How Expensive are Toronto and Vancouver?
Are you sick of the cost of living in Toronto and Vancouver? Fed up with high rents? Ask yourself this: how expensive are they really, when compared to other world cities?
Here’s the problem with the answers you get to that question: it all depends on the methodology used by whoever’s survey you check out to get the answer. Whether it’s the Economist Intelligence Unit or Mercer Consulting, you can never find out what statistical formulas they actually use to come up with their results. And then there’s Numbeo.com who use data that visitors to their site provide, to come up with their own survey on the cost of living in North American cities.
Oh yes. One other tiny factor to consider: the Canadian dollar, which has been below US$0.80 for over a year now. That means that Toronto and Vancouver get an upfront 20% + discount, seeing as the surveys are all priced in USD. Does that help you when your salary is in Canadian? Not really. But it does give Toronto and Vancouver a competitive advantage in the terms of cost of living when compared with other world cities.
So with that caveat, here goes.
Buddy can you spare a 2 bedroom in a nice neighbourhood?
- Ah, Hong Kong. The shining jewel of entrepreneurship, finance, and big business. Even if Shanghai has taken over some of its former role of gateway to China. Want a nice 2 bedroom? That will be US$6,809.47 per month in rent, according to Mercer consulting. You’d think they’d round down to the nearest hundred.
- How about inflation-racked, elegantly corrupt Buenos Aires? It’s got to be a steal after all those devaluations, right? Not really. It’ll cost you US$2,700 per month for a 2 bedroom in a good neighbourhood.
- Moscow? US$4,200.
- Got a job in New York City? That’ll be $5,100 rent please.
- Ok. So Vancouver’s got to be more expensive when it comes to rent than third-world Buenos Aires. Nope. A 2 bedroom in a nice neighbourhood in Vancouver will cost you US$1,737.80. Nearly a thousand dollars less
In other words, based on the Mercer Survey – which is a cost-of-living survey for expatriates living and working abroad in cities around the world – Vancouver came in at 142. Way behind top Asian, European, a few African, and even some Latin American cities. And Toronto came in at 162. Even cheaper, on a worldwide basis. Yes, the drop in the loonie was a big factor. But when a cup of coffee costs almost twice as much in Beijing as in Vancouver, you realize that maybe T.O. and Vancouver are not as expensive as most Canadians think they are.
The Economist Intelligence Unit begs to differ
While Toronto and Vancouver ranked fairly close to each other in the Mercer Cost of Living survey, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has them much further apart.
- Vancouver ranks notably higher and more expensive than Toronto. In their September 2015 rankings, Vancouver ranked in 49th spot, along with Miami, USA, and Brisbane, Australia.
- Toronto, however, was way back in 88th spot, along with Prague, Czech Republic, and Manila, Philippines.
While it’s hard to say what the differences in methodologies between the Mercer survey and the EIU survey are, it’s more than likely that housing prices (if even included) and/or rents were calculated differently in the two surveys. And that would account for Vancouver being more expensive relative to Toronto in the EIU survey.
Your Five Cents Worth at Numbe.com
Finally, the data at Numbeo.com – where you the user fill in cost-of-living surveys on everything from the cost per mile or km of a taxi ride, to the cost of milk, to the cost of renting a 2 bedroom – have Toronto and Vancouver fairly close together in the rankings. But Numbeo’s survey only includes North American cities – and does not include Mexican cities; only Canadian and American cities. Also, small differences in the actual numbers can make for relatively large difference in the rankings. For example: Vancouver is ranked 51st, with Cincinnati, Ohio slightly more expensive, and Jacksonville Florida, slightly less expensive. But the actual difference in the cost of living index between these 3 cities is small:
- Cincinnati, OH: 71.80
- Vancouver, BC: 71.70
- Jacksonville, FLA: 71.49
So while Toronto is 15 rankings lower, at 66th place, T.O.’s cost of living index comes in at 70.04. Not a big difference at all, in terms of actual numbers, between Vancouver and Toronto. And there’s even less of a difference between Toronto and Raleigh, NC which is more expensive. And Nashville, TN, which is less expensive.
- Raleigh, NC: 70.07
- Toronto, ON: 70.04
- Nashville, TN: 69.94
Another surprising fact about the Numbeo survey, is that Vancouver is not Canada’s most expensive major city. Not even its second-most expensive major city. Those honors go to:
- Calgary, AB: 76.92 which gives it a ranking of 31st and the most expensive Canadian city according to Numbeo.
- Edmonton AB: 75.05 ranks at 36th place and is the second most expensive Canadian city according to Numbeo.
- Halifax, NS: 74.16 ranks at 38th place and is Canada’s third most expensive city according to Numbeo’s survey.
So Whose Survey is Right?
If you believe the folks at expatistan.com then the answer is closer to Numbeo’s rankings but with a few adjustments. Here’s how expatistan.com ranks major Canadian cities:
|City||Expatistan.com Cost of Living Index|
|Saint John's, NL||161|
There’s more to Canada than Toronto and Vancouver?
As you can see from the above table, there are other Canadian cities with far more reasonable cost of living statistics. But how do cities like Kingston and Edmonton, for example, rate in terms of job opportunities? Everyone knows there’s jobs in Vancouver and Toronto. And lots of people competing for those jobs, and scarce housing.
A Huffingtonpost.ca survey took into account both house prices and labour market rates (how many jobs are being created in each city) to come up with a cool ranking of affordable AND employment-friendly cities in Canada. Here’s what they found:
|City||Jobless Rate||Average House Price||Labour Market Ranking|
Here’s the big secret: You. Don’t. Have. To. Live. In. Toronto. Or Vancouver. Unless you have a great job waiting for you in one of those cities (or in Calgary or Montreal), Canada has lots of other urban centres that might offer just the right combination of affordability and opportunity that you’re looking for.
Do you specialize in tech and are able to afford slightly more expensive housing? Then Kitchener-Waterloo may be the place for you. Want to work in Health Services or Tourism? Maybe Kingston is your best bet. The point being: Canada does not end north of the 401 highway. Or at Richmond B.C.’s city limits. Like Regina or Edmonton, for example.
Who do you believe?
In the end, each survey has its own unique set of results. If they didn’t, no one would really care which survey they selected. It’s called marketing, and positioning your brand. You could take the Statistics Canada Consumer Price Index for individual cities over the past 5 years, and see where inflation is highest. But that still wouldn’t tell you from what relative position each city started. For example, finding out that the CPI is increasing faster in Saskatoon than in Vancouver does not necessarily mean rents in Saskatoon are anywhere near what you’d pay in Vancouver.
That means there’s only one way to see which survey is more accurate: move to the city and live there. But taken together, a handful of surveys can give you an idea of the cost of living in major Canadian cities. And finally, don’t forget to check house prices. They’re not included in many surveys which only deal with renting, not owning.