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Living in Vancouver
A comprehensive guide about living well in Vancouver
Welcome to the Canadian West Coast! Living in Vancouver is exactly right for you if you’re looking for new experiences in one of Canada’s most beautiful cities. We give you a detailed look at expat life in Vancouver: find everything from healthcare to transport in our guide on living in Vancouver.
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Life in Vancouver
At a Glance:
- Vancouver is a very multicultural city, with a growing number of the population speaking languages other than English and French.
- The weather is much more moderate in Vancouver than in other Canadian cities.
- The city has an extremely high standard of healthcare, with some of the best children’s hospitals in the world.
- Public schools are mostly free, however there are tuition fees for international students.
Vancouver has changed tremendously over the last 150 years: From a small settlement around a logging sawmill, the city has grown into an international metropolis. Over 2.6 million residents are currently living in Vancouver and its surroundings.
What is it about the city that attracts scores of expats every year? A major factor probably is the top notch quality of life there: for more than a decade, the city has ranked among the top ten of the Mercer Quality of Living Survey, ending up fifth in the 2017 edition. Factors such as healthcare, education, safety, and infrastructure all contribute to making Vancouver so attractive.
The city itself is characterized by its multicultural atmosphere. In recent decades, people from all over the world, particularly Asia, have shown great interest in Vancouver. Today, close to half of the population speaks a language other than English as their first language. There are currently 7.6 million speakers of non-official languages, with Arabic being the fastest growing language. Neighborhoods such as Chinatown, Punjabi Market or Little Italy make living in Vancouver a highly multicultural experience.
Close to Nature and the Sea Level
While the high population density is similar to that of other North American cities, an escape into the wild is never far away in Vancouver. The city’s surroundings offer countless opportunities for leisure activities — from alpine skiing to whale watching.
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.
Make Sure You’re Insured: The Public Healthcare System
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, based on family size and income. For example, for those with a net income of 30,000 CAD or more, monthly premiums range from 35 CAD for one person to 150 CAD for a family of three or more.
Expatriates living in Vancouver are also eligible for MSP-coverage, provided that their work permit is valid for more than six months. However, there is a three-month waiting period for newly arrived residents before they can be included. It is therefore important to (1) apply for the MSP immediately after your arrival and (2) get private healthcare coverage for the first three months.
It Pays Off: Your Healthcare Benefits
For expats covered by the MSP, basic medical care is free. This includes general practitioner and specialist treatment, diagnostic x-ray and laboratory services, surgery and maternity care. Physicians are normally paid directly by the MSP. If a physician has opted out of the MSP, patients have to pay for medical services, but can claim reimbursement for benefits covered by insurance afterwards.
However, patients must pay for additional treatment such as dental care, prescription medication, physiotherapy and chiropractics. Many employers, however, offer extended healthcare benefit plans to expat employees. These may cover some or all of the abovementioned treatments.
In Good Hands: Doctors and Emergency Care
One of the many benefits that come with living in Vancouver is the high standard of healthcare. The city has some of the province’s best hospitals, including British Columbia’s most renowned children’s hospital as well as the BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre. The latter is devoted primarily to women’s health and newborns.
While you are living in Vancouver, your first contact in case of illness is usually your family doctor. To see any type of specialist, a referral from a general practitioner is required. Word of mouth from other expats is usually the surest way to find a good family doctor. You can also check the family physician finder provided by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia.
In addition to regular family doctors, there are quite a few walk-in clinics. These basically provide the same care as family physicians.
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Education and Child Care in Vancouver
How the Education System Works
In Canada, education is part of the autonomous responsibility of the provinces. Therefore, school systems and curricula vary tremendously across different provinces.
In British Columbia, schooling is compulsory up to the age of 16. The education system is divided into an elementary and secondary level. The elementary level covers kindergarten and grades 1 to 7. The secondary level then ranges from grade 8 to grade 12. Often, the secondary level is further subdivided into junior secondary school (grades 8–10) and senior secondary school (grades 11 and 12).
Renowned: Public Schools in Vancouver
Most Vancouver expats send their kids to the nearest public school. Canadian public schools have scored highly in international student assessments and have a reputation for generally high academic performance.
