Tell me all the good things about living in Vancouver
February 14, 2020 11:59 AM   Subscribe

Especially how it's better than the Bay Area. Also how living in Canada > living in the US generally.

I've applied and been approved for permanent residence in Canada, and am seriously considering moving there, most likely to Vancouver. I'm very excited, but also feel some natural trepidation about starting out in a new place, and in particular about the gray, rainy winters, which are a thing I do not like. And I know I'll miss the SF Bay Area, where I've lived much of my life.

To help the excitement win over the trepidation, I would like to compile a master list of all the good things about living in Vancouver, including specifically the ways in which it's better than the Bay Area, and also generally all the ways in which living in Canada is awesome and how it beats living in the US.

Please assume I know nothing about Vancouver or Canada, which is pretty close to the truth.

Some things that are already on my list:
- free health care
- proximity to natural beauty
- great sushi
- no Trump
- no mass shootings
- no regular wildfires (I think?)

More please? Very specific good things, very general good things, and very obvious-seeming good things are all welcome.
posted by hoist with his own pet aardvark to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
The grey rainy winters in Vancouver are, I think, kind of overstated. I have always imagined it as weeks and weeks when it's raining most of the time, but it isn't really like that. My mother was really worried about that when she moved there a few years ago (from further North rather than further South), but has found that it rarely rains for more than a portion of each day, and that even when it's overcast, the cloud cover is often high enough that the day still seems reasonably bright. She walks a lot for errands or exercise or with friends or walking the dogs and she is usually easily able to find a time in the day when it isn't raining to do those things. Plus, the summers are quite glorious.

Time and date has some charts of past weather, and you can look back through time and see how many winter days get at least some sunny periods.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:10 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Seconded. When I moved to Vancouver I moved from further North and Further East.

Some other (unranked, unsorted) specifics:
  • The Vancouver Metro area is several different cities (and the lower Fraser Valley is even more) and weather norms vary between them. The closer to the mountains you get the more rain you get
  • Victoria gets more wind but, with it, more sun. The sushi options are an order of magnitude less awesome though
  • Washington State Ferries go a lot of places and are pretty cheap; BC Ferries are more comfortable. Still pretty cheap if you don't drive.
  • YVR has excellent public transportation via the Canada Line. Living anywhere near a skytrain station means not having to pay for exorbitant airport parking.
  • The Lower Mainland (Vancouver and suburbs) is the population centre on the Canadian Pacific coast. Comparatively everything else is a rounding error so it's the central hub with everything else being smaller. This is nice if you have to work there but would like to make excursions to places that aren't "the big city"
  • I don't drive so this is a biggie for me: Victoria (which I strongly prefer) and Nanaimo (which is ok-ish) and the Gulf Islands (IMHO nice-to-visit-but-I-wouldn't-want-to-live-there) are all accessible by ferry from thee LMR. And public transit goes to the metropolitan ferry terminals. So for a reasonable walkon fare plus a transit pass you can get from Vancouver to a number of other destinations spread over more than 100km^2. Let me tell you, coming from a small town in the western provinces this is something I still find amazing. Beats the #!$@!#!$@%!$#@ outta the greyhound. Y'know, back when that was an option.
  • Healthcare, bottom line, is never free. It gets paid for somehow but single payer means everything and everyone is "in network". I mean I can't believe I have to say this but holy heck is the thought of having a bean counter choose my provider mind bogglingly unfathomable. That being said there are few opportunities to throw money (money I don't have) at skipping a queue. It would be prudent to look at options for finding a GP
  • Vancouver proper has a population (~0.7mil) similar to Portland. The regional population (~2.5mil) is nearly 4x that. That being said the population of the whole province (~4.5mil) is less than double and BC is huge - roughly 1.5 Texas'. You get a large metro centre so it gets everything but you don't have to wander far to leave town. And there's a lotta 'not-town'.
  • Metric :) .
I'm sure there's lots more that would be more pertinent to your tastes but this comment is already long enough.
posted by mce at 12:35 PM on February 14 [6 favorites]


The rain really ain’t that bad. I moved from somewhere sunnier but colder and the lack of sub-zero temps all winter is well worth a few drizzly Tuesdays.

The Lower Mainland has a very diverse population which is so great; it has a feeling of great potential, like many people *chose* to be here, or at least their parents did, rather than in our respective hometowns which were an accident of birth.

Yes that does mean better food choices (and how) but also just being surrounded by a variety of faces and languages and modes of dress feels right.

We also get some kickass concerts; lots of touring shows seem to make Vancouver a stop.
posted by HoteDoge at 12:36 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


Vancouver is extremely walkable and bike-able. We've got an excellent and reliable transit system and more bike lanes are added regularly. It's really easy to get around the city without having to own a car.

