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Edmonton is the capital city of Alberta and the 5th largest city in Canada. According to 2017 statistics just under 1 million people call Edmonton home, and the city is quickly growing. Between 2011 and 2016 Edmonton has experienced a growth rate of almost 15%. And if you are one of the thousands of people considering a move to Edmonton, this article is for you.
Just like any other city, Edmonton has its advantages and disadvantages. Having lived here for over a decade, I can tell you this city is not for everyone. In this post I will touch on all the most important things you should know before moving to Edmonton, regardless if you currently live in Canada or abroad. That includes: lifestyle, climate, costs of living, healthcare, safety, work and integration.
If you are not from Canada, I recommend you also take a look at this article for more information in regards to immigration.
I wouldn’t normally consider climate as the most important factor when deciding whether move to (or away from) a city. However, with Edmonton it is. Winters are brutally cold and can last for 6 months.
Spring is almost non-existent, and it makes me very sad because it is my favourite season. The last snow melts around April-May and there’s about one week of spring-like temperatures. During this time, you may or may not experience a bit of rainfall. After that it’s pretty much summer. There’s very little transition from winter to summer.
Summers can be hot, but they’re not extreme. They last from June until late August/ early September. Due to the dry climate, temperatures can range from 10°C at night to 30°C during the day. The best part about Edmonton summers (in my opinion) is the long daylights; sometimes until 11 pm! Summers are fairly dry, with little rainfall. There is the occasional torrential storm once in a while.
Longer than spring, but only lasts around 2-3 weeks. During the limited autumn, you can expect a mix of rainy days and sunny days. Temperatures are quite nice, around 10-15°C, and the is little to no wind. It’s very pleasant to be outside.
This is the reason I dedicate a whole category to the climate. You can expect snow to arrive as early as September, and it can go away as late as June! January and February are the coldest months and temperatures of -20°C (and even colder!) are frequent and common. Towards the middle of December it gets dark quite early, around 3:30-4:00 pm. However most days are sunny, and if you can brace the cold and go outside, you are unlikely to suffer from seasonal sadness.
Edmonton is situated at an elevation of 671 m (2,201 ft.) above sea level. It is pretty dry and dusty, but there are on average 325 days of sunshine per year!
Just like the climate, the Edmonton lifestyle is not for everyone. If you are accustomed to living in a large city, you might not like it here. However, if you are looking for a simpler way of life, Edmonton might be perfect for you. These are the major lifestyle categories you should be aware of:
Public transportation in Edmonton is not very good (to put it nicely). If you are not driving you will be very limited to the places you can get to. There is a light rail line, which is reliable but has limited reach. Otherwise you’ll have to take the bus, but even they have limitations. The city is very spread out and buses don’t service every neighbourhood. And in addition to that, the buses that run, are very slow. A 20 minute car ride can take more that 2 hours by bus!
Another issue is poor reliability. I remember when I was in high school and my bus didn’t come and I had to wait for the next one. I ended up spending 45 minutes outside in -30°C weather! And this was not an isolated incident. Buses fail to show up on time very frequently. If you need to get somewhere by bus, I suggest you leave your home much earlier than you think you should. If the weather is poor, give yourself an extra hour!
If you are driving, make sure you have insurance. As most people have to drive due to poor public transit, the traffic can get very congested. As a result many drivers get impatient and accidents happen frequently.
Most Edmontonians live in single family, detached homes, spread over large areas. Living in a detached house means you can have your own outdoor space where you can relax, and your children and/ or pets can play. However you also have additional responsibilities such as mowing the lawn, shovelling snow, and making sure your sidewalks are always free of ice.
However, a downside to living in a house is that you have fewer interactions with neighbours. Depending on the demographics and layout of your neighbourhood, your children may have fewer opportunities to play with other children.
Edmonton is also known as “Festival City” because it hosts numerous festivals throughout the year. There are many concerts and major international artists frequently come to Edmonton on tour. On the sports side, Edmonton is great if you love hockey. There are many games you could attend or watch on TV. There are many summer festivals such as Taste of Edmonton, Heritage, and the Fringe during the summer, and in the winter you can enjoy Luminaria, Festival of Trees, Candy Cane Lane and more.
On the other hand, if you are a fan of classical concerts, opera, ballet, or plays, there aren’t as many options for you. There are few, but they’re very limited, and to be honest, you won’t be very happy in Edmonton.
Edmonton is an outdoors city. There are lots of opportunities to go for walks in nature, cross country skiing and ice skating. There are 48 km of trails paths along the river valley for walking, jogging, or cycling, as well as ample of hills for tobogganing in the winter time. Edmonton even houses the largest living history museum in Canada, Fort Edmonton Park, which is an outdoors museum.
There are numerous restaurants throughout Edmonton ranging from very casual cafés to high end dining. There are vegan and vegetarian restaurants, farm-to-table, and many different international cuisines to choose from. For restaurant recommendations, take a look at this article. If I had to pick one favourite I’d go with Workshop Eatery which features in-season, locally sourced ingredients. Prices for dining out in Edmonton are reasonable, between $20-100 for two people depending on the restaurant.
Given this is a travel (and living abroad) website, I will consider travel opportunities in a category of its own. As I previously mentioned in the Moving to Canada article, travelling within Canada is quite expensive regardless if you take a train, drive, or catch a flight.
Edmonton has an international airport which is well connected. You can get direct flights to most major airports within Canada, and a few international ones. The direct international flights include: Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Palm Springs, Cancun, Reykavik, Amsterdam, and more.
Day trips from Edmonton are limited as the city is away from other cities and/ or attractions. For instance the Rocky Mountains are around 220 km southwest of the city, and Calgary (the nearest city) is 281 km away. Both of them are too far away for day trips. However, there is the option of going to Elk Island (around 48 km away) or University of Alberta Botanical Gardens (30.8 km away) if you have/ rent a car.
