A Comprehensive Guide about Living in Vancouver
- Andrey Vasilyev
When moving to a huge city such as Vancouver, InterNations made it easy for me to find fellow expats and the network that I needed.
Living in Vancouver is a great experience for expats. The city has the sea on three sides and a mountain range in the northern part. Not only is the surrounding natural landscape enough to have expats from all over the world flocking here, but the 190 different parks within the metropolis full of skyscrapers are like the icing on the cake. This guide will provide you with many more tips for living in Vancouver.
But that’s not all Canada’s third-largest city has to offer. Often voted among the top ten best cities to live in, Vancouver is a true melting pot of cultures. With a population of 2.5 million, less than 50% cite English as their first language. The city cherishes its diversity and multiculturalism, with government programs targeted at expats. It is not uncommon to live next door to someone from your home country.
Downsides to such a large and popular city are the rising real estate prices and heavy traffic. If you are an expat thinking of relocating to Vancouver, make sure to save up or make enough money to live there. Just please, do not waste your time in that wonderful place by being stuck in traffic. For detailed information on how much it will cost you to live here, read our Cost of Living in Vancouver article.
Whether you are just considering relocating to Vancouver, or have purchased a one-way ticket already, this guide will provide you with all the information you need to know about this exciting city on the Pacific Ocean.
Connect with like-minded expatriates
Discover our welcoming community of expats! You’ll find many ways to network, socialize, and make new friends. Attend online and in-person events that bring global minds together.
Life as a Foreigner
The main reason expats choose to relocate to Vancouver is the surrounding nature and the vibrant lifestyle of the city. You have the mountains and the sea basically in front of your door. Watersports on Friday and a hike on Saturday are possible here. But what is it really like to live in Vancouver, you may ask? Life itself is also pretty good in the province of British Columbia, where Vancouver is situated. The city is known for great healthcare, excellent public education, a booming economy, and is just generally eco-friendly, diverse, breathtakingly beautiful. In fact, as a new home, Vancouver checks off all the boxes, but one: horrendously expensive real estate.
Regarding the City: Overview
What started 150 years ago as a small logging sawmill settlement with a tavern next door, has turned into an international metropolis with over 2.6 million residents from all over the world. According to the city of Vancouver, almost a thousand expats choose the city as their new home every year. Why? Vancouver has already been ranked a few times among the top ten cities to live in the Mercer Quality of Living Survey. Factors such as healthcare, education, infrastructure, safety, and outdoor life and nature contribute highly to Vancouver’s attractiveness. The economy is also booming, making Vancouver a Beta Global City due to a large number of global businesses, high technology firms and the growing film industry that has set up shop there.
Beware: It’s Expensive to Live in Vancouver
It might be tempting to blame foreigners who buy real estate in Vancouver just to leave it empty. The truth is, their role is not the fundamental cause of the scarce living space vs high cost of housing. It is much simpler than that. The population has exploded over recent years, yet living space is scarce because the actual land to build on is limited.
Vancouver is enclosed by the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other. All this nature is what’s causing the housing disaster. It’s hard to grow a city when you’re hemmed in.
So, what is Vancouver’s solution to the problem? In order to control rent from skyrocketing even more, the government is taxing:
- real estate purchased by foreigners (who do not have a residency permit);
- empty units.
The goal of this taxing plan is to either discourage foreign buyers or encourage house owners to rent out their property.
Apart from the horrendous real estate costs—a one-bedroom costs on average 2,000 CAD (1,500 USD) without utilities—the cost of living in Vancouver is high. Everyday expenses, such as groceries, transport passes, and gas prices are high.
