Seb: Budgeting in Vancouver

Vancouver is infamous for being an expensive city. In this post I want to help share some assorted tips and tricks that I’ve picked up during my time here to hopefully make your time in Vancouver easier and more affordable.

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A beautiful Autumn day on campus!

Groceries:

  • There are two big supermarkets you’ll be going to – Save on Foods (on the edge of campus) and No Frills (a 15-minute bus ride from campus. The Canadian equivalent of Pak ‘n’ Save).
  • Groceries are overall a bit cheaper than NZ, especially if you shop around. This is partly because groceries in Canada are tax-exempt.
  • If you go to Save on Foods, which is typically more expensive, get a MoreRewards card (like FlyBuys) and take advantage of their sales.
  • Supermarkets don’t sell any alcohol, you can only find this in dedicated liquor stores.
  • There are a couple of op shops (thrift stores) close to campus. You can get everything you need for your kitchen/room from there (no need to go all the way to Ikea!)

Transport:

  • Campus is big – buy a bike or use a bikeshare service (Dropbike)
  • Don’t buy a car – Make friends with locals or use a carshare service (they are very affordable if you split between a full carload)
  • Public transport in Vancouver is amazing
  • You are required to purchase a public transportation pass when you come to UBC. You’ll be surprised how much use you’ll get out of it (even if you live on campus!)

Skiing:

  • Buy your passes for Whistler before October 7 to get the cheapest price
  • Whistler is totally do-able as a day trip from UBC. No need to pay extortionate prices for accommodation in the village!
  • There are also several other ski fields (Grouse, Seymour, Cypress) closer to Vancouver which are less than half the price of a day pass at Whistler
  • Ski gear is significantly cheaper here than in NZ. Find a second-hand store or Ski swap event for some sick gear. Sometimes brands will even come to UBC and set up a pop-up outlet store.

Housing:

  • Don’t stress over choosing between Walter Gage or Fairview Crescent (the two halls of residence where most exchange students end up). They’re both nice and well-located.
  • Walter Gage is apartment style and located right in the middle of campus.
  • Fairview Crescent is townhouse-style and is effectively its own little village slightly further from the lecture theatres but in a nicer, greener area.
  • If you’re unable to secure housing at UBC, the HI Jericho Beach hostel allows long-term stays for around CAD$300 a month.

Other:

  • Canadian University students (including exchange students) get six months of free Amazon Prime. Score!
  • Mobile plans in Canada are extortionate. At least double the price you’d pay in NZ for the same service. You’ll have Wi-Fi most of the time anyway. Just buy some Skype calling credit or a calling plan and you’ll literally save hundreds of dollars.
  • If you’re brave enough to risk a $10 haircut, Chinatown is the place to go.

Travel:

  • There’s no mid-semester break in Term 1 (September – December). If you want to go travelling, do it before/after the semester or go during a long weekend.
  • Don’t just arrive on September 1st! Get to Canada early and do some travelling around beforehand.
  • Hiking season in Vancouver lasts until around October (when the snow starts to fall!).
  • Join the Exchange Student Club. They run lots of fun events and also rent out tents – handy!
  • Under the United States Visa Waiver Programme (this is what you’ll be admitted under if you arrive in the US with an ESTA), travelling to Canada won’t reset your 90-day clock. So, if you want to visit the USA you’ll have to do all of it within a 90-day period (unless you get a travel visa – but this will add extra time and cost).
  • Vancouver Island is amazing but is also deceptively hard to get to. The UBC Surf Club runs a trip to Tofino every semester which is probably the cheapest, easiest and most fun way of getting there!

Canada:

  • I’d highly recommend going to a Vancouver Canucks game (ice hockey). Go to a pre-season match in September for the cheapest tickets (~$20).
  • In Canada they don’t call it ice hockey. It’s just called hockey.
  • Tim Horton’s is always a good idea.
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Garibaldi Provincial Park, near Whistler. All of this is less than 2 hours away from Vancouver!

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Canadian canoeing on the Exchange Club’s Sunshine Coast trip!
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Surfing in Tofino. Yewwwww!

 

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Seb: Housing at UBC

Hi everyone! After six weeks of travelling through the United States and Western Canada, I now find myself at the University of British Columbia! I want to start off this blog series by talking about housing because this is definitely something I wish I’d known more about before I came here.

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First of all, the University of British Columbia (UBC) isn’t really located in Vancouver. It’s about a forty-minute bus ride from downtown. This creates a beautiful campus environment, with everything from swimming pools to beaches to walking trails to supermarkets to sports stadia.

With such a large and beautiful campus, unfortunately this creates massive (massive) demand for on-campus housing.

But that’s fine, I thought. I’m an exchange student. I’ll definitely get accommodation on campus.

See, the thing is, UBC doesn’t actually guarantee residence for exchange students. I knew that when I applied, but figured it was more of an escape clause for them in case of exceptional circumstances.

Unfortunately, that’s precisely what happened to me! Back in June, about a week after everyone else started excitedly chatting about which hall of residence they had been accepted into, I received my wait list position via email. It was almost 3000. No that’s not a typo. A wait list of three thousand people for housing for the Fall semester. Yikes! Apparently the total waitlist was as long as six thousand.

My understanding of the housing system is that it’s pretty much a lottery. Despite doing everything I was supposed to – choosing my preferences, applying early, paying the application fee – I still didn’t get a place.

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only person in that situation. From anecdotal evidence, I’d guesstimate that about a quarter of exchange students this semester found themselves with no housing. Finding accommodation, as a student, for just a few months in a city like Vancouver (with a rental market that makes Auckland look pretty tame) is not an easy task.

Naturally, this put a lot of stress and pressure on me just as I was heading into my Semester 1 exams back in Auckland. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to find a sublet on-campus through Facebook, but I know I was extremely lucky to have done so.

Overall, I didn’t feel like the probability of not being assigned housing was adequately communicated to me by UBC and it just caused me a lot more stress than I had anticipated.  I also didn’t like being left in the dark while all my friends had received housing offers.

If you do find yourself in this position, don’t panic! The best advice I can give is to join all the relevant Facebook pages and find a group of people who are also looking for accommodation so you can search together. Also, if you’re going in the Spring Semester (Auckland Uni’s Semester One) apparently there is less demand, so you may have better luck! Expect to pay somewhere in the region of CAD$700 to $1200 for a room in a shared unit close to campus.

UBC is a great place but, goodness gracious, the housing situation here is a really challenge. But if you can make it through it, then it’s totally worth the effort! UBC are responding to the huge demand for on-campus housing by committing to building 6300 new beds in the next 10 years. For us exchange students, that can’t happen fast enough!

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Sunset at Wreck Beach, just a 15 minute walk from my residence. Not bad, huh?

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