If you do occasionally need a car, there's a fantastic car co-op called Modo that has a variety of vehicles you can book.

Great sushi is just the start. There are a ton of amazing restaurants and cuisines represented in Vancouver. And if you're into craft beer, Vancouver has a ton of micro breweries. Some faves include Strangefellows, Brassneck, and Off the Rail.

We do get wildfires in BC, but Vancouver isn't at risk of burning because of them. Last summer was smoke-free, but the one before that had a few weeks of heavy smoke from fires in BC, Washington, and Oregon.

Seconding jacquilynne's comment. The winters aren't as bad as they're made out to be. That said, if you're predisposed to SAD, get yourself a SAD lamp.

And even if it is raining, you can, and should, get outside and do stuff!

Walking the seawall is great, even on rainy days. You'll see geese, crows, gulls, and cormorants. And if you're lucky, you'll see some seals or otters, or maybe a great blue heron!

You can take cute little boats across False Creek from downtown and visit the Granville Island Public Market, which has great high ceilings and excellent light, even on cloudy days. Or you can escape the drizzle for the Bloedel Conservatory for a tropical garden break.

If you have specific questions about Vancouver, please feel free to DM me! I love this city and I'm happy to share what I know!
posted by burntflowers at 12:40 PM on February 14 [5 favorites]


I was in Seattle, so not quite as far north, but I was just flattened by the darkness in winter. The rain, fine, whatever, but going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark was just really, really hard. So just be aware that although the weather isn't that terrible, winters can still be hard if you are one of the people (like me) that need light.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:23 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


No death penalty is at the top of my list. Right now living in Ontario is hugely embarrassing because of Doug Ford, but generally we have a good reputation with other countries.

I love Canada - certainly we need to work on some things (racism, Indigenous issues, jeebus), but I feel safer here than I ever did in Boston, and I felt pretty OK there. There's so much geographic diversity, so many beautiful things, and you get to DO more because there are fewer people here. I have a privileged point of view, no doubt about it, but I feel like I have opportunities to attend events and meet people that'd I'd be shut out of in the States just by the sheer numbers.
posted by wellred at 1:25 PM on February 14


I don't want to rain on your parade because Vancouver will do that plenty already. Canada is great, Vancouver is great (I lived there for 6 months as a student). But having lived in both the Bay Area and Canada, it's a mixed bag.

Yes, there's single payer healthcare. It's not free. You are paying for it in both income tax and your employer's payroll tax. You'll still have health insurance for drugs, dental and maybe vision. And heck, maybe even for hospitalization, since many Canadian hospitals have different tiers of rooms depending what you're there for. Finding a doctor in Vancouver will be hard and getting an appointment will be hard. Seeing a specialist if you're not about to die will be hard. But you won't have to worry what it will cost.

Vancouver pay will probably be lower, considerably lower, than comparable pay in the Bay Area. You will be paying federal, provincial income taxes and 12% HST on almost everything you buy. Good news is that this isn't much higher than what you were already paying in California.

Vancouver is very beautiful! You can take the bus to Grouse! Also you'll be stuck in traffic a lot as there are practically no highways near the city proper. The sushi and food are indeed pretty good if you can afford to eat out all that often. You are indeed unlikely to get shot! People don't poop on the streets! Well, in Vancouver they just die from opioid overdoses in the downtown east side. But most of Vancouver is pretty free of homless people with drug problems!

There is no Trump! There are Canadian politicians you will quickly come to hate instead! And guess what every Canadian newspaper and TV stations runs on the front page every day - Trump! Honestly it bugs me how much. Canadian press coverage the US political system gets. But you won't be free of all that garbage.

There are no wildfires in Vancouver! But BC has lots and lots of summer wildfires:
When area burned is factored in, the difference is even more stark. Just 20,965 hectares — about the size of Kelowna — burned in 2018, compared to a massive 1.348 million hectares the previous summer, which is nearly half the area of Vancouver Island.
Housing is insanely expensive in Vancouver! You're going to one of the few places on earth that makes SF rents look like a good deal.

I say these things not to make you feel bad but to temper your expectations - a move is very stressful. Moving to a new country has a lot of unknowns. I've done it in the opposite direction. It sounds like you're very excited and positive about Canada. Which is great because with out that kind of energy a move is just stressful and upsetting and a drag. But you're going to be disappointed eventually. And I don't mean to suggest to just get disappointed now, but just to understand that there will be ups and downs and the things you're excited about may end up being disillusioning. And I say these negative things not because I think the US is so great but because I have become disillusioned about the Canadian superiority narrative that I've been fed since I was a child. The US has problems and often just does zero to fix them, but there they ware, right in your face. Canada often denies or downplays its problems and many Canadian doesn't even know they exist - as whitewashed as US history is, Canadians are often simply taught nothing about their own country. So if you ask someone about what the deal with gas pipeline protestors is, don't expect the average Vancouverite to actually know what's going on.