Meal for 1 person in inexpensive restaurant 20 CAD (15 USD) Cappuccino 4.50 CAD (3.40 USD) Milk (1l) 2.30 CAD (1.70 USD) Eggs (12) 4 CAD (3 USD) Loaf of bread 3.50 CAD (2.60 USD) Cigarettes 15 CAD (11.20 USD) Monthly Transport Pass 100 CAD (75 USD) Internet 70 CAD (52.30 USD)
There is a Lot to Do
The Metro Vancouver area has a lot to offer, from great museums, gourmet restaurants, funky pubs, and vibrant cafés to cute hipster boutiques. You will find everything your heart desires, to live a fun and comfortable life. Just don’t waste your time in the center, slurping yet another coffee and thinking about that mountain you always wanted to hike, but keep postponing it “for some other weekend”. Just do it! From skiing to whale watching, lazily reading a book on the beach to surfing, the Greater Vancouver area has it all. Make sure to take advantage of all those opportunities.
It is Very Diverse
Vancouver is so multicultural that according to the 2011 census, only around 48% of Vancouverites cite English as their mother tongue. The rest of the population speaks French, Chinese, Punjabi, Cantonese, Mandarin, Persian, Spanish, and Tagalog, amongst many other languages.
Expats will be happy to know that cultural diversity is protected and celebrated by the city of Vancouver, which regularly offers initiatives and programs to uphold the spirit of the city, such as restoring and preserving Chinatown. Upholding and strengthening connections to one’s cultural heritage is something the city encourages with its many dedicated community centers, such as the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver, le Centre Culturel Francophone de Vancouver, Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver,and Vancouver Italian Cultural Centre.
Vancouver is a true melting pot, being largely made up of expats. If you walk around Kitsilano, you’ll find excellent fish and chips, West Vancouver has amazing Iranian cuisine, and spicy Korean dishes can be found in Coquitlam. A real estate company, Estate Block, created an interactive map of Vancouver using data from the National Household Survey, to learn where each expat community resides around Vancouver.
Residents of Chinese origin reside largely in Metro Vancouver, Burnaby, and Richmond. West Vancouver, as well as the Ambleside area, lower North Vancouver, Coal Harbour, the central business district, and Downtown South are home to a large group of Iranians. Brits tend to live by the sea, having homes in Kitsilano, Point Grey, Fairview, West End, and False Creek, but also in the suburbs of North and West Vancouver. Filipinos make up the majority in East Vancouver, East Richmond and North Surry. There’s a large South Korean community in Coquitlam and North Surrey as well.
When thinking of Canada, most people imagine crazy cold snowed-in winters, however, the weather in Vancouver is much more temperate than in the countryside. Surrounded by the mountains, but close to the sea means barely any snow in winter, especially the closer you get to the sea. Yet living in a coastal city also means buckets and buckets of rain during spring and fall. No wonder Brits feel right at home here, the amount of precipitation is the same, the temperature is just slightly colder.
Earthquake and Tsunami Risk
Like most coastal cities, Vancouver fears the so-called “Big One”. Relocating to a place that has it all nature wise means taking into account that it is also a high-risk area for earthquakes and even tsunamis.
Some of the world’s largest earthquakes have occurred in British Columbia. The region experiences thousands of small earthquakes every year because it’s situated on the edge of the big North American tectonic plate and the smaller Juan de Fuca plate.
The friction between these plates can cause earthquakes with a magnitude of 9 or larger. Research shows that Vancouver will be struck by a major earthquake in the next decades. The risk for a Tsunami is also high in British Columbia, but Vancouver itself is classified as a low-risk area.
The 1990s were wild. Vancouver was battling a lot of gang-related violence and homicides during the last ten years of the millennium. Now the crime rate has plummeted, reaching an all-time low in 2016 with only 12 murders.
As one of Canada’s largest cities, it’s normal to have a more elevated crime rate, however, Vancouver is relatively safe for a metropolitan area. Home to the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, gender diverse and queer community in Western Canada, Vancouver embraces diversity and very LGBTQ+ friendly. Every year, Vancouver celebrates Pride Week in August as a way to show support for the community. Generally speaking, Vancouver is safe for women. But as most major cities, also Vancouver has a problem with crimes against women. The government has been establishing safety majors. One of those is the “Good Night Out Campaign”, that originated in London as a way to raise awareness and create a safer nightlife for women. In Vancouver a team patrols the infamous Granville Strip to make sure a night out doesn’t end in sexual assault.
