Living In Alberta, Canada – The Must Know Guide For Expats

Showcasing Alberta - a Canadian province that boasts a cheaper cost of living, great job opportunities and good facilities and infrastructure.

Many people immigrating to Canada have heard of Ottawa, Toronto or even Montreal, but move further west to Alberta, and you will find diverse and welcoming communities ranging from small towns to cosmopolitan cities. 

Is Alberta a good place to live?

Alberta is a  very diverse province that offers a little bit of everything really. 

There is a thriving arts and cultures scene in the cities and some of the small towns. Albertans enjoy all seasons, so you will find both summer and winter festivals abound. 

The cowboy culture is celebrated in the many small-town rodeos and fairs. You would be able to immerse yourself in live theatre, concerts, ballets, film festivals at the many venues on offer in the cities. You will not be disappointed.

The lower cost of living and higher than average salaries is a very attractive proposition for professionals from all over the world looking for better career opportunities and higher quality of life.

Living in Alberta, Canada
Banff in the Rocky Mountains, Alberta.

Although Alberta has relied heavily on the petroleum industry, there is a transition from dependence on oil and gas to new energy sources and other endeavours which means specialists in other professional fields are being actively recruited by the province.

Incredible scenery and abundant wildlife will astound you; Alberta’s 5 National Parks and over 400 provincial parks, ecological reserves and wilderness areas is a true paradise for outdoor lovers.

The Rocky Mountain range runs from south to north through the western edge of the province, so skiing is never far away. You can enjoy camping, fishing, mountain biking as part of a healthy lifestyle. 

The pros and cons of living in Alberta

   Like any province, Alberta has its good and bad points. Let’s start with the positives. 

The pros of living in Alberta

1. Booming economy and the highest wages

 Alberta has a booming energy industry and is investing in technological innovation in that sector. 

Alberta is home to one of the largest solar farms on indigenous land. The farming and ranching sector is also a big employment industry. 

Forestry and tourism are big employers as well as telecommunications and healthcare. 

Alberta’s beautiful and diverse scenery also makes it attractive to Hollywood’s film industry.  For example, Heartland, a popular CBC Tv production, is filmed in Calgary as well as just outside Calgary. 

Several other Hollywood movies have been filmed in Alberta, including ‘ Little Big Man”, the classic “River of No Return” starring Marilyn Monroe. 

The war story “Passchendaele” was filmed at an indigenous reserve just outside Calgary. The Clint Eastwood movie “Unforgiven” was filmed in and around Longview, Alberta.

Calgary capitalizes on this popularity by investing in a training school to attract bright directors and film industry experts.

As a result of all this, Albertans enjoy the highest wages. Add to this one of the lowest living costs in the country, and the appeal of the province becomes very clear.

2. Good quality education

If you are moving to Alberta with children, one of the factors you will want to consider is educational opportunities. 

Happily, there are several options based on language and religion. You can find Catholic schools, French schools, private and public schools are available, too. 

With 26 universities, colleges, and technical schools to choose from, you can easily continue your education. 

Over CA$800 million has been invested in sponsored research funding to attract some of the brightest people.  Some of the world’s top discoveries have come out of Alberta’s research facilities. The Alberta Carbon Conversion Centre facility specializes in researching and training for innovative carbon emission conversion technology.

3. Affordable and accessible healthcare

The good news is that healthcare in Canada, in general, is accessible and affordable. Alberta Health Services (AHS) is a part of Canada’s universal access health care system. Alberta’s residents can enjoy both private services and a very extensive coverage through the publicly funded AHS.

4. A healthy lifestyle

Albertans, in general, live a very healthy lifestyle, never being far from clean air and nature. Mountains, over 600 lakes, coniferous forests and prairies provide ample camping and fishing opportunities. 

In the big cities, you will find biking and hiking trails, as well as world-class sports facilities such as the Canada Olympic Plaza in Calgary. There is a thriving arts and culture scene; multiple museums, art galleries, live theatre, numerous festivals in summer and winter. 

5. Plenty of sun

Alberta has bragging rights to being the sunniest province with an average of 1900 hours of sunshine annually in the north and 2300 hours of sunshine in the south. Even on cold winter days, there will be blue clear sunny skies.  

Other than the sunshine, the weather may be detrimental to moving to Alberta, we will speak about it in the next section.

The cons of living in Alberta

1. The weather

Surely many people choosing to move to Canada have heard of the cold winters. While it is not true that Canadians are buried under snow and cold for half a year, Alberta can be extremely cold in the winter months. 

