Moving to Victoria, British Columbia from the UK
Victoria, the capital city of the Canadian province of British Columbia, is an archetypal new world city. Anchored firmly in a history of native habitation followed by British colonisation and Asian immigration, Victoria now reaches to the future via a growing tech sector and early adoption of renewable energy.
Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria was a prized strategic location for the British who wanted to halt the northward advance of the Americans. Founded proper in 1849 the town grew quickly during the British Columbia gold rush before becoming a major opium port in the late nineteenth century. Around the same time it experienced a housing boom that has left the city with an impressive architectural legacy and developed a Chinatown that is North America’s second oldest.
The indigenous people that were displaced by the British settlement - including the First Nations, the Métis and the Inuit - still make up 5.9% of Victoria’s population. Their cultural influence can be seen in many public works of art and in the Victorian affinity to nature.
There are over 800 tech companies taking advantage of the excellent education facilities and infrastructure in Victoria leading to its labelling by Macleans Magazine as ‘Canada’s Smartest City’.
Moving to Victoria From the UK
Those moving from the UK to Victoria need not fear a huge North American metropolis. While the metropolitan area of Victoria is larger than than of Birmingham, in terms of population its 340,000 or so inhabitants put it more in line with Coventry.
The compact city centre and winding streets - rather than the usual Canadian grid pattern - should make a Brit feel at home. Due to its sprawling nature though, if you’re going to live in an outer suburb of Victoria a car will be essential.
Comparing Victoria vs London
The climate of Victoria sees a very similar range of temperatures to that of London. Average summer highs of 20 °C are just a couple of degrees lower than in London while average winter lows of 3 °C are on a par. Victoria actually sees less snow than London on average, almost identical average annual rainfall (though the summers are drier than London’s) and almost 50% more hours of sunshine.
Victorians report themselves as feeling safer than Londoners on average, experiencing better levels of healthcare, lower commute times and far less pollution.
As well as a cityscape that includes buildings dating from the 19th century (British Columbia Parliament Buildings, The Empress Hotel) Victoria has 190 acres of green space in the central Beacon Hill Park, numerous golf courses in the city and the colossal expanses of Beaver Lake, Thetis Lake and Francis King Park on the outskirts.
With its affordable cost of living, you’ll need about 40 percent less money in Victoria vs London to give you the same lifestyle. This comparison assumes you rent in both cities, and is in after tax dollars. Victoria was recently named 3rd most livable Canadian city for singles, 4th for empty nesters and retirees and 5th overall for mid-career professionals by the Martin Prosperity Institute.
Why is the cost of living so much less in Victoria? For starters, consumer prices are about 21 percent lower here. That means it’s less expensive to grab a meal at an inexpensive restaurant (about £6.56), grab a McMeal (about £4.65) or a cappuccino on your way to work (about £2.17). If you need to take public transit, your monthly pass is approximately £46. The BC government has a health insurance plan for its residents. If new to the country or province, you must meet certain requirements before applying. This plan covers most health care costs, and premiums are often covered by employers.
The biggest savings for Londoners will be with the cost of rent. Rent prices are a whopping 62 percent lower in Victoria vs London. As a popular destination for migrants, there are many rental properties to choose from.
Looking to rent where the action is? One bedroom apartments in the city’s core average £593 per month. Three bedroom units are much higher at £1,015 monthly, but still much less than the cost of a similar unit in London. If you don’t work downtown Victoria, finding an apartment outside the core will save you money. A one bedroom costs an average of £456, a three bedroom £793.
Thanks to the current stable economy and low interest rates, real estate prices are still going up. The Victoria Real Estate Board’s latest numbers (March 2015) show the average selling price for a single family house in Greater Victoria was $624,093 (approx. £339,007). Condos sold for an average $330,062 (approx. £179,289). Townhouses prices averaged $446,411 (approx. £242,490).
The architecture found in Victoria’s older neighbourhoods is reminiscent of its European heritage, but with west-coast flair. Many neighbourhoods are historic, green and absolutely gorgeous. Relocating to Victoria? Here are a few of the top neighbourhoods.
- Family-Friendly: Oaklands – A great neighbourhood for families that want to stay close to downtown. Oaklands offers shopping, restaurants and services; everything you need is nearby. For families with young kids, living here means you are close to schools and parks. The area is a mix of single and multifamily dwellings, with many affordable, family-friendly options.
- Upmarket: Rockland – One of Victoria’s classiest neighbourhoods. Rockland is home to the Government House, the official residence of BC's Lieutenant Governor. The area offers the best views of the mountains and the ocean. Rockland is mainly residential with stately mansions and lush gardens. Over time, some mansions have been converted to a mix of apartments and townhomes, giving this neighbourhood a unique character and charm.
- Hip & Trendy: Downtown – Walkable and vibrant, downtown Victoria is a great place to live. You’ll find waterfront paths, heritage buildings, restaurants, shopping and more. The second oldest Chinatown in North America is part of the downtown area, as are the BC Government Parliament buildings. There’s always something to see in and do in the heart of the city.
- Up & Coming: Victoria West – Commonly called Vic West, this area includes residential, commercial, industrial and greenspace. It’s just west of downtown, across the Victoria Harbour. Vic West is undergoing some dramatic changes. New condos are being built along the water way. It’s historic and eclectic, and is showing lots of potential.
Schools and Education
Education in Victoria follows the curriculum set forth by the provincial government of British Columbia. The school system offers a wide range of options, including English, French, French Immersion, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs. Locals generally send their children to publicly funded schools as they have an excellent reputation.
Students attend school from kindergarten to grade 12. Schools are usually divided into primary schools (K to grade 5), middle schools (grades 6 to 8) and high schools (grades 9 to 12). There are over 50 schools in Victoria. In order to earn their high school BC Certificate of Graduation, students must acquire 80 credits made up from required courses, elective courses and the Graduation Transitions program. They must also write five provincial exams in subjects like Language Arts, Mathematics and Science.
For post-secondary education, students can attend the University of Victoria, also known as UVic, which is less than 6km from downtown. UVic has undergraduate and graduate programs in many areas of study, for instance business, engineering, law and education. Other options include Camosun College, which accommodates over 18,000 students every year, and Royal Roads University, the former military college.