Renowned Public School System in Vancouver
Canada’s public school system is so highly respected internationally, you don’t need to send your child to a private school. Most schools have different profiles. While some emphasize more on the arts, music or sports, others offer bilingual programs for the large French or Chinese community living in Vancouver. All in all, the school system has a reputation for high academic performance.
If you want to learn more about Canada’s school and grading system, read the Education section of our Canada Guide.
Best Public Schools in Vancouver
- West Vancouver – West Bay Elementary School – Rockridge Secondary School
- West Point Grey – Lord Byng Secondary School
- North Vancouver – Upper Lynn Elementary – Seycove Secondary Community
- Delta – Seaquam Secondary
Tips and Practical Information
Where to get a Social Insurance Number (SIN)
To be able to work and get access to government benefits, such as public healthcare, you will need to get the nine-digit social insurance number. Expats with a permanent residency permit or a temporary residency permit can be issued a social insurance number. To apply, you will need to go in person to a Service Canada Center and bring original documents that prove your identity and your status in Canada.
Find out more about how to obtain a SIN in the working section of our Canada Guide.
Where to Apply for a SIN in Vancouver:
Service Canada Centers can be found in the following locations:
- 757 W Hastings St #125, Vancouver, BC V6C 1A1, Canada
- 1263 W Broadway, Vancouver, BC V6H 1G7, Canada
- 1420 Kingsway, Vancouver, BC V5N 2R5, Canada
- 221 W Esplanade #100, North Vancouver, BC V7M 3N7, Canada
- 3480 Gilmore Way Suite 100, Burnaby, BC V5G 4Y1, Canada
Best Banks in Vancouver
- TD Canada Trust
- Coast Capital Savings
- RBC Royal Bank of Canada
- HSBC Bank Canada
To learn about how to open a bank account in Vancouver, read the banks and taxes section of our Canada guide.
Top Phone Providers
Top Internet Providers
- CIK Telecom
TV Cable Providers
Where to Shop?
Whether you are searching for fashionable clothing, home decor, vintage finds, or organic groceries, Vancouver is a fun place to shop. In Chinatown you will find surprises, whereas South Granville has the best antique and modern furniture stores. Gastown is home to high-end and indie fashion brands alike, and Canadian-inspired design can be found on Main Street. If you love the smell of farmers markets, you need to check out the Granville Island Public Market. There you can find the freshest produce, seafood, meats and cheeses. If you are up for a bargain, make sure to go to the weekly Vancouver Flea Market and score some of the coolest vintage finds.
Fashion and Furniture
- Robson & Alberni Street
- South Granville
- Main Street
- Pacific Centre Mall
- Hudson Bay Company
- Holt Renfrew
- Whole Foods
- T&T Supermarket
- Granville Island Public Market
- Downtown Farmers Market
- Kitsilano Farmers Market
- Lonsdale Quay Farmers Market
- Main Street Farmers Market
Flea Markets and Vintage Shops
- Vancouver Flea Market
- Eastside Flea
- Fall for Local
- Duchesse Vintage
- Community & Window Thrift + Vintage + Art
Finding where to live in Vancouver can be one of the most exhausting things for expats. Common search criteria for accommodation in Vancouver are: close enough to work, but also far enough away from the hectic city center; reasonable infrastructure; not too expensive; enough space; enough outdoor activities available; good neighborhood; excellent schools.
When relocating to Vancouver, expats need to be prepared to make compromises when it comes to house finding, as the city is currently facing a lack of affordable housing in almost all neighborhoods. While Vancouver’s 46 neighborhoods all have their pros and cons, the list below provides you with information on the most popular living areas and how to find an apartment in Vancouver.
