Moving to Victoria, Canada
Though Vancouver is the bustling, giant, metropolis of British Columbia, the actual capital of the westernmost province is Victoria. It’s a picture-postcard city, with some amazing architecture, and a decidedly English feel. You’ll find quaint tea shops, awesome seafood, trendy London chef’s, and boutique bohemia alongside a growing entrepreneurial and technology base in the beautiful Vancouver Island city. In fact, the influx of technology companies, driven from Vancouver by high property prices, is giving the capital a new nickname “Tectoria”.
Victoria sits on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada, it’s roughly 100 kilometres from Vancouver or Seattle across land and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. You can either take a short flight or one of the regular ferries across the ocean.
Known as the “Garden City”, home to historic buildings from the late 19th and very early 20th centuries. Sitting on lowlands nestled amongst stunning Canadian mountains and now home to a thriving technology sector which generates one of the largest streams of revenue for the city, alongside tourism.
Victoria itself has a population of 85,792, with 383,360 living in the surrounding area of Greater Victoria. It’s the 15th most populous Canadian metropolitan area and the 7th most densely populated city of Canada.
History and culture
The Victoria area was originally home to the Coast Salish people and the Songhees. The northwest coast of British Columbia was explored widely by the British and Spanish in the 18th century. James Douglas founded Fort Victoria in 1841 on the site of present day Victoria. In the gold rush to the British Columbia mainland in 1858, Victoria became the port and supply base for miners on their way to the Fraser Canyon gold fields. The population of Victoria grew from 300 to over 5000 in a few days. It became a city in 1862. Esquimalt in Greater Victoria became the North Pacific home of the Royal Navy in 1862 and remains Canada’s Pacific coast naval base. When the Canadian Pacific Railway terminal was completed on the Burrard Inlet in 1886, Vancouver took over as the commercial centre of British Columbia.
The Victorian era saw the construction of Craigdarroch Castle and other grand residences, and the opening of Butchart Gardens in 1904. Victoria’s genteel English feel was born and has remained. A real estate boom just before the first world war saw the construction of many Edwardian buildings which also contribute to Victoria’s character.
English is the principal spoken language in Victoria. It’s less multicultural than many cities with just 10% also speaking French, and ethnic minorities at less than 20% of the total population in the census of 2011. However, the statistics don’t make Victoria unwelcoming, any visitor or new resident will find the same open and gentle Canadian nature in the city as with anywhere else in the country.
Location, geography, and climate
Victoria is surrounded by ocean on three sides, the area itself is rolling lowlands surrounded by granite peaks of around 300 meters tall. The shoreline, formed by glacial activity, mixes cliffs and lagoons with pebbled and sandy beaches. Looking south from Victoria is a stunning view of the Olympic Mountain range in Washington State, USA.
Greater Victoria covers an area of 695 square kilometres, it has 48 regional, provincial and federal packs of more than 22,724 acres. The area is renowned for its mild climate, walking, hiking, fishing and incredible wildlife. Whale watching tours in the Strait of Georgia are a not to be missed tourist, or new visitor activity.
The island is the largest off the west coast of North America and sits close to the mainland cost of British Columbia, and the north shore of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. The US is actually closer than Canada! It has a spine of mountains which run the length of the island intersected by the Alberni Inlet which juts more than halfway into the island. The Victoria area has its own fjord inlet – The Saanich Inlet.
Victoria is located in a sub-Mediterranean zone and boast the mildest climate and driest summers for Canada. It’s frost free for eight months and the annual average 2,200 hours of sunshine makes for a popular tourism destination, and a retirement location for Canadians and non-Canadians alike. It’s true that Victoria has a historically older population with it’s warm, coastal location and relaxing city life but that’s also now being complimented by the tech savvy migrants leaving Vancouver’s clouds and smog for the thriving nearby city.
The climate in Victoria is much tamer than many Canadian locations, winters are mild and rainy, summers dry and sunny. Temperatures tend to sit between zero and 30C across the year and although there is snow in the mountains and on other parts of the island, Victoria tends to be snow free.
Earthquake and tsunami risk
Vancouver Island, including Victoria, is a high-risk area for earthquakes. The last large quake occurred in 1946, of 7.3 magnitude and killing two people. It’s well published that the island is overdue for a big quake and emergency preparedness is essential for the region. The island is also at risk of a subsequent Tsunami. Though the siting of Victoria means it’s less at risk from a Tsunami than other locations, the local government advocate Tsunami readiness. Analysts predict a magnitude 9 quake would cause a water level rise of 3.5 metres travelling at 1 metre per second. A tsunami warning, or a quake lasting more than 60 seconds, signifies residents to immediately move to higher ground once any quake has passed.
