Moving to Ottawa From the UK
Becoming an expat in Ottawa will make you the latest member of a large and growing group: 20% of the city’s population are foreign born and over 44% describe themselves as being of English or Scottish ethnicity.
Ottawa is a fairly diverse city however. The city's official languages are English and French, with 15% or so who speak French as a mother tongue. Immigration has created significant communities of South Asian, Chinese, and Arab residents. The population is also younger, on average, than the rest of Canada.
Things that new arrivals from the UK might struggle with initially include the scale and weather. Covering an area of over 2,700 square kilometres, Ottawa is far larger than any UK city so the decision of where to live should be afforded much time and thought. The climate is also far colder in winter than any UK city and snow falls between November and April, making snow tires and appropriate cold weather clothing essential.
Fears of a housing market crash in Canada have been felt for some time and have led to the government intervening to cool house price rises. Even so, prices continue to rise in Ottawa with the average price of a residential property in mid-2013 standing at CAD 382,000 (£235K), up 2.2% year on year.
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Comparing Ottawa vs London
Ottawa’s winters make the UK capital look positively balmy. The average low temperature in an Ottawan January is -15 °C, or eighteen degrees lower than that in London. There is also an average of 63 snowy days per year, nearly four times as many as London, during which an average of 88 inches of white stuff falls. The summer is a very different story though. Average high temperatures in July and August are a good couple of degrees higher than in London at around 25-27 °C. Braving those winter months also rewards you with 44% more annual sunshine hours, on average, than London.
Significantly lower rent and property prices lead to an overall lower cost of living for Ottawans than for Londoners. Eating out, transport, fuel, utilities and entertainment are also cheaper though you will often pay more for groceries.
On average, residents of Ottawa report themselves as feeling much safer than Londoners, as spending slightly less time commuting and as experiencing significantly less pollution. They do however report themselves as receiving slightly inferior healthcare.
Ottawa’s Eco-City Ranking places it third among world cities for cleanliness.
When used to the UK’s high cost of living, Ottawa is a nice surprise. If you rent, it costs about 41 percent less to maintain the same standard of living as in London, in after tax dollars. Just about everything is less expensive in Ottawa. Restaurant meals are about 30 percent less, going to the movies is about 40 percent less; even a draught at the pub is about 18 percent cheaper. Healthcare costs are covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) once you meet the requirements and apply.
Overall grocery prices are about 6 percent less than in London. Items such as a litre of milk (£0.90), one dozen eggs (£1.66) and local cheese (£6.11 per kilo) costs a bit less. Other items are a bit more expensive then in London, such as fresh white bread (£1.44) or a bottle of mid-range wine (£8.16). Internet is significantly more, costing about £28 per month for unlimited data.
Ottawa offers many types of rental housing options, including high-rise and low-rise apartment buildings, multiplexes, condos, row homes and single family homes. The city centre is much more densely populated than the suburbs and has more options for those looking to rent. Ottawa is a good mix of people who lease, many of them students, and property owners.
One bedroom apartments inside the city centre costs on average £606 per month, or £506 if you prefer to live outside the core. If you need a larger home, a three bedroom apartment costs about £924 in the city centre, or £761 on the outskirts.
Good salaries and lower cost of living means it’s still somewhat affordable to buy a home in Ottawa. Prices are up slightly year-to-date, thanks in part to the continued interest in the housing market. Low interest rates are encouraging many to become first time homebuyers, even with the talk of an overinflated real estate market.
According to the Ottawa Real Estate Board’s latest numbers (March 2015), the average sale price of all residential properties was $361,572 (approx. £195,972). This number can be further broken down to $251,666 (approx. £136,131) for condos and $387,141 (approx. £209,830) for other residential-class properties.
Ottawa is known to be beautiful, green and historic. If you’re not sure where you should live, here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Family-Friendly: Barrhaven – Found outside the city centre, Barrhaven is popular with families. This suburb boasts lots of green space, new construction, schools, shopping and rec centres. Housing is available at many price points. From upscale homes on the golf course to affordable condos, there’s something for every family. For those commuting downtown, a fleet of express busses make the trek easy and convenient.
- Upmarket: Rockcliffe Park – Home to 24 Sussex, the Prime Minister of Canada’s residence, and Rideau Hall, the home of the Governor General of Canada. This neighbourhood is Ottawa’s most coveted. This area has many stately mansions, embassies and old world architecture. Rockcliffe Park is just a short jaunt from downtown. To live here, be ready to empty your bank account – homes are listed in the millions.
- Hip & Trendy: ByWard Market – If walkability is important for you, the ByWard Market area will fit your lifestyle. Situated downtown Ottawa, close to the country’s Parliament Buildings, The Market is always bustling. You’ll find specialty boutiques, cafes, pubs, restaurants and of course, the iconic ByWard farmer’s market that gives the area its name. At night, The Market comes alive with its exciting nightlife.
- Up & Coming: Hintonburg – Ottawa’s west-end hot neighbourhood. Still experiencing redevelopment, Hintonburg is seeing quite the renew. Hintonburg is home to a farmer’s market, restaurants, shops and a vibrant arts culture. The area is getting safer, cleaner and revitalized. Even the Financial Times of London said the area is “thriving again”.
Schools and Education
All publicly funded schools in Ontario follow the provincial curriculum. In Ottawa, there are four schoolboards: English Public, English Catholic, French Public and French Catholic. Studies can be done in English, in French or in a French Immersion program. Students in Ottawa attend school from junior kindergarten to grade 12. All schoolboards now offer full-time junior and senior kindergarten programs.
Most parents send their children to publicly funded schools in Ottawa as they rank amongst the best in the world. Students attend elementary school from JK to grade 8, then high school from grade 9-12. Many schools now have intermediate students (grades 7 and 8) in the same building as the high school, even though they are still considered separate programs. High school now takes four years to complete, with students graduating around 18 years of age.
Many students move to Ottawa to attend college or university. The University of Ottawa, also known as uOttawa, is the largest bilingual university in the world. Students can study in French or in English to get their degree. It’s conveniently located downtown Ottawa. Carleton University is also found in Canada’s capital and offers many undergraduate and graduate programs. As for colleges, Ottawa is home to Algonquin, an English language college, and La Cité Collégiale, the largest French language arts and technology college in Ontario.