If you looked at the costs of moving to Vancouver (like me) and involuntarily said aloud ‘Gee whiz that place is expensive...’, then read on! All hope is not lost for you and your bank account.
I heard rumours about the exorbitant cost of things around the West Coast, but I’m from Sydney and, well, the cost of things around there is off-tap ($15 avocado on toast, anyone?) so I didn’t think Vancouver could be any worse.
Moving to Vancouver is totally not worse than moving to Sydney, but I did expect it to be cheaper.
With corkage at BYO restaurants going above and beyond $18/bottle, cappuccinos selling for $4, phone plans with 1GB of data starting at $40/month, and mandatory car insurance starting at $150/month, Vancouver is still fairly pricey for your average budget-conscious traveller, so I’m here to tell you how to avoid paying top-dollar for all the things you want and need, from accommodation, cars, and furniture, to clothes, beer, and pizza.
So stay tuned for the Moving To Vancouver series over the coming weeks, and make sure you subscribe and get notified every time one of these posts go up!
Part 1: Renting, On A Budget
If you ask any Vancouverite, they’ll tell you about the ridiculous cost of property – four-bedroom houses are going for $4-million, so yes, it’s an expensive place to live, but not as expensive as you might think if you’re looking to rent.
Despite the extreme cost of owning property, renting in a non-sketchy area is still something regular folk with regular day-jobs can do, and still have cash to occasionally make it rain take-out.
While the competition for affordable accommodation is increasingly fierce, with some patience and perseverance, you'll find something that's right if you know what you're looking for, so good news! I'm here to break it down for you.
Finding The Right Area
When you first arrive, you need to think about where you want to live. Some cities are designed in a way that means a 40-minute bus ride outside the city centre is a creepy scenario that no one would willingly put themselves through. In Vancouver, that is not the case.
While I wouldn’t live any further out of the city than 30th Ave, places like Mount Pleasant, Commercial- Broadway, Kitsilano, and Riley Park are around 30-40-mins from the city by bus, but there are so many cafes, shops, and nice vibes around those places that I’d live there over the inner-city any day.
My advice for people moving to Vancouver is to stay in Airbnb's in the areas you think you might like to live.
We stayed in a hostel right in town for the first three-nights, then moved on to a series of Airbnb's in Mount Pleasant, Kitsilano, and Commercial-Broadway to get an idea of the neighbourhoods and where we wanted to live, before (finally) moving in to a house around one of those areas.
So whether you're in to sharing a house, renting your own space, nomad-ing around the town in a van, or joining the cool kids in the collective housing community, there are options for everyone.
The cost of housing around the globe has forced a lot of people in to share-accommodation, but in Vancouver, it’s kind of become a way of life.
Share-accommodation tends to have a bad reputation, but if you live with the right people, it can work out really well. There are a lot of options for people of all kinds, so it’s whether you’re a solo 45-year-old professional, a 30-year-old couple, or a 21-year-old unicorn in an open situation, it’s well-worth exploring this arena.
Why live in a collective?
In short, collective living is the closest thing you’ll get to family-living, sans sibling-rivalry. You may end up being friends with the people you live with, which makes collective-living ideal for people who are thinking of moving to Vancouver and don't know anyone.
Depending on the kind of collective you’re in, there are quite a few perks to this style of living.
First of all, collective houses have names. Chris and I live at The Love Shack with three other people, and I know of places called The Cinnamon House, Om Home, Kensalot, and The Magical Forest.
Collective housemates tend to hang out together, and depending on the kind of collective you’re in, you might share the cost of groceries, share daily/weekly meals, and host events. Alternatively, you might not do any of those things – there are collectives of all kinds, and it's not too hard to find one that works with your style of living.
Collective homes are generally in large-ish, old houses that are relatively inexpensive per room. Chris and I pay $450 each per month for a basement room that’s so large it would probably fit around six-to-eight double-beds in it, with room to move around. It's also dark, the walls are paper-thin, and we had to install our own doors (an upgrade from the pre-existing curtains), but as with anything, conditions tend to improve if you have more cash.
It can definitely cost more, but the standard price is generally between $400 and $800 per person, per month, and some include the cost of utilities.
Finding a Collective Home
If you’re looking to join a collective upon moving to Vancouver, your primary resource is the Vancouver Collective Houses Network on Facebook. People looking for prospective housemates in this group are looking for people who will fit in to their collective and add to the social dynamic of the place, so it’s really important to only respond to places that reflect what you want in a home.
If you only want to co-habitate with people and say ‘hi’ when you pass each other in the hall, general share-houses are where it’s at.
Why live in a share-house?
