Which Cities are the Most Expensive in Canada?
As we explained in our previous edition of Canada’s Top 10 worst cities to live in as determined by cost of living plus rent (see below), we use Numbeo’s 2019 mid-year cost of living index plus rent for North, Central, & South American cities. Here’s how it works:
New York City is used as the baseline. In other words, each category is compared with the cost of that category in the Big Apple with NYC’s cost being 100.00. For example:
- Winnipeg has a cost-of-living plus rent of 43.80. That means that the cost of living including rent in Winnipeg is 43.8% of that in New York, which is way less.
- Winnipeg has a groceries cost of 54.97 so groceries are 57.97% of what they are in NYC.
- Winnipeg has a restaurant cost of 60.05% which means you shell out 60.05% of what you would for a similar type of meal in New York.
- Finally, Winnipeg’s local purchasing power index comes in at 105.58 which means you only get about 5.58 % more for your buck in Winnipeg on an average salary in Winnipeg. So, yes things are a lot cheaper in Winnipeg than in NYC, but salaries are lower as well, so the gain is not as much as you might expect. (The local purchasing power index is perhaps the most volatile one as it depends on the local economy. Obviously, salaries vary somewhat from city to city, depending on the local economy, and this will affect how much better off economically you’d be moving to a cheaper city as measured by the salary you would earn in that cheaper city.)
There’s been a number of changes in our index in just the space of little over a year. It shows how quickly things can change and how a city can go from a being a bargain to becoming a drain on your finances in the space of 12 to 18 months. Welcome to life on the cusp of 2020! Let’s see what the future might bring. Here’s the 10 Worst Cities in Canada based on Cost-of-Living plus Rent!
10. Winnipeg, Manitoba: 43.80 Cost-of-Living plus Rent
Ok, Winnipeg, located in southern Manitoba and the provincial capital, is a wonderful, well-kept city but it does have really cold winters and a few of the neighbourhoods have a crime problem, much of it involving youth gangs. Rent is quite cheap, even cheaper than places like Little Rock, Arkansas, and cheaper than Panama City, Panama. But salaries – as we pointed out above – are lower as well, so your gain as far as local purchasing power is limited. Here’s the numbers:
- Cost of living – 61.83
- Rent – 24.11
- Groceries – 54.97
- Restaurants -60.05
- Local purchasing power – 105.58
9. Montreal, Quebec: 47.76 Cost-of-Living plus Rent
This was once Canada’s principal city, until around the 1960s. Then Toronto began to take its place in finance, industry, culture, and sports, as the Maple Leafs began racking up Stanley Cup victories.
Oh, that’s right.
But the point being that Montreal is a major city with lots to offer and at prices that are really surprisingly low. Yes, speaking French is essential for most jobs and for much of daily living and that seems to keep a lid on prices compared to Toronto. Rents, for example, are slightly more than half what you pay in Toronto or Vancouver, for example. Voici les numeraux:
- Cost of living – 66.47
- Rent – 27.34
- Groceries – 66.69
- Restaurants – 61.41
- Local purchasing power – 105.62
8. Halifax, Nova Scotia: 50.73 Cost-of-Living plus Rent
The Maritimes are finally opening up to larger scale immigration which is a little ironic seeing they were some of the earliest parts of Canada to be settled. But provinces like Nova Scotia have seen the benefits of immigration in other provinces and are eagerly ramping up their Provincial Nominee Programs.
Does this mean that Halifax is now becoming an expensive city? Perhaps not quite yet compared to Montreal or Calgary but compared to cities like Moncton it is hardly a cheap place to live. Oddly enough, the reason seems to be that food costs are quite high. Both groceries and restaurants are surprisingly expensive, and salaries are quite low. Your salary’s buck gets you about 12% less than in New York. Ouch! Time for some more competition and new blood maybe?
- Cost of living – 71.53
- Rent – 28.03
- Groceries – 74.81
- Restaurants – 60.74
- Local purchasing power – 88.62
7. Edmonton, Alberta: 50.97 Cost-of-Living plus Rent
Edmonton is both a government city – it’s the provincial capital of Alberta – as well as an agricultural, industrial, and commercial centre. That means a broad range of economic activity that supports a nice range of employment opportunities.