Here's the good news - basically everyone who visits Vancouver decides they're going to move there and not that many people manage to make that happen. Moving to Vancouver is the dream for a lot of Canadians and other people from around the world. It is very beautiful, very safe and amazing in so many ways, which is of course why housing is so expensive there.

Vancouver's natural beauty is hard to put into words - it's just a very soft and boreal place with trees and days of both bright, shining sunlight and cool, foggy mists. It's like SF in some ways, but just that much milder. You'll see snow in the winter, maybe not in town, but on the mountains which are just a bus ride away. You really do have it all in Vancouver for natural beauty. And there's a great mixture of Asian and North American cultures, even more so than in the Bay Area. The city itself is lovely and very walkable in parts. It has one the the best universities in the world, UBC, right down on the water. It also has SFU in Burnaby, which is also a great school. Plus all sort of great colleges, like VCAD and Emily Carr. BC has a reputation for being the most laid-back of all the regions in Canada and it is indeed very chill. And if Vancouver is too big for your tastes, there's always Victoria just across the harbour.
posted by GuyZero at 1:36 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


Oh and you'll have the CBC. Which maybe you won't like, but it's great. Just the best.
posted by GuyZero at 1:37 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


Another personal data point: I grew up in metro Vancouver and moved to the Bay Area a couple years and often miss it terribly. Here are some disorganized thoughts:

- Cheap sushi occupies the same space as cheap Mexican food does in the Bay Area
- Transit is really quite good - Translink > BART and >>> Muni. You can take a city bus to the ski hills in North Vancouver. And I feel there is much more support for transit and alternative transportation improvements in general - I was back for the holidays and STUNNED at the frequency of buses and Skytrain, even after having lived there a few years ago (like, 2-3 minutes for a train downtown, and 10 minutes for a bus 2 blocks from my parents' place in the suburbs)
- Transit + car-share means that it's much more common to be car-free - here (in the South Bay) people look at me like I have 2 heads when I say I don't have a personal car
- Bike infrastructure is very good (I do like the drier weather here for year-round biking though...)
- The upshot of the rain is that everything is very, very green, for much longer than the 2-3 months you see in the Bay Area.
- Yes, housing is brutally expensive. By any reasonable affordability metric (e.g. rent vs average income) it is worse, yes WORSE than SF.

I know lots of young-ish techie transplants from Vancouver who moved to the Bay Area for work during the most recent tech boom. Nearly all of us want to/plan to move back to some extent, but the housing thing, plus the availability/variety of work here.. it's tough. In some ways this thread is very hard for me to read :)
posted by btfreek at 1:45 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


Vancouver isn't as great a restaurant city as SF is, but you can without question have some very good meals there, all along the cost spectrum. In the summer, there's a very popular open-air night market in Richmond. Grocery stores are okay. They have H-Marts!

The more recent city architecture is frankly tragic, but all you have to do is turn your face to the ocean. And, as many have mentioned, natural beauty is so easily accessible, both within and just outside the city. I've been regularly visiting a friend who lives in a small suburb outside the city for many years, and it is a wee suburby suburb, but she can walk her dogs in old-growth forest. In addition to other spots mentioned, rent a car and the "Sunshine Coast" is but a ferry ride away. (It's not particularly sunshiney, but there are tons of beaches and it's pretty affordable.)

Transit is good within the city. It gets patchier in those suburbs, but it's still ahead of all but a handful of U.S. cities. And it's certainly cleaner and nicer than, e.g., the MTA. My friend doesn't drive, though her husband does. There's been substantial development further out along the Skytrain lines. (Skytrain goes to the airport--so Vancouver actually has the transit edge over NYC there, which has no one-seat trip from midtown to any airport. The airport is mellow as hell for a reasonably-sized airport.)

The safety net for the disabled isn't great, but it's still much better than it is here.

It feels more diverse than most of the other Canadian cities I've been to. To an outside observer, at least, the Chinese community there seems much more independent and self-sufficient as a community--more like what you get in the NYC Chinatowns, rather than a more scattered population amongst everybody else.

And...they have a pretty good selection of escape rooms (Find and Seek Vancouver is probably the highest production values I've seen in an escape room to date), if that's your thing.
posted by praemunire at 2:06 PM on February 14


They filmed a ton of episodes of Highlander in Vancouver! You can take a walking tour and see many of the sights. That Chinese, garden where an otter ate a bunch of koi last year? That was the Shaolin temple Kiem Sun was hiding out in while trying to perfect the quanla root potion. There's a 2 day walking tour of Seacouver!

A Highlander Fan's Guide to Vancouver

posted by ActingTheGoat at 2:28 PM on February 14


Transit is so, so much better than in SF.

