8 Things that are surprisingly expensive in Toronto

Toronto, expensive city

I’ve lived in a few expensive cities in the past few years, so I feel like I have a good idea of what is expensive and what isn’t in different countries. In preparation for teaching overseas, I was once told, years ago on a course, that you should never convert prices to ‘back home’ when you live somewhere new. Reason being, it is all relative and you’ll end up with a skewed perception of cost of living in your current country. The best way to evaluate how expensive a country is to live in, is to compare the percentage of your income that you spend on various things.  For example, if you spent around 30% of your income on housing in your home country, you could then compare if you are spending the same percentage in your new country. 

Now I can’t say I’m economically minded or very good with numbers but I feel like I can gauge whether things are expensive or not. Inevitably, you will find when living in foreign lands, that some things are more expensive than home and others are cheaper.

When first arriving in a country there are a few things that you need in order to set up shop. Unfortunately, the first few days in Toronto left me seething as I emptied out my wallet to start our life there. And over the last few months, there have been more occasions where I haven’t been impressed at the cost of things in this once affordable country. Here’s my list of the top 8 most expensive things in Toronto.

1) A sim card and top up

In many countries I have lived in, it hasn’t been a problem to walk to a phone provider kiosk and purchase a sim card with top up included. Something minimal like the equivalent of £10 in the UK that had decent data and minutes was always within reach. That was, until we arrived in Canada. We visited every phone kiosk in the mall one evening and found that the going rate of a top up sim card was $60 per month. 60 f-ing Canadian dollars a month. That’s £35 a month. I looked at the man as if he’d gone mad. One salesperson also tried to tell us that we could  have a cheaper one at $30 per month but that network was on a tier 3 or something, meaning that there was a chance I would not receive calls and messages if I was in the downtown area. Why on earth would I want that service? And how was that even allowed? I’d never lived in a country where some network providers had a monopoly on service. Sure there were top companies that people went for, but it wasn’t because by going with these top companies they had a guarantee of their messages and calls being sent and received.

The cheaper option:

That $30 sim card that may or may not deliver or receive your messages and calls. Freedom or Chatr seem to be ok.

2)  A bank account

Next on the agenda was setting up a bank account. I had looked online and once again was left seething. Most of the big banks in Canada charged their customers for every little thing. There were accounts I could sign up for that wouldn’t have a monthly charge but would charge me for every transaction and cash withdrawal over 12 transaction limit. If I wanted an account that didn’t charge me I had to pay a minimum of $11 a month. And worst of all, none of these bank accounts offered any interest on my money that I was leaving in their good hands. So I basically had to pay the banks to keep my money with them.

Toronto, expensive city

The cheaper option:

There are one or two financial trusts that have accounts with a small interest or no bank charges. One is President’s Choice financial, a bank affiliated with one of the major supermarkets. The other is called Tangerine, affiliated with the larger Scotiabank. Tangerine is said to not have any branches in person, or fewer. So most things are carried out via the internet or phone.

3) Clothes

Now this obviously depends on people’s tastes and budgets and it is always easy to find a bargain. However, that being said, I personally found that there wasn’t a lot of selection in the mid-range high street pricing for shopping. Sure there’s Old Navy, H & M and Zara that give you your staples of high street fashion. But anything with a bit of a twist and variety comes at a higher price. And perhaps you could argue the whole price conversion that it evens out in pounds but I like to argue that pound for dollar, parting with $120 for a decent jumper is hard going. Coats for winter were rather expensive as well, with very little on offer under $150. And I suppose more importantly, I didn’t feel like the quality matched up to the pricing. I will say as a disclaimer that I know I am spoiled for choice coming from the London shopping scene. But still, $100 for an average dress? Or $100 for an average pair of jeans? And let’s not forget that whatever you see on the tag isn’t what you pay at the till. You’ll have the tax added when you go to pay. 

The cheaper option:

Shop the sales. They are frequent and they love a shop voucher out here!  The outlet malls are also a good shout. With Toronto Premium Outlet mall and Vaughan Mills Outlet mall just outside Toronto. It’s worth the drive for the bargains to be had. Also bear in mind that high end name brands are cheaper than the UK as the it is the same price in sterling as it is in dollars (e.g: $200 CAD for a pair of True Religion jeans would be £200 in the UK). 

4) Beauty products eg: perfume, face cream

Now I don’t use expensive brands at all. And my beauty regime is far from extensive. But I need the basics. I decent face cream, face wash, perfume, body cream etc. I may splurge a bit more on hair conditioners but that’s it. So I’m looking for a new face cream to replace my beloved Simple Brand and anything similar is priced at $15 at the minimum. Fifteen dollars?! And that’s without tax. That’s like £7-8. I would spend £4-5 max or even £2 on a sale. Perfume is also something that is very expensive. You’re talking $100 and up for a decent 50ml bottle. And I guess the clincher for me with beauty products here is that there are no buy one get on free specials like you get from good ol Boots and Superdrug. You can get shopping points with a points card (they love a points card out here) but it takes ages to accrue any points worth spending.

