Francell moved to Calgary in October 2019 and arrived in the city ahead of her husband, who will hopefully be joining her very soon. She shares some great insights about the good, the bad and the ugly of life in Calgary.
When did you move to Canada and what made you choose Calgary?
I landed in Canada on 23 October 2019. When we started the process back in 2017 my husband and I watched a ton of YouTube videos of all the major cities in Canada. Naturally, Calgary featured in most. I still remember it was a summer night in Cape Town; we were sitting outside having a glass of wine and my husband Stiaan suggested Calgary or, how he referred to it, “Cow Town”. I was still not fully convinced at that stage, but we started to follow vlogs of people who lived in Calgary and we fell more and more in love with the city.
Where do you live in Calgary? What do you like best and least about your neighbourhood?
I live in Downtown Calgary, walking distance from everything. What I love about downtown is that you have the “Big City Life” without feeling like you are trapped in the city. I am 500m away from Peace Bridge and go for daily walks along the Bow River. Never have I ever felt unsafe walking alone with my earphones on, blasting my music and just taking in the beautiful city skyline. Downtown also has a vibrant nightlife with amazing restaurants.
However, the thing that I like the least about my neighbourhood, or rather about Calgary in general, is something that you never hear about on YouTube channels or read about prior to your arrival, is the homeless population, which is prevalent. Calgary, just like any other major city, has homeless people and, sadly, the majority tend to have a drug addiction problem. The biggest difference between the Cape Town and Calgary homeless population, though, is that in Calgary they tend to mind their own business and don’t bother you at all.
If you could live anywhere in the city where would it be and why?
Oh, that’s a difficult question! I like the SW and NW quadrants the most. I think depending on where you work or what you do that might influence it, but I would want to be close to a train station.
What do you love most about Calgary?
For me, Calgary is the land of opportunity and personal growth. I love that there is always someone to help if required, but you will first need to try and succeed on your own. I love that it is safe enough to catch a train at 10pm on your own. I love that the city always tries to have “free” family festivals and tries to involve the various communities. I love that policemen here look like cowboys and that they are actually really nice 😊.
What has been the most challenging part about moving to and living in Calgary/Canada?
Leaving my husband and my family behind and having to go through this process on my own. I have not had the easiest time since I landed. I basically got evicted because my first accommodation turned out to be an illegal Airbnb, and I went through a few other personal things shortly after. However, you learn very quickly to adapt and to survive. I’ve had the biggest personal growth and development in the past six months, and if you take it day by day you will make it through.
What do you miss most about your home country?
If you asked me this question three months ago, I would have said the scent of sunscreen on the beach or of a braaivleis fire. Today I miss my family and friends, but thank goodness for WhatsApp video calls and FaceTime.
Have you found it easy to meet new people and make friends?
Yes, but I had a rule in the beginning that if someone invited me and I had nothing else planned with someone else I had to say yes. I put myself out there and made an effort with people, or at least I like to think I so.
What’s the general lifestyle like in the city?
I think it depends on where you are in Calgary. In downtown its very much hustle and bustle and work orientated. But people have a work hard, play hard mentality. They like to go out for drinks and hang out as an office as well. Along the river it is a very active lifestyle, but you also find people just come to sit on a bench and watch the river. People in Calgary are hockey fanatics and when there is a game on at the Saddledome you’ll find people dressed up on the train.
What are entertainment options like in the city? Any great nightlife spots, restaurants, bars you like to go to? Any hidden gems you’ve come across?
In the city centre I like Cactus Club – they have wine specials on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, happy hour at Earls is a great way to meet up with friends after work, and State and Main has the best cocktails. There is something for everyone.
Is Calgary a family-friendly city? Do you have any suggestions for great things to do with the kids?
We don’t have kids yet and maybe in the near future we will be blessed with our own bundle of joy, but I would answer this question “Yes” and “No”. There are a lot of family activities, but not like you would be used to back in South Africa. Restaurants, especially, are not family friendly in my opinion. It was always easy to meet up with friends that had kids on a wine farm or at a Bossa, but here you need to be creative. In Calgary I have noticed its easier to go to a recreational centre or go outside for an outside activity. I think it’s just all about adopting a different lifestyle. But I do want to point out that playparks here in Calgary are a 1000 times nicer and much more prevalent in neighbourhoods than any suburb that I have seen in Cape Town.
How easy is it to get around in Calgary? Do you need a car or does the city have a good public transport system?
I don’t have a car and would probably only get one when Stiaan arrives. I literally just don’t have the need for one. I use public transport when required. Its cheap, reliable and I don’t have the hassle of insurance. If I go to buy groceries, I use a small shopping cart that I like to refer as my “old tannie trolley” or I use Instacart. When I go to visit friends, I tend to take the train or Uber. Luckily, Calgary is a city where the public transport is run like a well-oiled machine.
How have you found the cost of living in Calgary compared to your home country? What do you find expensive or cheap in particular?
The cost of living is cheap. I can only compare it to my own circumstance in South Africa. Here I can pay my own rent, food, entertainment, and eat out at least two to four times a month, pay all my own bills, cellphone, electricity, insurance etc. without the help of anyone, and I still have enough money to save every month. Whereas in South Africa I needed the help of my husband to cover household expenses. To give you an idea, I would have never been able to just order a phone cash without having to budget for it whereas here I was able to do that easily. I know not everyone’s circumstances are the same, but in my opinion your money can do so much more for you here.
Obviously there are things that I do find expensive and I am still not sure if it is because I still sometimes catch myself making the exchange rate calculations, but a big thing you should try to learn is just because it was a certain price in South Africa does not mean it is cheap or expensive here… I think wine is expensive and gin and vodka are relatively cheap in Canada, but someone else might disagree.
What’s the economy and job market like in Calgary? Did you find it easy to find a job?
I was lucky to find a job before I landed. There is a lot of opportunity. I am a Recruitment Consultant and the biggest problem that I find most South Africans struggle with is they want massive salaries and want an even better lifestyle than what they had in South Africa. Whereas the reality is you will need to start on a lower level than what you were on and your lifestyle is probably going to change. Just because you were running a mine sit in South Africa does not mean you will be walking into a GM position here.
How have you found the corporate/work culture compared to back home?
I like the culture, but it is completely different. In our office we have people from all over the world and you learn about a lot of different cultures. Just note that Canadians are not as forward as South Africans and just because they might not always hang with you outside of work does not mean that they don’t like you.
Do you have any other tips or insights you’d like to share with someone planning a move to Calgary?
Treat it as an adventure. Don’t worry about the small things.
It’s so great to hear what expats have to say about life in Calgary and we love hearing from other expats. If you’d like to share your insights, please contact us!