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Moving to Calgary

Expats moving to Calgary will find themselves in the largest city in the Alberta province and a destination often described as being 'the most American' of Canadian cities, with its 'cowboy character' and relatively conservative social policies. There is no doubt that the great attraction of living in Calgary is its proximity to the Rocky Mountains, the wonderful views and outdoor lifestyle opportunities that the majestic range has to offer. 

Traditionally, Calgary's oil industry was the backbone of the economy and contributed significantly to the city's expansion. That said, since the oil crash of a few years ago, unemployment has risen and the city's economy was forced to diversify considerably. Low taxes in the city encouraged many businesses to set up operations in Calgary so skilled expats should be able to find opportunities in a diverse range of fields including engineering, geology, financial services and IT. Agriculture and tourism are also significant employers. The job market is super competitive though, and we recommend expats secure employment before relocating here.

Calgary is often considered as lacking some of the rich history and multiculturalism of other Canadian cities such as Toronto and Vancouver. This perception is changing rapidly, though, as areas such as International Avenue grow in status and popularity. Calgary also boasts a thriving theatre industry, a heritage of country folk music, and hosts several annual festivals, with the most exciting being the Calgary Stampede. Held every July, it is one of the biggest rodeos in the world and offers a wonderful opportunity for expats to experience the true character of Calgary and its people.

Living in Calgary is, by all accounts, much more of a pleasure than a chore. Expat reports do indicate, though, that in recent years the city's infrastructure has been battling to keep up with its incredible growth. Increased traffic congestion, a lack of affordable housing, and a shortage of space in schools and childcare programmes do not help. It is important to note, however, that these concerns are being addressed. 

Calgary remains blessed with an extremely low crime rate, a reliable public transport system, great healthcare, and a wonderful network of urban park areas. Moreover, the unique +15 Skyway network – a network of pedestrian walkways built 15 feet above the ground – links almost every building in the core downtown area to every other, effectively turning Calgary's city centre into a massive shopping mall. The +15 walkways are heated, which is a true godsend in winter when, despite the freezing temperatures outside, pedestrians can go about their daily business without the need for a coat or boots.

Weather in Calgary

Calgary experiences a humid continental climate, warm summers and cold winters, with temperatures often dropping below freezing. The mountains cause Calgary's climate to be rather dry, the little rainfall that does occur falls in summer (June to August).

Winters (December to February) are long and cold and occasionally relieved by warm winds called Chinooks. Average daily temperatures in Calgary are 62°F (17°C) in summer and 20°F (-7°C) in winter. The weather in Calgary is highly changeable and daily predictions are often off the mark.

 

Working in Calgary

Alberta is famous for its extensive oil resources. This, teamed with the permissive local economic policies, contributed significantly to the province’s economic boom.

The province did experience some economic losses with the oil crash back in 2014 when unemployment reached record figures. This, coupled with the recent Covid-19 pandemic, means that where expats once had little trouble finding employment in Calgary, the job market has become significantly more competitive, particularly in the oil and gas sector. Fortunately, Calgary's economy is quite diverse and suitably qualified expats are able to secure work in the city's other industries, such as the services, agriculture, IT and financial sectors. 


Job market in Calgary

Economic activity in Calgary still centres mostly on the petroleum industry. Alberta has the lion’s share of Canada’s oil industry and petroleum companies such as BP, EnCana, Imperial Oil, Suncor Energy, Shell, TransCanada and Nexen Inc all have their headquarters in Calgary. While Calgary was a great place for expats with expertise in the oil and gas sectors, this industry has recently suffered some blows and, as a result, landing a job in this field has become increasingly difficult. However, expats with the right qualifications and skills will still find decent employment prospects in the city.

Agriculture and tourism are also significant employers. Engineers, geologists, financial service providers and IT specialists will find plenty of job opportunities in the city.

The growth of Calgary, especially over the past decade, has also had far-reaching infrastructural effects on the city, with a considerable amount of suburban and inner-city development taking place. This has created plenty of opportunities for those with skills in architecture, urban planning and construction. The population growth in the city has also increased the need for teachers and healthcare professionals.

Finally, as Calgary seeks to discard its image as the most ‘cultureless’ of major Canadian cities, there has been a considerable amount of investment in media and the arts.

In terms of working culture, expats, especially those from Western Europe and the US, will have no problem slotting into the Canadian workplace. A highly developed, efficient country Canada is, by all accounts, a dream for committed professionals. As in most Western countries, business in Canada operates on a 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday basis.


Finding a job in Calgary

Expats who want to work in Calgary need to have permanent residence or a work permit linked to a specific job offer before arriving in the city. Many people are fortunate enough to relocate as a result of an intra-company transfer with a company they were previously working for in their home country.

For those without a firm job offer in place, the best way to start searching for a position in Calgary is to consult local job listings online. There are plenty of good job portals to assist job seekers, including social networking sites such as LinkedIn.

The career sections of bigger newspapers such as the Calgary Herald are also worth perusing. Alternatively, expats can consult a professional recruitment agency to assist in their job search.


