Exploring Vancouver

Getting Out There: The Commitment

So you’ve done the tourist stuff, and you’ve flirted with a few one-off activities and events. Maybe you’ve seen a museum or two, or dipped a toe into the world of water-sports, or fulfilled that childhood Musketeer dream by trying a spot of fencing.

If you’re ready to put down roots in your new community, or if you just miss the comfort of a predictable routine, you’re probably ready for The Commitment. It’s time to discover some activities that require a little more effort and a lot more time, and hopefully you’ll meet some awesome new people along the way.

There are so many options here, and of course you can start your search by Googling sports or activities you love and finding clubs or classes in your area. I want to give you a few suggestions, as there’s a good chance there’s something out there that you simply haven’t heard of yet:

If your main goal is to meet people:

  • GirlCrew is an app (and Facebook group) aimed solely at women, and its mission is simple: to help women connect with other women in their areas. The Vancouver crew is quite active, and they frequently host events for newbies.
  • Meetup.com is based on a similar idea, but the focus is much more on activities. Looking for a cycling group, or a board game night, or a brunch club? Sign up and find your people.

If your main goal is to do something new:

  • Join your local library and sign up for the book club. If you’re close to the Central branch in downtown Vancouver, welcome to the library of your dreams.
  • Buy an annual membership to the Vancouver Art Gallery, and snigger every time you think of their unfortunate acronym. It’s $90 for a year.
  • Sign up for a night-class at BCIT. They offer heaps of part-time programmes, and it’s all stuff that will look great on your resume.
  • Sign up for a part-time art class at Emily Carr. They offer courses across lots of different disciplines, from Illustration to Textile Arts.
Image: Daily Hive
Exploring Vancouver

Getting Out There: The Groupon

As a continuation of yesterday’s getting out there theme, today we’re going to look at how Groupon can keep you active and exploring the city as you settle in. Whether you moved here alone and are looking for fun solo activities, or want to try something new with a friend or partner, Groupon’s got you.

It’s no secret that I’d gladly sign up for a tour of the nine circles of hell if there was a good deal going on Groupon. In a city as large and vibrant as Vancouver, the opportunities for new experiences are endless – and they can be affordable too. A quick search for Things To Do for $30 or less returned 99 results in Vancouver today. Here’s a sample of what’s on offer:

Activities for One

Activities for Two or more

Exploring Vancouver

Getting Out There: The Mini-Adventure

Have we talked about moving stress? Ugh. I moved around quite a lot when I was younger, and nothing has ever stressed me out like the move to Vancouver did. Maybe it’s something that gets worse with age, or maybe the planets were just mis-aligned when I was packing up my life at home, but it was not an experience I’d ever like to repeat.

The stress had a huge impact on me, and I found that I was way less interested than usual in getting out there and exploring when I first arrived. I didn’t know many people in the city, and it all just felt like hard work. As a naturally lazy introvert, I had to develop a few survival techniques that forced me out into the real world every weekend. I’m going to share them here in a series of posts, beginning with The Mini-Adventure.

Weekend looming with not a single plan on the horizon? Fantasizing about comfy pants and a sack of Cheese Pleasers? Unleash with your inner explorer and set yourself a mini-mission instead.

Not today.

The idea is a simple one: think of something you love, and seek it out. Not at your neighbourhood 7-Eleven, not at the bakery you walk past every day, but in a far-flung corner of the city that you’ve never explored before. Lots of great mini-adventures begin with a Google search: best donut in Vancouver, best coffee in Vancouver, best jerky… you get the idea. My favourite things are mostly edible, but maybe you’re more interested in music stores, or used books, or parks, or kitchen gadgets.

Aubade, Mei Jan Hong jerky, Two Spirits

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Schlep all the way to Aubade in Chinatown for a small cup of coffee and a large dose of hipster chic.
  • Take the SkyTrain to Aberdeen Mall and sample the delicious fresh jerky at Mei Jan Hong Singaporean Jerky.
  • Venture deep into Stanley Park to discover the mysterious Two Spirits tree sculpture.
  • Hire a bike. Take it anywhere.
  • Ask your co-workers for suggestions. Act on them.
Planning your move, Settling in

Sales taxes in BC

Coming from a continent where you simply pay the price displayed on the price tag, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the way sales taxes are applied here in BC. It’s not complicated – it’s just a bit of a shock when the amount you’re charged at the cash register is more than you expected. This is especially true for larger purchases like electronics and home furnishings.

There are two main sales taxes in BC: Goods and Services Tax (GST) and Provincial Sales Tax (PST). There’s also a municipal tax on tourist accommodation (Municipal and Regional District Tax/MRDT) and a separate tax on tobacco products (simply called Tobacco Tax).

When it comes to everyday expenses, here’s what to expect:

A guide to sales taxes in BC: tax-free items, items subject to 5% GST, items subject to 5% GST + 7% PST, tobacco tax, alcohol, tourist accommodation

You can find lots more information about sales taxes on the BC government website.

Settling in

Setting up home

If you’re moving into a shared house, you’re not going to need a lot of furniture, and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to buy the contents of the bedroom from the previous occupant. If you’re moving into an apartment of your own, you should be prepared to furnish it from scratch, as furnished apartments are very hard to come by.

While it might be tempting to dash to IKEA and get all your shopping done in one go (also – meatballs), there are other options – and they could save you some money.

