Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences


Study abroad: Canada

Sophia, BA Geography with Quantitative Methods with a Year Abroad student, shares five realities for a Brit living in Toronto

Despite both Canada and the UK being culturally similar, after a year abroad in Toronto, I learnt a few unexpected realities about the city…

1. Driving
The driving situation is a bit of a nuisance. Public transport options are limited outside of the downtown core of Toronto which made it difficult to travel further out. That is where there was more scenery and natural parks but, if you have a car, these places are easy to travel to. When it comes to driving in Canada, they drive on the right-hand side of the road (aka the wrong side of the road!). Depending on your driving experience, you might be comfortable renting a car and driving on the opposite side of the road. I’m not too experienced, and neither were a lot of other exchange students, which made travelling to these places virtually impossible. If you are considering travelling further out, make sure you’re prepared to have your driving skills be put to a test, or to carpool with other people.

2. Housing
Housing is one of the biggest struggles for exchange students coming to Toronto because the university does not provide accommodation for international exchange students. Some students live in rented townhouses near the university with other exchange students, but it can be a hassle to sort out from abroad. Some people wait till they arrive in Toronto, stay in a hotel, then find somewhere to live. Alternatively, I found private student halls, Tartu College, which welcomed international students in single gender suites with a shared kitchen and bathrooms. Rent is considerably cheaper than London (surprise surprise), so this is a bonus way to save money.

3. The cold
It should come as no surprise that Canada can get very cold in the winter, with severe wind chills so it’s a given that you have to buy a long winter jacket, thermals and warm layers. But being honest, I got lucky this year! I was expecting mountains of snow every day from December to March, but I was pleasantly surprised. The coldest day was -20 degrees Celsius (it sounds bad), but it was a sunny day with barely any wind. -20 degrees Celsius was a rarity this winter, and most frequently winter days in Toronto were ranging from -5 to 0 degrees Celsius. So, it was cold but not THAT cold.

4. Employment
In my free time, I wanted to work in Toronto to save money towards travelling in the year. However, when you apply for a student visa in Canada, the visa only permits you to work for the university that you attend. I had the opportunity once or twice to work zero-hour shifts, but it was pretty uncommon. The scope of work is limited as an exchange student which is something worth considering if you are planning on getting a job whilst out there.

5. Eating out vs eating in
Surprisingly, groceries cost way more than getting a takeaway. If you love to cook like me, you’ll have to fork out more than your typical Aldi or Tesco shop. Dairy is especially more expensive (even with the occasional student discount!). But a few subways stop outside of central Toronto there is a Walmart and No Frills, both more affordable grocery stores. It can be stressful travelling with groceries on the subway, but the cheaper prices are worth it. Also, Canada adds tax to your bill at the end of the payment. The tax percentage depends on the province, but in Ontario, the tax is 13%. Don’t forget about the 13% when looking at the prices displayed on the shop floor!