Is it costly to live there? Not nearly as expensive as it is in Calgary. Yes, winters are colder than its southern rival. But the Rockies are almost as close as in Calgary and the drive from Edmonton up to Jasper is a beautiful route that runs from farmlands through foothills and up into the mountains. Try it sometime.
How expensive is Edmonton? Rent is reasonable and the local purchasing power index means you get almost 25% more bang for your salary’s buck than in NYC.
- Cost of living – 70.36
- Rent – 29.81
- Groceries – 64.74
- Restaurants – 72.06
- Local purchasing power – 124.80
6. Ottawa, Ontario: 51.29 Cost-of-Living plus Rent
For a country that has earned the attention of much of the world as a pretty darn good place to settle, its capital city remains an understated story that often gets overlooked by people looking to live in places like Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary or Montreal.
Nonetheless, it is far from the affordable, overly well-ordered town it used to be a few decades ago. From traffic snarls on the Queensway to increasingly expensive housing as well as a tech sector that might not be living its glory days from the ‘90s but is still an important presence, this is an increasingly sophisticated city. And prices are reflecting that.
However, this is a city with high salaries, eh! Look at the local purchasing index. You get a third more bang for your buck in Ottawa. What do you expect? Bureaucrats are well-paid.
- Cost of living – 69.57
- Rent – 31.33
- Groceries – 62.54
- Restaurants – 69.98
- Local purchasing power – 133.77
5. Calgary, Alberta: 51.74 Cost-of-Living plus Rent
You’d expect booming Cow Town (Calgary for all of us non-cowboy/oil patch roughnecks) to be up there on our list. Rents and restaurants are more expensive than in Halifax, but food is cheaper. Safeway thank you!
But there’s more. Calgary is a city choke full of well-paid workers with prices that are expensive but nowhere near as ridiculous as in Vancouver or Toronto. That means that your average salary gets you 40% more than in New York. That’s astonishing quite frankly.
Here’re the numbers:
Here’re the numbers:
- Cost of living – 71.30
- Rent – 30.40
- Groceries – 65.40
- Restaurants – 71.40
- Local purchasing power – 141.29
4. Kelowna, BC: 51.79 Cost-of-Living plus Rent
BC is not just the southern mainland and Vancouver Island. There’s a huge province spreading way north and east towards the Rockies as well. Kelowna is a beautiful town nestled in a valley in the southeast of the province.
But it comes at a cost, as the city is quite expensive by Canadian standards. Rents are higher than in Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton, Halifax, and Calgary. That’s one of the drawbacks of being a smaller city that suddenly becomes a popular destination. Growth can’t keep up quickly enough, especially with housing. So for now, its numbers are on the high side:
- Cost of living – 67.88
- Rent – 34.23
- Groceries – 63.66
- Restaurants – 61.91
- Local purchasing power – 105.36
3. Victoria, BC: 55.57 Cost-of-Living plus Rent
At the southern tip of Vancouver Island where roses bloom in late March, while pedestrians in Hamilton and Toronto slip on freezing sidewalks and Montrealers go skiing on weekends, we are now in the charming city of Victoria in the shadow of disgustingly expensive cities like Vancouver and Toronto. Victoria is not quite as bad, but with its wealthy retirees and mild weather (for Canada), it is expensive by any reasonable standard. Rent is rather high compared to the first 7 cities we’ve listed above, if not as high as across the Georgia Strait in Vancouver itself. But groceries are very expensive, for example. And nothing is cheap in Victoria. Hence a local purchasing power index that means your average salary gets you 5% less than in New York.
- Cost of living – 72.05
- Rent – 37.96
- Groceries – 73.94
- Restaurants – 63.54
- Local purchasing power – 95.12
2. Vancouver, BC: 62.99 Cost-of-Living plus Rent
It’s hard not to talk about Vancouver and start trading war stories about overpriced homes where not even $1 million gets you the key to the front door. As far as rent goes, Vancouver tops our list coming in even more than our #1 worst city. (No prizes for guessing which city that is.) Everything is expensive, but at least Vancouver has fairly high salaries, so on average your local purchasing power gets you only about 10% less than in New York City.
