British ex-pats in Vancouver, how does the cost of living work out?

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  • British ex-pats in Vancouver, how does the cost of living work out?
  • flatfish

    I’d be interested in this thread too.


    hehehe… this is a good one.

    So before you come, your Canadian employer to be, or their HR rep, will tell you how it’s so much cheaper living in Canada. And everyone in the UK will tell you how much cheaper it is to live in Canada.

    It isn’t.

    For context, an average Ā£50 weekly Sainsbury’s trip has turned into a $200 (cĀ£120) supermarket trip *excluding* alcohol. Cable TV and internet seems to cost about $180 a month, judging by the bills. Buying a car isn’t as cheap as in the UK – if you consider getting a reasonable car secondhand in the UK can be done for Ā£5k, there’s none of that in Canada. Car insurance in Canada – $2k per year, even for Canadians. Mobile phones are improving in terms of cost, because there’s finally some competition in the market.
    Boozing isn’t cheap either; about $6-8 a pint, a bottle of wine is $12 (cheapest), and a 6-pack of beers about the same.
    Property in Vancouver isn’t cheap either; essentially a fast-growing city in a relatively enclosed area (mountains and sea bounding it) means very high prices. Not sure about rent.

    As far as I can make out, income tax works out at slightly better than the UK, certainly after tax return season, when many people get refunds. Although on that front, if they’re offering you shares as remuneration, check VERY carefully, as tax can be a ballache.

    Having said that, the quality of life feels much higher – certainly from London to Toronto. While Vancouver is more akin to Manchester (it rains, a lot), it’s still a good place to be.

    Thanks Nicko,

    In general (I’m glad to say) you’re not telling me anything I don’t know re: higher costs, and nobody on my new employer’s side has pretended it would be cheap.

    The cost of a food shop is higher than I’d assumed though! šŸ˜Æ On my last holiday I did feel like I was getting scalped at the till but assumed it was because I was cooking for my g/f and buying all sorts of fancy rubbish ($14 for one serving of Saffron was pretty eye-watering…).

    I’d definitely noticed the booze prices, but tallied it up with their IPAs being stronger so figured it was similar value for money 8)

    Had’t planned on buying a car (heard it would be impossible for me to get credit anyway so would need to save) and if I did it would prob. need to be a 4×4 for visiting mountains, so I’ll maybe shelve that plan for now.

    Looked into tax and it does seem a similar (i.e. 20%ish) percentage, so no horror stories there.

    On a more relevant note, do you notice if outdoor equipment is generally more or less pricey? (wondering if I should pick up a Gravity dropper and some new hiking boots before I head out…)

    Premier Icon sweaman2

    So I’m in Calgary which isn’t exactly cheap – I’ve also not been in the UK for 3 years so my comparisons aren’t exactly recent but it certainly isn’t super cheap.

    Tax – Depends on the province

    I’d agree on the shopping – a reasonable shopping trip can come out at $200 to $300 for a couple for a week and doesn’t include alcohol. I eat well but not excessive.

    Fuel is $1.17 / litre which is luxury compared to the UK but even my Fiesta somehow isn’t as economical as the UK version.

    I have an insurance premium in front of me for $2k for my car so that bit is expensive (and doesn’t seem to be going down despite me not crashing)

    Vancouver is nuts for property – makes Calgary seem sane which is quite a statement.

    My electricity and gas are about $200 / month for a 2 bedroom terrace house. More in winter when I’m burning a lot of gas.

    I’d say shopping is the most unpleasant surprise I’ve had both for groceries and almost everything else. I just paid $600 for a Dyson which I see from Comet I could get in the UK for 240 (on sale though)

    For me the salary differential is more than the cost of living differential but it’s not always clear cut.

    It looks like my big problem will be adjusting my ‘internal budget’ i.e. making assumptions on cost. My usual food shop is good but simple so works out quite cheap, sounds as if I’ll need to adjust that assumption.

    I didn’t have too many reservations about property, had only intended to rent and my girlfriend is paying something like $800 a month to share a pretty nice high rise apartment in the downtown. Don’t think they have ‘council tax’ and also think that may be inclusive of bills.

    I was budgetting for up to $1000 rent in the hope that I might manage a basic 1 person place, although not sure if I can afford to furnish it as well!

    Guess it depends if I end up with a $100 dollar a week coffee habit which probably isn’t out of the ordinary over there…


    Also, you have to factor in the fact that a British accent in Canada is like magic pixie dust – everyone thinks you’re a) clever and b) attractive. You can’t put a price on that stuff!


    Currently in Vancouver on an internship (think student loan budget) for a year.

    Food mostly comes from Costco which seems to be more common here than at home. Costs us roughly $120-140 for 2 of us for 3 weeks worth of tins, pasta etc. Then we use the Chinese supermarkets for fruit and veg etc (about $20 a week per person).

    As two male students living together we pretty much never drink for cost reasons (unless its a birthday, or work party and paid for!). If you do fancy a pint, don’t go downtown (as quoted for $6-8 a pint above) our local pub type place is more like $4-5 a sleeve (16oz i think).