Work culture in Calgary

Canada has a large and thriving free-market economy, and though there is more government intervention here than in the US, there is far less than in many European countries. Locals tend to be open minded and tolerant, and expat businesspeople can look forward to a welcoming working environment.

Despite its size and diversity, expats can nevertheless count on a few consistencies in Canada's business culture, and Calgary is no exception. Canadians value punctuality, and it is rude to be more than a few minutes late. Canadian companies generally have egalitarian management structures. The typical management style in the Calgary workplace tends to be less formal than in Europe, with managers preferring to be seen more as part of the team and less as aloof authority figures. Decisions ultimately rest with 'the boss', but input across all levels is highly valued.

Cost of Living in Calgary

While not quite as expensive as Toronto or Vancouver, the cost of living in Calgary is still relatively high in some respects. Mercer's 2020 Cost of Living Survey placed Calgary at 146th out of 209 cities surveyed, making it the fourth most expensive Canadian city.

The biggest expense for expats moving to Calgary is likely to be the cost of accommodation. As decent properties are in short supply, rents are high.

Other costly expenses expats may face during their stay in Calgary will be more dependent on their own tastes and preferences. Those moving to the city with children will also need to factor in the cost of childcare when considering their budget.


Cost of accommodation in Calgary

There is a serious shortage of affordable accommodation options in Calgary. The lack of accommodation in the city has simply served to increase rents to such a level that many average families can't afford to rent property in the city, and many look to rent housing in more affordable neighbourhoods outside the city limits.


Cost of entertainment and eating out in Calgary

Luckily, most of what Calgary has to offer in terms of lifestyle is focused on the outdoors and therefore inexpensive. With an abundance of open space and parkland, expats in Calgary find they spend more time on the hiking and biking trails of the Rockies instead of splurging their hard-earned dollars at a shopping mall.

In terms of culture and dining opportunities, Calgary does lag behind more cosmopolitan cities but those who do like to eat out will find the prices reasonable.


Cost of education in Calgary

Expats relocating to Calgary with children will be glad to know that they have the option of sending their child to public school in the province at no cost. Alberta’s education system benefits from extensive government funding and some of the province’s best performing public schools are in the city. Nevertheless, childcare outside of school hours can be extremely expensive, and expat parents with little ones of preschool-going age will have to carefully budget for this.


Cost of transportation in Calgary

The cost of travelling in Calgary is quite reasonable, especially in comparison to other Canadian cities. A monthly travel pass that can be used on both trains and buses is a cost-effective means of getting around. While taxis are readily available in Calgary's city centre, they are not cheap.

While it really isn't essential to drive in Calgary, expats who do decide to have their own vehicle will find the cost of petrol is quite reasonable.


Cost of living in Calgary chart

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for January 2021.

Accommodation (monthly rent in a good area)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

CAD 1,220

One bedroom apartment outside city centre

CAD 1,000

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

CAD 2,200

Three-bedroom apartment outside city centre

CAD 1,600

Shopping

Milk (1 litre)

CAD 2.45

Loaf of white bread

CAD 2.50

Chicken breasts (1kg)

CAD 13.30

Rice (1kg)

CAD 3

Dozen eggs

CAD 3.60

Pack of cigarettes

CAD 17

Eating out

Big Mac meal

CAD 11

Coca Cola (330ml)

CAD 2.20

Cappuccino

CAD 4.40

Bottle of beer (local)

CAD 7

Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant

CAD 75

Utilities

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)  

CAD 0.30

Internet (average per month)

CAD 78

Basic utilities (per month for a small apartment)

CAD 206

Transportation

Taxi rate/km

CAD 2

City centre bus/train fare

CAD 3.50

Petrol (per litre)

CAD 1

Accommodation in Calgary

Calgary has seen a massive amount of suburban development in recent years. Unfortunately, despite this development, the competition for good-quality housing is so stiff that prices have skyrocketed. Although still not nearly as expensive as Vancouver, the price of accommodation in Calgary is now nearly as expensive as in Toronto and amounts to a serious challenge for expats budgeting for their move.


Types of accommodation in Calgary

Expats moving to Calgary will find a range of accommodation options available to them. Choice is often limited according to the particular area in which a person wants to live, as well as their budget. Types of housing include:

  • Apartments

  • Condominiums

  • Townhouses

  • Detached houses

  • Semi-detached houses

The overwhelming majority of Calgarians live in stand-alone houses, with apartments, row houses, duplexes and semi-detached houses making up the balance.

Those looking for property in particular areas will need to act fast to secure their home, as demand tends to be high and there isn’t always an abundant stock of property available.


Finding accommodation in Calgary

Both furnished and unfurnished accommodation options are available in Calgary – with the former generally being much more expensive than the latter.

It is highly recommended that expats do a little pre-trip research about areas and suburbs in Calgary so that they can decide where to start searching for a home. It is also useful to familiarise oneself with the process of renting property in Canada and the types of documents potential tenants will be expected to present in order to secure a lease. 