Of course, if your salary is merely average, you won’t be able to afford more than a small apartment located a fair distance from the delights of Stanley Park, for example.
Welcome to what analysts are calling the intangible economy, where your salary can’t afford a mortgage on a decent home. You sure you want to see the numbers?
- Cost of living – 73.72
- Rent – 51.28
- Groceries – 73.33
- Restaurants – 70.62
- Local purchasing power – 90.36
1. Toronto, Ontario: 68.52 Cost-of-Living plus Rent
Canada’s biggest city is a diverse, exciting multicultural lovefest of talented people from around the world. Or a grinding, grim tale of Darwinian survival of the fittest with pretty cold winters and muggy, hot summers. Actually, it’s both of those things and more.
And it’s now so expensive that the local purchasing power comes in at a pathetic 82.86. You get nearly 18% less from your average salary in Toronto than you do in the Big Bad Apple on the Hudson. In Toronto, everything is really quite expensive. From groceries and rent to restaurants. And house prices are starting to take off again. And, of course, the cash-rich Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup in over half a century.
Roll the numbers please:
- Cost of living – 85.21
- Rent – 50.30
- Groceries – 85.64
- Restaurants – 78.07
- Local purchasing power – 82.86
As we predicted, the rankings have changed noticeably from our survey of last year. Here’s who’s up and who’s down and who’s in and who’s out.
|City||2020 Ranking||2018 Ranking||Up Down In Out|
|Toronto||1st (68.52)||2nd (61.58)||Cost of Living + Rent UP|
|Vancouver||2nd (62.99)||1st (64.94)||Cost of Living + Rent DOWN|
|Victoria||3rd (55.57)||3rd (58.36)||Cost of Living + Rent SAME|
|Kelowna||4th (51.79)||6th (55.52)||Cost of Living + Rent UP|
|Calgary||5th (51.74)||10th (54.70)||Cost of Living + Rent UP|
|Ottawa||6th (51.79||Not listed||Cost of Living + Rent UP & IN|
|Edmonton||7th (50.97)||Not listed||Cost of Living + Rent UP & IN|
|Halifax||8th (50.73)||4th (56.61)||Cost of Living + Rent DOWN|
|Montreal||9th (47.76)||Not listed||Cost of Living + Rent UP & IN|
|Winnipeg||10th (43.80)||Not listed||Cost of Living + Rent UP & IN|
|Saskatoon||Not listed||5th (56.27)||Cost of Living + Rent DOWN & OUT|
|Mississauga||Not listed||7th (55.23)||Cost of Living + Rent DOWN & OUT|
|Thunder Bay||Not listed||8th (55.08)||Cost of Living + Rent DOWN & OUT|
|Burlington||Not listed||9th (54.97)||Cost of Living + Rent DOWN & OUT|
As you can see, Numbeo’s ratings can change dramatically. Some of smaller cities have smaller sized data samples, so that can introduce a lot of volatility as well.
The key point is the local purchasing power index. Calgary and Ottawa are great bargains (assuming you can earn their fairly high average salaries) and Montreal is a pretty good deal as well (assuming your French is good, and you can get a decent job). Toronto? Well let’s just say their score on the local purchasing power index is about as successful as the … Maple Leafs.
Worst Canadian Cities 2018: Cost of Living
We’ve done a lot of “worst” lists about Canadian cities and towns here at Immigroup:
- Worst Cities to Settle in Canada
- Worst Cities by Crime Rate
- Worst Cities Based Upon Violent Crime
- Worst Cities Based Upon Drug Crime
- Worst Cities Based Upon Property Crime
- Worst Places by Remoteness
- Even the Worst Neighbourhoods in Toronto
But we’ve never done a worst cities list based upon cost of living. So we’ve finally decided to do that. Here’s
Where Not To Live in Canada by Cost of Living
This list is based on Numbeo’s Cost of Living Index for North America 2018. The guide to the numbers is as follows: 100 is the value of money in New York City, so the costs are in relation to that. All the numbers are crowd-sourced averages. So, take the 10th most expensive city in Canada, Calgary, for example:
- Calgary’s average Cost of Living including Rent is 54.7% of New York City’s
- Calgary’s average Cost of Living not including Rent is 76.44% of New York City’s
- Calgary’s average Rent is 31.37% of New York City’s average Rent
- Calgary’s average Grocery Bill is 75.23% of New York’s average Grocery Bill
- Calgary’s average dollar purchases 46.39% more than New York’s average dollar
Got it? Good.
