Meet the expats – Andy and Marius

Andy and Marius moved to Toronto in November 2020. They braved the move during the height of the pandemic, but with a great attitude and determination, they have made the move look so easy. They have certainly made the most of this great adventure, grabbing every opportunity possible to explore Toronto and all the wonderful things the city has to offer.

When did you move to Canada and what made you choose Toronto?

We arrived in Canada on November 29th 2020. We opted for Toronto because:

  1. We already had friends there
  2. Toronto is the financial hub of Canada. I work in banking, and my partner works in insurance, so it was a sensible decision to make Toronto our base
  3. Travel from Toronto is easy

Where do you live in Toronto? What do you like best and least about your neighbourhood?

We live Downtown right in the city by the harbourfront. The best thing about the location is it’s extremely convenient. We’re a three-minute walk to Union Station and we are right on Lake Ontario. The views are gorgeous, and we have an endless option of restaurants, bars, stores, supermarkets, theatres, art galleries, museums etc. right on our doorstep, all within walking distance. In addition, my partner’s company is across the street and mine is about a 10-minute walk, so we don’t need a car.

The thing I like least is that it can sometimes be a bit noisy at night as the city never sleeps. The harbourfront can also get very crowded at times, especially during summer.

If you could live anywhere in the city where would it be and why?

Right now, we are happy with our decision living in the heart of the city by the lake. We would not want to live anywhere else at this moment.

What do you love most about Toronto?

Toronto is like an adult playground. There is always something going on in the city, whether it is a festival, concert, a singer or a comedian entertaining the crowds. The energy is eclectic with a wide mix of people from all over the world. The city is so beautiful at night. Also, everything I would ever need or want is within walking distance. It’s very convenient to live in the city.

What do you like least about Toronto?

It can get a bit noisy at night. Even though we live on the 43rd floor, I still occasionally hear ambulance sirens and general traffic.

What has been the most challenging part about moving to and living in Toronto?

To be honest, I haven’t found the move to be a challenge. My partner and I moved together. The transition has really been seamless.

What do you miss most about your home country?

The only thing we miss are our friends, our family and of course, good South African wine. That’s about it.

Have you found it easy to meet new people and make friends in Toronto?

We moved in the midst of the pandemic. We both work from home for now, so it has definitely been difficult meeting new people and making new friends. Having said that, we already had friends who had moved here before us, so that helped.

What’s the general lifestyle like in Toronto?

There is a wide mix of people in the city. Toronto is quite fast paced, but people do seem pretty relaxed and friendly. The working hours are longer than I was used to in South Africa, but I think that this might settle the more we integrate over time.

What are entertainment options like in Toronto? Any great nightlife spots, restaurants, bars you like to go to? Any hidden gems you’ve come across?

The entertainment options are truly endless. I cannot begin to describe it. Example, I can think of eight coffee shops within a 300m-radius from where we stay. We are right by the CN Tower, Rogers Stadium and the Scotiabank Arena. One can never get bored living in Downtown Toronto. I enjoy Christinas in Greektown, Kelly’s Landing on York Street (opposite the Fairmont Hotel Downtown). There are too many to mention.

Is Toronto a family-friendly city? Do you have any suggestions for great things to do with the kids?

I myself do not have children, but from what I can see, yes, Toronto is a family-friendly city. There are parks dotted all over the city, and I see children playing by the lake every time I venture out.

How easy is it to get around in Toronto? Do you need a car or does the city have a good public transport system?

Being downtown, there is no need for a car. We walk, or we use the TTC, the Streetcar or to venture further out, for example to Oakville, we use the Go-Train. There are transport routes everywhere.

How have you found the cost of living in Toronto compared to your home country? What do you find expensive or cheap in particular?

The cost of living in Toronto is much more expensive than living in South Africa. For example, expect to pay around CAD6 for one butternut in Toronto (it also depends on where one shops), around CAD15 for a bag of cherries (around 1,2kgs).  Eating out is very expensive. Expect to pay the equivalent of R500 for breakfast for two people because one would add on a tip of around 15-20%. A dinner at a decent restaurant can easily cost the equivalent of R2, 000 with drinks. Having said this, the cost is relative, so it’s not really accurate to make a direct comparison as when one is earning dollars, it becomes more affordable (within reason).

You’ll find that you probably won’t eat out as much as you did in South Africa, unless, of course, you earn a high income and maybe don’t have children. It boils down to ones own individual circumstances. I find that food in general is expensive, but I love the fact that salmon is much cheaper as are good clothes. There always seems to be a big sale underway, and when this happens, we take advantage of the good deals.

What’s the economy and job market like in Toronto? Did you find it easy to find a job?

Before we came to Toronto, we would read stories of how some newcomers, armed with a master’s degree, would, for example, be working as a janitor or as a coffee barista “to get Canadian experience”, not that there is anything wrong with these vocations. However, I completely disagree that one “has to start from the bottom” to eventually land a good job. It depends on your tenacity, the industry in which you work, your determination, and your soft skills such as your personality, can you easily network and so on.

I was a lawyer in South Africa and I knew that I would not be able to practise in Canada without having to undergo significant further study (at a high cost and also loss of earnings). I pre-empted the industries I could probably succeed in as I decided not to practice law in Canada (at least not immediately), and I decided on compliance because I think that the field is what I like to call “legal-adjacent”.

We found the job market to be thriving, but competitive. Despite Covid and lockdown, there is plenty of opportunity. We did not apply for many jobs at all. We both took four months off and then decided to focus on companies we wanted to work for and set up Zoom calls with people in influential positions within these companies. We networked via LinkedIn and we found that our methodology yielded good results. I focused on about five companies in total.

My first job is in the capacity of Senior Compliance Manager and my partner also has a good job at a leading Insurance Brokerage in the city. It depends on how you sell yourself. Nothing will be handed to you. It really is up to you and your attitude. If you can accept that and embrace it, you will succeed.

How have you found the corporate/work culture compared to back home?

As mentioned above, we both work from home, so it is not entirely apparent how the work culture is. Having said this, the hours are significantly longer working in a city like Toronto. It is not uncommon to work until 7pm on an average day (with no overtime). People are generally trusting and very respectful within the working environment. You have to be accepting of diversity (e.g. LGBT, disabilities and so on). If you have prejudices, you are likely to experience difficulties. Be mindful of what you say, and always be respectful and polite. If you can do that, you should integrate well. 

Do you have any other tips or insights you’d like to share with someone planning a move to Toronto?

As mentioned above, take the time to think about how you want to tackle the job market. Landing a job is probably the most stressful part because until you have done so, you will be bleeding Rands very quickly. Remember to Canadianize your resume!

Remember the reasons why you have emigrated and be aware of one pertinent aspect immediately. Canada is NOT South Africa. You are not owed anything because you have emigrated (usually at great cost, emotional stress and so on). Here you are a fish in a massive pond. Everyone is qualified. Therefore, I say be resilient, respectful, do not compare Canada to SA (e.g., chances are you will clean your own house, pump your own gas and so on).

If you can do these things, there is no reason why you cannot succeed.

Winters are very cold. Do not sit at home and wallow. Get out and embrace it. Before you know it, you will find that the winters can be magical and beautiful.

Canada is a wonderful opportunity and a fantastic country.

Remember your why! Good luck with your new home!

Read some more great expat perspectives on life in Calgary, and some other parts of Canada, in Expat Stories.

If you’re an expat living in Calgary, or anywhere in Canada, we’d love to hear your story, so please contact us to learn more about sharing your insights on the blog.

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