When searching for accommodation in Calgary, it's always a good idea to start with online listings, as these are updated most regularly. Expats should also check out the daily editions of the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun – the city's leading newspapers, both of which carry rental listings.

If expats find no joy in looking for a place to stay on their own steam, they can enlist the services of a real-estate agent. These professionals can be very helpful, as they are familiar with the local property market and the logistics surrounding leasing and negotiations.

Since roughly two-thirds of Canadians own their own houses, and since many landlords don't want to bother with the hassle of finding their own tenants, estate agents often will have a mandate over the best rental properties in the city. That said, as helpful as agents can be for new arrivals, they will exact a fee for this service. This fee can range from anywhere between 10 and 100 percent of the monthly rent.


Renting accommodation in Calgary

Lease agreements are followed to the letter in Calgary and Canada in general. Expats should be sure to read contracts carefully, as once it's been signed, its conditions will be legally binding.

Leases

Standard lease agreements are generally for 12 months. It is possible to negotiate shorter leases directly with the landlord but most property owners are reluctant to do so. Leases can vary depending on the landlord, and usually require one month's notice before moving out.

Deposits

The security deposits on rentals in Calgary are usually two months' rent. When viewing a house or apartment, expats should make sure to note any issues or changes that will need to be made before moving in. If the inventory shows no damage upon the departure of the tenant, the full deposit should be returned.

Utilities

The lease will state whether the tenant is liable to pay for utilities such as gas, water, electricity, cable and so forth, and will vary from landlord to landlord. When signing a lease, expats should be sure to read the paperwork carefully in order to understand what is included in the rental price. 

Areas and suburbs in Calgary

The best places to live in Calgary

Calgary is a geographically dispersed city and expats will find that housing generally consists more of separate, detached dwellings rather than the high-rise apartment blocks found in most cities. As is the case almost anywhere, living in a neighbourhood close to the city centre tends to be more expensive than living in the suburbs. Expats who opt to live in suburbs further away from downtown Calgary will find that the properties are generally larger and more modern.

The area or suburb of Calgary chosen by expats will be influenced by their age, family situation and lifestyle. For example, expats with children tend to pick neighbourhoods where the kids can walk to school and easily take part in extra-curricular activities. Single professionals and younger couples who prefer a more urban lifestyle usually live close to the downtown core of Calgary.

Generally, the more popular neighbourhoods of Calgary tend to be in the northwest and southwest areas because of the attractive mountain views and proximity to the Rockies. Naturally, rent and property prices are higher in these areas. Calgary’s commercial and industrial districts are in the southeast quadrant of the city.

Below are some of the most popular areas and suburbs in Calgary for expats.


Suburban life in Calgary

Calgary suburbs

Arbour Lake

Thanks to the alluring man-made lake that lies at the heart of the area and the amenities available, Arbour Lake residents have the best of both worlds with the combination of convenient urban living and the laid-back lakeside lifestyle. Those living by the lake can enjoy canoeing and other water sports. The area is also home to lots of quaint cafés and small eateries. 

Haysboro

Haysboro is a popular area among those with families who are looking to buy property and settle down in Calgary for the long term. The area's access to key landmarks in Calgary, such as Heritage Park, Glenmore Reservoir and the Southcenter Mall, also serves to attract people to the area. New arrivals enjoy the strong community spirit in Haysboro with the local community centre hosting many events to bring residents together. The C-Train also provides easy access to the city centre.

Fairview

This is a family-friendly neighbourhood in Calgary that is perfect for busy people who want easy access to all of the city’s main attractions. Shopping hotspots lie within blocks of Fairview and the commute to the city centre is fairly reasonable. The properties are large, there is easy access to a number of good public schools and the area is extremely safe, which makes it an attractive location for expats with children.

Cougar Ridge

Cougar Ridge is a family-friendly area of Calgary that is located just above Canada Olympic Park. It is a relatively new community and one of the main factors drawing people to the area is the spectacular views one can get of the Rockies and the Calgary city skyline. Cougar Ridge is a compact little neighbourhood. Getting into downtown Calgary is fairly easily thanks to public transport networks which service the area.


City living in Calgary

Calgary suburbs

Hillhurst

This is a very popular inner-city neighbourhood in northwest Calgary. Residents enjoy being located just minutes from the downtown core and its amenities. The type of housing found here varies from restored heritage homes and low-rise condos to modern townhouses. Expats living in Hillhurst will have an array of restaurants and coffee shops available to them. In addition, Hillhurst is located along a stretch of the Bow River, which offers residents some stunning views. It is also a great spot for those moving to Calgary with kids as there are a number of excellent schools located close by.

Walden

Just a few years old, Walden is a neighbourhood in close proximity to downtown Calgary. The residents find that one of the best features of this area is that it has lots of great facilities such as shopping centres, restaurants and bars within easy walking distance. 