Where to Live in Vancouver: Most Popular Neighborhoods
West End (Downtown)
Surrounded by Stanley Park on one side and the ocean on the other, the West End neighborhood is located on the west of Vancouver’s Downtown area and is one of the most affordable districts in the center. Rent prices here can range from 1,500 CAD (1,100 USD) for a one-bedroom apartment to 3,000 CAD (2,240 USD) for a two-bedroom.
Apart from its affordability, the most interesting and probably attractive aspect about West End is that its infrastructure is just as diverse as its residents. Expats looking for homes here will find townhouses, duplexes, older high-rise apartment units, and large heritage homes. West End’s residents are multicultural and a good mix between young and old. This neighborhood is especially LGBTQ+ friendly and home to a growing community.
Vancouver’s most popular, but also most expensive, neighborhood used to be a rail yard in the 19th. Today the loading docks have been converted into hip restaurants, trendy cafés, and nightclubs. Yaletown has money and this shows in the rent prices. A one-bedroom apartment in a high-rise building can cost up to 2,300 CAD (1,720 USD) per month. Yaletown’s location is perfect but renting there is poorly invested money.
If your criteria is to have enough space for your family without tearing a hole in your wallet, then you will be happy to hear about Killarney. It is one of the last remaining neighborhoods with affordable starter homes starting at 1,700 CAD (1,270 USD) per month. The area is situated along the Fraser River, and also has a lot of green spaces, good schools, and shops for everyday necessities.
Kitsilano is an up-and-coming area among young families, because it still has reasonable rent prices and is surrounded by two popular beaches (Kits Beach and Jericho Beach). It also has an amazing view to Downtown and the North Shore Mountains. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is around 1,800 CAD (1,350 USD) per month.
Expats relocating here immediately fall in love with the neighborhood, as it has a lot of outdoor recreational opportunities as well as a focus on healthy living with its yoga studios, organic food markets, and chic cafés. It is close enough to the business district, but also far enough to escape the hectic city center. In the summer months, Kitsilano tends to be quite busy with life, as many Vancouverites gather at the beach.
This neighborhood is more popular among retirees who enjoy a slower pace of life. However, many young families live in Kerrisdale because rent is not as high as in Downtown Vancouver. For example, a small two-bedroom home will start at about 2,200 CAD (1,650 USD).
This neighborhood has everything people need for everyday life, including the famous Kerisdale Village with some of the city’s best shops. The commute to the business district center takes around 25-30 minutes, and Kits Beach is only 15 to 20 minutes away. UBC students like to live here because campus is only a quick bus ride away.
North Vancouver (Lynn Valley and City of Burnaby)
Since Downtown is too expensive, North Vancouver neighborhoods have been gaining momentum. Not only are expat families settling down here, Vancouverites also feel drawn to it. Both Lynn Valley and Burnaby, the latter being a city of its own, are ideal neighborhoods for those looking to escape the chaos of the city center. It has a lot of green spaces and the North Shore Mountains are virtually on your front lawn. You can start a skiing or mountain biking session in just minutes. Another perk of this area is the available space. Houses are further apart; apartments have more bedrooms and they do not cost an outrageous amount to rent. A two-to-three-bedroom apartment starts at 2,000 CAD (1,500 USD).
How to Find an Apartment in Vancouver
Expats looking for an apartment in Vancouver will quickly discover that it is not an easy task. The city is booming, property and rent prices are rising, and, generally speaking, living space in popular areas is scarce.
Your best bet would be to hire an agent to help you narrow down your search. To assist you, InterNations offers home-finding services, among many others. If you want to look on your own, you should check out the following websites for listings:
However, if you want to live closer to Downtown, you will discover that apartments in popular neighborhoods, like West End and Yaletown, are not usually listed online. Instead, sellers put up for rent signs on the windows or post notices outside the buildings. In these cases, you should walk around town and look up from your phone, or you might have just missed your future home.
Things to Consider (Tips for Tenants)
If you are looking to rent in Vancouver, it is important to know that rental leases usually start on the 1st or 15th of each month. However, it is more common to move out by the end of the month and move in on the first of the month. As a consequence, if you do not find something for the beginning of the month, the chances are not high that you will find something suitable by the 15th. The good apartments are either still or already occupied, and you will have to keep looking.