The Essentials: Bed & Sofa

There are a couple of items you won’t want to live without for very long – a bed is definitely first on the list, and a sofa is a close second. IKEA and Structube are the most affordable places to shop for these items. Both have brick and mortar stores and also offer online shopping and delivery.

IKEA prices start at $189 for a Queen bed.

Tarva bed from IKEA, price $189
IKEA’s Tarva is an affordable option

Structube has Queen beds starting at $249.

Moss bed from Structube, price $349
Structube items are high impact, low price – like the $349 Moss bed

I set myself an imaginary sofa budget of $500 and chose these as my favourites – there’s a lot more choice at Structube in this price range, which I was surprised at:

IKEA's Ektorp sofa in dark gray, $499
Ektorp from IKEA
Structube's Loretta sofa in green, $499
Loretta from Structube

The Nice to Haves: Dining Sets, Coffee Tables, Entertainment Units, Bookcases

Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are great places to track down these items, especially if you’re not in a hurry. There are thousands of used goods for sale or free. Some sellers will offer delivery for a small fee, but most items are advertised as ‘collection only’. Items listed over the weekend are often gone by Sunday evening, so if you see something you like, act fast!

While these sites can definitely turn up gems, they can also be hard work – items may be gone by the time you reach out to the seller, and you may need to try searching using different keywords (including your neighbourhood) to narrow down your results.

The Bells & Whistles

Now that you have the basics covered, you’re ready for all those little things that make a house feel like a home. Lamps, cushions, throws and rugs are easy to pick up around the city, and unless you go totally overboard, you’ll probably be able to carry them home on public transit.

The two best budget-friendly shops in the city for these sorts of things are:

HomeSense: Part of the Winners family (you might know it as TK Maxx/TJ Maxx if you’re from Europe/the US), this store has HEAPS of awesome homewares at ridiculous prices. If you ever need company on a trip to HomeSense, call me. Multiple locations downtown and in Burnaby, Richmond, and Coquitlam.

Structube:Two locations downtown, and stores in Burnaby and Langley. I’m not going to say anything else about this store that this $19 llama cushion doesn’t say better:

Cushion with two llamas

As these purchases are probably the most expensive things you’ve purchased since your arrival, it’s probably a good idea to get your head around sales taxes before you hit the shops. Check out this post to learn about sales taxes in BC.

Planning your move

What to pack

Moving house is stressful. Packing up your entire life and moving to another country is a whole other level of stress – and it doesn’t just go away the day you finally plug in the kettle and toaster in your new home. The packing tips below will help you prepare for the big move, and hopefully they’ll take some of the stress out of the equation.

What to bring

It’s not possible to write a one-size-fits-all list of essentials, but based on personal experience and lots of conversations with other new arrivals to the city, here are a few things to consider:

  • 6 months’ worth of any medication you take
  • Grocery items you’re weirdly attached to and can’t imagine living without (yes, fellow Irish, I mean teabags; you’ll find them in Irish/British stores here, or you can order them online, but maybe just bring enough to get you through your first month or two)
  • Underwear, socks, and tights: stock up before you leave home, as prices in North America are much higher than in Europe
  • If you’re shipping anything from home, think about including quality items that would be expensive to replace – like sheets, pillow cases, and duvet covers
  • Small electronic devices (phone/tablet/laptop), chargers, and a couple of adaptors

What NOT to bring

  • Most electronic appliances – voltage varies from one continent to the next, so things like hairdryers, straighteners, and speakers don’t travel well
  • Sport equipment – it’s heavy, it’s awkward, and you’ll probably be able to pick it up here without breaking the bank
  • Sentimental stuff – framed photos and favourite teapots might seem important when you’re packing, but you’ll have very different feelings after you’ve spent a long-haul flight worrying about them
Planning your move, Settling in

Find Rental Accommodation in Vancouver

We’ve all heard of Very Important People who relocated to the city with the aid of their new employers, basically swanning in to a furnished apartment with a fridge pre-stocked with their favourite brand of cheese. I’m guessing that you, like 100% of the actual humans I’ve met in this city, will be navigating the crazy, stressful world of Vancouver rentals alone.

The usual approach is to book into a hostel or an AirBnB for a few weeks, and start searching for a longer-term home as soon as you arrive in the city.

Time it right

Most leases in Vancouver start on the 1st or 15th of the month. Make sure your temporary accommodation is booked right up to one of these dates – for example, if you’re landing in Vancouver on March 27th, make sure you have accommodation arranged to April 15th (or May 1st if you can afford it, as those extra couple of weeks will really help take the pressure off).

A place of your own

If you’re looking for an apartment of your own, the best approach is to walk around your desired neighbourhood. Buildings with vacancies have signs outside, and you can often get a viewing straight away by calling the rental office. Cross your fingers for dry weather and get exploring the West End and Kitsilano, and be prepared to pay $1700+/mth for a one-bed apartment.

A room in a shared house

If you’re looking for a room in a shared house, most of your searching will be online – try Craigslist and Facebook groups. There are groups dedicated to accommodation, and lots of groups that cater to immigrants from different countries. While you may find someone in a two-bed apartment downtown looking for a housemate, most of the larger house shares are in the suburbs. You should budget at least $600/mth for a room in a shared house/apartment.

Things to budget for

Most landlords ask for a month’s rent in advance, plus a deposit of half a month’s rent. Some buildings also charge a one-off move in fee.

Finally, a word of warning about housing scams: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Never put down a deposit before seeing the property and signing a lease.