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Have you ever felt like you don’t belong to some place or you are not welcomed there? That’s how I felt when I arrived in Vancouver during wintertime. 

Vancouver is a dream of many people around the world. I also started dreaming about it more than two years ago, when I decided to apply for a work visa. When they chose me, I was already on my six-month trip to Peru. Then the pandemic came and everything shut down. I got used to life in Peru and it was difficult to return home. But I always had the idea of a great life in Canada that was still waiting for me out there.

I had come to Vancouver before the Christmas holidays, but after a very short time, I began to realize that Canada was probably not the right choice for me. Despite being lucky many times, honestly, I wasn’t that excited about Vancouver. And here are my 5 main reasons why.

1. Culture shock

I know that culture shock is often not associated with disappointment, but this time I see it in a negative light. I have to say that even though I probably knew what I was getting into, culture shock struck me anyway. And even more so when I was used to living in Peru. I know you can’t compare Latin American culture to Nordic culture, but sometimes you do that unconsciously anyway.

People say that life in poor countries is hard, but I think living in such a country like Canada is harder. “

In Latin America, I got used to really fast that no one was afraid to talk to strangers, the silence on the street was something unseen, and you could see that energy of “being alive” everywhere. Everything just feels more natural and spontaneous. But Vancouver is the exact opposite. Everyone follows the rules and acts like it’s expected, people are being nice and polite and they say sorry for everything. Even while they are stealing something, they say, sorry. It just feels like a perfect world, I mean, too perfect.

Vancouver winter
Vancouver turns into a depressing city in the winter.
Vancouver winter
It’s dark like this for a whole day.

2. Bad timing

I’ve already realized that I’d come to Vancouver in the wrong season. In early December, the winter weather was already in full swing and the sunny days were a kind of miracle. I have been regularly asked if I like Vancouver so far. My answer has always been the same – I don’t like it. But there was an almost identical reaction from everyone:

“Just wait for summer, summers are great here.”

But waiting for summer comes to me as an endless story. Do I really want to live in a place where I have to wait at least half a year to have a good time here? Depressing weather and rainy days do not help that either. I can’t say that weather in Vancouver is disappointing for me, everyone knows it’s raining a lot here in the winter, but this winter is different. It lasts way longer than usual and it was way colder than usually is. Vancouver hasn’t experienced such a low temperature and a long winter within the last 50 years. I suspect I’ve brought it here.

Never go out without an umbrella or hood.
The downtown streets near the beach don’t look very attractive during the winter.

3. People are nice but cold as the weather here

I don’t know how about a community from your country, but my community in Vancouver is quite big. I’m from Slovakia, but since it used to be Czechoslovakia before, we share the same community here and treat ourselves as brothers (well, at least most of the time). People help each other and sometimes are more friendly than Canadians to strangers.

During my previous travels, I’ve learned that people are the most important part of it. And I believe that if you are in good company, even the worst places in the world will suddenly become a little bit better. I was lucky that I have friends here who helped me with the accommodation and I could spend Christmas and New Year with them.

We made our traditional Slovak Christmas in Canada, cabbage soup, potato salad, and watched Home alone.
vancouver kamloops
Thanks to a Czech and Slovak community here, I spent a great weekend in a cabin.

I really can’t imagine being in Vancouver alone in the winter. In countries like Peru, it was very easy to meet someone on the street or in a store, but here it is much more difficult. Everyone is focusing on themselves and people are not so open. And that’s why for me, as a person who likes to get to know new people, socialization is incredibly difficult here.

“I’m still getting used to living in Vancouver.”

Then I came across the term seasonal affective disorder, and how enormous impact weather can have on people. Suddenly, it started making more sense. In Latin America, I have completely forgotten how tiring and depressing changing the seasons can be. Not to mention if you don’t have enough sunlight, which is so badly missing during the winter in Vancouver.

4. Vancouver is great … in the summer

And talking about the weather we are getting to another reason why living in Vancouver is a struggle for me. The city has beautiful beaches, is close to the mountains, nature, nice views and an incredible number of opportunities for sports activities. But what about the winter?

“There’s not much to do in Vancouver in the winter unless you like winter sports.”

