.6 billion USD) of annual revenue in 2018. You can find multiple stores in downtown Toronto and spread across the city.

  • As well as downtown, North York, Etobicoke, and East York have Loblaws stores. There are around 20 in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). One of the selling points of Loblaws is their relatively cheap pricing. They sell a variety of products under one roof at reasonable costs.

Real Canadian Superstore sells mainly groceries, plus electronics, homeware goods, and clothing. The first store opened in Midland, Ontario, in 2003. It is a family-friendly store, with options for practically everyone, including vegans and vegetarians. There are also halal and kosher foods in store.

  • There are currently at least seven Real Canadian Superstores spread across the GTA, including two in North York, two in York, one in Ajax, and one in Scarborough.

Sobeys is the second biggest food retailer in Canada with over 1,500 stores. They sell meat, produce, seafood, and ‘easy meals.’ They also have a deli, bakery, food-to-go, and other groceries, as well as a pharmacy.

  • There are multiple Sobeys in downtown Toronto, on Bay Street, Fort York Boulevard, Dupont Street, Queen’s Quay Terminal, Danforth Avenue, Marlee Avenue, Saint Clair Avenue East, Balliol Street, and Roncesvalles Avenue. You can also find Sobeys in East York, Thornhill, and Etobicoke.

There is also Costco Wholesale – a members-only warehouse that sells a wide variety of products. You are required to have a membership card to shop there. Once you are a member, you can benefit from competitive prices and potentially find items you cannot find at other major stores.

  • There are various Costcos scattered around Toronto, in North York, East York, Etobicoke, Scarborough, Richmond Hill, and Vaughan.

Where to Get Your Fiscal Number

Your authorized fiscal number or tax identification number is your nine-digit Canadian Social Insurance Number (SIN), which every resident in Canada with income tax filing obligations must have. You must give your SIN to financial institutions for tax reporting purposes and you need the SIN to work in Canada or to access government programs and benefits. The SIN now comes on paper instead of the old plastic card.

If you plan to have a baby in Canada, you can apply for a SIN for them through the Newborn Registration Service. And if you run a business, you can find what you need to know about your employees’ SINs from Service Canada.

You can get detailed information about how to apply for a SIN by visiting the Working section of our Canada guide. On the other hand, if you are looking for a bank in Toronto, you can try the following:

  • Royal Bank of Canada
  • The Toronto Dominion Bank
  • The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce
  • Bank of Montreal
  • Scotiabank

We have extended information on banking in Canada in our dedicated banks and taxes section.

How to Apply for the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP)

To get your Ontario health card, and access to many free-of-charge health services, you need to apply at a ServiceOntario center. You have to be a resident of Ontario for three months before you can get a health card.

Bring the following original documents to apply for your Ontario health card:

  • completed Registration for Ontario health insurance coverage form;
  • proof of immigration status;
  • proof of residency;

A list of acceptable documents can be found on the health insurance coverage form. If you have a temporary residence permit or work permit, that says “valid until” or “issued until” with a specific date, please go to a ServiceOntario center that offers the full suite of health card services.

Phone and Internet Providers

When you arrive in Canada, you may need to get a local phone number and a new contract. Here are some mobile phone companies that are worth checking out for good deals in Canada:

  • Koodo – they may have an unlimited minutes plan available.
  • Freedom Mobile – look for their Big Gig + Talk 10GB plan.
  • Bell – look for their share plan.
  • Virgin Mobile – check out their 1GB LTE Data Plan.
  • Fido – if you do not use internet on your cell phone, Fido have a Talk & Text plan. Fido also have a good tablet data plan.
  • Telus Mobile – they have a good business mobile internet plan.

For more information on how to get a cell phone in Canada visit the Housing section of our Canada guide.

Getting Internet in Toronto 

High-speed internet is widely available in Toronto. The Canadian government recommends these major internet providers, which are located in downtown Toronto:

  • Bell (DSL, mobile wireless, and fiber)
  • Rogers (coaxial cable and mobile wireless)
  • Vianet (fixed wireless)
  • Xplornet (satellite)
  • SkyChoice (fixed wireless)

You can scan more areas for internet providers using the Government of Canada’s internet service availability map.

The leading brands for internet services in Canada are:

  1. Distributel
  2. Execulink Telecom
  3. Acanac Internet
  4. Teksavvy
  5. Rogers Internet
  6. Velcom Internet
  7. Coextro Internet (GTA Only)
  8. Beanfield Internet (Toronto Downtown)
  9. Bell
  10. Altima Telecom
  11. FibreStream
  12. Fido Internet

Find out more about internet in Canada in our the Housing section of our Canada guide.

Housing

UrbanToronto–an urban development news website, with a community of property experts and aficionados–counted 882 construction projects just in 2018, which demonstrates that Toronto is still a city on the rise.