The Top 10 Most Expensive Cities in Canada
10. Calgary, Alberta – 54.7 Cost of Living Including Rent
- What: Calgary is Canada’s fourth largest city and the largest city between Toronto and Vancouver
- Where: Calgary is located in southern Alberta, only about 90 minutes from the Rocky Mountains
In 2018, Calgary is the 61st most expensive in North America, just outside the top third. If rent is factored in, Calgary drops to the 77th most expensive city, which should tell you that the rent in Calgary is relatively affordable but the rest of the city less so. In Canada, it is the 8th most expensive city until you factor in rent, which makes it 10th.
Groceries are comparatively more affordable than some of the other cities its size in Canada, as Calgary ranks as the 13th most expensive for groceries among major cities in Canada.
But restaurants are not cheap: Calgary has the 6th most expensive restaurants, on average, in Canada.
It’s purchasing power that’s the main reason to live in Calgary, as Calgarians’ average salaries purchase more than any other salaries in Canada.
- 76.44 Cost of Living
- 31.37 Rent
- 72.97 Groceries
- 75.23 Restaurants
- 146.39 Purchasing Power
9. Burlington, Ontario – 54.97 Cost of Living Including Rent
- What: Burlington is one of the many suburbs of Toronto; it has long battled for “Most Expensive City in Canada” with Markham, ON, another Toronto suburb.
- Where: Burlington is about 30 minutes west of Toronto at the end of Lake Ontario, between Oakville to the east and Hamilton to the west and south.
Burlington was once considered the most expensive city in Canada. The only thing keeping it from #1 on our list may be the lack of information in the Numbeo database. But let’s assume for a moment that the information is correct…
According to Numbeo, Burlington is only the 14th most expensive major city in Canada if you exclude rent. Looking at rent though, it’s extremely pricey, at the 6th most expensive major city in Canada.
But groceries are relatively affordable – certainly cheaper than Calgary’s – as Burlington has only the 22nd most expensive groceries in Canada. But you will have to buy all your food at home because Burlington is the most expensive major city in Canada for restaurants, which should not be a surprise given that it has often been considered Canada’s most expensive city.
Your dollar doesn’t go as far in Burlington as it does in Calgary, but it’s still a better value than just about anywhere else in the country.
- 74.32 Cost of Living
- 34.2 Rent
- 68.68 Groceries
- 82.63 Restaurants
- 137.47 Purchasing Power
8. Thunder Bay, Ontario – 55.08 Cost of Living Including Rent
- What: Thunder Bay is the largest city in northern Ontario and the largest city between the Quebec-Windsor corridor and Winnipeg
- Where: Thunder Bay is located at the head of Lake Superior, slightly less than 8 hours by car east of Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Thunder Bay is approximately 15 hours by car from Toronto.)
In addition to being remote, Thunder Bay is expensive. If you don’t include the dirt cheap rent, Thunder Bay has the third highest cost of living of a major city in Canada. Fortunately, of the major Canadian cities to make this list, Thunder Bay has the 10th cheapest rent.
Because of its remoteness, groceries are quite expensive, and Thunder Bay has the 9th most expensive groceries. And for reasons I can only guess at, Thunder Bay’s restaurants are also quite expensive.
All of this means that your dollar does not go as far in Thunder Bay as it does in Calgary or Burlington.
- 81.98 Cost of Living
- 26.2 Rent
- 77.76 Groceries
- 74.63 Restaurants
- 84.87 Purchasing Power
7. Mississauga, Ontario – 55.23 Cost of Living Including Rent
- What: Mississauga is the largest suburb of Toronto which borders directly on Toronto.
- Where: Immediately west of Toronto, just east of Oakville and Burlington, and directly south of Brampton
Mississauga’s appeal used to be that it was cheaper than Toronto. That’s still true, but it’s far from the cheapest option surrounding Toronto now.