When I came here in the middle of winter, there were not many opportunities to spend my free time other than with a beer, or watching movies. When I don’t think about its great location, it turns out to be quite a common American city that can’t offer travelers a lot. Downtown is basically full of modern high-rise buildings and other neighborhoods are built mostly by family houses.

vancouver gastown
The famous steam clock in Gastown.
vancouver beach
View of downtown from Kitsilano.

Not so much adds to the gloomy weather that makes Vancouver often look like before the apocalypse. Many downhill buildings that look like old communist blocks of flats or East Hastings Street, which is full of drug-addicted homeless people, also look surprisingly repulsive.

One of the few interesting parts of the city are beaches and a historic district of Gastown, with steam clocks – one of the few preserved in the world. Therefore, for me as a traveler, Vancouver makes it one of the least attractive places to travel to if I don’t consider many nice hikes around.

5. Tough work-life and expensive living

Do you have a degree from your country? Did you use to have a high paid job? That doesn’t count. Forget about your past, you are starting here from zero. 

As much as life and travel in Canada attracted me, I still spend most of my time at work and it has affected my overall first impression. As a freelancer, I was used to more freedom, I did more or less what I enjoyed and I didn’t need to ask for a job. But on the other hand, I also wanted to try working and living in Canada. There is no lack of job opportunities, but I feel like many people are under constant stress about money. Vancouver is becoming even more expensive, prices are rising, but salaries.

“Finding a job in Vancouver is about being persistence, lucky, or making connections.”

Most of the jobs for newcomers are housekeeping, working in hotels, restaurants, or shops, landscaping, or working on construction sites. If you want to get an office job and avoid manual work, you have to be ready to get paid way less. Most of the time, that’s not even enough to pay all the expenses.

In the winter, I had a problem finding a job that I would like to do. It was hard to find anything in restaurants before the holidays, even though I had experience, and only one out of the 30 restaurants I asked for a job got back to me. That’s why I found a temporary job in a cleaning company.

Never before did I realize how difficult cleaning can be.
One of the benefits is that you can pet dogs and cats.

I have to admit that what I do for a living is quite important to me and my job must at least partially fulfill me. I have a feeling that if you want to get into a solid position here, it will take some time. But then it is questionable whether a year in Canada is enough to find a good job, enjoy the country and save money at the same time.

My final words

When I came to Vancouver, I was incredibly frustrated. The biggest problems for me have been finding a good job, meeting new people, and paying for the expenses. And I don’t think I’m the first or the last person. I’ve been hearing the same from many other people here. For comparison, watch a video on why people who immigrate to Canada eventually decide to leave.

There have been more than enough positive articles about Vancouver, and I felt that it lacked a different perspective. Not many travelers write about places they don’t like. People don’t like to talk about negative experiences.

“There was no day I wouldn’t think about leaving Canada.”

But I don’t want to discourage anyone from moving to Canada. This is just my own experience that has been affected by many circumstances including my life in Peru and how difficult is to get used to everyday life in a developed country again. I’m still trying to give it a chance and make the best of it, but traveling is something I will probably never be able to give up completely.

If I could change at least one thing, I would have definitely come to Vancouver in spring, when there are more job opportunities and the weather is getting better, but there is still time to try some winter sports.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Julian

    Hi, First I’d like to thank you for this article. Originally from France, I’ve been living in Vancouver for 8+ years now and I find your view very spot on. Coming from Europe I find the people very dry and the culture inexistant. Everything is expensive and you can enjoy what Vancouver has to offer only if you are in the top 1% (example: skiing at Whistler, any accommodation around Vancouver is at least $300/night). I’ve seen the situation getting worth over the years and today I’d not recommend people to come here unless there are loaded. I don’t understand how Vancouver can be in the top most livable city as there is almost nothing attractive here. Yes it’s beautiful, mountains/ocean, the fresh air. But you can find that in a lot of cities.
    I’d rate Vancouver as an ok city that is overpriced for what it has to offer.

    1. Ivka Vyšná

      Hi Julian. Thanks for your comment. Exactly, as a person coming from Europe as well, what I’ve been missing the most is the culture and history. But at the same time, Vancouver is not Canada. The money is definitely a huge part, it’s a shame that people are not getting paid enough for some jobs, especially when you want to start a career. I really admire people who don’t like living in Vancouver and have stayed here anyway. Fingers crossed and good luck in your life!

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