Toronto Housing Market Overview

RBC Economic Research (RBC) reported in April 2019 that for every young person–20 to 34 years old–who left Toronto, seven came to live in the city. This was still despite rising accommodation prices. The report said Canadian cities, including Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, were still magnets for young people. You can find out more about housing in Canada in our extended guide.

This report also said that properties outside the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) are typically 25 to 50% cheaper than in the center of Toronto. Robert Hogue, senior economist at RBC, said that inflated prices in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver were setting an impossibly high bar for 20 to 34-year-olds to become homeowners in those cities, and they would be forced to rent for the foreseeable future.

Despite this, RBC said that 40% of Canadian households under the age of 35 own homes. Figures from 2016 showed that 66.5% of all households in Toronto were owner households, an impressive number compared to only 51.1% in New York, 37.2% in Berlin, and 33.2% in Paris.

How to Find an Apartment in Toronto

Apartments are notoriously expensive in Toronto, but that does not mean you cannot find a good deal if you know how and where to look. A standard lease for a property in Ontario, Canada, may look familiar—it includes information, such as the parties involved, a description of the rental unit, rules on changes that can be made to the property, and the length of the term.

What you might not be used to seeing in a lease is a key deposit, which is a relatively small payment, and helps to secure the keys for the property.

Here are some tips for finding a home in Toronto: 

  • Use rental websites to get an idea of what is available in your price range and even get in touch with real estate agents and landlords.
  • Do not discount older properties–buildings erected before 1991 are subject to rent control, meaning their rent prices are capped, so they may offer better deals than new builds which are not subject to this law.
  • Another way to find a bargain apartment is to take a walk around the area in which you would like to live. Look out for “for rent” or “for sale” signs. Also, take note of new apartment blocks whose apartments might not yet be on the market. It might be possible to find a property at a cheaper price if you speak directly with the owner as that way you can avoid additional fees.
  • Consider checking out social media channels for information and advice on renting and buying property in Toronto.
  • Craigslist is another source for rental properties in Toronto and it might be possible to find a bargain. However, due to the website’s popularity, there will likely be a lot of competition for good apartments.

Ultimately, looking for a home outside of Toronto’s city center could be your most reliable option. Prices are generally cheaper the further you get from downtown Toronto.

Average Rent in Toronto 

It could be difficult to find the perfect home in Toronto–the vacancy rate in the city was only 1% in 2018, which was the lowest for 16 years. The average vacancy rate for condominiums in Toronto was even lower, at 0.7%. Additionally, the average rent for two-bedroom apartments has increased by 5.2% and put Toronto 3.5% above the national average.

The difference between apartments and condominiums:

  • Apartments: an apartment building, made up of several separate apartments, is usually owned by one person or company. Apartments can be rented/let.
  • Condominiums: different “condos” in the same building are usually owned separately by different individuals. Can bet rented/let.

A report by Urbanation in October 2018 said that there were virtually zero properties available to rent in Toronto. It added that the average rent for a studio apartment had increased by 9% in the third quarter of 2018, to 1,823 CAD (1,361 USD).

Average Rent Prices for Apartments

Apartment type Average rent (CAD) Average rent (USD)
1-bedroom 1,900 1,400
2-bedroom 2,350 1,750
3-bedroom 2,450 1,850

 

Average Rent Prices for Condominiums 

Condominium type Average rent (CAD) Average rent (USD)
1-bedroom 2,170 1,621
2-bedroom 3,568 2,666
3-bedroom 4,450 3,326

 

There are currently many new condominiums being constructed in Toronto, and most will offer luxury apartments. So, although new constructions mean more places to live, these new condominiums will cost more than the average rent.

The Affordable Housing System in Toronto

See the table below for Average Market Rents (AMRs) for different types of Affordable Housing in the Greater Toronto Area, given by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. 

Apartment type Average market rent (CAD) Average market rent (USD)
Studio 1,000 750
1-bedroom 1,270 950
2-bedroom 1,500 1,150
3-bedroom 1,700 1,300
4-bedroom 2,000 1,500
5-bedroom 2,200 1,650
2-bedroom townhouse 1,650 1,250
3-bedroom townhouse 1,750 1,350
4-bedroom townhouse 2,200 1,650
5-bedroom townhouse 2,550 1,950

 

Away from Affordable Housing, the average rental price for a one-bedroom apartment was 2,200 CAD (1,650 USD) in May 2019 and a two-bedroom was 2,750 CAD (2,100 USD).

The Cheapest and Most Expensive Toronto Areas

Prices have increased in virtually all areas of Toronto since 2016. The most expensive areas are situated downtown. Additionally, prices are generally higher near subway stations.

The most expensive places to rent a one-bedroom apartment are near Bay, Bloor-Yonge, Rosedale, and Summer Hill stations. Some of the cheapest average rent prices for a one-bedroom apartment are in the far east of the city, near Coxwell, Woodbine, Main Street, and Victoria Park stations.

