Expat Relocation to Toronto, Canada

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Transferees to Canada’s largest city will find a vibrant blend ofcultures, commerce and community.

Located on the scenic shores of Lake Ontario, Toronto is a modern, cosmopolitan city with a decidedly international flavor. Known as a “city of neighborhoods,” its more than two million residents reflect 80 different ethnic groups and over 100 languages and dialects. This multicolored tapestry of life offers an intoxicating blend of customs, foods and cultures.

As Canada’s largest city, Toronto is also its financial and industrial hub. The city is home to the Canadian headquarters of such major corporations as Suzuki Canada, Compaq Canada, Sega of Canada, Ford Motor Company of Canada, and countless other corporations which have found it a favorable location for business.

Transferees to the city will find that there is also plenty to do outside of work. As the world’s third-largest theater center, Toronto offers an abundance of quality entertainment.It also boasts fine dining, museums and elegant galleries, trendy boutiques, and year-round recreation and sports. Even its weather, which is among Canada’s finest, seemingly conspires to draw new residents to the city. Summers are pleasantly warm with average temperatures in July of 72F (22C). Winters are moderate, with average temperatures in January reaching 23F (-4.6C). Spring and fall are especially nice seasons, filled with warm, sunny days, and cool evenings.

Not surprisingly, Toronto recently captured the No. 1 spot on FORTUNE magazine’s 1996 international list of “Best Cities for Work and Family.” This year’s study, which was conducted by Arthur Andersen’s Business Practices Unit, considered such factors as opportunities for family-oriented, balanced lifestyles; economic vitality and regional diversity; public education and safety; arts and recreation choices; availability of affordable housing; and reasonable commuting distances to work. Toronto was hailed for its easy-living qualities, clean streets, ample green spaces, and low crime rate — in fact, it is North America’s safest city.

From commerce and culture, to quality of life, Toronto has it all.

In and around the neighborhood

The city’s advanced public transportation system lets you get around town with ease. The Toronto Transit Commission comprises an extensive system of subways, street cars, buses, and rapid transit trains. Ontario’s GO (Government of Ontario) Transit provides commuter rail and bus services. Transferees will find that driving in Toronto is also user-friendly thanks to the grid-like pattern of the streets.

 

The city is home to numerous shopping areas, boutiques, and farmer’s markets that offer an abundance of fresh produce and homemade foods. Most stores are open from Monday through Saturday, with later hours on Thursday and Friday. Sunday hours vary, but are usually from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Ontario has an 8% sales tax in addition to a 7% GST (Federal Goods and Services Tax), so transferees will need to add 15% to the purchase price of an item.

Mail delivery in Canada takes place on Monday through Friday andis provided by Canada Post. Most post offices are open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., although postal stations in shopping malls operate during regular mall hours. Within Canada, standard postal rates (letters and postcards) are C$.0.45 for 0-30g, (roughly 1.2 oz.) and C$0.71 for 30-50g, (1.2 – 2 oz.). Rates for airmail to the States are C$0.52 for 0-30g or C$0.77 for 30-50g. International airmail rates for letters and postcards are C$0.90 for 0-20g and C$1.37 for 30-50g. (Need help with metric conversion? Stop byMetric Conversions, Lengths and Measures.)

 

Major daily newspapers include The Toronto StarThe Globe and MailThe Toronto Sun, and The Financial Post.

Toronto is also home to several television stations, including CBLT-TV – Channel 5 (CBC), and TVOntario.

Finding a place to call home

The Metropolitan Toronto area offers a wide range of neighborhoods and housing choices. Rental prices vary from city to city, depending on the age, location, and condition of the house or apartment, as well as the local housing market. Following are average monthly rental rates (as of January 1996) in select areas:

Mississauga/Oakville

Two areas that are especially popular among transferees are Mississauga and Oakville. Located to the west of Toronto, Mississauga is easily accessible by GO Train or GO Bus, and is just 20 minutes from the city by car. One of Canada’s fastest growing cities, it offers residents a choice of both old and new housing, as well as art galleries, shopping centers, and numerous parks. Average monthly rental prices range from C$850 for a standard condominium apartment (2-bedroom, 1 1/2 baths, underground parking) to C$1,000 for a townhouse, (3-bedroom, 1 1/2 baths, 1-car garage), and C$1,300 for an executive-style (2-story, 4-bedroom, 2 1/2 baths, 2-car garage) home.

 

Oakville is nestled on the western shore of Lake Ontario and is also within easy access to Toronto. It offers a blend of older traditional neighborhoods and newer developments. Housing styles range from stately Victorian mansions to newer, upscale homes. Average monthly rental prices range from C$1,000 for a standard condominium apartment, to C$1,100 for a townhouse, and C$1,800 for an executive-style home.

Ajax/Pickering

To the east, in Ajax and Pickering, transferees will find a choice of affordable housing within easy commuting distance to downtown Toronto.

Ajax offers a number of new housing developments and a wide range of styles and prices. Average monthly rentals range from C$900 for a standard condominium apartment, to C$950 for a townhouse, and C$1,200 for an executive-style home.

Pickering is just a 30-minute ride to Toronto, and offers a variety of residential neighborhoods, numerous shopping centers, and a wide range of recreational and social activities. Average monthly rental prices run from C$800 for a standard condominium apartment or a townhouse, up to C$1,100 for an executive-style home.