Living in Alberta, Canada
Banff National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site, during the winter with Cascade Mountain in background.

January and February will definitely challenge you with, daytime temperatures range from -5 to -15 degrees Celsius, dropping to -30 and even -40 for short periods. 

Snow is abundant. Do you love skiing? If yes, you will be in the right place – ski resorts in Alberta can see as much as 9 metres of snow between November and April. 

If you do not like windy weather, Southern Alberta is not recommended. “Chinook” winds can blow in as strong as 100-130 km/hr. 

These winds pick up speed as they come down the eastern slope of the Rocky mountains and will toss big semi-trucks onto their side. 

This phenomenon will cause as much as a 20 to 30-degree rise in temperature in the winter. 

Living in Alberta means you have to be prepared for fast weather changes all year round. There is a local saying you will hear many people use that sums up this quick weather change: if you don’t like the weather out the front door, then go out the back door.  

Those who have lived in Alberta for several years have seen snow occur at all months of the year. Tornados and hailstorms are common in Alberta as well and are capable of causing a great deal of damage. 

2. Short winter days

In Northern Alberta especially, you may be going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark. 

For new people moving to the north country who may be unprepared for the short days, depression becomes a real thing. 

SADS is a very appropriate mnemonic for this Seasonal Affective Disorder Syndrome that happens due to short days and lack of sunshine and vitamin D. 

Even local Edmontonians may experience SADS but have learned to overcome this by staying physically and mentally active and socially connected. 

Of course, in the summer, quite the opposite is true with long days extending from 4 or 5 am to 10 or 11 pm. 

3. Nightlife

Nightlife is not great and is not on the same level as in Toronto or Vancouver. You will not find many nightclubs, and those you do find may not have great hours.

4. Not the best transportation 

Let’s be honest here: transportation sucks. 

With only one primary bus system linking cities and towns and no intercity rail system, if you plan on travelling around the province, a car is a necessity. 

This becomes even more of a necessity if you plan on living in small towns where there is no public transportation. 

Much of the highway system needs maintenance due to the damage caused by winter weather, so summer is affectionately called “pothole season” by the locals. 

Generally, there will be a lot of road construction and maintenance in summer, so you will have to be patient with the delays and detours.

5. Higher crime rates

Alberta has one of the highest crime rates in Canada, only being second behind Manitoba, with many people reporting that they feel unsafe to be out alone at night. 

Drug-related crimes are among the highest reported and with COVID this statistic has increased. This crime rate is more severe than in Toronto or Montreal. 

The cost of living in Alberta

Alberta has one of the lowest costs of living in Canada, boasting no provincial sales tax, no provincial healthcare premiums, numerous tax rebates and credits and the lowest personal tax rate.

Living in Alberta, Canada
West Edmonton Shopping Mall – one stop destination for entertainment and widest variety of retailers.

The consumer prices including rent are on average 15.39% lower in Calgary than in London, UK and around 2.5% lower than in Toronto. 

Rent prices in Calgary are also lower by about 56% compared to London and 15% lower than in Toronto. 

A studio apartment outside the city centre will cost an average of CA$960/month and as with all major cities the closer you are to the centre, the more it will cost. 

Expect to pay CA$1200-$1500/month for a studio apartment in the city centre. 

Dining out is also on average 5-10% cheaper. Groceries will cost you 5-10% more in Alberta due to higher transportation costs. 

You will not find the same international variety of food and if you do find international foods in the specialty shops, expect to pay a higher premium.  

Overall, local purchasing power compares quite favourably in Calgary’s favour.  

How much money do I need to live comfortably in Alberta?

The estimated monthly cost for a single person living in either Calgary or Edmonton is approximately CA$1,187 without rent. This allows for transportation costs (a monthly bus pass is a good investment), entertainment costs and basic groceries. If you have to pay for utilities, allow an extra CA$100-$300/month, but many apartments and condos will include utilities in the rent. 

Taxes in Alberta

Albertans across all income ranges continue to pay the lowest overall tax compared to other provinces. The personal income tax rate is 10% up to the first CA$131,220. 

Alberta has the highest basic personal and spousal tax amounts, which means that Albertans can earn a higher amount before paying provincial tax. 

How to immigrate to Alberta

There are several streams available to immigrants wanting to move to Alberta. There are both Federal and Provincial programmes. 

Living in Alberta, Canada
Beautiful snow sculpture of two moose butting heads, at the Banff Snow Days International Snow Carving Competition

The provincial programme is called the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP). The AINP is an economic programme that nominates people with skills and abilities to help fill job shortages. 