Public schools may have different profiles. One may put an emphasis on the arts while another has a good reputation for nurturing athletic potential. Also, there are French immersion schools, a public Montessori school, as well as several schools which offer an Early Mandarin Bilingual Program. Once you have decided where to live, you can find more information on the public schools in your area on the local school board’s website.
In general, public schools are free. There are tuition fees for international students coming to Canada to attend a public school. However, children of expats with a valid work permit are exempted from these fees.
The Other Option: Private Schooling
Mainly due to the reputable, English-language public school system, private schools are not as numerous in Vancouver as they are in other expat hotspots.
Most of the private schools are religious institutions. There are also some private international schools catering particularly to Vancouver’s expat community. Most of them use English as their medium of instruction, though there is a French private school as well.
Tuition fees for private schools in Vancouver range from 2,000 CAD to as much as 55,000 CAD per year. Some schools offer boarding opportunities. When choosing a private school in Vancouver, make sure the school is registered with and approved by the Ministry of Education of British Columbia.
Childcare: Great Quality at a Great Cost
Childcare opportunities for expats are plenty in the Vancouver area. Mostly, it is a choice between placing your child in a daycare center or in home daycare. Either way, you can expect to pay a minimum of 50 CAD a day, often more.
Home daycare is quite popular in Canada. A number of stay-at-home mothers decide to offer daycare in their own home for other kids. If they look after more than two children besides their own, home day care providers are required to obtain an official license. They then have to guarantee a certain staff ratio as well as staffing qualifications.
Daycare centers are plenty, though they may vary immensely in quality. Besides doing your own research, make sure to seek advice from other expat parents about their experiences. The Vancouver Sun has a Daycare Ratings Database which contains information from local health authorities. Although it may not always be entirely accurate, it can certainly help you in making your decision.
Driving and Transportation in Vancouver
It Could Be Worse: Driving Your Car in the City
In Canada, cars are the most popular way of getting around — 80% of Canadians have their own car. In rural areas, cars are more or less indispensable. In Vancouver, cars are still among the most popular means of transport, though they are by no means necessary.
Traffic in Vancouver is not as congested as in many other metropolises. Driving in rush hour traffic can be annoying, however, and parking — though readily available — is expensive. Also, there are no freeways which lead into downtown Vancouver. The only exception is Highway 1, which passes through the city’s eastern edge.
Drivers in Vancouver enjoy a good reputation: perceived as courteous and patient, the average driver always stops for pedestrians and hardly ever runs yellow — let alone red — lights.
Want to Avoid Traffic Jams? Public Transportation Is the Answer
There are, however, alternatives to driving your own car through Metro Vancouver’s rush hour traffic. One of them is Vancouver’s well-developed public transportation system. The city has a comprehensive network of bus and trolleybus routes.
Vancouver’s famous SkyTrain was originally built for the World’s Fair in 1986. Up until today it remains the world’s longest automated light metro system. Its three lines currently cover most of the Metro Vancouver area.
Vancouver’s transportation authority TransLink has a detailed online trip planner. This may also prove a valuable resource in estimating commuting times prior to your move to Vancouver.
The Green Alternative: Cycling
Another popular alternative to driving is cycling. As opposed to many other Canadian and American cities, cyclists are a common sight on Vancouver’s streets. The city is actively promoting the use of bikes as a method of transportation. Measures include separate bike lanes, specifically designated bike routes as well as bike racks on buses and other public transportation.
If cycling to work sounds appealing to you, you can find more information on riding your bike in Vancouver on the city’s official cycling website.
In Case You Need a Driver: Vancouver Taxis
There is also a fleet of several hundred taxis serving the Vancouver area and Vancouver International Airport. Four major taxi companies are operating in the region: Yellow Cab, Vancouver Taxi, MacLures Cab, and Black Top & Checker Cabs. All of them have wheelchair-accessible vehicles available.
Within downtown Vancouver, you can expect to pay up to 10 CAD to 15 CAD for a taxi ride. Service from downtown to Vancouver International Airport costs about 35 CAD to 40 CAD.
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