Making your move to Victoria
Visas and residency for Victoria
Despite historic links and proximity, it’s no easier for Americans to move to Canada than any other nationality. Canada’s immigration policy is completely neutral to race, gender and country of birth. Canada is in search of skilled and qualified migrants, or those who are able to support themselves when they move to Canada.
There are federal immigration schemes for Canada as a whole, but also provincial immigration schemes that may mean faster immigration if you can gain a nomination from your chosen province.
Immigration routes for Victoria, British Columbia
Federal immigration schemes
This is a points based system. You are awarded points for certain factors including your skills, education, language ability and experience. Additional points are awarded for a job offer from a valid employer or a nomination from a Canadian province.
The system can change frequently but you may be able to reach the points threshold without a job offer, and usually a job offer or provincial nomination will put you over the points threshold. If you have a qualifying number of points you are eligible to enter a draw. The federal government frequently chooses candidates over a certain points threshold who are then invited to apply for permanent residency.
If you have a job offer you can usually gain a temporary work visa and move to Canada while you are waiting to go through the process of permanent residency.
To take a job in Canada your prospective employer will normally need to prove that there is not a Canadian applicant available with the skills for their role. The federal government publishes lists of job categories which are classed as in demand and likely to lead to immigration for a suitable applicant.
If you’re an entrepreneur you can enter Canada and start a business which creates jobs for the Canadian economy. But you must gain support from a designated organisation, meet ownership requirement and have enough money to settle.
Though closed right now the Immigrant Investor Venture Capital Pilot Program is a route to consider if you are fortunate enough to have a net worth of $10 million CAD plus! However, you must have gained this through business rather than an owned property or an inheritance.
The self-employed category is limited to those with relevant experience in cultural or sporting activities and who intend to contribute to the cultural or athletic landscape in the country. Or, those with experience managing a farm and who intend to purchase and run a farm in Canada.
You can be sponsored by a family member already in Canada. They must already be a citizen or permanent resident and should be a spouse, partner, parent or child.
Provincial Nomination for British Columbia
You can also consider immigration routes through the Provincial Nomination Program for British Columbia, in order to move to Victoria. For some schemes you will need to meet the criteria for one of the federal programs too, and the process of applying may overlap.
The British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program (BC PNP) has a number of immigration routes including Skills Immigration, Express Entry BC, or Entrepreneur Immigration. The BC PNP, as they describe, is a way for high demand foreign workers and experienced entrepreneurs to gain permanent residency in British Columbia
For skilled and semi-skilled workers for high demand occupations. This is a points based system and work experience is not required for some categories. For some categories you may need work experience gained in America or elsewhere. The Entry Level and Semi-Skilled categories are applicable for those who have already lived and worked in BC. Graduates from a Canadian university or college may not need any work experience.
Express Entry British Columbia
This program is for skilled workers who also qualify for a federal economic immigration program. Again, it’s a points based system. You do not need work experience gained in British Columbia but you must have relevant work experience and meet education and language requirements.
Again, a points based system, if you have a high net worth and wish to invest in, and manage a valid business it may apply to you. If you are working for a company looking to expand into the British Columbia or Vancouver Island area this will open up a further route to immigration for you.
BC Provincial Nominee Program Tech Pilot
It’s not just Victoria and Vancouver that are seeing an influx of technology companies and entrepreneurship. The sector as a whole is vital to the growth of British Columbia. The provincial government recognises this and is keen to assist the immigration of technology professionals to the province. They have recently introduced the BC PNP Tech Pilot which may speed up, and increase the chances of, permanent residency in Victoria, or for British Columbia.
The BC PNP Tech Pilot includes:
- Extra support for technology companies to find and recruit foreign skilled technology workers and graduates
- Weekly invitations to those who are in the express entry pool and have a technology job in BC
- Immediate processing if you apply to the BC PNP and work in the technology sector
Full details on eligibility and criteria for the BC PNP can be found here:
Detailed immigration information for Victoria and Canada
For information on the full criteria and eligibility for all the options above and more immigration streams for Canada visit the government of Canada’s website: http://www.cic.gc.ca/
Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA)
Americans travelling to Canada, or travelling through one of Canada’s airports, do not require a Canadian eTA if they have a valid US passport.
American Embassy in British Columbia
There is not a US Consulate office in Victoria. The nearest is in Vancouver. The consulate can help American citizens in an emergency, help deal with passport issues and offer certain other services. The list can be found here:
Once you have made travel plans and looked at necessary documentation for you and your family, it’s time to consider other members of your family – your pets!