The nominees must meet minimum eligibility requirements for work and residency and provide for their families.  

Available streams for the AINP programme for workers are the Alberta Opportunity Stream and the Alberta Express Entry Stream. 

The Alberta Opportunity Stream is available to foreign workers who are already working full-time in Alberta and have a job offer or employment contract from an Alberta employer in an eligible occupation. 

The Alberta Express Entry Stream allows nomination from Canada’s Express Entry system. Candidates cannot apply directly to the Alberta Express Entry Stream. 

For more information on the provincial streams, check out this link Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP) | Alberta.ca

The Federal programme includes Express entry, Start-up visas for immigrant entrepreneurs. 

Family sponsorship is available for the prospective immigrant to be sponsored by family members who are at least 18 years old and are permanent residents of Canada. Caregivers who provide care to children or the elderly, or those with special medical needs can also apply for residency.

Be patient. The Canadian immigration process has a reputation of being long and cumbersome. For more information read our Canada Visa Guide

Where to live in Alberta

Now that you have decided Alberta would be an excellent place to live, choosing a place to live will be your next decision if that has not been determined for you. 

The major cities are clustered along the main central highway that links much of the province. 

The main cities have been built up around big rivers that flow in the province, so the multi-use trails and park systems that wind their way through the refreshing river valleys are a great way to enjoy a brief reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city noises. 

This also creates a very common springtime problem of flooding along the river valleys as snowmelt from the mountains swell the rivers.

Edmonton

Edmonton, the capital city of Alberta and is the second-largest city, is known as the oil capital and the festival city due to the large number of festivals held throughout the year. There are many job opportunities in the oil industry here. 

Living in Alberta, Canada
In downtown Edmonton, Alberta

The population is diverse with 25% of residents belonging to visible minorities, mainly Chinese and other Asian groups.     

Edmonton reminds of a matriarch who has settled into the role as head of the family. 

If you are looking for refined culture, Edmonton will be the place to settle. Home to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and the Alberta Ballet Company, it will provide you with plenty of opportunities to enjoy performances by these famous companies all year round. 

The Francis Winspear Centre is one of the most acoustically perfect venues for music. Garden lovers will enjoy the Muttart Conservatory built in the pleasant river valley flats. 

If you are looking for more of a festival atmosphere, Heritage Days celebrates  multiculturalism in Edmonton with a number of dance performances, food tasting events and craft events.

This is a great opportunity to sample international cuisine and participate in various workshops. 

Another famous festival is the Fringe Festival, second only to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in size and the largest in North America. 

Edmonton’s K days celebrates Edmonton’s history of being the gateway to the goldfields of the famous Klondike gold rush. Local businesses host popular pancake breakfasts and the downtown parade should not be missed.

For shopping pleasure, West Edmonton Mall is a must-see. This world-famous mall is a destination in itself, housing bowling alleys, indoor skating, indoor amusement rides, an indoor waterpark, to name a few. 

Walking and biking trails can be found in most neighbourhoods and provide a great way of getting around the city. 

Public transportation is provided by a fleet of buses and Edmonton’s light rail system. Edmonton”s International Airport located 26 Km outside the city centre links Edmonton to many international destinations.

Living in Edmonton has its pros and cons, and it’s worth considering them carefully before you move. However, the positives outweigh the negatives.

Calgary

The cosmopolitan city of Calgary is the largest city in Alberta and the third-largest city in Canada. 

The cowboy culture is strong here and Calgarians have a Can-Do attitude that has pulled them together to overcome natural and economic disasters. 

Living in Alberta, Canada
Stephen Avenue – a major pedestrian mall in downtown Calgary.

If you are planning to move to Alberta and live in a city, the question you might be asking is Which one is better to live in: Calgary or Edmonton? There are pros and cons to both places, so you need to do your research well.

Calgary is more expensive than other parts of Canada, but the job opportunities are numerous and there is an optimistic attitude built into the cowboy culture here. 

A great example of adaptation and flexibility can be found in Calgary’s downtown core. Calgary has adapted to the cold winters by building the most extensive network of footbridges to connect the buildings. Great for exploring in the wintertime! 

Calgary can also brag about having North America’s first wind-powered light rail public transit system. The C-train is one of the most outstanding examples of public transportation powered 100% by renewable energy sources. 

Calgary’s International Airport lies at the northern edge of the city making for easy trip planning.

The mountains are not far away, being only an hour’s drive. 