Have Money Ready
Apartments in Vancouver are usually unfurnished and rented for six months to one year. Landlords tend to ask for the first month’s rent and a deposit of one to two months’ rent upfront, although legally the security deposit cannot be more than half of the first month’s rent. Of course, the deposit should be returned to you when you move out, if you leave the place in the same state as when you moved in.
Renting with Pets
According to the law, landlords can refuse pets on their property. If they allow a pet to move in with you, they can restrict the size and number of animals. Expats moving in with pets need to be aware that it is not uncommon to pay a pet damage deposit at the start of a tenancy. This amount of money will be withheld at the end of your lease if the pet has caused any damage to the property that needs to be repaired.
Regardless of the tenancy agreement, if a tenant has a disability and requires a service dog, the landlord is required by law to allow the pet to live in the apartment. In this case they cannot ask for a damage deposit.
Know What You Want
As mentioned before, Vancouver has 46 neighborhoods and all of them are great in their own way. Making sure you know exactly what you want not only narrows down your search, but saves you time and money. The most important questions to ask yourself are:
- Do I want to be close to work?
- Do I want to be outside of the center and closer to nature?
- How good is the infrastructure? / How long is my commute to and from work?
- Are there good schools close by?
- How expensive is a home/apartment?
Average Rent in Vancouver
Expats looking for a home in Vancouver need to be aware of one thing: It is a pricey place to live. According to Rental.ca’s National Rent Ranking report for January 2020, Vancouver and Toronto have once again delivered a head-to-head race in terms of the highest-priced city for rentals. Vancouver placed second but just barely. The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in British Columbia’s largest city is 2,900 CAD (2,170 USD) while a one-bedroom costs on average 2,000 CAD (1,500 USD) per month. A three-bedroom in Metro Vancouver can cost up to 4,000 CAD (3,000 USD). Rent affordability for low-income renters is getting worse every year, with the median rent having gone up 10% in 2019 alone.
Types of Housing
To get a hand on the housing shortage Vancouver is facing, the government has been loosening the rules on single-family zoning areas to make room for more diverse home types. There are still a lot of neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city with traditional single-family homes, also known as detached homes with the white picket fences. However, in the more urban areas, it is uncommon to find these types of houses. If you do, though, they are unaffordable. Expats in search of a place for themselves or their families will find a variety of housing types.
These types of homes are freestanding houses with one address and can be found in the suburbs or on outskirts of town, where there is more living space.
Condominiums and Apartments
Condominiums and apartments are the same thing: living spaces in high-rise buildings located mostly in the more central parts of the city, where space is scarce. The only difference between the two is ownership. Apartment complexes are owned by a corporation, while each apartment in a condominium is owned by an individual. If you are moving into a place in an apartment building, you are renting from a corporation. With a condominium, you are renting from an individual.
Micro Lofts were introduced in Vancouver in 2009. They are very popular in condos or apartment buildings in the city center where living space is especially scarce. These tiny apartments are usually around 300 sq ft (28 m²). Landlords have to either incorporate pull-out beds on the wall or a mezzanine in the room with space for a bed or mattress.
Townhouses are single-family houses. They stand side-by-side, meaning they are not detached, but share a wall. In most cases these houses look exactly alike. The demand for this type of family home has increased in Vancouver over the last years, as detached-family homes have become too expensive. Townhouses can be found in the central neighborhoods as well as in the suburbs. The prices vary a lot depending on the location.
A duplex is a detached house divided into two separate houses. The homes have separate entrances and addresses, but are mirror images of each other.
Laneway and Coach Homes
These types of homes usually belong to a single-family home lot and can be found where the garage or a guesthouse would be.
