What is it like living in Vancouver? Where is Vancouver? What does day-to-day Vancouver life look like? And how does cost of living in Vancouver compare with other cities?
This guide is here to help you answer some of the important questions about Vancouver, before you research your adopted city further.
Where is Vancouver?
Vancouver is a coastal seaport city on the mainland of British Columbia, Canada.
It is located on the West Coast of Canada, just 50 kilometres north of the US border. Seattle is 230km to the south, about a 3-4 hour drive.
The Strait of Georgia lies immediately to the west. Beyond that is Vancouver Island (known locally as ‘The Island’), and the Pacific Ocean.
Vancouver frequently ranks highly as one of the world’s most livable cities. It was recently ranked as the best city to live in North America.
Its scenic location near the ocean, tucked up against the North Shore mountains, makes living in Vancouver an ideal base for year-round exploration.
The city’s coastline offers amazing views and great beaches, while the mountains offer hiking trails and snow sports. Living in ‘Beautiful British Columbia‘, world-renowned for its natural beauty, is ideal if you have an appreciation for the outdoors.
If you don’t possess this appreciation right now, then we promise that you will develop a taste for this aspect of Vancouver life over time.
Vancouver life is special because of its setting, surrounded by the sea and the mountains. It has a diverse, metropolitan area, yet you’re always close to nature. Residents have the best of both worlds.
Living in Vancouver is a fantastic experience.
The Downtown core of Vancouver is located on a peninsula. Because it’s surrounded by water on three sides, the only way to expand is by building up. The space is very urban and condensed within a small area, characterized by residential high-rises and office blocks that contribute to a fantastic skyline.
The entire area is circled by the sea with access to the Vancouver Seawall and many beaches, which are only a short walk away.
The Downtown area includes the famous Stanley Park, one of the largest urban parks in North America, offering more than 1,000 acres of park encircled by the sea wall.
The downtown area itself is very residential, with over 500,000 people living within a small area where everything is within walking distance.
Some 2.5 million people are living in Vancouver’s metropolitan area. This includes the City of Vancouver (600,000), along with neighbouring urban areas which are formal cities in their own right. The major ones are: Surrey, Burnaby, Richmond, Coquitlam, Langley, Delta, North Vancouver, Maple Ridge, New Westminster, and West Vancouver.
Each city is regarded as its own municipality, independent of Vancouver. With rapid growth, and a population of around 500,000, the Surrey is expected to overtake the City of Vancouver as the highest-populated city in Western Canada in the next decade.
The summer months are typically dry, but temperate and rarely uncomfortably hot. In contrast, most days during late fall and winter (November to March) are rainy.
This regular rain can be one of the toughest things about Vancouver life. The upside to the dreary rainy winter weather, however, is that when it’s raining in the city, it’s usually snowing on the nearby mountains, allowing for snow sports like downhill and cross-country skiiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing.
And for many, the rain can be worth tolerating, knowing that the dry and sunny months from April to October are just around the corner. Vancouver is one of the driest cities in Canada during the summer months.
Cost of Living in Vancouver.
Getting started can be tough due to the relatively high cost of living in Vancouver. This resource is aimed at saving you time and money by pointing you in the right direction.
A premium is charged through rent and other living costs for the luxury of living in this beautiful city. Vancouver is among the least affordable cities in which to live in Canada, with the highest housing prices in the country.
House prices increased by 30pc in just 12 months, up to May 2016. Though the pace of price increases has eased since then, a trip to the city will help you understand why so many people are willing to tolerate the high cost of living in Vancouver.
Tipping is standard practice in bars/restaurants (typically 15-20pc of the bill). A pint of beer will cost you anywhere from $5-8 dollars depending on location and whether it’s a local or imported brand.
Public Transit in Vancouver.
Public transport in Vancouver is excellent, so it’s easy to time your trips. Translink is the main operator, running a network of buses, rapid transit trains (SkyTrain), commuter rail (West Coast Express), and sea ferry (SeaBus) between North Vancouver and Vancouver.
Since 2015, the Compass Card has been available across the network. It’s similar to the Oyster Card in London, or the Leap Card in Ireland. It allows passengers to pre-load money onto their cards (known as adding ‘stored value’), and you simply tap your card on each journey to deduct your fare. A $6 deposit is required when you buy the card.
Tickets are valid for 90 minutes, and can be used across buses, SkyTrain, and SeaBus. This means you can start a journey on one method of transport, hop off, and complete your journey on a second service, all for the same fare, so long as it’s within the 90-minute window.
For buses, a single ticket valid for 90 minutes will cost you $2.85 if paying by cash. Compass Card users get a reduced rate of $2.20. The same fare applies no matter what distance you travel, so long as the bus is the sole method of transport.
For SkyTrain and SeaBus, the metropolitan area is divided into three zones. Your fare will depend on how many zones you travel through on your journey.
Cash fares cost $2.85, $4.10, or $5.60. Compass Card fares cost $2.20, $3.25, or $4.30, and represent significant savings compared to cash fares. After 6:30pm on weekdays, and all day on weekends and holidays, a one-zone fare is in effect. This means fares will cost $2.85 (cash) or $2.20 (Compass Card), no matter how far you travel.
Monthly passes are also available. They run by calendar month, and allow for unlimited travel on SkyTrain, SeaBus, and buses. The cost $93, $126, or $172, depending on how many zones are required. The monthly pass can be loaded onto the Compass Card.
For cash fares, you’ll be given a small paper ticket (known as a ‘Proof of Payment Transfer’). Remember to take this with you, as it will be valid for 90 minutes and can be used for further travel.
Visit translink.ca for trip planners and further information. For real-time information for buses, visit nb.translink.ca (the ‘nb’ stands for ‘next bus’), or download the Radar for Metro Vancouver Buses (unofficial) app.
Vancouver is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in Canada. Being such a new city (it was established in 1886) means that there is no real sense of ownership and therefore everybody mostly just gets along.
People of English, Scottish, Irish and German origins were historically the largest ethnic groups in the city. Over the last 30 years, however, immigration has dramatically increased, making the city more ethnically and linguistically diverse. Some 52pc of residents do not speak English as their first language and almost 30pc of the city’s inhabitants are of Asian backgrounds.
Vancouver life is enhanced by the city’s large gay community, focused on the West End and Yaletown areas. Vancouver hosts one of the country’s largest annual gay pride parades. British Columbia was the second Canadian province (after Ontario) to legalize same-sex marriage.