The Best Neighborhoods to Live in Toronto

When choosing the area in Toronto in which you want to settle, you will want to consider factors such as pricing, cultural diversity, accessibility, and safety. Below are some of the more popular neighborhoods that Toronto has to offer.

Kensington Market

This neighborhood in Toronto is a fashionable place to live and takes its name from the local open-air market. Partly due to Italian immigrants and Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe settling here in the early twentieth century, it grew and began to thrive as a melting pot of different cultures. In the Sixties came large groups from the Azores, the Caribbean, Asia, and other areas, adding flavor to the area and helping make it what it is today.

Kensington Market is often described as a ‘hipster haven’ and it is known for the eclectic food on offer, as well as its fruit and vegetable stalls. You can eat at Tibetan, Jamaican, and organic restaurants, plus many more.

West Queen West

Called Queen Street, West Queen West, or Queen West, this neighborhood is another vibrant, “hip” Toronto area, although you do not have to be a millennial to create a fantastic life for yourself there.

Queen West was voted one of the “coolest neighborhoods in the world” by Vogue Magazine and it’s easy to see why. You will find art galleries, trendy vintage clothes stores, curious independent shops, and more––there is always something to keep you occupied.

Runnymede – Bloor West Village

Bloor West Village has all the benefits of city living, but with a relaxed atmosphere and unusual businesses you might not find in the city center. It is a great place for a leisurely stroll and window shopping.

Toronto Life named Bloor West Village the city’s ultimate neighborhood; it got 100/100 for employment, 97.1/100 for housing, and 95/100 for safety. It also got high scores for health, (88.6) and shopping (87.9).

The district is known for its many curious shops, places to eat eclectic foods, and pubs and bars. For expats keen on socializing after work and on weekends, this is an ideal neighborhood.

North Riverdale

In addition to coming second on Toronto Life’s ultimate neighborhoods list, North Riverdale also boasts some of the best views of the city, greenery, and trees. However, the views and leafy surrounds come at a price. Here, homes commonly sell for more than one million CAD (753,872 USD). You also have the Don River to the west, Riverdale Park East, and Withrow Park if you want to spend time close to nature.

Mistakes to Avoid when Looking for Housing in Toronto 

With a population of almost 3 million people, four times the size of Vancouver, Toronto has many opportunities for both good and bad deals on homes. When searching for a home in Toronto, you will want to be aware of these mistakes to avoid.

  • Know your heating rights: landlords must keep their properties at a temperature of at least 21°C (69.8°F) between September 15 and June 1. If the weather causes the building to be more than 21°C (69.8°F) without heating, landlords can turn the heating down or off. If the building has air conditioning, landlords must turn it on between June 2 and September 14 (Property Standards Bylaw). Landlords can turn on the air conditioning before June 2 if it is hot, as long as the temperature inside does not fall below 21°C (69.8°F). Tenants can contact 311 to report a related issue.
  • Consider air conditioning: Toronto’s average maximum summer temperature is around 26°C (78.8°F), so be careful about renting a property without air conditioning.
  • Get to know the area: if you want to find a place to stay for the long-term, you should do your homework on the neighborhood in which you want to live. Find out what building projects are planned or in construction as this could affect your standard of living or the value of the property if you want to buy. Urban Toronto has in-depth information about developments in the city, such as their Growth to Watch For report, which covers all the major building projects in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
  • Beware of “flippers”: the pre-construction phase of a residential build is a prime time for people to buy condos to try to sell them on for a profit. Be careful if you want to buy a property in this early stage of development as you could be paying much more than you should. Make sure you know who you are buying from and that they are not trying to make profit off of your interest.
  • Be ready to secure a deal: it is not unheard of for properties in Toronto to only be on the market for seven days before they are sold. Toronto is an extremely popular destination, and homes move quickly. For this reason, you should have your finances in order, so you are ready to conclude a purchase if you need to.
  • Avoid overpaying in bidding wars: due to the competitive nature of the Toronto housing market, newcomers often feel pressured to buy a home immediately, which leads to them paying over-the-odds to secure a deal.
  • Research condo developers: there are always new condominiums going up in Toronto, but not all of them will be made to an excellent standard. If you are thinking of securing an apartment in a new building, or one that is currently under construction, try to make sure the building’s developer and architect have a history of successful projects.