    For renting places hit craigslist- there are some bargains to be had! Also when choosing where to live, look at the main bus and skytrain lines- we live on the main bus route into downtown, as well as busses to the shore which helps with getting around without a car (I can be riding on Mt Fromme in about 25mins). Basically living 20-30mins away from downtown will save you lots!!

    hope some of that helps!


    nicko74 has it right!!

    That is good advice alwillis, thanks.

    I’ve already used public transport a couple of times to get to Fromme, the 210 bus or the Seabus, all from Burrard St. Station, seemed easy enough, wonder if you’d get a bike on the bus on a sunny Saturday though… Had tried using the Seabus then riding, took about an hour and half in total, most of which was steep uphill tarmac! Good warm up I suppose.

    Edit: British Accent, really? I thought the scottish accent would work wonders but people just thought I was aussie… šŸ˜• Although maybe the company offering me a job fell for the ‘clever’ impression, would explain a few things…


    yeah the 210 is easily the best to cut out the climbing as it goes right up mountain highway (especially riding a reinforced filing cabinet!). I usually ride weekdays so haven’t ever not been able to get on a bus (touch wood).

    Edit: you get used to being an Aussie, South African etc after a while- I just smile and nod now!

    Premier Icon sweaman2

    If you wanted to get a feel for costs you could do an “dummy” online shop at Real Canadian Super store (use google). I’d actually be interested in how that compared with say Tesco online (but not interested enough to actually try it…)

    Bike kit is expensive compared to my memory of the UK but I think things have gone up in England as well.

    I’ve been offered a job at what appears to be a very generous salary 8) However, before I start gold plating my gold (so to speak) how does the cost of living compare? I’ve seen figures of 20% higher, does this stack up?

    Likewise, how does income tax etc. work out? (I will be researching this myself, just interested to hear people’s experiences)

    Yeah… that sounds like a lot more work than just asking a forum sweaman! šŸ˜†

    I think the bike kit thing is irrelevant anyway, I’ll be buying and breaking a lot more of it out there I suspect so its going to work out expensive anyway!

    Interesting thread.

    What’s the education system like out there? This is one of my main drivers for looking abroad.

    They teach them how to ride very big bikes very fast it would seem… šŸ˜³


    I would say i spend around $100 for food for the week for 1 person. $140 for cable with HD channels and broadband, rent is $1500 for a very nice 2 bed condo (in Burnaby), there is no property tax or strata as that’s paid for by the owner, it includes gas for me. electricity is about $50-60 month average, paid every two months. Cell is $60/month for 500MB/200mins. My monthly car insurance is $100 with ICBC/$45 with canadian direct for a brand new car.

    If you did want to finance a car, I had a brand new ford escape 4×4 within two weeks of arriving, just gave them my uk credit report and letter of job offer and good to go. Make sure you get details of your no claims and not just full no claims discount, because you can have it protected in the uk they need full history, how many years, how many claims that were protected etc, insurance will be expensive, you have to get basic with ICBC, then get additional with candian direct who will recognize your overseas experience without so many questions. Still I get paid a ton more than i did in the uk.

    Premier Icon wallop

    So what sort of jobs have you all gone out there to do?


    Vancouver housing prices have experienced a huge bubble over the last few, don’t even think of buying at the moment. Fortunately rental prices have stayed more in line with what you might expect for an attractive city. $1000/month will get you a 1-bed apartment outside of the nicest areas. Craigslist is the primary website for rentals and anything else:

    Public transport is good if you live or work near the city centre. But it’s a PITA if you’re not near the SkyTrain. Cars are still the most convenient form of transport, particular if you want to get out and explore outside the city e.g. Squamish, Whistler, Sunshine Coast, Okanagan and beyond.

    As “rs” says, bringing over your insurance history is the only way to get discounts and you have to jump through a few hoops to do it – for instance, you must get your UK insurer to complete a letter/form according to the ICBC requirements. (I think there was even a 6month time limit to complete this after landing?) Check the ICBC website. I think maximum discount is 5% per year up to 40% discount.

    Car insurance premiums are mostly comprised of liability, so it costs us almost the same to insure our 10yr old Subaru Legacy as it does our nearly new SUV($140/month each). Thats with a 30% discount for 6yrs clean record.

    Bike parts/accessories seem to be expensive, lots of locals order from the US or ChainReaction. But there seems to be a better deal on full bikes, new or used. Check Craigslist or Pinkbike for used bikes (buyer beware).

    Don’t forget to add sales tax to any price you see advertised. 12% at the moment.

    I had a few nights in Vancouver in 2009, loved the place. I didn’t find the food or drink to be particularly expensive, but we weren’t really buying fresh food to cook, as we were staying in a hotel on Robson St and eating out every meal; I guess a tourist doesn’t really notice the real price of food.
    We’d spent a week in Canmore before driving through the rockies, wine was quite a bit more expensive than in the UK after exchange rate conversion, especially imported wines; English ales were surprisingly easy to get hold of, and not that expensive considering, but when you’re on holiday, you tend to drink the local stuff; I do anyway.