Subsidized Housing and Co-ops
As a result of the housing shortage, property and rent prices in Vancouver are pretty steep, leaving a lot of low-income families and senior citizens in a difficult situation. The government offers subsidized housing, as well as city-owned market rental housing, which is regularly cheaper than privately rented places. Vancouver has clear restrictions for eligibility. For example, you have to have lived in Vancouver for at least one consecutive year and be below the set income limit. Another option is co-ops: self-governed apartment complexes. Co-op owners are not landlords, and the members all work together.
Things to Consider when Buying Real Estate as an Expat in Vancouver
The good news for expats looking to buy real estate in Vancouver: there are no restrictions. You can even buy a farm or a vineyard if you want. However, taxes and down payments might be different if you are not yet a Canadian resident. Here is everything you need to consider before, or when buying property in Vancouver.
Can Expats Buy Property in Vancouver?
Expats can buy a condo, a single-family home, a commercial building or a vineyard if they feel like it. Canada does not put restrictions on real estate. However, in light of the current housing shortage in big cities, the government has passed two tax bylaws that might affect expats who are not yet Canadian residents.
If you are looking to close a deal on a house from overseas, you need to be aware of the “Foreign Buyers Tax,” introduced in 2016 to discourage foreigners from buying property, while the city is in desperate need of living space. The 15% additional tax did not achieve the desired effect and has been increased to 20%.
Another tax introduced to free up unoccupied space, is the “Empty Homes Tax,” that requires all residential homeowners to pay a certain amount to the state, if the property is either empty or not rented for at least six months of the year.
Can Expats Buy a House Before Moving to Vancouver?
Due to technological advances, you can buy a home from anywhere. You do not need to come to Vancouver beforehand. Most realtors provide high-quality pictures of the houses for sale. However, you should reconsider this step, as you enjoy a tax relief if you buy a home when you are already a resident of Vancouver. You will not need to pay the “Foreign Buyers Tax” and if you plan on living in your newly-bought place, you are also exempt from the “Empty Homes Tax.”
Will Owning a House Improve my Immigration Process?
Owning a home or any kind of property in Canada will not give you any special privileges, nor accelerate your immigration process.
Is Financing Available to Foreign Buyers?
If you are looking to buy a home from abroad and are not yet a resident of Vancouver, there is still financing available to you. However, down payments are higher for foreign buyers. You will be required to pay around 35% of the value of the home upfront. Interest rates on mortgages for foreigners do not vary much from the rates available to residents. To be granted a mortgage, you will need to provide proof of home insurance. This can be tricky in some cases, but if you work together with a realtor agency, they will be able to help you.
Local Furniture Shop Recommendations
If you are planning on relocating without taking your furniture with you, you will probably need to furnish your new home as soon as possible. The more affordable and easy solution is IKEA. Yet, if you have the time, go on a scavenger hunt for furniture around town and explore your new city. In some of these shops, you will find designer pieces, as well as good furniture for small prices and highly-coveted antiques:
- Suquet Home
- Liquidation Furniture and More
- The Brick
- Crate and Barrel
Antique Furniture Shops
- The Antique Warehouse
- Antique Market
- Three Centuries Shop
- The Sellution
Connect with like-minded expatriates
Discover our welcoming community of expats! You’ll find many ways to network, socialize, and make new friends. Attend online and in-person events that bring global minds together.
Healthcare in Vancouver is very extensive and ranks high on an international level. Generally, Canada provides a universal public healthcare system for its citizens and permanent residents. It is paid for by taxpayers.Residents of British Columbia are covered under the Medical Services Plan that includes costs for midwives’ and doctors’ services, orthodontic and diagnostic services, dental and oral surgery, and eye examinations.
However, non-residents and expats that have not yet gained a permanent residency permit are not fully eligible for the public healthcare in Vancouver. In fact, the extent of healthcare coverage non-residents are entitled to depends on their immigration status. If you relocate to Vancouver, make sure to have travel insurance or an annual international medical plan that covers you in case of an emergency. Otherwise it can get very expensive.