Share-houses are more common than collectives, and roomies are usually more interested in finding someone who isn't a psychopath and will pay the rent, rather than contribute socially and creatively to the home. If you’re private or introverted, this is probably what you’re looking for.
Some share-houses are run as businesses, which means rent sometimes includes cleaning, tea and coffee, utilities, internet, all furniture, and all the kitchen appliances and homewares you could ever need. If you’re living in a business share-house, you probably won’t get a say in who you live with, but if you’re a private person or a student, this may not bother you – it all depends on what you like!
Costs vary substantially when it comes to share-houses. There are some super-luxurious shared apartments Downtown for $2000/month, shared condos in Kitsilano for $1,500/person, business share-houses for $1,200 including amenities, or rooms in older houses for around $600/month – these places can really fit in to any budget. Generally speaking, you’re looking at a monthly rate $500 - $2,000, and $650 is the average going-rate for one person.
(For a full list of Vancouver share-house groups that I personally use on Facebook and the best places to live in the city, sign up to my newsletter and download the free PDF!)
Renting Your Own Place
Moving to Vancouver and hate the idea of living with others? Rent your own place.
Why rent your own place?
If you like your space and solitude, you're a raging introvert, in a relationship, or you just hate people, this is a good option for you. Lots of places include utilities and internet in the rent, and it’s not necessarily more expensive than living in a share-house.
You have your own space.
Prices vary in this field, but basement suites (fully-contained apartment-style spaces under large houses) and some apartments do exist for $1000/month. Given the cost of some rooms in share-houses, this is a pretty good deal considering you don’t have to share it with anyone.
A one-bedroom house will probably cost more than $2500/month, but houses in Vancouver are large, family-style homes that are generally too big for one or two people – remember Home Alone? The houses in Vancouver look like that.
HINT: The competition for cheap places is out of this world, but be patient – it is possible to get something on the cheaper side.
Finding Your Own Place
Craigslist is still your best bet in this arena. You can filter the price, dwelling type, number of bedrooms, ect, and the work is half done – all you have to do is click on the links and contact people. Depending on your budget, you can also look at real estate websites, but as I said, the price does go up by around $700/month once you step in to that field.
Live In A Van
Moving to Vancouver and living in a van is completely legal, rent-free, and increasingly-popular – van life is pretty much the most Vancouvery thing you can do.
Why live in a van?
If you've experienced a Canadian winter, you might be wondering why anyone would want to live anywhere that isn't between actual walls, but you can get some pretty amazing (insulated) vans these days with heaters and bathrooms, it just becomes a matter of how much you're willing to pay.
HINT: Don't buy a van outside the province you want to live in. If you do something like buy a van in Alberta and move to British Columbia, you'll have to pay a lot to get the vehicle inspected and deemed road-worthy when you get compulsory provincial insurance – it's not worth the cost. You're better off buying one in the province you want to stay in.
You don't have to pay rent (besides monthly insurance rates – still cheaper than rent, but very important to look that up before you buy anything), deal with housemates or landlords, there are loads of people doing it, you can basically live where you want.
The cost of a good van can vary between $1,500 and $10,000, depending on who you buy it from, your standards of cleanliness, how far you want to drive (some are on their last-legs), and whether you're mechanically-savvy. You also have to consider the cost of gas, and compulsory monthly insurance ($150+ per month).
Finding A Van
Kijiji, Facebook groups, and Craigslist are the best ways to find a used van. Prices tend to go up around summer because that's when everyone wants to van around the country, but it's possible to get a good deal at any time of year – you just have to look consistently.
Things To Keep In Mind:
If you’re new to Vancouver, I personally recommend collective living. You don’t have to stay in a collective house for your entire stay, but it is a fantastic way of meeting Canadians and making friends in a new city – something that can be quite challenging if you’re living alone.
Chris and I really wanted to move in to our own place when wefirst got to Vancouver, but it turns out moving in to a collective home was one of the best decisions we made, so even if you’ve had bad experiences in the past, I wouldn’t dismiss this idea too quickly.
Moving can be hard. When we first arrived, it rained incessantly and torrentially for weeks, aka the entire time we were house-hunting.
The. Entire Time.
It was cold, wet, and miserable, we were unemployed and had nowhere to live, and the city had just come out of the coldest winter on record – everyone looked mildly ill, and really sad, and we wondered what we were doing there. But we looked at housing groups and sites everyday, contacted everyone who had something going for two people, and found something within a few weeks.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, keep calm and carry on searching – you will find something eventually.
So there you have it! Moving to Vancouver doesn’t have to be expensive if you’re looking in the right places, and you still have the option of living alone without losing the means to feed yourself.