The cheaper option:

Walmart is slightly cheaper than Shopper’s drug mart. Supermarkets may be on par with Shoppers drug mart. Especially Loblaws and No Frills because it is all one big company. Have I mentioned that there is a serious oligarchy in retail here?

5) Home furnishings and accessories

This one surprises me given that Canadians appear to LOVE all things homey. Buying homes, decorating homes, entertaining at home, redecorating their home… you get the picture. But shopping for these things costs a bloody arm and a leg! While a king size duvet could set you back £65 ($110 CAD)back home, in Canada… this would cost a minimum of double that ($220). And I can’t say the quality is always there either. Most of what is available are high end brands. Again going back to the problem of not having much choice of things in the middle. This trend continues from soft furnishings all the way up to furniture.

The cheaper option:

Shop the sales and there is a good ol’ Ikea  here.

7) Public Transport  

Maybe this should be better titled ‘transport’. Because I can’t fault how affordable the TTC is. The TTC includes the subway, buses and trams in the city of Toronto. It is a service that is subsidised by the government, hence why it is so affordable. In fact, I would argue that they need to over charge for it. As currently they have a set fee for any length of a journey. So, whether you are travelling 2 stops or 20, the price is a flat rate. However, outside the city is a different story. Some might think it’s not that expensive and maybe this is what the cost of transport is further out of London as well. Well I shouldn’t say that. I know London and surrounding areas are more expensive. But value for money is there. In Toronto, paying just under $20 return seems a bit steep for a train that runs on the hour and never on weekends so its a coach shuttle bus that one takes into the city, again running twice an hour. At least in the UK these trains run at least 3-4 times on the hour.

Domestic travel

Cross country, the train is expensive and slow, so again lacking in value for money. Especially when most people tend to drive anyway. But perhaps the crowning blow for such a large country is how expensive flights are. Surprisingly, this doesn’t apply to international flights. Although they can get costly due to Canada’s location from the rest of the world, but this is something that is reasonable and accepted. Instead, it applies to domestic flights. To get from Toronto to Vancouver it would cost at least $1000 CAD for one person?! It definitely costs less to get to Europe. Even a flight to Ottawa, a measly one hour away costs $240 CAD. Which is the same price as travelling to New York City from Toronto. I know which one I’d be travelling to (sorry Ottawa, I do still love you!). And with prices like that, it’s no wonder the majority of Canadians  have the impression that travel is expensive.

The cheaper option:

Toronto has recently introduced an Oyster card equivalent. It has many down sides including limited options to load up the card, and limited entrance gates at stations. However, with it there is a slight discount to travel. As for the rest of travel via train or plane: look out for sales and book ahead!

8) Buying a house

And the winner of all things expensive goes to….. Housing! Now the argument against how expensive housing is in Toronto is that in comparison to any other major city, housing within the city is still fairly affordable. And whilst that is true, you can’t compare a city like Toronto to that of fashion capitals (London, Paris, Milan and NY) and financial capitals (HK, SG, NY, London). When it comes to value for money, those quaint little houses in downtown Toronto just aren’t worth the starting price of $1.2 million CAD. In fact, the housing market is so expensive that people would a) rather buy a house almost 2 hours out of the city and commute to work just to get their piece of land or b) rent a house a whole hour out of the city as value for money is better further out of the city (value for money meaning more house for your cash). And so, like many major cities in the world these days, housing is just plain expensive.

The cheaper option:  

 The renters market is manageable, especially as rent is cheaper than what one would pay for a mortgage plus property taxes each year. However, some would argue even this is beginning to get a bit ridiculous (Ready David Coffey’s perspective here).

Is it really that expensive to live in Toronto?

Any city, no matter how expensive is liveable, with the right salary and a sensible approach. And maybe this seems a bit rich coming from someone who lived in London for 10 years. Toronto is still deemed 25% cheaper to live in than London (check out expatistan for more). From my perspective,  things are little overpriced for my liking here. 

Where do you live? Do you find things to be more expensive than in your home country?

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  1. I cannot agree with you more about the domestic travel costs. No wonder most people living in Toronto have never been to the west part of Canada. It is just ridiculous expensive and the largest domestic airline service Air Canada has gone terrible lately. I went on several trips on Latin America than travel inside Canada in my first two years, because flight over there is way cheaper. How ironic this is.

    Another thing I wanted to add is the tax. I dont want to delve deep into it on the tax we need to pay, but a $10 (price on the menu) meal will end up for like $13 because of the tips and tax we pay. T

    • I know. I was really disappointed when I realised that a flight out west would be more than flying back to the UK. It’s ridiculous given the size of the country. Australia have managed to keep domestic flights low… I can’t understand why Canada can’t. Don’t even get me started on the surprise tax added to price tags and bills. I hate never knowing how much things cost.


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