Capitol Hill

Residents of Capitol Hill get to strike the perfect balance with a whole host of amenities and services on their doorstep, as well as easy access to Calgary's great outdoor recreational opportunities. Those living here can easily get downtown on the C-Train. Capitol Hill is also located along a number of bus routes, which makes it even easier for residents to get around Calgary. It's also a great location for those with families as it is home to a number of good schools

Healthcare in Calgary

Expats moving to Calgary will be delighted to know that, by virtue of being legal permanent residents of Alberta, they are entitled to free healthcare for the duration of their stay in the country.

It is fair to say that Canada prides itself on the quality, universality and accessibility of its healthcare system. Expats moving to Calgary from countries that operate on private healthcare systems, particularly the US, will soon find themselves amazed by the level of coverage they are entitled to receive at the government's expense.


Public healthcare in Calgary

As a foreigner moving to Alberta from outside of Canada, the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP) coverage will start from the date of one's arrival in the province. However, it's important to note the following:

  • In order to qualify for AHCIP coverage, a person must be a legal permanent resident of Alberta. As an expat, this means that one must possess a valid residence or work visa and must be physically present in Alberta for at least 183 days of the year.

  • Although coverage technically begins from an expat's first day of arrival in Alberta, they will not be officially covered (i.e. they will not receive the all-important AHCIP card) until certain documents have been submitted, and the application has been processed and approved. This can take up to a month. However, if expats are forced to pay for any medical expenses themselves during this waiting period, they will be reimbursed as soon as their coverage is approved. It is still a good idea to have some private medical insurance for the first few months of a stay in Calgary. 

  • Note that, even if someone decides to opt out of AHCIP coverage at a later point, as a permanent resident of Alberta it is compulsory that expats living in Calgary apply for it.

  • If expats do not apply for AHCIP coverage within 90 days of arriving in the country, the Alberta Health and Wellness department will determine the effective dates of the coverage. This could mean that new arrivals might be ineligible for reimbursements, which can cause a problem for those faced with a medical emergency or urgent hospital care during the early part of their stay in Calgary. 

How to apply for healthcare in Calgary

Applying for AHCIP coverage is easy. Simply download an application form from the Alberta Health and Wellness department's website, complete it, sign it, and mail it off with the following supporting documents:

  • Proof of Alberta residency (such as a rental agreement, or utility bill)

  • Government-issued photo ID (such as a copy of a passport)

  • Proof of legal entitlement to reside in Canada (such as a copy of a working visa)

Coverage and types of care

The coverage offered by the AHCIP is extensive, and includes the following services: doctor visits, tests that a doctor orders (x-rays, blood tests, etc.), hospital stay in a public ward (usually consisting of four beds per ward), recommended surgery, drugs administered during a hospital stay, standard children's immunisations, palliative care drugs for people receiving treatment at home, drugs for the treatment of cancer (regardless of where they are administered), limited community-based rehabilitation services (such as physiotherapy), eye exams for children under the age of 18, and eye exams and prescription drugs for seniors over the age of 65.

The following services are not covered by the AHCIP: prescription drugs administered outside of a hospital setting (i.e. a doctor's prescription that is filled at a pharmacy – notably for diabetics, this includes insulin), dental care, routine eye exams for adults between 19 and 64 years of age, eyeglasses, ambulance transport, private hospital rooms, psychological counselling, acupuncture, massage therapy, midwifery, homeopathy, cosmetic surgery and sex change surgery.

If an expat feels they may need access to treatments not covered by the AHCIP, they should purchase additional private insurance to cover these requirements.

Expats should note that another great feature of Calgary's healthcare system is the existence of what are known as 'walk-in clinics'. There are many of these establishments in the greater Calgary area, most of which are open in the evenings and on weekends. Staffed by committed professionals, these clinics can supply patients with basic drugs and treatments.

Problems with Calgary's public healthcare system

Although the standard of healthcare in Calgary is excellent, there remain some lingering concerns over its practical implementation. Most of these concerns stem from the simple fact that, as Calgary's economy has boomed and the ensuing suburban development has seen migrant labourers flood into the city, there is now a real shortage of healthcare professionals in the city. This means that it can be difficult for expats – at least initially – to find a family doctor, as most of them have too many patients on their books already, and can't take any more on. It can also prove difficult to make hospital or specialist appointments, due to long waiting lists.


Private health insurance in Calgary

Expats who do have permanent residency in Alberta and reside in the province for less than 183 days per year will need to invest in private cover.

Leading reputable private healthcare companies selling medical insurance to supplement AHCIP coverage include Manulife, Sunlife and Great-West Life. It might be necessary to engage the services of one of these companies to help pay for dental care, psychological counselling, physiotherapy and the like.


Hospitals in Calgary

Below are some of the most reputable hospitals in Calgary:

Alberta Children's Hospital

www.childrenshospital.ab.ca
Address: 2888 Shaganappi Trail NW

Foothills Medical Centre

www.albertahealthservices.ca
Address: 1403 29 Street NW

Sheldon M Chumir Health Centre

www.myhealth.alberta.ca
Address: 1213 4 Street SW

Education and Schools in Calgary

Expats relocating to Calgary with children of school-going age can rest assured that their educational needs will be catered for. The Alberta education system benefits from extensive government funding, and schools in Calgary are considered to be among the best in the province. 