    I’d quite happily relocate.

    Company I work for has a couple of factories in BC (Yarrow & Surrey IIRC) but my job would be based in Tampa, FL šŸ™ too hot & sweaty for me, not to mention the hurricanes…


    Tilley hats are cheap


    North Van is alright, Trails close by but $700,000 for a rotten plywood shed. The further away you get from there the more likely you’ll be in a highrise full of Chinese people who you will have as much in common with as a salt water crocodile. Rent wise you’ll get a basement suite in a nice location for $1500 a month or an apparment (flat) for a similar amount a drive from the trails.

    Groceries are a rip off for anything approaching UK quality. No Waitrose here. It’s either Wholefoods or medicated meat and Monsanto veg at the Tesco’s equivalent.

    A recent study said the cost of living was second only to Hongkong. If you’re moving for the riding think again, too many people ride here so most of the trails are shit kicked. You’ll be driving north to Squamish or Pemberton for the sweet stuff.


    Cars – yep, the relative cost of cars is pretty high. No fleet purchase schemes here like in the UK to bring used car prices down and Canadians dont seem to fathom the concept of depreciation.. couple that with the craigslist effect where dealers advertise stupidly overpriced used cars so thats what Joe Public thinks they should advertise their used POS at also..
    Anyway, you dont need a 4×4/suv. Useful wagons are availabnle.. having shopped for far too long on the perfect vehicle, I ended up pickingup a nice clean 2002 Focus wagon with 140k kms for $3200 (+ 12% buyers tax)
    I’m on BC’s max deduction for no claims (-43%) and that was a combination of 3 years UK n/c confirmed by letter from my insurance company (not broker) and my in canada history.
    Insurance is all ICBC for basic coverage, you can make it cheaper by buying your extended insurance elsewhere, but I’ve never bothered.
    I’m paying $1200 annually for decent coverage.

    I also have an 2003 8 passenger mini van, probably worth 4k now if that, usefull as hell, tough on gas, but same $1200 insurance. 5 people and 5 bikes inside it, or you an car camp in it.. whatever.. amazing but I hate the thing.

    Anyway, either of those cars with *snow tyres* on the Sea to Sky highway and you’re going to do a whole lot better than a 4×4 with all season tyres..

    The best insurance situation is a classis car on collector plates.. $200 annually. Sadly a friend backed into my almost mint ’83 Mk1 Gti so thats buggered that plan.

    Real Estate – As I understand it, Vancouvers eastern subburbs have heen hit by teh chinese immigrant population with money to burn.. same bunch who are happy to have their ferarris, Lambos etc repossessed by the police when they get busted on 200km/hr speeding frenzies. Anyway, there were cases of houses being sold for silly amounts above asking price driving up the rest of vancouvers market well beyond what non chinese immigrants can afford.
    I’ve no experience of the rental market, but I can’t recommend living in Squamish enough. We bought here as its cheaper then Whistler, we *should* be able to ride year round and its only a hour from downtown vancouver, 40 mins from North Vans shopping. We have 2 supermarkets, a great grocery store, coupel of butchers, a few good bar/restaurants, so its pretty well served.
    a 3 bed half duplex up in the best riding area will cost $370k ish (3 for sale by me). I’m 30 seconds from Squamish’s world class trails.
    Down in the low lands/estates/downtown, flats available from $165k, decent 3 bed townhomes $350k?
    Our property tax (rates etc) $1300 annually

    North Van for lifestyle and proximity to work (assuming city center), if you’re looking for commuter belt, scratch off anything further than Burnaby.. Port Moody, PoCo, all that stuff east is a waste of time. Close by, but you’ll spend far less time driving from Squamish on an empty highway than you will queuing with the rest of the commuters. (think ‘Office Space’ movie) Plus you get to recreate in the mountains and live by the ocean and have Whistler just 45mins away.
    Job in Surrey – don’t even bother making the move!

    Groceries –
    As mentioned above, a combination of Costco (Macro) and Kins farmers market for your fresh is the most cost effective way to shop.
    Whole foods if you love quality and like to pay a premium, Nesters for us in Squamish for happy medium of higher quality/price (Waitrose)
    But most grocery stores are slowly getting the non medicated, no nitrate, ancient grain options on their slelves.
    We easily spend $300 a week at grocery stores, but we have 2 kids so absolutely doing the non med/organic/no nitrate/no preservative shopping choices where possible. That includes kiddy supplies, toiletries etc too.

    Deals available.. 6 month rotation between Shaw and Telus and you can hit 50mbs internet and HD tv for $80/mo

    Hydro – (electricity) average $120/mo for 1100 sq/ft home

    Beer – 6 pack $12ish at Liquor store, Beer in bar $6ish as said
    Not many brew pubs or bars serving micro brewery produce. Only 3 in all of Vancouver I believe.
    Alchohol is government regulated, hence expensive.

    Hope that helps.

    Enjoy the move!


    Vancouver is meant to be one of the top cities in the world in terms off quality of life.

    Anyway, skiing, mountain biking and sailing. ’nuff said.

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