British Expat In Toronto, Canada - Expat Interview With Charlotte

Published: 4 Nov at 1 PM
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Filed: Interviews,Canada
Charlotte Santry is a London-born journalist who only discovered a passion for the outdoors after accidentally camping next to a python's nest. Moving to Canada has provided her with plenty more animal encounters and outdoor adventures, but in Toronto she's also never far from a great dim sum or mojito. At her expat blog "Toronto Newbie" (see listing here), she draws attention to the city's opportunities for those who love to be on their feet, riding a bike or on the water, in addition to other highlights that may not be on the radar of the average visitor or newcomer.

Expat Mommy

Here's the interview with Charlotte...

Where are you originally from?
North London, UK. Apart from three years at York University, I was London-based until moving to Canada earlier this year.

In which country and city are you living now?
I'm now living in downtown Toronto, Canada

How long have you lived here?
For three months, since July 2012.

Why did you move and what do you do?
In the UK, I worked as a news journalist and spent most evenings working or socialising. I loved the fast pace of my life and the fact I saw so much of my family and friends, but dreamed of living closer to the great outdoors. Canada had always appealed; its back country is the ultimate playground for anyone who enjoys camping, skiing, hiking and spotting weird animals - and it also has really multicultural, liveable cities. I think Margaret Atwood played a part too. When my husband was offered a company transfer to Canada and we found out we’d both be eligible for work permits, it was an opportunity we didn't want to turn down. I’m now working as a freelance journalist, reporting on Canadian and UK news for various publications, in addition to copy editing for corporate clients.

Expat MommyDid you bring family with you?
No – just the husband.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Relatively painless. It helps that Canada is very culturally similar to the UK and people speak English. Moving via a company transfer also made things easier; For example, all our belongings were shipped over here for us. But inevitably it’s very tough leaving family, friends and colleagues. Skype, Facebook and Twitter have played a huge hand in helping us to stay connected.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Many people live out in the suburbs and drive to work, meaning there isn’t the same weeknight pub culture that you get in the UK. People are also a lot more health-conscious! But we’ve found Torontonians to be very friendly. It’s still early days, but we’ve met people - a mixture of expats and locals – by getting involved in activities that we enjoy rather than by actively seeking friends.

Expat MommyWhat are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
The lakeside setting and hot summers make it an ideal place for kayaking, paddle boarding and sailing. Or you can sunbathe on a massive sandy beach, if that’s more your thing. There are also some excellent bike trails running along ravines, beach boardwalks, nature reserves and parks. The Islands - a 10 minute ferry ride away - are the perfect spot for a picnic. And there are tons of quirky neighbourhoods to explore, like Kensington Market, Queen West and the Distillery District, full of independent shops and with some great options for foodies.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
The active lifestyle. I love hopping on my bike and cycling for miles along trails that are virtually on my doorstep, yet feel a world away from the city. It’s a huge novelty to be able to rent a kayak from the edge of the financial district and watch the sun set over the city skyline. Since moving here I’ve also learned to sail yachts, and I’m looking forward to trying some cross-country skiing as it gets colder. At the weekends, you only have to drive for three hours to get to the most beautiful wilderness, with tons of canoeing and hiking trails – and plenty of deer, bears and moose to look out for.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
Unless you own a car or want to buy a huge house in the sticks, Canada is more expensive. Food costs a lot more here and wine is astronomical compared with Europe. Broadband, cable TV and mobile phone contracts all cost significantly more than in the UK. Be warned: Advertised prices generally don’t include sales tax, which in Ontario is 13 per cent. The tipping culture adds between 15 and 20 per cent to the cost of many services. You won't necessarily pay less on rent than in the UK, but you arguably get more bang for your buck; flats are generally bigger here and there’s less of a premium to live right in the centre of town. Also, indoor pools and jacuzzis are common in city apartment blocks. But it all depends on what you’re used to paying. We lived in a relatively expensive part of north London, so the rent here doesn’t seem too bad.

Expat MommyWhat negatives, if any, are there to living here?
The subway network only covers a tiny proportion of the city, while the streetcars are overcrowded, slow and unbearably hot in the summer. Winters can be bitterly cold, though the underground PATH system provides respite during cold snaps. It’s virtually impossible to explore rural areas without a car and the lack of budget airlines makes even very short trips within Canada extremely expensive.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
The bureaucracy of being a newcomer can be overwhelming. Setting up bank accounts, getting a local mobile phone contract, registering with a doctor and applying for local driving licenses, health cards and social insurance cards can be frustrating and time-consuming.

Do you have any practical tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
Apply for your SIN card and driving license as soon as you arrive. Apart from being useful to have, you’re likely to need them before you can take out a phone contract. And you might need the driving license for ID – Canada’s ludicrously strict when it comes to buying booze! Secondly, you simply can’t get by without a Canadian credit card here. For online and phone purchases, they’re essential. Debit cards are used far less than in the UK. Applying for a credit card as an immigrant takes time and patience, so investigate the options and start the application process as early as possible.

Expat MommyTell us a bit about your own expat blog.
When the chance to relocate first cropped up, I found it really difficult to find useful information on life in Canada, particularly in Toronto. Official tourism sites and guide books implied that the main attractions in Toronto were the CN Tower (one of the world’s largest freestanding structures) and the Eaton Centre – a shopping mall. This didn’t reflect my interests or reasons for wanting to move to Canada at all. Once here, I was amazed at all the wonderful things Toronto had to offer that weren’t widely highlighted. It struck me that the city was under-selling itself. I decided to create a blog to draw attention to the outdoor activities and brilliant festivals that, in my eyes, make Toronto such an exciting city. My blog also aims to provide practical tips for like-minded visitors, residents or Brits thinking of moving over here.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Via my blog or Twitter account (@Toronto_Expat).

Charlotte has her expat blog called Toronto Newbie which is very worthy of a visit. She can be found on Twitter @Toronto_Expat. Toronto Newbie has an listing here which would love a nice review if you can spare a quick moment! If you liked this interview with Charlotte, please also drop her a quick note below.
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