Tips for Newcomers to Vancouver, Canada

Welcome to Vancouver!

This is a multicultural and multilingual city, filled with more and more interesting glass buildings and delicious international cuisine. The latter is especially important as you will no doubt be spending most of your evenings dining out at restaurants opened by top chefs from around the world. Perhaps it may be too pricey for some (me, for one), but in comparison to dining at their restaurants in their respective countries (e.g. a Michelin 3-star chef from Paris, France or a master chef from Tokyo, Japan), the price is a steal!

As someone born in and whose current residence is in Vancouver, but also as someone who keeps moving around, I would like to provide you with some tips on starting your life in Vancouver, whether you are here for a short stay, a gap year or forever!

What to Expect

Weather

‘Raincouver’ should explain it, no? We technically don’t get much of a summer though with climate change, anything can happen nowadays. What do you expect when we’re surrounded by mountains in the north and we’re on the coast? So please don’t complain – as we do – but always bring a brolly with you just in case!

Spring: ‘April showers bring May flowers,’ but ours is more like ‘spring showers bring summer colours.’
Summer: Sunny, with a chance of rain. Temperatures vary: 20-30C.
Autumn: Rain and temperatures drop to 10-15C or so.
Winter: Rain, with probability of snow. Depending on where you are, you may get more snow than other parts in Vancouver. If you rely on transit, expect delays. Maybe even no transit at all. Furthermore, Vancouver is damp so don’t laugh at us if we complain about how cold it is when it’s 0C or -10C. In fact, maybe even once it falls below 10C. It might not be -20C in Ontario or -40C in Alberta but you will REALLY hate Vancouver. (Last year, a dear Torontonian friend revealed her shock that 0C felt like -10C. See?)

People

Canadians are said to be friendly and we/they are…sometimes. No, I’m not referring to the Vancouver Riot that happened in 2011 (oh, and in 1994). Vancouverites are… well, from all over Canada and of different backgrounds. Rarely, it seems, will you actually meet someone born and raised in Vancouver (I was born here but only spent HS and a few post-academic years here, so I suppose I don’t count). You’re going to meet our very friendly and genuine Canadians and our very rude, superficial and stressed-out Canadians. (Sounds like people from your hometown, doesn’t it?) Unfortunately, I seem to see more of the latter nowadays. My international friends have said that they love Canadians and find Vancouverites quite nice so maybe that’s good enough for you! ;D Mind you, they’re here for a year with the most wonderful memories. Stay a little longer and it just might change!

Prices

Number 1, prices listed on menus do NOT include taxes (i.e. 5% GST, 7% PST, ?% for alcohol), unless otherwise stated. This will only be a problem if you’re paying with cash and you don’t have enough on you!

Secondly, if you’re from a non-tipping culture, don’t be shocked if servers, drivers, staff give you a dirty look. It’s a warning sign that you forgot to tip. If you’ll be paying with your debit or credit card at restaurants or cafes or wherever, there is now a convenient option that will prompt you for tips. How much to tip, you ask? It used to be 10% but now the bar’s been raised and the min. appears to be 15%, 20% is great, and 25% is AMAZING!WOW!FANTASTIC! I can only max 15% unfortunately. Some of us are so poor, we’re being generous if we give 10% or just short of 15%. PLEASE note, you will not need to tip if you do think service was awful (but maybe complain to the manager) – and never go back again!

On the menu at the Samesun Backpackers Hostel on Granville St.

On the menu at the Samesun Backpackers Hostel on Granville St.

