Moving to Calgary from the UK
Lying between the Canadian Rocky Mountain Foothills and the Canadian Prairies, Calgary is a city with such an abundance of parks, green spaces and riverfront that it’s almost impossible to reconcile the fact that it’s also the oil and gas capital of Canada.
This contradiction has been amplified in recent years with the discovery and mining of the tar sands of northern Alberta. While decried by some as an ecological disaster in the making, there is no doubt that the tar sands have made Calgary an incredibly prosperous city in the midst of a worldwide economic slump.
This spate of economic activity has given Calgary one of the lowest unemployment rates in Northern America and has created opportunities for skilled and unskilled migrants from all over the world to start a new, more affluent life in Canada.
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It’s easy to see why they’d come: Calgary was named 5th best city in the world to live in by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2012 and 2013. Far from being merely a business hub for energy, the city has a diverse social and cultural fabric. With a population made up of over 200 ethnic groups contributing to a packed calendar, Calgary makes a fine home for lovers of food, performing arts, music and sports.
Moving to Calgary
Those moving to Calgary from Britain will find very little to cause cultural discomfort: English and Scottish are the most widely reported heritages - accounting for around 45% of the city’s population; and, while Chinese and South Asian languages are widely spoken in their respective communities, English is the only official language.
The most important decision facing migrants from the UK to Calgary is where in the city to live. It’s important to note that, unlike cities in the UK which are often constrained by geography, the prairie city of Calgary sprawls over a metropolitan area of over 5,000 sq. km. This means that living anywhere but in the city centre will make owning a car essential. But the excellent freeway system makes car travel largely hassle-free.
Families moving to Calgary will find an excellent province-run education system and plenty to keep children occupied and active, ranging from city-run day camps during summer holidays to skiing, tobogganing and skating in the winter.
On the subject of winters, Calgary gets very cold between October and March with temperatures sometimes as low as -40 °C. Appropriate winter clothing is therefore absolutely essential and worth looking into beforehand if you’re moving in those months.
Comparing Calgary vs London
Despite suffering much colder winters than London, Calgary actually sees much less precipitation than the UK capital (even when you include snowfall) and many more hours of sunshine which means that summers are much more predictable and life in general is much less wet.
Even though the GBP has fallen against the Canadian Dollar in the last few years, those earning their salaries in dollars and living in Calgary will find that their money goes much further than in London. Rent is significantly lower and property considerably more affordable with respect to average salaries. Eating out and consumer goods are marginally cheaper though you will pay more for groceries - especially alcohol.
Calgary is laid out in a much simpler manner than London with a grid-like plan in the CBD which becomes less uniform around the city’s two rivers and many public parks.
The amount of green space in Calgary leaves London standing. The giant Nose Hill Park alone could encompass 13 Victoria Parks within its boundaries - and that’s not even the largest park in the city.
In terms of culture, while Calgary can’t quite keep up with London it is home to the Calgary Opera, the Alberta Ballet Company and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra as well as several theatre companies, a large number of marching bands and numerous choirs. Comedy, music and fringe festivals occupy the calendar alongside the 10 day Calgary Stampede rodeo.
Calgary’s cost of living is quite high compared to other Canadian cities. However, it’s much more affordable than the UK. You would need about 32 percent less in Calgary vs London to have the same standard of living (if renting in both cities).
Restaurants are easier on the wallet: a meal for 2 at a mid-range restaurant costs about £35, 30 percent less than in London. A bottle of imported beer costs about £3.80 at the pub, similar to London prices. Monthly transit passes are also cheaper in Calgary, costing only £52.06 per month, less than half of what Londoners pay.
Alas, not all items are a better deal in Calgary. At the market, food and alcohol prices are a bit higher. For example, a litre of milk costs about £1.09, about 16 percent more than in London. A loaf of fresh bread is about 47 percent more at £1.52. A bottle of mid-range wine averages £8.12, about 16 percent more than in London. Internet also costs more, at an average £34.92 per month.
Calgary’s real estate market has seen crazy increases for the last decade. But with the recent hit to oil prices, the local economy is seeing a slowdown. The market is showing signs there might be a real estate correction. According to the Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB), homes sales are down significantly in the past few months but prices haven’t really followed. Many locals seem to be taking a wait and see approach before making any purchases.
As for prices, CREB’s latest numbers are as follows: $545,630 (approx. £296,298) for a single detached home, $407,279 (approx. £221,168) for an attached home and $306,575 (approx. £166,482) for a condo.
Average rental prices are anywhere from 40 to 50 percent less in Calgary when comparing them to London. In Calgary’s city centre, a one bedroom apartment cost £742 and a three bedroom costs £1,301. Rent costs even less outside of the core. Expect to pay about £614 for a one bedroom or £1,072 for a three bedroom apartment. Many Calgarians choose to rent over buy. Many people move to the city to find better paying jobs and don’t necessary plan to settle down there.
With over 200 distinct neighbourhoods, deciding where to live can be a challenge. Many of the best neighbourhoods are found in Calgary’s west end and close to the downtown core. Calgary’s well laid-out quadrants make getting around simple. Here are a few of our favorites.
- Family-Friendly: Tuscany – With low crime rates, this suburban neighbourhood is a favorite with families. It’s close to Bowness Park and Baker Park, two of Calgary’s oldest and most notable. Tuscany housing is mostly made up of single family homes, but there are a selection of townhomes and condos as well. Homes are large and beautiful, built in the last 20 years.
- Upmarket: Elbow Park – One of Calgary’s poshest neighbourhoods. Located in the south-west quadrant, many majestic century homes line the banks of the Elbow River. It’s often called Calgary’s old money district. High end shopping and lots of green space means this neighbourhood is in high demand. If looking to buy, get ready to open your wallet – real estate listings are in the millions.
- Hip & Trendy: Inglewood – Not just a favorite with locals, Inglewood won the 2014 title of Canada’s Great Neighbourhood in the Canadian Institute of Planners’ Great Places in Canada contest. As a downtown neighbourhood, Inglewood residents enjoy walking to work, a variety of festivals and a strong arts presence. The area is diverse and affordable, historic and artistic. The area is always bustling, making it a great place to live.
- Up & Coming: Mission – Originally Calgary’s French settlement, Mission is one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods. It’s now home to trendy boutiques and great restaurants. The area is currently being revitalized with new condos and shops. Housing prices are more affordable in Mission, and residents love the walkability of the area.
Schools and Education
Elementary and secondary schools in Calgary follow the Alberta curriculum. Most local parents choose to send their children to publicly funded schools from kindergarten to grade 12. Students attend pre-school from age 4-6, elementary school from age 6-12, junior high from age 12-15 and senior high from age 15-18.
Students can learn in English or in French, and includes core subjects such as mathematics, science, social studies, arts and physical education. There are over 200 English language elementary schools and many high schools in Calgary.
Once they receive their high school diploma, students can continue their studies at the post-secondary level. Calgary is home to technical institutes, colleges and universities. The most notable include the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University, where students can work on their bachelor’s, master’s or PhD degrees.