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency will require documents for an animal travelling to Canada, as long as it meets their import requirements.
Dogs and cats coming from the USA, will need a rabies vaccination certificate but will not need to be quarantined. Birds, rodents and horses are also allowed but there are some rules. Rabbits do require quarantine.
The Canadian government website is an excellent resource for anyone moving to Victoria or indeed anywhere in Canada. The full regulations per species and originating destination are here:
Travelling to Victoria
Though there are some direct flights to Victoria from the USA, the chances are you will need to change over in Seattle or Vancouver. Flights from Seattle take around 45 mins, and from Vancouver around 30 mins. Or, take your main flight into either airport, then choose the ferry over to the island for a more scenic route. You may even see a whale on the way!
Unless you’re planning to join a cruise ship to head in Victoria, from the USA you probably want to fly, or fly and then catch the ferry. Cruise ships stop at Esquimalt, Greater Victoria on their way to Alaska.
By land (and sea!)
You can of course choose to drive to Victoria, taking your vehicle and picking up the car ferry at either Vancouver or Seattle. There are also a number of Amtrak rail routes into Vancouver.
Shipping and removals
From the USA to Victoria you will need to move your belongings by land, and then ferry from Vancouver to Victoria. You either choose to do this yourself or hire a shipping or removal specialist.
Remember that you need to pack your belongings, including any furniture and breakables for a long road journey and a ferry trip. You’ll probably need to hire a vehicle, book your ferry passage ahead of time for a large vehicle and make sure you have a driver.
A shipping and removals company will work with you to completely secure and transport your belongings. If you take a full service, they will create an inventory, pack, load and transport from your old home to your new home, stress free. A shipping and removals company will also take care of things like insurance and customs requirements.
Select the size of your move to get free quotes
What to pack for a move to Victoria
If you are shipping your possessions you must make sure they are wrapped safely and securely and protected from damp as they could be in transit for a while.
You can ship your belongings ahead of time so they are waiting for you when you arrive. If you are going to be waiting for the rest of your items when you arrive in Victoria, it’s important to pack what you will need immediately, and to pack appropriately for you how you will be travelling.
A few quick tips on suitcase and hand luggage contents:
- Pack according to what you have decided to purchase new when you get to Victoria
- Pack as if you were going on vacation, if you are likely to be waiting for your shipment of belongings that will meet you there
- Add a few items which are important to you or remind you of home, like photo’s or treasured items of your children’s. This will help their transition to a new home straight away
- Take important documentation with you when you travel, ideally in your hand luggage if you are flying. This should include things like birth certificates, passports, visa’s, marriage certificates and bank cards.
- Create digital copies of your important photo’s, paperwork and documents and make sure they are stored safely so you are prepared for any lost luggage issues. Although rare they do happen.
- Look closely at weather forecasts when you arrive and plan clothing accordingly. If you are starting work or have children starting school immediately what might you need?
All that said don’t give in to the temptation to overpack. Only pack what you can comfortably carry transport with you.
Living in Victoria
Unemployment in the Victoria area is the lowest in Canada. British Columbia has the lowest unemployment of all the Canadian provinces. This doesn’t mean there no jobs available. Victoria, as a growing base for technology companies looking to escape the high prices of Vancouver, but still stay close, has plenty of opportunities.
The federal government jobs website is Job Bank. Employers who might look to find a foreign worker must also have advertised on Job Bank to ensure there are no Canadians available to take their role. So, most jobs suitable for migrants will be posted on Job Bank. Other job sites like Indeed, LinkedIn and Monster are used widely across Canada.
Social Insurance Number (SIN)
To work in Canada, you will need a Social Insurance Number (SIN) which you must apply for when you arrive, at a Service Canada location in the city. It’s a simple process if you have your work visa. You will need your SIN number to access any government programs and benefits.
Construction too is seeing a high demand for skilled labour with $1 billion worth of building permits issued for 2017. Tourism and a high average population age means that food and beverage, and accommodation venues are in search of staff.
Canadian schools have high academic standards and Victoria is renowned for its educational facilities. It was rated Canada’s Smartest City by McLeans and a Top Student Destination.
Every child in Canada has a legal right to education and there are no tuition costs for Grades 1-12. Excellent private schools are also available.
In Canada elementary schools provide kindergarten years for ages 4 and 5, and then education from grades 1 to 5 or 8. There are also middle schools for grade 6-8. Then, secondary, also known as high schools, until grade 12 and roughly age 18.