Mississauga is the 18th most expensive major city in Canada, which makes it cheaper than Toronto, as well as the Toronto suburbs of Brampton and Burlington, and the city of Barrie, which is too far to be a suburb but still included in some versions of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). But it’s more expensive than every other suburb.
Mississauga’s rent prices have increased with its popularity, making it the most expensive city in the GTA to rent in aside from Toronto.
One advantage is that groceries are significantly cheaper than anywhere in the GTA except Hamilton. And the stigma of being a suburb means that restaurants remain more affordable than they are in Toronto and the ritzier suburbs.
The Mississaugan’s dollar doesn’t go that far, but it goes further than a number of cities.
- 72.54 Cost of Living
- 36.65 Rent
- 68.46 Groceries
- 67.15 Restaurants
- 106.67 Purchasing Power
6. Kelowna, BC – 55.52 Cost of Living Including Rent
- What: Kelowna is the third largest metropolitan area in BC and the largest city not located in the Lower Mailand or on Vancouver Island
- Where: Kelowna is located in the famous Okanagan Valley, home to Canada’s best wine region, 4 hours east of Vancouver
Without including rent, Kelowna is the 13th most expensive major city in Canada, though it’s the 22nd largest metropolitan area. Rent is oddly expensive – the 5th most expensive average rent of a major city in Canada – perhaps because it is the biggest city in its region or perhaps because much of the land around the city is parkland or to steep to be built on, or both.
Kelowna is in the top third for most expensive groceries, but just barely. Though located in an agricultural region, it’s a region only suited to certain types of agriculture. Fortunately restaurants are about in the middle of the pack for the 30 Canadian cities to make the Most Expensive list.
Though an expensive place, to live, there’s more bang for your buck in Kelowna than a lot of the other cities on this list.
- 74.78 Cost of Living
- 34.84 Rent
- 77.54 Groceries
- 68.9 Restaurants
- 109.95 Purchasing Power
5. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan – 56.27 Cost of Living Including Rent
- What: Saskatoon is the largest city in Saskatchewan and 17th largest metropolitan area in Canada
- Where: Saskatoon is right in the middle of the Prairies, 8 hours northwest of Winnipeg and 6 hours east of Calgary.
Despite its size, Saskatoon is the 4th most expensive major city in Canada, when not accounting for rent. The only thing that bumps it down to 5th overall is that rent, which is closer to average for the Canadian cities that made the expensive list. Why is Saskatoon so expensive? Maybe it was the resource boom which drew in many people over the last decade or so.
The real culprit might be the groceries: Saskatoon has the 4th most expensive groceries in the country, despite being located in an agricultural region. Restaurants are relatively more reasonably priced somehow, as Saskatoon’s restaurants rank 10th.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Saskatoon’s dollar doesn’t purchase much.
- 81.02 Cost of Living
- 29.7 Rent
- 82.39 Groceries
- 72.78 Restaurants
- 99.63 Purchasing Power
4. Halifax – 56.61 Cost of Living Including Rent
- What: Halifax is the largest city in the Maritimes and the 14th largest in Canada
- Where: Halifax is located in central Nova Scotia, a 10 hour drive from Quebec City, the nearest larger city
Halifax used to be known as a cheap place to live. In fact, for years, a friend of mine who lives there would tell me I should move there to take advantage of it; it was cheaper than where I lived, he said, but also had most of what you would want in a big city.
Well, in the ensuing years, something as happened; not factoring in rent it’s somehow the second most expensive city in the entire country. Halifax has always been the most in-demand place to live in its entire region of Canada but this is ridiculous.
Fortuantely, rent is still much cheaper than the other major cities in Canada, though it has the most expensive rent of a major city in the Maritimes.
For reasons we can only guess at, groceries are very, very expensive in Halifax, and restaurants, though not quite as bad, are somehow worse than Toronto. The problem is the purchasing power; your dollar does not go far enough here.
For those of us who live in bigger cities in Canada, the appeal of the Maritimes is usually the scenery, the cost and the people. But now that Halifax is expensive, the appeal may have disappeared.
