It's a steep learning curve!
This Essay article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.
When I moved to Calgary from London almost a year ago, I wasn't 100% sure what to expect. There are some pretty obvious things you get told all the time, like that it will be unbelievably cold in winter and to never go hiking without bear spray.
However, there are a lot of things about Calgary that people don't really mention. Things like how expensive groceries are or why you need a credit card rarely get talked about.
To save someone else the headache of learning the hard way, as I did, I'm letting people in on the things I wish I'd been told before I moved.
Food prices will make you want to cry
A sandwich at a Calgary restaurant.
Calgary often comes out as one of the cheapest major cities to live in Canada which was definitely a draw to moving here from London where rent is notoriously expensive. But one pretty essential expense that always pains me is the price of groceries here.
While there are definitely affordable options out there, I still wince pretty much every time I have to hand my credit card over to buy my weekly supplies. The cost of meat and cheese especially makes me want to cry. Sometimes it is literally cheaper to go and eat food out — even including a tip. Or at least that's what I tell myself.
The tea is bad
A coffee shop.
British people loving tea is an obvious stereotype but it's one I firmly subscribe to. I was even pretty excited when I saw a bunch of different tea bags with brands I recognized here. Here's the thing though — tea in Canada is bad.
If anyone asks me to describe why I hate it so much, I honestly couldn't even tell you why it's wrong, just that it is.
I even end up spending more in the grocery store to get the imported tea bags. Is there a difference? Who knows, but I can't give it up!
What public transport?
I moved from London which is an enormous city and as much as people complain about it, it's pretty lucky to have a reliable public transport system. Calgary is a lot smaller so I figured it would be easier to get around — and I was very wrong.
While downtown Calgary is pretty walkable, getting to other neighbourhoods can be challenging. Calgary has the C-Train and city busses but they're really unreliable and you'll find you'll have to change busses multiple times on some journeys.
You'll spend nearly all winter indoors
Charlie Hart at Banff
I was definitely warned about the cold before heading over, and the need for a good winter coat and boots. One thing I'd underestimated is just how long winter goes on. It can feel pretty relentless at times and it makes going out and doing things pretty impossible.
I'm not sure I went much further than a five-block radius from my building for the entire months of January and February. It felt like an actual hibernation. Even in May, there's still the occasional snowfall.
You won't go hiking every weekend
Rain at Moraine Lake.
I came to Alberta with an idea that I'd be heading to Banff at least once a month to explore everything the Rockies has to offer, but that is definitely not the case.
While the list of hikes I want to do is as long as my arm, finding time to actually do them is another story entirely. You'll need a car to get around (which I don't have) and even if you do, you'll need various park passes to drive around and the cost of gas alone to make all these trips is enough to make you want to stay in the city.
Credit scores are beyond important
A cowboy boot mural.
One of my first lessons was learnt the hard way — because Canada is so reliant on credit scores for everything! Not having a credit score made it so hard to find somewhere to rent and really limited my options.
If you don't have a credit score, you'll need to have proof of funds and evidence that you're working to even be considered by most rental places.
Travelling in Canada is expensive AF
Charlie Hart in Golden, B.C.
I expected to be able to get around the country pretty easily and was looking forward to heading to other cities all the time. However, why did no one mention how expensive travelling within Canada is?
Flights are ridiculous and despite there being a few low-cost options available, luggage usually drives the price up a lot. Driving takes forever and with gas prices, that's a no go too.