Although not the most expensive city in Canada, Edmonton is quite expensive. If you plan on moving to Edmonton for financial reasons (as most people do), think carefully about all potential expenses. You might actually save money living in a city with more expensive housing and good public transit than you would in Edmonton. If you save a few hundred dollars on housing, but spend one extra thousand on transportation, you will be worse off in Edmonton.
As previously mentioned, most Edmontonians live in their own, fully detached house. There are plenty of rental options, but Edmonton, like most of Canada, is more of an owners culture than a renters.
Units available for rent are usually apartments and a few townhomes. Some rental companies include: rentmidwest, boardwalk, rentulum, and ascot properties. A typical one bedroom apartment costs around 1,000 CAD. There are some privately owned detached home you could rent, but they can be quite expensive, around 1,800 CAD and above.
In Edmonton the typical price for a fully detached, single family house is just under 500,000.00 CAD, which is quite expensive. The property taxes are around 1% of the value of your property.
Because you will likely have to drive a car, transportation will be a big expense for you. From car payments to insurance, maintenance, gas, winter tires, costs quickly add up. If you are lucky enough to work in a location serviced by public transit, a monthly pass will cost you 97 CAD.
Due to the harsh climate, most plant foods have to be brought into Edmonton from vary far away places and prices reflect that. Although there are many farms in the province, animal food also has to be brought in, and animal products are fairly expensive as well. The monthly cost of groceries is around 300 CAD per person. (Keep in mind that groceries mean food only. You will also need toiletries and household items such as cleaning supplies)
Because it gets so cold and winters are so long, you also need to take into account the costs of winter clothes. From parkas to scarves, mittens, hats, and boots, costs add up. You should also keep in mind that salts used to melt ice can damage your boots and you may need to replace them frequently.
For more information on prices in Edmonton, take a look at this list. Based on my experience, it’s fairly accurate.
As of 2023, the minimum wage in Alberta is 15 CAD per hour. That is $600 per week or $2400 per month. That is before you pay your taxes. A single person who can get to work on public transit could get by living independently on this income. However, if you need a car to get to work, you might struggle on this income.
Healthcare in Edmonton is funded by the province through your taxes. You will need an Alberta healthcare card, known as Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP), to be able to see doctors and receive care. For eligibility criteria, take a look at this list. If you qualify for one, it is free to apply and there are no monthly or annual fees.
Most healthcare is public. There aren’t any options for private healthcare the way other countries have. There are dentists, physiotherapists, and chiropractors that are private practitioners, but otherwise you can’t get complex medical care such as a knee surgery at a private clinic. There are no such options in Edmonton. As a result, with everyone relying on the public system, there are long waiting lists. Even getting a CT scan can come with a 6 month wait.
For any emergency you have, even non-life-threatening, you go to the emergency room. There are walk-in clinics, if you don’t have a family physician, where you can see a doctor and get an antibiotic prescription. However, walk-in clinics operate on a typical 9-5 schedule. If you need more care such as stitches, or you have to see a doctor late in the evening you’ll have to go to the emergency room. There are very long waiting times at the emergency. Once I waited 4 hours to see a doctor for a cut, and there were only a handful of other patients.
Edmonton doesn’t have the best healthcare. Personally I have experienced much bette services when I was living in Eastern Europe. If you are not relatively healthy, I wouldn’t recommend you move to Edmonton.
It is fairly safe to live in Edmonton, but just like every city there are some issues. Some neighbourhoods are safer than others. The north and central sides are the oldest parts of the city and they have better public transit networks. As a result there is more crime there. The south side is fairly new and there is very limited to no public transit. Therefore it is difficult for petty criminals to go there. Most of those who live on the south side are high middle class families.
Most common incidents in Edmonton are theft from vehicles. There are a few violent crimes, but they happen between gangs. An average citizen is unlikely to be affected. However there is an increasing rate of homelessness, which is also happening in other cities across Canada.
Because most people live in their own detached homes and drive their own personal vehicles every time they go somewhere, there are fewer chance interactions. As a result it can be quite difficult to make friends. If you only see your neighbours twice per year, you’re probably not likely to become friends.
When you’re new to the city, your best chance of making friends is at work/ school. If you work from home, consider taking some classes where you can meet like-minded people. Metro offers fun, evening and weekend classes for adults in a variety of fields such as painting, photography, candle making, languages, graphic design, and more. Another way to meet new people is to volunteer your time. Hospitals, and festivals such as Heritage Days always accept volunteer applications.
Finding a job in Edmonton, like in most parts of the world, is not easy. When the economy is strong, there are plenty of minimum wage positions and construction jobs both for buildings and road work. However, even with a strong economy, finding a skilled job is difficult. You will need to network, build connections, and have a lot of patience. Don’t be fooled by what you hear, there aren’t too many skilled jobs available. So if you’re moving to Edmonton with the hopes of finding skilled work, I’d recommend you also have a plan B.
Personally, I moved to Edmonton because my family came here. Otherwise I would have chosen to live somewhere else. I dislike having to rely on driving a vehicle just to get some basic shopping done. Winters are extremely long and cold, and it’s difficult to get as much time outdoors as I got while living in Europe.
I find it difficult to find stable, full-time, long-term employment. Everyone I know has gone through multiple cycles of employment, unemployment, employment, unemployment and so on. After a while this really takes a toll on you. The best thing to do is to prepare for unexpected events by setting money aside and maybe even starting an online hustle/ business. But then, if you make a decent income online, why live in a place with such a high cost of living?
Disclaimer: this has been my opinion only, based on personal experiences. Everyone has different priorities and desires in life, and as a result experiences can vary.