Major Furniture Stores in Toronto

  • Elte MKT sells modern, attractive furniture. They have only one store, in the York area of Toronto. One of the good things about this Toronto store is that it is located in the Castlefield Design District, so there is no shortage of nearby places to look for home items or design inspiration. You can also visit the Shelter Furniture store and Sharon O’Dowd for antiques.
  • Leon’s Furniture store sells brand-name items in bulk. They offer “amazing deals for every room in your home.” You can find Leon’s in various parts of the GTA, such as North York, Etobicoke, and Brampton, and there are three in Mississauga. There is even one in downtown near Oakridge, which is close to a Sobeys and a Loblaws, if you need to do grocery shopping at the same time.
  • Structube has stores across the GTA, in downtown, North York, Etobicoke, Scarborough, and elsewhere. It is a leading retailer of contemporary and modern home furniture.

Healthcare

Healthcare in Toronto caters to everyone, even expats. You can access certain services for free once you have been a resident of Ontario for three months. Remember to check you have adequate international health insurance to cover your needs in the three months before you qualify for free healthcare.

Toronto’s health system revolves around the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), which is funded by taxpayers. It covers medically necessary assistance, such as appointments with family doctors, basic treatment, and emergency services. We have more information about how healthcare works in the country as a whole in our Canada healthcare section.

Hospitals in Toronto By District

These are the centrally-located hospitals, associated with the University of Toronto medical program.

Downtown Area
  • Mount Sinai
  • Sick Kids Hospital
  • Toronto Western
  • St Joseph’s
  • Toronto General
  • Women’s College
  • Princess Margaret
  • St Michael’s
  • Toronto Grace Hospital
Etobicoke 
  • Etobicoke General Hospital
  • Trillium Health Care Centre
  • West Park Health Care Centre
North York
  • North York General
  • Sunnybrook Healthcare Centre
  • Humber River East Regional Hospital
  • North York Branson
  • Baycrest
East York
  • Michael Garron Hospital (formerly Toronto East York General)
Scarborough
  • Scarborough General Hospital: Birchmount, Centenary, and General

How to Find a Doctor in Toronto

As a Toronto resident, you can find a doctor using this useful search tool. It lets you look for a family doctor, a nurse practitioner, or a specialist. You can also find a doctor using the Ontario Government website. If you register with Health Care Connect, you can have a nurse find a doctor or nurse practitioner for you.

A family doctor covers the following services:

  • Diagnosis and treatment for minor health problems
  • Referrals to specialists
  • Support with chronic conditions
  • Give prescriptions for medication
  • Give regular check-ups, physicals, and screening tests

Access other health services:

  • Find a dentist
  • Find an optometrist
  • Find other health services, such as physiotherapists, and diabetes or sexual health specialists

Transportation

Things to Know About Driving in Toronto

  • You can drive in Ontario with a UK, US, or European driving license for 60 days.
  • You might be able to exchange your current license for a Canadian version. Check in our guide for a list of applicable countries.
  • You can deal with most driving-related tasks online, such as renewing your license, replacing your license, or paying a fine.
  • You can check for congestion on Toronto’s roads using the Ontario 511
  • If you want to pass your driving test or refresh your driving skills, see the list of government-approved schools you can attend.

Public Transportation

There are three main public transportation systems in Toronto: subway, streetcar, and the bus. You can get a pass to use all three from the Toronto Transit Commission.

To get to and from Toronto Pearson International Airport, you can use the subway. For a trip to the airport, you can expect to pay around 3 CAD (2 USD) if you go by subway or around 60 CAD (45 USD) for a taxi ride.

The Subway

There are four subway lines in Toronto. They are:

  • Yellow Line (north to south; Yonge-University)
  • Green Line (east to west; Bloor-Danforth)
  • Scarborough Line
  • Sheppard Line

Trains run from around 06:00 to 01:30 Monday to Saturday and 08:00 to 01:30 on Sundays.

Buses and Streetcars

If there is somewhere the subway cannot reach, there is a good chance buses and streetcars can. The streetcars operate 24 hours a day and you will need a token or pass to travel on them. Buses also require the same pass and they run from 06:00 to 01:00 Monday to Saturday, and 08:00 to 01:00 on Sundays.

Keep an eye on the Toronto Transit Commission’s website for news on service changes.

Ferry

If you want to visit Toronto’s islands, taking the ferry will be your only option. You can take a ferry from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal in downtown Toronto to get to Hanlan’s Point, Centre Island, and Ward’s Island.

Taxis and Ride-Sharing Companies

Taxis, Uber, Didi, Ola, Blacklane, and Lyft services are available throughout the city, but they will usually cost more than public transportation.

Bicycle-Sharing

If you prefer to choose a more active, environmentally-friendly mode of transport, cycling might be ideal. You can buy a pass or become a member of Bike Share Toronto to gain access to a fleet of 3,750 bicycles at 360 stations spread across 75 square kilometers of Toronto. Membership is 99 CAD (74 USD) a year or 7.50 CAD (6 USD) a month.

You can cycle for up to 30 minutes before you have to dock your bike. You will have to choose another to continue your journey on two wheels. Visit Bike Share Toronto for more information.

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: November 15, 2019
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