We're close to all kinds of great nature getaways: the Gulf Islands, Bowen Island, the whole Sea to Sky corridor. If you rent a boat or make friends with someone who has one, Indian Arm is an incredibly stunning fjord just a short distance from Vancouver.

I've been living here most of my life, and my jaw still drops whenever I see the North Shore mountains around sunrise or sunset.
posted by ripley_ at 2:57 PM on February 14


I was sooo impressed by how often their metro runs (I think it's every few minutes, and it's self-driven, as far as I know.) Stunningly different than BART. The first time I got to a station, I thought, 'oh no, I missed the train,' but there was another one almost immediately.
posted by pinochiette at 3:23 PM on February 14


A few more things, because I guess Friday afternoon is the time to get homesick:

Re: live music and cultural scene: I have to give the Bay Area the edge here - Vancouver gets the big acts but a lot of American acts will either only do Toronto/Montreal or skip Canada entirely due to the logistical difficulties of international touring. Also it feels like the hipsters of Vancouver are more try-hard than in SF/Oakland? (though maybe that may be a function of my own age and that of the crowds I hung out with, heh)

Common themes in the responses here are transit and access to nature: when the Evergreen line first opened I rode it all the way to Lafarge Lake (end of the line) to visit a friend and the last 15 minutes all I could think was like, holy shit! All this spectacular water and mountains, and I get to ride rapid transit right past it!

It is generally agreed among my extended family (all of whom originate from Hong Kong) that Richmond BC has the best Chinese (Cantonese) food in the world outside of HK itself - and Richmond beats HK in terms of value for money (ie you can get spectacular food in HK but it's gonna cost ya, whereas stellar food in Richmond is regular fancy restaurant prices). My cousin lives in Fremont and says his kids refuse to eat dim sum anywhere other than Vancouver.

T&T Supermarket > 99 Ranch
posted by btfreek at 3:55 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


I'm Canadian and lived in the US for about three years. The main difference I found was one of tone/vibe/atmosphere. There is a generally heightened sense of tension in the air in the US that doesn't exist in the same way in Canada. Maybe it's because we've taken care of big issues in Canada that are still be hashed out in the US. Universal healthcare in Canada is just a fact. No one fights over it. No one serious advocates for adopting an American-style model. We definitely grumble about our healthcare and we can certainly improve on it, but we're committed to the model we have and it's effectively a settled issue. Gay marriage is settled. Marijuana is settled. Guns are settled. All the major political parties agree that immigration is good and necessary. The culture wars don't really have the presence in Canada that they do in the US.

Related to that, I think that a part of why Canada is so chill relative to the US has to do with our media ecosystem. We still have a very traditional news culture here. Most news comes from the main TV networks and newspapers. There's no 24/7 cable news channels and we don't have partisan media in the same way as the US. The fire-breathing is quite simply not there and people aren't getting whipped up the same way you find in the US. Our politics is relatively uncorrupted by money and it isn't as tribal as in the US (I've voted at various times for the Liberals, PCs, Greens, and NDP). It also isn't an ever-present part of our lives the way it is in the US. And here's what counts as a contentious debate in a federal election.

Canada is, for lack of a better term, boring. But I don't think that's pejorative. Boring is good! Boring means everything works, people are getting along, and our collective pulse as a society is at a nice resting rate. In the US, everything feels so white-knuckled and like everyone's about to pop.

(And to offer a contrarian view on Vancouver, I find it smug, lacking in personality, and generally overrated. Like, sure, the mountains are beautiful and the winters are mild, but a small detached home can easily cost you $1.5 million, neighbourhoods are being hollowed out, and the sense of community is lacking. YMMV.)
posted by fso at 6:27 AM on February 15 [4 favorites]


I worked there many years ago when it wasn't all that expensive to rent downtown and occasionally visit a friend who still rents there, so I have a lot of affection for the area around English Bay, seeing herons warming themselves on the chimneys of the buildings across the street, the squabbling crows, bald Eagles, the baby geese at Lost Lagoon, cycling the sea wall, Stanley Park, Beaver Pond, sunsets on the beach...it's great to have all this right on your doorstep. Fantastic. If I had the option to move there now and all I could afford was an ex-urban high-rise bachelor, with an hour+ commute, I would wouldn’t even consider it.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:48 AM on February 15


The grey rainy winters in Vancouver are, I think, kind of overstated.

Overstatedness is probably relative but living someplace that doesn't actually get much rain I find it completely intolerable. It precipitates in Vancouver during the winter months two out of three days. It's not always rain; snow tends to be a major event every few years. Overall they get between 160 and 190 rain days a year. Those aren't Prince Rupert numbers but it's a far cry from dry IMO.
posted by Mitheral at 9:14 PM on February 17


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