If you are relocating to Vancouver because of a work position, you are probably getting health insurance via your employer. In this case, the HR department at your new job will help you through the process of enrolling in the healthcare system. You can find more detailed information about the Canadian healthcare system in our Moving to Canada guide.
Top Hospitals in Vancouver
- Vancouver General Hospital
- BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre Foundation
- Mount Saint Joseph Hospital
- St. Paul’s Hospital
- BC Children’s Hospital
How to Find a Doctor in Vancouver
Having a family doctor in Vancouver is crucial, otherwise you will not be able to get referrals to specialists. Unfortunately, finding a family doctor that takes in new patients can prove to be impossible. The direness of the situation shows in Vancouver’s Division of Family Practice statistics. Around 120,000 people were without a primary care physician in 2019. In the whole state of British Columbia, it was around 18% of the population.
The best way to go about finding a family GP is to contact HealthLink BC and have them connect you to doctors in your area that are still taking new patients. Walk-in clinics also keep a record of family doctors. If you ever have to go to one, make sure to ask for a referral. Another way to find a family doctor is to go online to Find a Doctor BC, a fairly new website that works as a public register with information on primary care physicians that still accept new patients.
Other Medicine and Pharmacies
If you like to complement traditional healthcare with alternatives, you will find a lot of homeopaths and holistic doctors in Vancouver. The city even has an Integrative Naturopathic Medical Centre.
Pharmacies are also widely available, with a few offering 24-hour services.
Expats relocating to Vancouver will soon realize that driving in the city is well-mannered, but also quite expensive and slow. The city does not have freeways, parking in town is metered seven days a week, and gas prices are at an all-time high. On the other hand, public transportation in Vancouver is environmentally friendly and affordable, and covers the whole metropolitan area and surrounding suburbs.
Driving in Vancouver
Driving in Vancouver can be draining, as traffic is endless, especially during morning and evening rush hours. If you live outside of Metro Vancouver, either be prepared to be stuck in gridlock, or make use of the excellent public transportation system.
According to a 2017 German study ranking the 50 worst and 50 best places for drivers, traffic in Vancouver is a pain. Vancouver ranked 48th out of 100 cities worldwide, and, according to the report, is the worst city to drive in Canada. This is primarily because there are no freeways in the metro area. This causes the traffic to be stop-start at 50km/h. However, Vancouverites are mild-mannered and friendly drivers, they voluntarily stop for pedestrians and rarely run yellow lights. Sometimes they even happily drive slowly in the left lane, ignoring the cardinal rule: “Slower traffic keeps right.”
Expats coming to Vancouver will find that driving is very orderly here. They just need to beware of the heavy rain, especially during fall and spring. They may also want to learn effective breathing techniques to prevent road rage after being stuck in traffic half their day.
Rules of the Road
No Freeways in Vancouver
Around 50 years ago, the city of Vancouver decided not to allow freeways or highways within the city limits. The main reasons being: they are expensive, and disruptive to urban life and the city landscape. If you need to go from one end of the city to the other, you will drive through regular city roads with a speed limit of 50km/h and many traffic lights.
Get to Know the Metric System
Distances, speeds, weights and volumes are measured with the metric system and not with miles.
- Speed = km/h
- Distance = km and meters
- Heights = meters
Do not Forget the Snow Tires
If you plan on driving on highways between 1 October and 31 March, you are legally required to have snow tires, also called mud and snow (M+S) tires.
Respect Bike Lanes
Vancouver prides itself on being one of the greenest cities in the world. It is not uncommon to see bike lanes all over town. So, be mindful of cyclists when driving, parking, and opening car doors.
Drive Through Blinking Green Lights
Some traffic lights are not steadily green, but blink green. This means that they only turn red if a pedestrian presses the walk button. You can drive through the blinking green lights as you would through the regular steady green light.