Public schools in Calgary

Most Canadian children attend public schools. There is a standardised provincial curriculum that is taught in all public schools in Alberta which parents can view online. Education at public schools is free for all children (including expats with permanent residency) from kindergarten, which begins the year they turn five.

These schools have an excellent reputation and focus not only on excellence in 'book learning' but also offer extra-curricular activities and field trips. Note that, in almost all cases, the school in which a child is placed depends on their parents' residential location – schools will only accept a child from a different 'catchment area' if they have ample free space in the child's particular grade level. 

The Calgary Board of Education, which administers state-funded schools in the city, is by all accounts a wonderfully helpful body, and expats are urged to direct any questions or concerns to them directly. 

Catholic schools in Calgary

The other major government-funded education system in the city is the Calgary Roman Catholic Separate School District. 

There is a greater focus on religion (and religious instruction) in the Catholic public school system – though in terms of the quality of education students will receive, there is not much difference between the two. Note that in order to enrol a child in a Catholic school, at least one of the child's parents must be a (practising) Roman Catholic.

Enrolling expat children in Canadian schools

Expats will need to schedule an appointment with the public school board's admissions office, which deals with the enrolment of foreign children. Following a brief interview, students will be tested on basic language and numeracy skills, and will then be assigned to an appropriate grade. It is a good idea to bring along a copy of the curriculum from the child's previous school, to provide some context of their educational background. 


Private and international schools in Calgary

A small minority of children in Calgary attend private schools. The tuition fees for these institutions (which include international and charter schools) can range from anywhere between CAD 3,000 and CAD 20,000 per year.

Although these schools enjoy famous reputations, whether or not the quality of education they provide is commensurate to their fees is debatable. Many Canadian private schools offer scholarships for particularly gifted children.

A big advantage of the private school system is that parents have the opportunity to meet and interview their child's prospective teachers before choosing to enrol. For parents with children who don't speak English or French, or who have special educational needs, the private school system might be worth investigating as it simply boasts more resources than either of the public systems.

While Calgary doesn't have any international schools that follow a foreign curriculum, there are a number of good Canadian private schools that offer the International Baccalaureate programme. 


Tertiary education in Calgary

There are some excellent tertiary education options for expats moving to Calgary. The University of Calgary, despite being a relatively young and small institution, is gaining a reputation as an excellent research-orientated, interdisciplinary academy.

The University of Alberta, located in Edmonton, about three hours from Calgary, boasts a long, proud pedigree of academic excellence. It is consistently ranked as one of Canada's premier tertiary education institutions. The University of Alberta is the place to go for those considering studying anything in the field of health sciences.


Special-needs education in Calgary

It is the objective of the Calgary Board of Education to educate students with diverse learning needs in inclusive settings as far as possible. The province provides flexible programming that is responsive to the learning and wellness needs of all students. Students with disabilities receive additional support from a variety of multi-disciplinary team members, based on each student’s unique strengths and areas in need of support.

If after collaborative discussions with the school learning team, families are interested in exploring alternative education options, the Board offers several complementary opportunities and specialised means for students who are blind or visually impaired; deaf or hard of hearing; those with learning, emotional or medical needs; giftedness; learning disabilities; and mental health issues.


Tutoring in Calgary

Many parents in Calgary, locals and expats alike, opt to employ tutors for their children. Parents will find that their children’s school and other expat parents may be a good starting point for sourcing good private tutors. 

For expat families, tutors can be particularly useful in helping children adjust to a new curriculum, learn a new language, assist in specific subjects or prepare for university entrance exams. The Calgary Tutoring Centre and My Tutor are both reputable tutoring companies in the city.

Lifestyle in Calgary

Like most of Canada, Calgary's lifestyle is focused more on outdoor recreation than urban entertainment. With over 8,000 hectares of open space and parkland, this is a city that will suit expats who would rather spend their time in natural surroundings than in shopping malls; and who prefer activity to passive entertainment. It's the perfect place to raise a healthy and active family.

Outdoor sports are hugely popular in Calgary. In the warm summer months, expats can enjoy fishing on the gorgeous Bow River, golf on one of many perfectly manicured courses or go horseback riding and mountain biking. For the more extreme nature enthusiasts, canoeing and white-water rafting through nearby mountain valleys await. Camping, hiking and wildlife-watching are also celebrated summer activities in Calgary. Moreover, many of these spots are not only breathtakingly beautiful but also easily accessible from the city. 


Outdoor activities in Calgary

The main attraction – and the lifeblood of Calgary's outdoor leisure scene – is the city's close proximity to the majestic Rocky Mountains. Just 50 miles (80km) from downtown Calgary, the Rockies are celebrated around the world not only for their pristine beauty but also for the wide range of activities on offer among their snowy peaks. Skiing and snowboarding are the most popular pursuits but, for those just wishing to relax and soak up the alpine atmosphere, there are numerous resort towns to explore.

Expats should be sure not to miss Lake Moraine – a spectacular, turquoise-blue, glacially fed body of water hemmed in by towering pine trees. For true winter sport enthusiasts, Canada's Olympic Park offers plenty of space and expert coaching for novices to hone their skills on the slopes.  