Settling Down

Mode of Travel

  • Walk
    • Tip – ALWAYS look left & right and pay ATTENTION to traffic lights. If you don’t see the green man, DON’T WALK! DON’T trust drivers. Especially in Richmond!
  • Cycle – there are more and more bicycle routes now. The following links will come in handy for navigation:
    Translink Cycling Map
    UBC Cycling Route Planner

    • Tip – ALWAYS wear a helmet. Otherwise, risk an ugly accident.
  • Transit (Translink)

1. Bus
2. Skytrain
A) Expo Line (downtown-Burnaby- New Westminster -Surrey)
B) Millenium Line (downtown-Burnaby- New Westminster)
C) Canada Line (downtown-airport-Richmond)
4. Seabus (between North Vancouver and downtown)

Cost (as of 2012): $81 (1 zone monthly pass)+
$21 (1 zone – 10 fare savers)+

Transit Tips

  • ALWAYS buy a transit pass because now, the fine is $173!
  • Weekdays after 6:30PM & all day weekends & holidays are 1 zone fare periods
  • As of 5 Oct 2015, all bus routes are 1 zone (C$2.75)!
  • If you have a monthly pass, you can take 1 other adult with you for FREE on Sundays and (stat) holidays! If you know someone with one, remind them! 😉 (Until 2014)

From the airport:
If you aren’t being picked up by someone or taking the cab, you’ll most likely be taking the Canada Line (there’s only 1 direction you can go from the airport: back towards downtown, unless you want to get off a few stops at Bridgeport and head to Richmond). That said, the airport charges an extra $5 for transit fares (1 zone is usually $2.75, 2 zones is $4). It will cost $7.50 $9 just to head downtown from the airport (2 zones). My suggestion is to go downstairs to the [domestic?] arrivals floor and go one more level down to where the 7-11 downstairs (or, as I just found out, at Pharmasave on Level 1 of Arrivals). Then, either buy a monthly pass ($81 – good for all modes of travel within 1 zone on weekdays and all zones on weekends and holidays) or a 1-zone fare saver booklet (if you think you won’t be taking transit very often but once in a while – no expiry). Then head up to validate your pass, which will be good for around 1.5hrs, and catch the Canada Line. (Please note that this is if you’re arriving after 6:30PM on weekdays or during weekends! Otherwise, buy a 2-zone fare saver booklet for $42. You may need it if you plan to go to other zones during the week.)

Downtown:
This is where all forms of transit meet (Waterfront Station). Catch any of the 4 above-mentioned mode of Translink travel downtown.

*NEW: Vancouver has finally come around to release the promised Compass Card. This is supposed to be like the Oyster in London or Yoyo in Taipei but Vancouver’s not quite there yet. For now, everyone will use a paper one/two/three zone Compass pass that you need to remember to tap in and tap out of whenever you take public transport. Eventually, one day… somewhere down the road, the plastic Compass cards will become available to everyone and you’ll be able to use them as everyone else in the world (with such systems) uses them. Sorry. No one understands why a city full of educated immigrants could be so slow in adopting this transit system.

Accommodation

Since I’m still living with my parents, I can’t really help you here. All I can recommend is for you to do the following:

  • ask friends, or strangers on forums
  • check church billboards
  • search Kijiji or Craigslist (you’ll get landlords posting here)
  • stay at a hotel/hostel/B&B/Airbnb first, then check online for somewhere to stay more permanently

P.S. If you live in a condo, you’ll get to enjoy awkward moments where no one greets you and you greet the ‘air’. Maybe that’s typical city living?

Mobile Phone Plans

There are quite a few phone companies out there, each with competitive plans and prices. I’ve only ever used Fido, so I can’t really speak about other plans (I did use Virgin Mobile while living in Ontario though). Perhaps I’ll just list the phone companies out there and you can do your research or check this site. I’d avoid Rogers, Bell, and Telus simply because everyone’s complained about their crazy $100-200 phone bill at the end of the month. Note that some of the other companies are under the above-mentioned companies but it just means paying less with the benefit of a wider network.

  • Bell*
  • Fido
  • Koodoo
  • Mobilicity
  • Rogers*
  • Telus*
  • Virgin Mobile
  • Wind

*These companies have hidden fees.

What to do

I’ll write some posts on activities to do around Vancouver (when I have time)! In the meantime, I recommend you check out the following blogs or follow them on Twitter:

Have a wonderful time in Vancouver!