Markham/Unionville

To the north of Toronto, transferees favor Markham and Unionville, where the neighborhoods are rich in diversity.

Markham, the northern boundary of Metro Toronto, offers an urban lifestyle with a strong sense of community. Located 30 minutes from downtown, it is within easy commuting distance. The city also provides an abundance of cultural, community and recreational events, as well as numerous golf courses and acres of parkland. Average monthly rentals in Markham range from C$1,150 for a standard condominium apartment or a townhouse, to C$1,400 for an executive-style home.

Unionville is a quaint community with home prices slightly higher than in Markham. Average monthly rental prices are comparable, however, and range from C$1,150 for an apartment or townhouse, to C$1,600 for an executive-style home.

Richmond Hill /Aurora

Richmond Hill and Aurora are other popular spots with transferees.

Despite its growth in recent years, Richmond Hill still offers the feel of small-town living. It also offers first-class amenities and numerous parks. Average monthly rental prices range from C$1,100 for an apartment, to C$1,200 for a townhouse, and C$1,500 for an executive-style home.

 

A blend of rich farmlands and residential developments, Aurora is roughly a 35 to 45-minute drive from downtown Toronto. Average rental prices range from C$1,100 for a townhouse to C$1,200 for a detached bungalow (3-bedroom, single-story home with 1 1/2 baths and a one-car garage), and C$1,500 for an executive-style home.

Or would you rather buy a house?

Property ownership in Canada is more a “privilege” than a right. US transferees desiring to purchase real estate in Canada will find there are some notable differences between the two countries.

Canada taxes at a much higher rate than the US to support its substantial social structure. For this reason, some corporations provide hardship allowances for their temporary workers.

Although there is no capital gains tax on the sale of a principal residence, mortgage interest is not deductible from income tax. Equity protection on corporate relocations is a nontaxable benefit to the transferee. There is no GST (federal goods and services tax) on the purchase of “resale” properties, but this tax does apply to the purchase of a “new” home.

Radon, lead and asbestos have not achieved the same notoriety as in the US. UFFI is still a minor issue in Canada although some jurisdictions require disclosure from the vendor. Soil inspections have been completed in some areas, but are rare.

Securing a mortgage

Other than minimal appraisal fees, there are no costs or fees required to obtain a mortgage. Mortgage rates are standard for most lenders on a national basis, although they may vary by between 1/2 to 1/4%. Rates are established weekly in accordance with the Bank of Canada’s disclosed prime rate.

Five national banks account for the majority of Canada’s mortgage funding. Mortgages are negotiated for set terms of interest ranging from six months to seven years during the amortization period (which may be up to 25 years). At the end of the declared interest term, a new term is negotiated at the prevailing rates. Interest rates in Canada are traditionally between 1-5% higher than those in the US.

In most cases, same-day mortgage approval can be provided to qualified purchasers. The quick approval process is based on the equity value within 75% maximum mortgage funding, with additional funding possibly being insured by Canada Housing & Mortgage Corporation, a federal government organization.

Average home purchase prices range from a low of $C150,000 for a bungalow in Ajax, to a high of C$372,000 for a senior executive (two-story, 4-5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, two-car garage) in Unionville.

School choices

The Canadian public school system is similar to that of the US. Depending on the province, primary education begins at pre-kindergarten and continues through grade 6 or 8, followed by secondary education or high school. In some provinces, these grades are divided into junior high (grades 7 to 9) and senior high (grades 10-12). By law, children must attend school until the age of 15 or 16, depending on the province.

Taxpayers in Ontario support two different school systems: the non-denominational public school system and the Roman Catholic Separate School System. Residents or taxpayers in all Metro Toronto municipalities may send their children to any secondary schools within their taxation area, providing space is available. In addition, children may be allowed to attend schools outside their taxation area by paying a fee. Typically, instruction is given in English or French. French “emersion” courses are offered in the school systems in the early grades (1-6), and through high school to grade 8.

Toronto offers a comprehensive selection of programs for children with special needs, including the physically handicapped, visually impaired, deaf and hearing impaired, those with special gifting, etc. The local school board can provide additional information on these services.

Canada also boasts many excellent private school facilities, many of which are world renowned.

Parents should register children at the local school or school board office (these are listed in the telephone book under the provincial government section). They will need: the child’s Canadian immigration visa (record of landing), a birth or baptismal certificate, a vaccination certificate, and any previous school records.

Quality healthcare

Comprehensive health care is funded by both the federal and provincial governments, and is a “national right” for every person in Canada with more than three months’ residency.

Transferees will likely want to participate in the provincial medicare program. They should be aware, however, that certain provinces, including Ontario, do not provide coverage in the first ninety days of arrival. They should arrange for private coverage to ensure protection during this time.

Provincial regulations also vary concerning whether coverage applies to all family members or just the worker. In Ontario, for example, the employer must confirm in writing that the worker’s employment in Canada will exceed three years.

Overall, Canada poses no special health risks to transferees from the United States, and good quality medical care is widely available.

Closer to home than you think

Despite its international flavor, Metro Toronto is just 90 minutes by air for 60% of the population of the United States, making it a desirable assignment location for transferees. And with all the city has to offer, they’ll undoubtedly find it an easy place to call home.