The pros and cons of expat life in Toronto
Many thanks to Derek Duffy, President of Armstrong International Movers LTD, FIDI board member and proud Torontonian for his valuable input.
Located nearby the Great Lakes and just over the water from New York State, Toronto is a natural meeting point of cultures and a place that has traditionally welcomed expats and visitors to its clean, vibrant and picturesque neighborhoods.
But what is the expat experience like compared to the other great cities of the world? We list the pros and cons of expat life in the six.
Pro: multicultural diversity
With an ageing population and a low birth rate, Toronto has built a knowledge-based economy by hiring skilled professionals from overseas. Combined with a tradition of multi-culturalism that stems from its location, this has led to an extremely diverse population. According to the 2016 census, a whopping 46.1% of residents were born outside Canada.
Expats are everywhere: no matter where you come from, your compatriots will never be far away, making it an easy place for expats to settle and thrive both professionally and socially.
A great example of Toronto’s multi-culturalism is the richness and variety of the food – and, as a result, its renowned food festivals. For example, the Toronto Greek community is particularly proud of Krinos Taste of the Danforth – welcoming approximately 1.6 million attendees annually. The Toronto Vegetarian Food Fair is said to be the largest vegetarian food festival in North America.
Toronto is the beating heart of Canada’s economy, and many large companies choose it for their Canadian HQ. The city’s entrepreneurial attitude makes it a great base for companies of all sizes, including many tech start-ups.
While this means that work opportunities are plentiful, it is also a relatively expensive place to live – at least compared to the rest of Canada. According to Expatistan.com, the cost of living is 29% higher than in Montreal, although 26% less than New York City.
Pro: government support
Canada is open to receiving immigrants and expats with a specialized, highly-desired skill set. The government supports all sorts of organizations for newcomers, offering free courses on how to find a job, English, cross-cultural awareness, etc.
Expat paperwork is efficiently handled too. The most common way of becoming an expat is acquiring a work permit under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which starts with an employment contract from a company in Toronto. However, they will need to obtain a positive Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) before your work permit application can be processed.
Con: unfriendly locals
While the authorities may be keen to accept you, Toronto locals may be slightly harder to warm to. In other parts of Canada, Torontonians have a reputation for being unfriendly and standoffish, although this is often true of all major cities when compared to the provinces: people are frosty at first, but genuinely friendly when you get to know them.
It is probably more accurate to say that Torontonians are simply busy. As a hectic commercial center, it is full of people getting on with work and life at an often frantic pace. This is balanced, of course, by well-established expat communities and online resources that help like-minded expats to connect and integrate. (Pro tip: if you want to blend in, never ever pronounce the second t in Toronno.)
Pro: warmer than the rest of Canada
Nestled between, and seemingly insulated by, Lake Huron and Lake Ontario, Toronto escapes much of the brutal cold that envelops most of Canada during the winter, but you still need to dress warmly.
Summers by contrast can get pretty hot (25C in July, August), so the best advice is to be ready for extremes. Many expats say the fall is the best season with warm days (September 20C, October 16C), cool evenings and the beautiful spectacle of brightly-colored foliage in the city’s many parks.
Torontonians have an average commute of 65 minutes, largely caused by the traffic congestion that seems barely eased by the massive 8-12-lane expressways.
As a result, most Torontonians use public transport. Getting around town is relatively inexpensive with the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) providing a system that is quite easy to navigate, but many complain of the ageing infrastructure and lack of investment, which often leads to delays.
In fact, many locals will tell you it is better to walk, especially if you use Toronto’s famous PATH system – 30 kilometers of mainly underground walkways that give pedestrians respite from the winter cold and access to over a thousand shops and restaurants in one of the world’s most unusual and innovative shopping malls.
If you venture above ground, you will find that Toronto is a difficult place to get lost in. With the CN tower, which was for 30 years the tallest freestanding structure in the world, visible from virtually anywhere in the city, it is hard to completely lose one’s bearings.
Pro: low crime rate
Toronto is one of the safest big cities in the world, and the safest large city in North America.
According to Numbeo.com, walking alone at night carries a ‘high’ safety rating of 60 (compared to 53 for New York, 46 for Paris and 43 for London) – and there is evidence that crime rates are falling further. Nonetheless, as in all major cities, some areas are less safe than others.
There is a reason why Toronto is so full of non-Canadians: it is simply one of the best places (for expats) to live. In 2018 alone, Toronto has been placed in the world’s top ten “most liveable cities” by The Economist, rated as the second best in the world for education by HSBC Expat Explorer – and even rated the 5th best place in the world for millennials.
The fact that Toronto has so many nicknames also hints at its popularity. Locals refer fondly to their city as TO, Hogtown, Queen City, 416 (after the area code) and even ‘The Six”. This last moniker came from Views from The Six, the hugely successful 2016 album by Drake, which was the first album to achieve a billion streams on Apple Music.
All of which suggests that Toronto is not only a great place to live and work – but also undeniably cool. Nevertheless, you should always be prepared for the unexpected.