Entertainment and eating out in Calgary

Alberta is known as the 'most American' of Canada's provinces and an important aspect of the lifestyle in Calgary is a real, continuing pride in the trappings of its frontier history – hence the plethora of rodeo shows, steakhouses and 'western wear' outlets throughout the city. 

The best Calgary restaurants are generally located within easy travelling distance of the city centre, and are concentrated in three main areas: the Eau Claire district on Prince's Island; the chic 4th Street and 17th Avenue Mission district; and the downtown area that includes Chinatown, International Avenue and the Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall.

Expats should note that all restaurants in Calgary are smoke-free – even outdoor dining areas.


Shopping in Calgary

As far as shopping is concerned, there is an assortment of malls in and around Calgary, and some interesting curio shops lining International Avenue, but the highlight must be the weekly Calgary Farmers' Market, where shoppers can buy the likes of bison sausage, elk steaks, artisanal bread and a wide range of fresh dairy products.

While the lifestyle in Calgary may not be suited to shopaholics, if the need becomes too great, expat shoppers will be happy to know that the West Edmonton Mall, the largest mall in North America, is only a three-hour drive away in the Albertan capital of Edmonton. 


Weather in Calgary

During mid-winter, life in Calgary can be a little trying. It can get extremely cold in late December and early January, and expats will need to get accustomed to seeing hardly anyone out on the streets, and dividing their time between their cars and the great indoors.

Some relief comes in the form of the Chinook winds, which can bring days of warmer temperatures to the city. The Chinooks are warm, dry winds that blow down the eastern slopes of the Rockies and cause extreme temperature variations and can quickly melt the ice and snow.

Despite the extreme winter weather, expats will be pleased to know that Calgary has the reputation of being the sunniest city in Canada, experiencing the most days of sunshine of any Canadian city.

Kids and Family in Calgary

Expats relocating with their families in tow do not need to worry about how their kids will fare in Calgary. In addition to being a wonderfully safe city, Calgary also boasts an enviable school system, good healthcare and a wonderful range of multi-generational activities for the whole family to enjoy together.


Entertainment for kids in Calgary

Calaway Park

Calaway Park is western Canada's largest outdoor amusement park and is open seven days a week. Featuring 33 rides and rollercoasters, live magic shows and musical performances, the kids are sure to have an unforgettable day here.

Calgary Zoo

The Calgary Zoo is also a perennially popular choice among kids. The zoo is a respectable sanctuary that cares for and conserves creatures big and small. A great place for the kids to learn about the natural world's various inhabitants.

Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

This museum is the ideal day-trip destination, located about an hour and a half's drive from downtown Calgary. Kids are all about dinosaurs, and the Royal Tyrrell certainly won't disappoint.

Heritage Village Historical Park

With its costumed staff, faux-antique shop fronts and horse-drawn wagons this historical park might be a little goofy for some adults, but kids are sure to lap it up.

Devonian Gardens

The largest indoor garden complex in Alberta, the Devonian Gardens is another hit with the little ones. It can be used all year round and is equipped with an extensive children's play area. And of course, if one's kids are not into the outdoors, there are always malls, movie theatres and video game arcades to take them to.

City parks

Calgary is also one of those great cities where kids can be safely encouraged to 'make their own fun'. The city's incredible park network offers the little ones literally thousands of hectares of open space to explore, and is teeming with simple pleasures, such as bike-riding, tree-climbing, line-fishing and ball games on the lawns in summer, with toboggan rides and pond-skating in the winter.

Extracurriculars

Parents will also be delighted to know that children in Calgary are strongly encouraged to partake in organised, coordinated extra-curricular activities. These activities include sports such as ice hockey, soccer, baseball, swimming and gymnastics. There are also dance, music and theatre lessons, as well as boy scout and girl guide clubs. Children's summer camps are also a popular institution in Calgary – offering kids the chance to spend a few weeks of their school vacation out in nature, learning new skills and making new friends.  


Support networks in Calgary

One downside to having kids in Calgary – which only really applies to families where both parents must work during the day – is that childcare in the city is not only prohibitively expensive but also severely short in supply. Luckily, since all Calgary parents, expats or not, often find themselves in the same boat, there are extensive support networks, such as lift-clubs, playgroups and babysitting clubs, that have been set up to ease the hassle of getting the kids to and from where they need to be. The Calgary Public Library is also a wonderful resource in this regard, offering pre-school programmes such as 'storytime sessions', finger-painting and the like.

Expats moving to Calgary with children will find the well-established support group, Parents and Children Together (PACT), is a great network for meeting other parents and sourcing information.

See and Do in Calgary

Despite being a bit isolated, hemmed in by the Rocky Mountains and their surrounding plains, expats will find plenty to see and do in Calgary. 

From exploring the open space and parkland in and around the city to partaking in the (traditionally American) pastime of rodeo shows or engaging in Calgary's burgeoning theatre scene, expats are unlikely to endure a boring weekend during their sojourn in Alberta's largest city.

