Living in BC isn’t cheap, and the thousands of workers expected to make the move here from other provinces over the next few months likely already know that.
But it’s not the cost of housing that will for many of them be the biggest surprise.
It’s the other costs, the ones people don’t tell you about mainly because a lot of people who have lived in BC most of their lives don’t realise other provinces aren’t charging quite as much for the privilege of healthcare, car insurance or just eating.
So if you’ve just arrived here, or thinking about coming to BC to work — get ready to pay — MORE than you already think you will.
B.C. residents pay more
And if you’ve lived here your whole life, you’re going to hear how much cheaper other many other Canadians have it.
But we’re not talking about people who expect to get by without budgeting.
“You can have a budget, but at the same time it is likely that it’s going to be kind of pushed aside, or I’m going to have to increase it.”
That’s Olivia who recently came from Ontario to start a new life here in Vancouver .
“We lived in a smaller more rural community, so we actually owned a home and we sold that to come here. But the home that we sold, the equivalent of the whole selling price, was probably a down payment on a home here.”
Like everyone else who comes to B.C. from another province, Olivia heard the stories that what your budget got you before would not get you as much in BC.
“I think our expectations did have to come down a little bit. We did have a couple of things that we sacrificed that we hoped we would get, but in order to get those we would have had to spend quite a bit more money.”
So the cost of housing is high, but given the amount of media coverage on Vancouver’s housing costs, it’s something new arrivals are ready for.
Then there’s the cost of food
I was expecting it to be more expensive just because I’m a natural pessimist.
“I wasn’t, because I thought it’s B.C. so everything is fresh and available all the time so it’s going to be more affordable. But the first time I went to the grocery store I went home and I thought ‘this is crazy, the prices’ – so we’ve since found more affordable markets and grocery stores.
Olivia says you have to look around to find the deals on food.
“If you just go to the one on the corner it’s not necessarily going to be the best value.”
But once basic needs like food and shelter are taken care, there are other needs that need to be addressed.
Owning and insuring a car
Even though Vancouver is knee-deep in public transport options, and there always seems to be a bicycle lane when you want one , driving a car is still seen as a necessity for getting around in this city.
Transferring a license from one province to another isn’t so difficult and not unreasonably expensive, $40 or so, Olivia says.
“So that was no problem, but then the insurance company said you have to get the car inspected to import it to BC. Our vehicle is a leased vehicle, it’s less than two years old. So from my point of view there’s nothing wrong with this car, it shouldn’t necessarily need an inspection but you do,”
“It’s like a two or three hour appointment, they inspect your vehicle and it was $150 for them to give me the certificate, and then I drive to the insurance company where you have to also bring proof of previous insurance so I had been told to up to eight years of previous insurance, I only brought four thinking ‘how much is it really going to make a difference?’ so I go in and I was there for quite a while, and I had been told it was going to be quite a bit more expensive in BC so I was prepared for that but when she actually told me the price it was almost a $100 a month more per month that what I was paying in Ontario, so bringing in those four years extra would’ve equated to an extra 20 per cent discount which obviously would’ve been very significant, so I regretted not doing that off the top.”
There is an option to get you insurance rates down slightly cheaper, but because it’s B.C., it’s going to cost a few thousand dollars.
“Another thing that was quite frustrating about the process was that you’re given two options, because you’re new we’ll only give you month-to-month payments for six months, so you can do that or you can pay one year up front, which is cheaper if you divided it out over the months, but I didn’t come here with $3000 to hand over for insurance. I wasn’t prepared for that so I ended up doing the 6 months month-to-month which had a premium fee for doing it, they call it a “short-term insurance” instead, and then of course the increase of what I’d been used to paying, so that was above and beyond what I was used to.”
Olivia says B.C.’s insurance rates do come with some nostalgia value at least.
“For someone who’s been driving for 15 years or more, you think it’s not going to be that bad, I have nothing on my history, no problems at all but my insurance is higher now than what it was when I was eighteen years old.”
If you think healthcare is free in Canada, B.C. would like to help disabuse you of this misconception.
Let’s take a look at how some of the other provinces deal with healthcare.
Alberta did have premiums which were levied on families at $1,056 a year, or individuals at $528 a year. and usually covered by employers.
They were cancelled in 2009, though the then government did promise to bring them back just before the last election – which they lost.
Olivia says other provinces are equally ambivalent about the levies.
“I come originally from Newfoundland and then to Ontario for the last 20 years where I didn’t have to pay for anything except the renewal fee which was once every 5 years and you’re covered.”
“I just looked into it and it’s going to be $136 a month for us just to have a healthcare card, I had no idea. I mean, I just thought we’re in Canada, we have free healthcare but to have a monthly premium that high? I feel that’s pretty surprising, pretty shocking coming from somewhere where I’ve never had to pay for that.”
So all up that’s around $4822 in the first year for Olivia – who isn’t bringing a family which would raise the cost of MSP payments, and who’s got a vehicle that doesn’t need work on to make it road worthy according to BC’s requirements.
And that’s not including the costs you’d expect to pay making a big cross-country move; movers, petrol, deposit for a new place.
And if you can’t afford those things, then normally you can’t afford to move.
But can workers coming to B.C. afford to stay?
That’s a question B.C. needs to answer if it wants to compete for the workers’ market, many of whom may just find it cheaper to move and work in another province or country.
Newcomers Guide to B.C.
The B.C. government has published a guide for anyone moving to B.C., whether from another another Country or simply another province.