16 Oct Pros & Cons of Expat Life in Tofino, Canada
Every wonder what life as an expat in Canada would be like? Phil from ESCapology.eu has been living the expat life in Tofino, Canada. I asked Phil to share with us the pros & cons of living in Tofino, Canda with us.
The Pros & Cons of living in Tofino, Canada
The raw wilderness of Clayoquot Sound and its ancient, evergreen rainforest combined with an interesting end of the road culture – That would probably describe the small seaside town of Tofino best. It’s been called home by cultures a few thousand years old and is a refuge for wildlife such as gray whales, sea lions, wolves, bears and cougars. Tofino, or Tough City as the locals call it, is located on the far West Coast of British Columbia in Canada. The picturesque town features a population of only 2,000 inhabitants year round which will swell up to 20,000 during the busy summer month. In terms of remote working, Tough City might not be as exotic as the usual suspects in Thailand or South America. But there is something to this remote place on the Wild Coast; something that definitely appealed to me and eventually made me stay for a bit longer than expected.
How did you end up there anyway?
I took a little detour so to say. Originally from Germany, I always wanted to explore Canada and so I decided to apply for their working holiday visa. As fate had it, I was granted the visa in the second round and it all took off from there. I had been to Tofino before for a short holiday and figured it would be nice place to live and work for a while. I secured a job at a local beach resort a couple of months before my arrival and my plan was to keep freelancing on the side. Working at a resort or generally as an employee in Tofino has its perks. You often have access to staff accommodation and you can do a lot of tours and activities free of charge.
I am a freelance marketing consultant, copywriter and translator and as my business grew more and more, I found myself at a crossroad. Either declining projects and keep working at the resort or quitting and pursuing a full-time freelance career. I decided for the latter and never looked back.
Freedom, Wilderness and Surf Culture – The Pros
End of the road culture
Tough City is literally located at the end of the road. Tofino marks the end of highway 4 and, bordered by water on three sides, there is nowhere to go from here except by boat. Despite its popularity among summer tourists, this makes for a very interesting alternative culture. The town is easygoing, outgoing, unpretentious and its people resolutely friendly. Even if it might sound corny, the people that chose to live in Tofino seem to literally take work as a means to live and not the other way around, as it can observed often these days. Superficial status, lavish materialism and that unsustainable strive for more and more don’t have a place in a town without malls, clubs, traffic lights and only one pub. Happiness here rather seems to stem from the interactions with each other and nature. There is a positive and laid back vibe in the air that is not only very pleasant but also contagious.
A surfer’s heaven
One major factor for a lot of people to choose Tofino is its surfing. If you are not afraid of cold temperatures, in and out of the water, and sometimes fickle conditions, Tofino is a great spot to learn and improve. It’s got a variety of breaks which are suitable for every level. The best thing is the lack of massive crowds that you’ll typically find in Indonesia, California and along the European Coast. Rustic surf shops along the main road, classic Volkswagen campervans with boards strapped to the roof slowly chugging towards the beaches and the odd surfer dude cruising down the street on his longboard complete the image of a laid back surfers’ heaven. These features are no secret anymore though. According to National Geographic, Tofino is among the world’s 20 best surf towns and was voted best surf town in North America by Outside Magazine in 2010.
Into the wild
One of the biggest perks of living in Tofino is its proximity to real wilderness and a sense of freedom that comes with it. You might not notice it at first, but the region is still a wild and rugged place, despite the hordes of tourists Tofino sees during the summer month. You can go sea kayaking, hiking, fishing, remote camping, bear and whale watching, have beach fires and even take flights with the local float planes. There are endless opportunities, especially if you stay a bit longer. Having such an easy access to nature and untouched wilderness is humbling and will really make you appreciate the place. All you have to do is take advantage of it.
Cost of Living, Rain and Bad Internet – The Cons
Hard on the budget
With lots of freelancers leveraging currency differences to their advantage these days, Canada and specifically Tofino are certainly not the most favorable places to be based. Due to a high demand and a plain lack of affordable housing, rent is extremely high here. If you come too late in the season, chances are high that you might not even find a place whatsoever. That is a major factor and something one definitely needs to consider. If you don’t have a car to go grocery shopping in the next big town an hour away, then grocery shopping will set you back big time as well. With all the goods having to get trucked up and a hefty surcharge by the monopolistic supermarket in town, your first time at the counter will be an eye-opening experience.
It’s called Rain Coast for a reason
Tofino is located in the middle of a temperate rainforest. And as that name implies, the place sees a lot, and I mean a lot, of rain. In the late fall and winter it can apparently rain for weeks on end. I have personally not experienced that yet, but it doesn’t sound to appealing to be honest. But this type of weather also has its advantages. You will have way less tourists and with less than 2,000 people remaining in town, the atmosphere becomes even more familiar than it already is. That time of the year will also bring the best surf and is highly anticipated by the local surf junkies who hardly get their boards out during summer. And for the aspiring freelancer, this can be the perfect time to finally focus and finish that big project that’s been put off so often already. So yes, this con is actually not even too bad after all.
A remote worker’s nightmare – Bad internet
A very important aspect for every remote worker, maybe the most important, is reliable internet. And in that aspect Tofino is not really top notch. Not having access to fiber-optic cable yet, the internet in town can be painfully slow. However, if you don’t need to transfer huge files, it will be sufficient. And there is good news: It will all change by the beginning of 2016 when fiber-optics will finally arrive in Tofino as part of a state of the art tsunami warning system.
And what’s next?
I have been here in Tofino for 7,5 month and I can say that I feel home here now. I think it’s a great place to live with so many positive aspects which outweigh the cons by far. It’s a great quality of life living here and I honestly would not mind to settle here for good. Unfortunately, my visa is valid for a year only and I will eventually have to leave to the country as immigration laws are strict. I can imagine returning at some point to explore more of the vast wilderness this place boasts. And who knows, maybe one day I can figure out a way to stay here for good. But for now, I will have to think of the next step. I am not sure where life will take me but I hope it’ll work out just as well as it did here. If you have a great recommendation for a remote working location, feel free to get in touch with me. I am open for anything.
Philipp Dukatz is an adventurer, writer and photographer. With a passion for Southeast Asia, he is exploring this beautiful world bit by bit, thoroughly and slowly. Originally hailing from Germany, one of his more recent trips led him to Southeast Asia where he spent a year to explore every country of the region. Philipp usually tries to stay off the beaten path, immerse in the local cultures and engage with the people he meets along the way. Traveling with his camera being his faithful companion, Philipp tries to capture the unique moments he encounters during his journeys. He is currently based in Tofino, Canada where he works as a freelance writer, marketing consultant and translator. He is also the creator of the travel and photography blog ESCapology.eu. He writes for several travel-related websites and has been published in several Asian travel magazines.