Over and above the sights listed below, Calgary’s main attraction for expats remains its proximity to the majestic Rocky Mountains. Just an hour's drive away, there are myriad outdoor recreational activities on offer among the snowy peaks and gorgeous surrounding lakes. 


Recommended attractions in Calgary

Heritage Park Historical Village

Heritage Park is a 'living history village', comprised of over 150 exhibitions that attempt to show what life was like in Alberta in the 19th and 20th centuries. Set on 127 beautiful acres of parkland, and located just 15 minutes from Calgary's city centre, Heritage Park makes for a worthwhile day trip, especially with the kids. Highlights include steam train rides and an impressive collection of vintage automobiles.

Fort Calgary Historic Park

A more grown-up version of Heritage Park, Fort Calgary Historic Park tells the story of Calgary's history through sober exhibitions and an interesting interpretive centre. The reconstructed 1875 fort, located on the site, is considered by Calgarians to be the birthplace of their city.

Canada Olympic Park

Canada Olympic Park was a major venue during the 1988 Winter Olympic Games, and now hosts skiing and snowboarding programmes every winter, and also houses the Canada Sports Hall of Fame. The sporting facility has multiple exhibitions and interactive visitor experiences and boasts a small movie theatre featuring sporting highlights throughout Canadian history.

Glenbow Museum

Located in the heart of the city, the Glenbow is Canada's largest museum, with plenty of exhibition space, spread over three floors. It houses more than a million artefacts, filling up 20 galleries which showcase the colourful story of Canada's frontier history.

Calgary Zoo

Canada's second-largest zoo is home to more than a thousand animals from all over the world, as well as a huge variety of fish and insects housed in natural habitat enclosures. It also features a prehistoric park with life-size animatronic dinosaurs on display. It's a great place to take the kids.

Calgary Tower

The city's most recognisable structure, Calgary Tower is a must-see landmark for expats seeking a bit of perspective. There is a revolving restaurant as well as a glass-floored observation deck offering spectacular views of the city below.

Calaway Park

Children love visiting Calaway Park, western Canada's largest outdoor amusement park. Open seven days a week – and featuring exciting rides and rollercoasters, live magic shows and musical performances – Calaway Park is the ideal destination for a fun-filled family outing.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

A 'buffalo jump' is a ledge of rock traditionally used to lure stampeding buffalo to their deaths. This one not only has an awesome name but is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, proudly displaying exhibitions detailing the life and history of the Blackfoot people, the original inhabitants of the Great Plains region of southern Alberta.

What's On in Calgary

While Calgary may not have the same cultural opportunities available in cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, there are still some excellent annual events in Calgary that expats should not miss out on.

Regardless of whether expats enjoy live music and a good party or prefer celebrating Calgary's natural beauty, there is sure to be a festival on the city's event calendar to suit everyone. 


Annual events in Calgary

The Lilac Festival (May)

Every year on the last Sunday in May, thousands of people flock to Calgary's trendy 4th Street Mission district for the annual Lilac Festival. Voted the 'best free festival in Calgary', the Lilac Festival features a huge market, with over 600 stalls and an all-day line-up of the best in local music, including rock, country, jazz, folk and world music. 

The Calgary Stampede (July)

Undoubtedly the city's definitive event, the Calgary Stampede draws millions of visitors to Calgary every year. The festival is a celebration of Alberta's frontier history and is centred around rodeo events that see professional cowboys compete in bouts of bull riding, roping, bareback riding and steer wrestling. The Wild West theme doesn't stop there, however – pancake breakfasts, square dancing, ground-shaking Chuckwagon races, a gambling hall and dazzling firework displays complete the effect. 

Calgary Folk Music Festival (July)

A well-respected music festival, the Calgary Folk Fest attracts about 50,000 music fans to Prince's Island Park every year. Featuring over 60 local and international acts – spread across numerous stages – the Calgary Folk Music Festival is considered to be a bit of a 'purist's festival', known for listening and appreciative audiences.

Canada Day (July)

Calgary's Canada Day celebration attracts more than 100,000 people each year. It is one of the most popular and highly attended annual events in Calgary. Beginning mid-morning, festivities at the Shaw Millennium Park include main stage live performances, food vendors, and much more.

Calgary Marathon (August)

The Best Road Race in Alberta, the Scotiabank Calgary Marathon is a challenging, competitive and fun event with a race designed for everyone at any level. There is a 50k Ultra, 42.2km, 21.1km, 10km, kids' marathon and 5km family walk or run – so the whole family can get involved!

Sports (all year round)

Calgarians love their sport and are blessed with some successful professional teams. The Calgary Flames, who play in the National Hockey League, are probably the most famous, but there are also the Calgary Stampeders who compete in the Football League championships. Expats should make a special effort to attend an edition of the 'Battle of Alberta' – the name given to ice-hockey contests between fierce local rivals the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers.

Frequently Asked Questions about Calgary

Often referred to as the 'most American' of Canadian cities, expats will likely find life in Calgary to be quite different to other major Canadian centres. Here are answers to some of the most common questions expats have about Calgary.

