Canada is a place of magnificent nature and cultural diversity. Vancouver, which is situated in the British Columbia province of Canada, is a vibrant seaport town, rich in culture and nature. This west coast town is a bustling and thriving city with all the comforting feelings of home. Surrounded by both mountains and water, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful city in the world. But it’s not just beauty and culture that Vancouver has going for it – it’s also a fantastic business hub and popular film setting. For anyone moving to Vancouver, our in-depth guide will provide a wealth of information to help you prepare. Read on, and learn more about our relocation services.
If you’re moving to Vancouver from the UK, you’ll be pleased to know there’s a strong British expat presence in the city, so you’ll be sure to find plenty of like-minded individuals to strike up new friendships with.
Canada actually spans 6 different time zones and Vancouver is on Pacific Standard Time (PST), or GMT minus 8 hours.
Location and history
Vancouver is the largest city in British Columbia, yet Victoria is the capital. Vancouver has an estimated population of 2.6 million people – with just over a million living in the centre. It is also close to Whistler Mountain – an extremely popular area for winter sports.
The city was established in 1866 and was named after Captain George Vancouver – a British officer. Just a year later, the city was destroyed by the fire and rebuilt shortly after. The city was met with waves of immigration, urban development, 2010 Winter Olympic games and is now aiming to become the greenest city in the world.
Vancouver has quite a moderate climate, as opposed to other areas of Canada. It has warm summers and damp winters – with the coldest daily temperature in January only dropping to 6 degrees celsius and rising to 22 degrees Celsius in August. The nearby Vancouver Island is actually the mildest climate point in Canada.
Where is Vancouver Island?
You might be wondering – where is Vancouver Island? Is it the same place as Vancouver city? The answer is no: Vancouver city and Vancouver Island are two very different places in Canada. Vancouver Island is actually 60 miles northwest of the city. It is a beautiful nature spot, with almost 3,500km of scenic coastline, rainforests, charming villages and the warmest climate in the whole of Canada. You can get to Vancouver Island by road, ferry or plane.
Quality of life
Vancouver consistently ranks highly in Quality of Life surveys – ranked first in the Americas and 5th globally, in 2011. This comes down to exquisite education, cleanliness and safety of the city, leading medical industry, convenient infrastructure and on top of that, the best weather in all of Canada.
Overall, residents of Vancouver enjoy a varied and balanced lifestyle, and many expats fully embrace the city when they move there.
A lot of festivities in Canada call Vancouver home, including the biggest Chinese New Year Festival, The Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, Playhouse International Wine Festival, Dance Festival, Vancouver Marathon, Children’s Festival as well as many more. It is a vibrant, social location.
Vancouver has three main modes of public transport – the bus service, automated light rail and ferries.
TransLink transit system controls all of the buses in Vancouver – with hundreds of various routes, including a NightBus service. The shuttles are accessible to wheelchairs and have bike racks onboard, a great option if you are off to a bike trail! There are also commuter rail routes, run by the West Coast Express, which covers downtown Vancouver all the way up to Mission City.
SkyTrain is an automated light rail – one of the longest driverless rails in the world! It has three lines which cover Burnaby, Westminster, Surrey, Downtown, Richmond and the airport.
SeaBus is a passenger ferry, located on the North Shore of Canada – including Vancouver. It has quite frequent services, with ferries departing every 15 minutes during the daytime and every 30 minutes in the evenings.
The cost of all of these is determined by fare zones – the more fare zones being travelled through, the higher the cost. Moreover, all of the tickets can be used interchangeably, apart from the express commuter rail ticket. For more information on fares, click here.
If you will only be commuting in Vancouver, then both public transport is sufficient. However, to travel out of Vancouver it is highly advisable to have access to a vehicle. Given the size and long distances between cities in Canada, being able to drive will be faster, cheaper, and much more convenient.
If you do decide to drive, your home-country driving license will only be valid for up to 6 months. After this point, you will have to apply for a British Columbia licence – issued by ISBC. Depending on your country of origin, you might be able to simply exchange your licence for a B.C equivalent here. Make sure to bring one of these types of ID, your home country driving license and 31 Canadian dollars. For more information, contact ICBC.
The Expatriate Community
There are a number of expatriate communities in Vancouver. Sign up for a local civic organisation, place of worship, a club or get involved with school projects to meet fellow expatriates. You can also join groups with other expats specifically – Meetup.com is a great way to do this.
Understanding the people of Vancouver
Roughly 800,000 Vancouver residents are foreign-born – with only 49% per cent of the population speaking English as their first language. Chinese is the second most commonly spoken language, contributing to 25% of the Vancouver population. There are also significant Indian, Portuguese and Italian communities in Vancouver – bringing diverse restaurants and celebrations.
Therefore, as Vancouver is incredibly ethnically diverse, with various customs and types of people, there is really no set way to ‘understand’ the people of Vancouver. Our advice would be to read a little more about Canadians in general on our Moving to Canada page, as well as familiarising yourself with Chinese, Indian and European cultures.
Similar to most places in the world, the best place to start with finding somewhere to live in Vancouver is by enlisting the help of a real estate agent. You can look at Relator.ca – a Canadian site for rental and mortgage properties. Also, make sure to check out Newcomer’s Guide to Canadian Housing if you are planning to purchase, or Consumer Information on renting.
Finding housing in Vancouver
Types of housing
As mentioned above, Vancouver ranks high for quality of living. Their housing standards play a huge role in it, placing Vancouver at the top of housing value charts, alongside Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary.
Vancouver has diverse housing offerings:
- West-End is full of apartment buildings with either one or two-bedroom unfurnished apartments. Keep in mind that these apartments often do not allow children or pets.
- Central Kitsilano or Fairview offers a mix of apartments and two-storey buildings
- Outer Suburbs mainly have single-family detached homes – great if you are moving with a family.
Short term housing
There are quite a few short-term stay options available in Vancouver, with options for people looking to stay only several days or weeks, or even more than a year. Check out Biz Stay Vancouver, Downtown Accommodations, Dunowen Properties and Premier Executive Suites.
Canada is one of the leading countries in the world in education – evident with 97% of the population being literate. The education system is split into provinces and both primary and secondary education are compulsory and free. Canadian Universities are also ranked very high globally and Vancouver is home to the University of British Columbia, Vancouver Community College, Simon Fraser College and many others.
There are a lot of schools to choose from, at both the primary and secondary levels. There are religious, public non-religious, international, special needs and private schools – specifically designed to cater to individual needs.
There are more than 100 public schools in Vancouver, with just over 50,000 pupils in Vancouver School Board (VSB). Over 60% of these pupils are bilingual or multilingual, ensuring an accepting and diverse experience. For more information on the British Columbia curriculum, click here.
There are also many private schools in Vancouver, offering various types of curricula. For more information, check out FISA.
Given the diversity of Vancouver, there are a lot of International Schools to choose from. Cousteau is tailored for French-speaking pupils, St John’s International School has both day and boarding students – offering courses to assist in English speaking. Lastly, the International Language school of Canada (ILSC) teaches in both French and English
Interested in information on another country? Take a look at our other International Relocation guides.
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