- 82.03 Cost of Living
- 29.33 Rent
- 88.57 Groceries
- 75.91 Restaurants
- 95.7 Purchasing Power
3. Victoria – 58.36 Cost of Living Including Rent
- What: The capital of British Columbia is the largest city on Vancouver Island and the 15th largest metropolitan area in Canada
- Where: Victoria is the largest city in Canada on an island, meaning that to get to the rest of the country, you have to take a ferry or a plane
Victoria’s cost of living has gone way up, recently, though you wouldn’t know it looking at it in relation to other cities on this list. It’s the 11th most expensive city in Canada if you do not factor in rent.
Rent is brutally expensive compared to other cities of its size – 3rd most expensive in the country – and you end up paying rent prices that are more in line with Toronto or Vancouver.
You should expect groceries to be more money in a city on an island; everything that can’t be grown or raised on the island comes by boat or plane and you pay for that.
At least the dollar goes pretty damn far in comparison to these other cities. No if only you could afford the rent.
- 75.47 Cost of Living
- 40 Rent
- 79.13 Groceries
- 112.52 Purchasing Power
2. Toronto – 61.58 Cost of Living Including Rent
- What: Canada’s largest city is the capital of Ontario and the centre of The Golden Horseshoe which, in its broadest definition, contains 21% of Canada’s population and 55% of Ontario’s
- Where: Toronto is located on the north side of Lake Ontario, a 5.5 hour drive from Montreal and a 4.5 hour drive from Ottawa, as well as 90 minutes from the US border
You would expect the largest city in Canada to be the most expensive and it is if you factor in rent. The main difference between Toronto and the most expensive city on this list is that Toronto has a lot of land and is more centrally located. If you don’t factor in rent, Toronto is only the 12th most expensive major city in Canada, something that seems utterly shocking to me, as I live here.
So though rent is unbelievably expensive in Toronto – you don’t want to know what I pay each month, you really don’t – it’s still cheaper than the most expensive city on this list.
Groceries are reasonably priced compared to much of the rest of the country, because most things have to come through Toronto to get to the rest of Ontario and, in some cases, the rest of the country.
High-end restaurants are notoriously expensive but there remain many cheap places if you know where to look.
There’s also slightly more bang for your buck than you would have guessed, which is how people can still manage to afford living here. Barely.
- 75.22 Cost of Living
- 46.94 Rent
- 70.65 Groceries
- 70.56 Restaurants
- 106.83 Purchasing Power
1. Vancouver – 64.94 Cost of Living including Rent
- What: Vancouver is the third largest metropolitan area in Canada – the city itself is only 8th due to its small geographical size – and the largest metropolitan area in Canada west of Toronto
- Where: Vancouver is located on the “Lower Mainland,” a flat portion of BC at the mouth of a river, surrounded by mountains and across the water from Victoria.
When Canadians think of expensive they think of real estate in Vancouver and it’s been that way for a very long time. In 2010, someone created Crack Shack or Mansion, an online game in which you try to figure out whether or not this terrible piece of property you’re looking at sold for over CAD$1 million. Things have only gotten worse in the meantime.
Is there good news? Um, I guess so. Groceries are cheaper than on Vancouver Island! That’s…something! In fact, if you forget about rent, Vancouver is less expensive than Halifax, Thunder Bay, and Calgary, among other places. Restaurants are slightly cheaper than in Toronto!
But salaries have not increased along with housing costs, meaning that it’s harder here than anywhere else in the country.
- 75.59 Cost of Living
- 53.5 Rent
- 78.26 Groceries
- 70.12 Restaurants
- 96.77 Purchasing Power
Don’t agree with our list? We got this information from Numbeo, a crowd-sourced website. Go to Numbeo to input prices and fix the rankings.
Best Bang for Your Buck
The list of cities we drew upon for this list was limited to 160 or so cities from Canada, the US and Bermuda, so the below cities are not the cheapest cities and towns in Canada, but they are the cheapest major cities in Canada.
The Cheapest Major Cities in Canada in 2018
- Gatineau, QC
- Quebec, QC
- Moncton, NB
- Kitchener, ON
- Hamilton, ON
- Windsor, ON
- London, ON
- Montreal, QC
- Winnipeg, MB
- Nanaimo, BC