There are so many rules for where U-turns are prohibited that it would be easier to write down where they are allowed. According to the British Columbia municipality bylaws for driving section 168, you are not allowed to do a U-turn in the following situations:
- if it interferes with other traffic;
- on a curve;
- on or near the crest of a hill, where you cannot be seen by other traffic within 150 m;
- where a sign prohibits U-turns;
- at an intersection where there is a traffic control sign; and
- in a business district, except at an intersection where there is no traffic light.
Do Not Drink and Drive
The maximum legal blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) in British Columbia is 50 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood. Driving with a BAC over 0.05 is illegal and a serious offense.
Do Not Text and Drive
Do not use your mobile phone while driving, even if you are stationary at a red light. If you are caught using your phone, you can be fined up to 370 CAD (277 USD).
Parking is Expensive
Parking on Vancouver’s streets is metered every single day from 9:00 to 22:00, even on weekends and holidays. However, there is a lot of above and below ground parking, with the biggest parking companies being Metro Parking, EasyPark, and Vinci Park. An hour parking at a parkade costs about 6 CAD (4.50 USD), while on the street you pay 1 CAD (0.75 USD) every 20 minutes, with a maximum parking limit of two to three hours.
Vancouver’s public transportation system TransLink is accessible, reliable, and covers almost all of the city’s metro area with a network of buses, trains, so-called sea buses, and a commuter train service. Public transportation in Vancouver has a ‘pay as you go’ method. You can either buy a single use ticket around 3 CAD (2.25 USD) per ride or invest in a reusable Compass Card with credit that is deducted for each journey. The monthly transport pass will cost you around 100 CAD (75 USD).
Vancouver has a lot of bus routes throughout the city. The busiest and most popular routes connect Downtown with the more popular neighborhoods around the urban and beach areas, and run from 5:00 to 1:00. After that, a night line fills in until the normal daytime schedule picks up again.
SkyTrain runs on electricity and is the city’s most environmentally-friendly public transportation. It is also the world’s longest automated light rail transit system, covering 49.5 km of track. This is mostly elevated, so it feels like you are flying—hence the name SkyTrain.
There are three lines available connecting Downtown Vancouver to the suburbs. The Expo and Canada Line run every two to five minutes through Downtown. The Millennium Line runs east from Vancouver every three to six minutes. The lines operate daily from 5:30 to around 1:00.
This special passenger-only ferry connects Downtown Vancouver’s waterfront to the North Shore and departs every 15 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes during the night, with the last SeaBus leaving at 1:00 in the morning. The scenic route across the water takes about 12 minutes, where you can enjoy an amazing view to the city, the sea, and the mountains.
West Coast Express
The West Coast Express is a commuter service that connects suburbs on the outskirts of town, which are not linked to SkyTrain and buses, with Downtown Vancouver. This service is part of the public transit system and offers only five departures in the morning and late afternoon to evening, Monday to Friday.
Vancouver has four major cab companies that all charge around the same fares. A ride around Downtown costs about 5 CAD (3.75 USD), whereas the drive from the airport to Downtown is about 40 CAD (30 USD).
The city of Vancouver is known for its ambitious plans when it comes to making the city more environmentally friendly. In 2011, Vancouver published the “Greenest Action Plan” with the goals on how to become the “greenest” city in the world by 2020. One of the goals is to give car sharing, which already has a long tradition in Vancouver, more rights such as parking spots around the city and in parking garages. Modo, the local car sharing provider, launched its business model almost 20 years ago, and car2go Vancouver now has the largest car sharing fleet in North America.
Vancouverites are passionate about cycling. The amount of people who religiously ride their bike to work every day is high, and it is not uncommon to see bikers in suits swish past you on the street. The pace is also very fast, so do not go riding around town if you are not used to urban areas.
The city of Vancouver encourages its residents to opt for more eco-friendly transportation options by also offering a bike-sharing system called Mobi, operated by CycleHop. All around the city, you will find bike-sharing stations. To rent a bike, just register to the Mobi app, choose a membership plan and check out a bike. The cheapest plan is a 24h-pass for 12 CAD (9 USD), but if you are a more frequent rider you can also choose a 30-day or 365-day pass.
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