With benefits including low crime rates, economic stability, and some of the most spectacular natural sites you could hope for, moving to Canada can seem like a no-brainer.
Are you in two minds though whether to choose Ottawa or Toronto? So let us get stuck in with our living in Ottawa vs Toronto pros and cons comparison…
Canada is such an attractive relocation destination, in fact, that as many as 310,000 people made the move in 2018 alone. And, honestly, you could benefit from joining them.
As if some of the world’s lowest crime rates weren’t enough to tempt you, Canadian citizenship (which you can qualify for in as little as three years of residency) can see you enjoying a range of perks, from public healthcare to free schooling and beyond.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that Canada encourages expats to their shores, with accessible sponsorship programmes and smooth visa processes that they hope will lead to as many as 1.3 million immigrants by 2021.
It almost seems too good to be true, but trust us when we say that the expat grass really does seem greener on Canadian shores. In fact, the hardest part about moving to Canada is sure to be choosing where you should settle.
After all, Canada has an area of 9.985 million km², and there are some astounding locations within that scope. Countryside retreats are, of course, available in spades, and it’s possible to live off the grid here if you truly wanted to. But, if Canadian city life sounds more appealing, you may well come across two leading competitors – Ottawa and Toronto.
These have to be the two bases that most spring to mind when it comes to Canadian city living, and each offers plenty of benefits for residents who choose to settle down.
But, we know that won’t help you make your decision, which is why we’ve taken time to compare living in Ottawa vs Toronto. Simply keep reading to decide, once and for all, if either option would suit your needs.
Ottawa: In defence of the Canadian capital
As the capital city of Canada, Ottawa obviously starts this battle on a pedestal. And, honestly, the city itself doesn’t disappoint. This is such a hotspot and is definitely one of the best places to live in Canada. What’s more, the location is somewhat famed for its quality of life and clean living.
But, we aren’t here to blindly sing a location’s praises. Instead, let’s consider both the pros and cons on offer so that you can gain an overarching insight into just how well you’d fit in here.
Amazing education opportunities
Canada is famed for some of the best universities in the world, and two of them happen to be in the capital.
In fact, thanks to the presence of the University of Ottawa and Carleton University, Ottawa enjoys the country’s highest number of residents per capita who have completed a Ph.D.
That makes this a tempting spot for families, though it is worth noting that it leads to something of a student-focus across the city, which might not be ideal for those looking to settle down.
Low population density
Given its capital status and general popularity, you might assume that Ottawa would be a crowded city setting, but you’d be wrong. With a population of just 934,243, this isn’t even close to the busiest Canadian city on offer.
This is, in large part, because the focus here is on government businesses more than bustling city life. A fact that could see you enjoying the best of city living, with a healthy dose of gentle countryside life.
For a capital city, Ottawa also benefits from some pretty affordable living. For one, the medium income here rests higher than national averages, at around $104,070. Add to that the fact that real estate prices are as low as $418,354 for a detached house, and you could say that affordability is a definite large plus.
Limited job markets
In general terms, unemployment rates remain low across Ottawa, but it is worth bearing in mind that jobs here typically revolve around the government or other such specialist positions. With that in mind, many people may struggle to find a career that suits them after moving here.
The need to be bilingual
Ottawa is a bilingual city, meaning that services are offered in both Canadian and French. With that in mind, anyone looking to work here will need to learn French as standard. This isn’t an issue if you’re already able to speak the language, of course, but it could be a culture shock if you aren’t prepared for it.
The quiet life
While low population density is a definite plus, it does have the downside of leading to a pretty quiet lifestyle.
If you’re looking for hustle, bustle, and fun, then Ottawa’s educational and historical focus might not quite appeal to you. Admittedly, high student populations mean there are still some theatres and restaurants on offer in central Ottawa, but you may feel a little deprived if you’re looking for a city that’s filled to the brim with nightlife and action.
Toronto: Taking on the big guns
Often confused with Ottawa as Canada's capital, Toronto is possibly the most known city in the country. It’s a very popular location, but, let’s look at how exactly this location competes.
With some of the best international cuisine on offer in Canada, food had to get a look-in. Whether you’re after Asian, Italian, or other, Toronto is guaranteed to have something to meet your fancy. There’s so much variety on offer across the city that you might even have a hard time choosing between the treats of Chinatown or the delights of Kensington Market.
A booming business scene
Toronto is also a hotspot for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Startups, in particular, can enjoy readily available workforces, while the city itself already boasts of job opportunities across technology and pharmaceutical firms, to name a few.
As Canada’s financial capital, the city also employs around a quarter of a million people in this sector alone, meaning that accountants certainly won’t struggle to settle here.
Low crime rates
Low crime rates are another notable benefit of Toronto life, with figures so low that it’s commonly cited as one of the world’s safest cities. A comprehensive report by The Economist Intelligence Unit even went as far as to say that Toronto ranked #1 as the safest city spot in North America. That’s a high accolade indeed, and one that makes this a tempting option for anyone looking for peace of mind.
High living costs
The high living costs are, by far, the worst thing about Toronto life. Here, a detached house will typically set you back by around $1,276,184, while rental costs rest at an average $1,976. Even eating out in this foodie hotspot can cost approximately $18 for a standard meal, with beers also coming in at around $8. This, on top of a comparably low medium income of $78,280, could see this destination out of reach for many.
While Toronto does rank below other Canadian cities like Montreal and Vancouver in terms of population density, it’s still fair to say that this is a pretty bustling city destination.
In fact, with a population density of around 2.809 million, this is definitely not one for the faint of heart. Admittedly, this might not be such an issue if you’re well adjusted to city scenes. But, if you’re looking for a quiet Canadian life, you probably won't find it here.
A significant lack of nature
Considering that nature is such a pressing drive for many Canadian expats, it’s also worth noting that it's pretty hard to come by in downtown Toronto. While there are some green spaces on offer in the outer suburbs, you’ll struggle even to find a nice park in which to eat lunch from the heart of the city. So, if green spaces are a pressing reason for your move, you might well want to look elsewhere.
Living in Ottawa vs Toronto, which city wins?
As we could have perhaps guessed going into this battle, there is no one clear city winner for Canadian expats across the board. In reality, the living opportunities offered by both Ottawa and Toronto are so varied that this can come down to nothing more than personal taste.
From an affordability and natural beauty point of view, Ottawa can seem like a no-brainer. However, limited job opportunities and a potential lack of entertainment could still see this off the cards for many.
By comparison, the scope of careers and opportunities that Toronto boasts can catch many an eye, though it is vital to take those high living costs into account. There are also some amazing neighbourhoods in Toronto favoured by young professionals with all the amenities you can only dream of.
One thing’s for sure: you’re guaranteed to find happiness in whichever Canadian city you decide is the right option for you. Why? Because there’s no denying that this is a dream location. Canada offers a wonderful lifestyle and great opportunities, as the 310,000 people who moved there last year alone will be sure to tell you.
If you're at the early stages of planning your Canadian move you may also find the following articles useful.
- Canada Visa – How To Move To Canada As A Skilled Person
- Living In Canada – Plan Your Move With Our Expat Guide
- Visit our Canada Country Guides page for more information on living in Canada.