Living in Toronto
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A comprehensive guide about living well in Toronto
Few expat experiences are quite as culturally diverse as living in Toronto. The city abounds with possibilities for leisure, entertainment, and culture, making sure that your time abroad in Toronto rarely has a dull moment. Our Relocation Guide on Toronto shows you the city and all its facets.
Life in Toronto
At a Glance:
- Toronto can be very cold in winter and very hot in summer, so ensure you are prepared for any kind of weather.
- The city has a thriving cultural and sports scene, and is home to the NHL team Toronto Maple Leafs.
- Toronto offers top quality healthcare and is major center for medical research.
Extreme Climate Conditions — Pack Your Winter Coat and Sun Hat!
Living in Toronto for at least a year, you will see a wide range of extremes in local weather conditions. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that Toronto in winter can be a somewhat harsh experience to expats from warmer regions around the globe, the fact that Toronto is among the most temperate corners of Canada notwithstanding. It is called the True North for a reason! Still, there is little cause for concern: while you will see plenty of snow and might experience week-long stretches when the highest temperature barely reaches -10°C, winter in Toronto is far from being as brutal as in most other parts of Canada.
What will definitely surprise many expats who have prepared for their new life in Toronto by packing warm coats and thermal underwear is the heat. Temperatures in excess of 35°C are not uncommon, and the urban cityscape of Toronto as well as the characteristically high humidity in summer can exacerbate this considerably.
Concerts, Theater, Sports — All You Could Ask for Is Right There
Of course, there is also a cultural side to Toronto. The city is well known for its theater and performing arts scene. More than 50 ballet troupes and dance companies are based in Toronto. Venues such as Massey Hall, Princess of Wales Theatre, and Roy Thompson Hall are renowned well beyond the city limits and even outside Canada. The movie industry also plays a major role in the city: you don’t have to be a Toronto resident to have heard of the TIFF, one of the world’s largest and most famous film festivals.
Humor enthusiasts will surely enjoy living in Toronto to the fullest, as the city has a lively stand-up and improv scene. Many beloved and internationally famous comics started their careers in Toronto.
The Harbourfront Centre and Nathan Phillips Square are almost constantly venues for festivities and cultural events of various kinds. From the smaller ones, like the hot sauce festival, to giant events such as the Caribana or the LGBT Pride Week, there is something for virtually any taste. Life in Toronto does not get boring for the culturally open-minded!
While the city’s music scene does not exactly parallel that of nearby Montreal, there are many gifted local bands and musicians waiting to be discovered, so keeping your ears on the ground is definitely recommended.
Sports buffs are also in luck: the city holds the singular distinction of being represented in seven North American major sports leagues; more than any other Canadian city. In Toronto, you have the possibility of catching games of all the favorite North American pastimes such as basketball, baseball, and football. Of course, the city is also home to the NHL team Toronto Maple Leafs. The Hockey Hall of Fame on Yonge Street has enough memorabilia to spice up any hockey fan’s day.
Tons of Green Space
Few things are easier than escaping the dense cityscape of Toronto for a little while. The municipal government maintains more than 300 parks around the city, making Toronto a remarkably “green” city for its size. Some of the parks are just a few dozen meters across, while others, such as the gigantic High Park, are almost like little inner-city forests, providing citizens and expats with exceptional possibilities for recreation.
That’s, of course, not all: sports fans living in Toronto have ample opportunity to engage in their favorite game. Basketball and tennis courts, for example, can be found all over the city. If you would like to catch some rays in the summer, just take a ferry to Toronto Island and hit the beach!
Toronto is remarkably safe for a city of its size and population and among the safest in all of Canada. While it is true that, as in any other city worldwide, there are some neighborhoods of lesser repute which you might want to avoid while living in Toronto, the entire city is generally very safe. The stereotype of the North American metropolis in which murder and robberies lurk behind every other corner definitely does not apply here!
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Healthcare and Transportation in Toronto
How to Stay in Good Health
Your physical and mental well-being is in good hands in Toronto. The city is home to almost two dozen public hospitals of various specializations and highest quality. As Toronto attracts highly skilled medical personnel from all over the world — and trains many more in the numerous educational institutions around town — you will have no problem finding qualified doctors and other healthcare staff. Toronto is also a major center for medical research, with institutions such as the Discovery District, the McLaughlin Centre for Molecular Medicine and the Medical and Related Sciences Centre located in the city.
Get it Quickly! The Ontario Health Card
Anyone whose primary place of residence is Ontario can apply for free medical care services provided by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The range of services includes all necessary medical examinations by physicians, dental operations in hospitals, and a yearly eye examination. Furthermore, the plan offers partial or full coverage for additional services such as ambulance services, prescription medication, or long-term care. The Health Card does not cover any procedures that are not necessary from a medical standpoint.
The Ontario Health Card is also available to expats, provided that they are employed with a company in Ontario and have a work permit valid for at least six months. You have to make sure that you are physically present for 153 of the first 183 days after you establish your residency in the province. Of course, expats with permanent residency permits are eligible as well. Unfortunately, as the waiting period for newcomers to Ontario is three months, you need to look into other ways of insuring yourself for the first stretch of your stay in Toronto.
To apply for your Ontario Health Card, visit one of the many ServiceOntario centers around Toronto, where you will have to fill out an application form and present a number of documents. The government of Ontario provides a list of necessary documentation on their website.
Using Public Transportation
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is responsible for all public transportation services in the city. The TTC operates four subway lines (including the Scarborough Rapid Transit line), eleven streetcar lines and over 140 bus lines that will take you to and from every part of the city. All of the major arterial routes of the city grid, both in west-east and north-south orientation, are covered by the TTC’s range of services.
Public transportation is hugely popular in Toronto, and the frequency of intervals reflects that: most lines adhere to a 5–10 minute interval during peak times, and 5–20 minutes off-peak. Some of the most heavily used lines even have a two-minute interval. On the website of the TTC you can find information about fares and passes, look up schedules and plan your trip!
Toronto in general is a very cyclist-friendly place, and the public transportation system also takes this into account, at least to a certain extent: while you cannot take your bike on the subway or streetcar, the main bus routes are serviced by buses equipped with bike racks in the front. Their use is free of charge. However, this often makes taking your bike with you a bit of a gamble, especially during rush hour: the racks can only hold two bicycles, and spots are given on a first-come, first-served basis.
An important piece of advice to bus passengers: you are expected to greet your driver (and show your pass or, failing that, pay in cash) when you get on, and thank them when you get off. Be polite and show respect!
Other Means of Transportation
As in most other parts of North America, cars are still among the preferred means of transportation. The network of roads and highways is of very high quality and among the busiest on the continent. However, this has led to a number of pressing issues. Apart from the obvious problem of near-constant gridlock during rush hour, the scarcity of (and hefty fees for) parking spaces might quickly put a strain on both your commute and your wallet.
As mentioned above, cycling is a very good option most of the year. Many roads have bike lanes, allowing for quick and safe movement on two wheels. If your workplace is not too far away and you are of the outdoorsy kind, this is a great way of both staying in shape and avoiding traffic-related stress.