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Calculating the cost of living

In general, the cost of living is lower in Canada than say, New York or London, but there are regional differences and a little research would be a good idea before deciding where to settle.

Between French-speaking Montreal in the east and temperate Vancouver in the west, there are a number of differences.

Living in Toronto is nearly 30% cheaper than living in London, while living in either Vancouver or Calgary is just over 30% cheaper.  Montreal, however, is closer to 40% cheaper than London.  This is borne out by crowd source data site Numbeo and the Mercer Human Resources Consultancy Cost of Living Index. Mercer publishes a list of the world’s major cities, ranked by cost of living (with 1 as the most expensive). This is how Canada’s cities fare:

  • Calgary: 143
  • Montreal: 129
  • Toronto: 119
  • Vancouver 107

Compared against:

  • New York: 9
  • London: 29

These are based on the cost of a range of 200 goods and services. Although the general day to day costs of living in Vancouver are more expensive than Calgary, it is still considerably cheaper than living in New York or London.

The cost of living in most Canadian cities is similar.  However, there are slight regional differences in cost of living and a little research would be a good idea before deciding where to settle. Between Montreal in the east and Vancouver in the west, there are a number of differences.  For example, eating out costs roughly the same but expect to pay more for drinks in Vancouver. At the market, produce such as local cheeses, chicken, and apples will be more expensive in Vancouver, along with leisure and recreation and clothing but there might be savings to be made against Montreal with utilities and transport.

Looking further afield, if you live in Vancouver expect to pay less than London for: Eating out, Cigarettes, Transport, Basic utilities (electricity, heating, water, and waste disposal), Sports and leisure, Clothing, Rent, Buying property

But more on: Groceries, Beer, Mobile phone and internet.

This means that sitting down to a pizza after work at the restaurant around the corner in Vancouver will cost you slightly less but catching up with a few friends with a beer may be slightly more than in London.

If you lived in Montreal, you would spend less than someone in New York on: Eating out, Groceries, Transport (excluding gasoline), Basic utilities and internet, Clothing, Renting and buying property.

And more on: Milk, Mobile phones

In Montreal, most groceries are cheaper than in New York but some will be a little costlier and expect to shell out for your cell phone usage.

However, the most striking differences in cost of living within Canada come from choosing to live outside the major cities.   If you live in a more semi-rural area, many of your expenses will fall.  Cities in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland have a lower cost of living than British Columbia and Ontario.  If you live in Alberta, you pay no provincial sales tax (which is around 7% in other provinces), so this reduces the cost of many retail goods.  

Housing costs vary hugely, depending on the likelihood of severe weather conditions and distance from major markets — the average cost of a house in New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island may be a third the cost in British Columbia or Ontario.

Household expenditure also varies considerably by province. Residents of Alberta spend 25% more than the national average per year while residents of New Brunswick spend only 85% of the national average, indicating a wide variation in the cost of living.

If you were to choose to live in the Canadian territories, in Nunavut, the Yukon, or the Northern Territories, you are likely to have a much higher cost of living due to remoteness and climate. Food, for instance, costs twice as much in Nunavut as the Canadian average.

Some employers will pay premiums to employees immigrating to work in these regions, due to the high cost of living, but be sure to do your sums.

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