Due to the sheer size of Canada and it’s forward thinking, home schooling is common place and there are many excellent home school organisations.
You can also choose French Immersion schools where most of the curriculum is taught in French, these schools are open to native French and English speakers. Most of the curriculum is designed for students who do not speak French at home. In these schools teaching in English is introduced at grade 4, or for specialist subjects.
There are a number of private, international and language schools in Victoria and the Greater Victoria area, including a girl’s school.
There are three universities and colleges in the region:
The University of Victoria
Ranked 14th by QS in Canada, the University of Victoria is a large public research university and has around 21,000 students. It’s one of the most international in Canada.
Royal Roads University
Previously the Royal Roads Military College it became a university in 1995 and focuses on applied and professional degrees.
With nearly 20,000 full time and part time students, Camosun college also provides training for local business and industry. It’s one of Victoria’s top 10 employers
Public health insurance is available to eligible citizens and permanent residents. In BC it’s called the Medical Services Plan (MSP) and covers the cost of medically necessary insured doctor services. You have to pay monthly MSP rates which help to meet a portion of the costs.
Cost of living in Victoria
Monthly rent in a normal Victoria area for around 900 square foot will set you back $1,288 CAD with around $187 CAD in utilities for two people. A beer will cost around £2.87 CAD, 12 eggs $3.89 CAD and a meal for one in a fast food restaurant $9 CAD. Generally, rent and utilities are reasonable but groceries can run a little more expensive with the costs of importing to the island.
The road network across Vancouver Island is excellent. For Victoria too but what might come as a surprise are winding, bendy roads instead of the typical grid system. Blame the English heritage for that!
Victoria is home to iconic double decker buses, much like those you would expect to see in London. There is an extensive bus network with bus and bike priority lanes across the city. There is a BC Ferries Connector coach service between Victoria and Vancouver or Vancouver airport which includes the ferry fare. It takes around 4 hours to complete the journey via coach which includes an hour and a half for the ferry crossing. There are also bus services across the island.
There is currently no rail service on Vancouver Island. Last services ceased in 2011 due to the track being unusable.
Victoria International Airport serves cities across Western Canada. There are non-stop flights to Toronto, San Francisco and Seattle. Helicopter and seaplane flights are available daily from Victoria’s Inner Harbour to Vancouver International Airport, Vancouver Harbour and Seattle.
Victoria has the world’s largest seaplane airline – Harbour Air, who operate scheduled and scenic flights around the region.
There are several ferry routes between Victoria and the mainland of British Columbia, the Gulf Islands and the US. There are mix of passenger and passenger and car services available.
You are able to drive in Victoria for 90 days with your US driving license, after which you must exchange it for a Canadian driving license. You can do this by taking your documentation to a Service Canada location where you can complete the process quickly and be provided with a photographic driving license.
Victoria is a beautiful ocean side location with incredible European architecture, manicured green spaces and is nestled amongst a still wild green, mountainous island. If you’re moving to Victoria you won’t struggle to find an attractive neighbourhood to locate to.
Oaklands is close to downtown, with excellent access to schools and shopping, but still affordable so perfect for families. Rocklands is an upmarket location home to Government House, and with the best views of the mountains and oceans. It’s a mix of mansions and apartments and certainly a more expensive area. Downtown is vibrant and trendy, with the second oldest Chinatown in North America. Victoria West is just across the Victoria Harbour and a mix of residential, commercial and industrial properties. Many affordable developments are appearing on the waterfront in this growing neighbourhood.
Victoria is a popular tourist destination, for its architecture and history, island location, whale watching tours, hiking and all-round quaintness. It also has the highest opera attendance per capital of any Canadian city and is full of art galleries. There are regular performances from theatre to ballet and music. During summer there are many buskers and street performers, artists and carvers. On government street there are usually bands, from African marimba to jazz, fiddle and bluegrass.
As well as less scheduled musical performances Victoria hosts a number of major music festivals in June and July including the TD International Jazz Festival, Vancouver Island Blues Bash, the Victoria Ska Festival, and Rock the Shores.
Other events include the Victoria Highland Games and Celtic Festival, Parksville Lion’s International Kite Festival, Gabriola Theatre Festival, and the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival.
The 1994 Commonwealth Games were held in Victoria, as was the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup. The 2010 Winter Olympics were just across the water in Vancouver. Victoria will co-host the 2019 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships. Rugby Canada and Rowing Canada are based out of Victoria, which also has high profile hockey and football teams. Victoria has a history of motorsports and has the oldest speedway in Western Canada.