An annual National Parks Discovery Pass is an economical and great way of enjoying the proximity of the mountains. This pass gives you access to all the National Parks, conservation areas and historical sites across Canada and costs CA$139.40/year/family group. For outdoor enthusiasts, this is money well spent. 

Festivals abound in both summer and winter. The famous Carifest celebrates the Caribbean culture. 

How many people have not heard of the Calgary Stampede, the largest and longest-running outdoor rodeo? Ten days of cowboy fun right in the heart of Calgary. You will fit right in if you wear your white Stetson hat and cowboy boots. 

The chuckwagon races, although marred by a lot of controversy, have always been a big draw. 

Nightly performances by big country music legends are a huge sellout and tickets should be bought early.

The professional sports scene may not be as vibrant as in other places. Still, you dare not put down the Calgary Flames, the professional national hockey league, or the Calgary Stampeders, the professional football team.

Red Deer

Red Deer is situated halfway between Calgary and Edmonton and is an excellent choice if you want to live in a smaller city but still have all the city amenities. 

Living in Alberta, Canada
Sylvan Lake is a very popular spot for weddings and other special occasions or as the most beautiful swimming destination one could possibly find. 

MoneySense magazine named Red Deer as one of the best places to live in Alberta. 

The population sits at just over 100,000, but you will find all the facilities you need.

A fleet of buses provides transportation around the city, and the monthly pass is CA$72.50. 

The cost of living will be cheaper than in Edmonton or Calgary. You will still find great shopping, numerous museums to enjoy and plenty of outdoor activities in the multiple multi-use trails and green spaces. 

Sylvan Lake,25 km west of Red Deer, is a popular beach destination for a day trip.

Canmore

Small town Canmore offers a real sense of community with a quirky artistic vibe. The town’s population which is just over 13,000 consists of mainly young, energetic people that are well educated.

Living in Alberta, Canada
The streets of Canmore in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Tourism and outdoor activities are the big draws to this town. Home to five different ski resorts and over 71 km of hiking trails within the town limits, this town is for outdoor enthusiasts.  

Only five minutes from the gates of Banff National Park, you will find plenty of river water activities to do, from kayaking to river rafting. 

Many of the people who live there work in the tourism industry in Banff. Calgary is only a one-hour drive away for any major shopping you may want to do.

Although popular with tourists, the town has a laid-back lifestyle; outdoor cafes and bakery shops are plentiful here, as are unique shops and boutiques. 

A 20-minute drive will bring you to the Banff Centre, home of the Banff Film Festival.  

Housing styles are diverse, with the majority of accommodation found in condos. Duplexes and single-family homes, although not as plentiful, can be found. 

Canmore is the playground for the rich, so multi-million dollar homes built here will drive housing prices up. 

You will definitely need your own personal vehicle to live in this small town, but the trade-off is that you get to see breathtaking mountain scenery every day.

Infrastructure in Alberta

Not to overwhelm you, but numerous companies provide internet, electricity, natural gas, and telephone services. There are more than 45 internet providers with even remote areas having access to at least one. 

Shaw and Telus are the biggest and most popular internet providers, quite often bundling up satellite TV and phone service. 

Many companies will also bundle up your natural gas and electricity. The majority of utility customers use AltaGas, Direct energy Enmax or Epcor. 

The average yearly cost for utilities is around CA$2900. 

In Alberta, you will have to set up an account with your chosen energy provider. Try to call the company at least two weeks before you move into your new home. 

New customers will have to provide their full name, contact information, service address, and desired start date. You may be asked to provide some form of identification. 

In most apartments or rental contracts, utilities are included in the rent. You should confirm what utilities are included. 

Final thoughts on living in Alberta

Head West, young man.  

Alberta was settled by people willing to push out west and discover what lay beyond the comforts of what was known in a new Canada. These early settlers discovered a fertile wide-open land bounded by the Rocky Mountains, blue skies and filled with numerous lakes, and so they stayed.  

Cities and towns grew up. But Albertans never lost their appreciation and enjoyment of the natural beauty we are surrounded by.  

Cowboys settled this land, and the cowboys still rule strong in Alberta. Rodeos, the Calgary Stampede, horseback riding tour operators boost the economy, but Alberta is forging ahead into a new, exciting economy with innovations and outstanding research in green energy and medicine. 

Alberta’s healthy lifestyle is family-friendly and welcoming to new immigrants who want to live in a cheap province. 

Albertans have a sense of pride and restless energy moving ahead and fiercely protecting their economy. It is a great province to get involved in innovations. And who can pass up the amazing scenery!

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