What are the best neighbourhoods in Calgary?

The best areas in Calgary are the northwest and southwest suburbs. These are closest to the Rockies, and boast fine views and low crime rates. Popular suburbs in the northwest include Tuscany, Country Hills, Dalhousie, Edgemont and Rosedale; and in the southwest, Springbank Hill, West Hillhurst and Westgate.

The northeast, where Calgary International Airport is located, is considered an unfavourable location because of the long commute into the city centre; while the southeast features a mix of desirable and less favourable locations, including pleasant suburbs such as Midnapore and McKenzie Lake but also unattractive industrial areas.

Do I need to have a car in Calgary?

Calgary has a well-established public transport system and many locals make use of buses and trains to commute to work during the week. However, buying and maintaining a car in Calgary is reasonable, and it will certainly be useful on weekends and for exploring the wider region, especially for those with children.

How do I apply for healthcare in Calgary?

Applying for the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan coverage is easy to do. Simply download an application form from the Alberta Health and Wellness Department's website, complete it, sign it, and mail it off with the following supporting documents: proof of Alberta residency (such as a rental agreement, or utility bill); government-issued photo identification (such as a copy of one's passport); and proof of legal entitlement to reside in Canada (such as a copy of one's working visa).

What can I do with kids in Calgary during the winter?

If there is one thing that Canadian families don't do, it's allow the weather to prevent them from having fun. There is plenty of entertainment for kids to enjoy in Calgary in the winter. A popular option is the Devonian Gardens, the largest indoor garden complex in Alberta – it remains warm enough to use all year round, and is equipped with an extensive children's play area.

Getting Around in Calgary

Expats will find getting around in Calgary quite straightforward as the city has a fairly reliable public transport network which is made up of buses and trains. While most of Calgary’s residents make use of public transport to commute to and from work during the week, many find it useful to have their own vehicle as well. 

Expats will find the cost of purchasing and maintaining a car in Canada is reasonable and having a set of wheels will give new arrivals the freedom to explore the region, surrounding areas and suburbs at their own leisure without being restricted by transport schedules.


Public transport in Calgary

Public transport in Calgary is fast and efficient. The city has an extensive public transport system which is made up of buses and trains.

There is an integrated ticketing system which covers all train lines and bus routes. Single tickets allow 90 minutes of travel on any route. However, for expats who plan on using public transport on a regular basis, the best option is a monthly pass. Both of these options can be purchased at any CTrain station, most convenience stores in Calgary, and online.

CTrain

Calgary’s light rail transit system is known as the CTrain. The CTrain network is not as extensive as one would find in other cities and in many cases commuters may also need to rely on bus services to complete a journey. 

Trains run frequently from 4am to 1am every day. On certain holidays and festival days there will be an extended 24-hour service. Unfortunately, commuters do experience frequent CTrain closures, especially on weekends as a result of construction or maintenance. So, those who plan on travelling over weekends should check online and establish which bus replacement services are heading to each destination. 

Buses

Calgary’s extensive bus network consists of more than 100 different routes. Buses in Calgary allow people to reach places that are not covered sufficiently by the CTrain network.  All of the bus routes are numbered and are generally designed to connect various suburbs to Calgary’s city centre or CTrain stations.

Buses aren’t as frequent as trains in Calgary; passengers can expect to wait on average around 30 minutes between buses, although service frequency does vary from route to route.


Taxis in Calgary

Taxis are readily available throughout Calgary. Expats living in suburbs further away from the city centre will benefit from finding out about smaller taxi providers in their local area.

While taxis certainly aren’t cheap, they do provide a safe and efficient door-to-door service. This is especially useful for those travelling late at night to areas not covered by the CTrain or late night bus service. 

Ride-hailing apps such as Uber are also available in the city.


Cycling in Calgary

While Calgary has a good network of off-street bike paths, expats might find that drivers are not always courteous to cyclists. It is therefore best to be vigilant when sharing the road with cars. 


Walking in Calgary 

Once someone has travelled into the city centre of Calgary, the quickest way for them to get between points is on foot. In the winter, most people navigate their way around the city using the Plus 15 system which is made up of a number of enclosed walkways. 


Driving in Calgary

It is not essential to have a car in Calgary but most expats do choose to purchase their own vehicle. A car is especially useful for expats with children or those wanting to explore the region in their spare time. Expats can drive using their national driver's licence but will eventually have to apply for a local Alberta licence.

Expats who decide to drive in Calgary might find it difficult to get to grips with the city’s quadrant system at first. But one soon learns that it is actually quite logical and systematic. Expats using a car to commute into Calgary’s city centre will experience lots of traffic, especially during rush-hour periods. Drivers commuting to work should be aware of Calgary’s lane reversal rules that are in operation at peak times during the week. 

Driving in winter conditions is something expat drivers will need to get used to. The city authorities do take measures to ensure that all major roads are ploughed, salted and sanded, but drivers should be aware that driving on smaller residential streets can be hazardous after a snowfall.