If you've ever took an Alaskan cruise and had the opportunity to visit Victoria, you might have been taken aback by the beauty and lushness of British Columbia’s provincial capital.
As it so happens, this is also one of Canada’s most desirable retirement locations. However, is Victoria BC a good place to retire?
Victoria BC is a great place to retire and remains one of Canada’s most desirable cities. This is due to a temperate climate, high quality healthcare system and low crime rate. The greatest drawback is a higher-than-expected cost of living.
As the northern neighbor to the US, Canada offers an intriguing option for retirement. With a much lower population density, the country is filled with stunning natural beauty and friendly people.
Victoria is considered of one of the most beautiful cities in all of Canada. With a perfect growing climate, it’s internationally recognized as “the city of gardens”. In fact, the nearby Butchart Gardens attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, there are many advantages of retiring here.
A Great Place to Live
Quality of life is a dominating factor why so many folks choose to live on the island. This can best be described as the laidback lifestyle, modern infrastructure and temperate climate.
The Laidback Lifestyle
The city exudes a sense of calm and serenity. Whether strolling along the waterfront or through the harbor area, everything feels relaxed and leisurely.
Rather unique for a North American city where it feels as if you’ve stepped back in time. For instance, the city retains a distinctly British feel with the custom of high tea observed to this day.
The colonial architecture of the parliament building and Empress Hotel further contribute to the historical feel. They also serve as the backdrop for horse drawn carriage rides throughout the downtown area.
It seems almost everyone has access to a boat. Locals greatly enjoy getting out on the water whether to sail, fish or explore nearby islands and marine life. There’s a unique vibe to the city where nothing feels rushed.
While Victoria is stunningly picturesque, it also enjoys a modern infrastructure with a high standard of living. Unlike many 3rd world retirement destinations, the city boasts:
In addition, there's regular ferry and flight connections to the mainland or Seattle.
To many Americans, Canada is considered the frozen north. Vast areas of inhospitable wilderness where temperatures plummet to -40° or colder. While this is accurate in the far north, Victoria has a far more temperate climate.
In fact, they enjoy what is known as a sub-Mediterranean climate. Never too hot or cold. The summers are comfortable with average daily highs of 72°F (22°C). Humidity is low with refreshing ocean breezes.
The winters are so mild the mercury seldom dips below the freezing point. The biggest drawback is the skies tend to be gray and overcast. There’s more precipitation and occasionally a dusting of snow.
Long considered one of Canada’s best retirement communities, almost 18% of the residents are over the age of 65. The mild climate and welcoming nature appeal to seniors from across the country.
There are expansive daily activities and facilities catering to older adults. In addition, almost every imaginable service is available.
The stunning scenery and natural beauty also attract a younger demographic. This provides age diversity with many young professionals starting out their careers. Overall, an excellent balance leading to a vibrant community.
Each summer, approximately 1,500 hanging baskets decorate the lampposts throughout the city. All these flowers create the perfect setting for weddings and receptions. Half in jest, it’s been dubbed “the city of the newly wed and nearly dead”.
Low Crime Rate and Personal Safety
Considered to be a relatively safe place to live, it also makes Victoria BC a good place to retire. To provide some perspective, we decided to compare it with Seattle.
As the table below shows, Seattle has considerably more crime and has become a more dangerous place to live. These statistics are from Numbeo.
As safe as Victoria appears, there’s growing concern with crime increasing and the number of people using / dealing drugs. Unfortunately, these seem to be on the rise everywhere.
With respect to crime, San Diego’s considered quite similar to Victoria. Our article, Retiring to Ajijic Lake Chapala, uncovered both Ajijic and San Diego were remarkably safe.
Finally, as a personal observation, I felt completely safe in Victoria. However, it was unsettling to see so many homeless people. I suspect the mild winters exacerbate the situation which probably hasn’t gotten any better.
Universal healthcare is provided to all Canadian citizens and permanent residents. According to World Population Review, Canada has the 14th best healthcare system in the world. Within the provinces, British Columbia consistently ranks the best.
Private health insurance is highly recommended for non-residents and long-term visitors. In the event of a medical emergency, not having coverage could cost thousands of dollars.
Easy Access from the US
Americans can visit for up to six months without a visa. Often referred to as the “friendly border”, Canada’s easy to get to by air, land or sea. From Vancouver, there are daily ferries and flights to the island.
Alternatively, Victoria’s only 24 miles from Port Angeles, Washington, approximately a 90-minute ferry ride for those wishing to drive. There are also numerous flights to the island.
No other country, other than Mexico, is as easy to get to. For example, Panama or Costa Rica would be an extremely long drive.
Natural and Cultural Attractions
Home to a vast number of festivals, cultural and artistic events, there’s always something going on. These include museums, art galleries, fitness centers, golf courses, tennis courts, the marina and much more.
Outdoor enthusiasts will be enthralled with over 70 pristine parks. Hiking trails provide spectacular coastal views and wind through dense rain forests. Wildlife abounds everywhere.
An interesting tidbit is Victoria has the second highest number of restaurants per capita in all of North America. It’s also famous for its bakeries and pastries.
A stroll through downtown reveals a booming micro-brewery industry with a local pub on almost every corner.
Victoria is a great place to retire; however, by no means is it perfect.
Higher Than Expected Cost of Living
If you’re wondering is Victoria BC a good place to retire, let’s first consider the cost of living. This is one of the most expensive cities in Canada.
The real-estate market has soared in recent years due to a housing shortage. As of April 2022, the median selling price for a single-family home was $1,125,000 CDN! Even condos were expensive costing over $500,000 CDN.
Rental properties aren’t much cheaper and, unfortunately, are in high demand. This could make finding a decent place a bit of a challenge. One-bedroom apartments rent for around $1,700 a month with utilities extra.
In general, almost everything will be more expensive on the island. This includes food, liquor, gasoline, utilities and Wi-Fi.
While a mild winter which seldom freezes sounds wonderful, there are some downsides. The skies between November and March tend to be dreary and overcast.
The daily highs average 8 – 14 ºC (46 – 57 ºF) which can feel downright chilly, especially when it’s foggy or drizzling.
Difficult To Get Canadian Residency
Canada’s immigration process might be one of the slowest and most painful of any country. There’s no retirement visa which makes it even more difficult for older people wanting to become permanent residents.
According to VisaPlace, there are several options:
Limited Expat Community
Even though Canada is so close to the US, the difficulty obtaining permanent residency limits the number of American retirees. Granted, many come for up to 6 months at a time and leave when the temperature cools.
Overwhelmingly, this is a Canadian retirement destination. For the most part, expats tend to come and go not putting down roots. Thus, there’s a limited expat community. The good news is almost everybody is welcoming and friendly.
Inconvenient Travel Options
While Victoria has many amenities, there may be reasons you need to travel to the mainland. Getting back and forth to Vancouver is often cited as the number one frustration.
Everything is inconvenient as the ferry terminal is a 45-minute drive from Victoria. The ferry itself takes about an hour and a half. Then, another 45 minutes to downtown Vancouver.
So, between the ferry ride and getting into the city it could take upwards of 3 hours.
Besides the cost of the ferry, there’s also getting to and from the terminals. Deciding to drive can save time at either end, but will make the ticket four times more expensive. This is a similar situation when traveling to Port Angeles or Seattle.
Although called an international airport, the only direct flights are to Seattle or Canadian destinations. This makes almost everything a connecting flight with multiple stops and inconvenient.
Also, costs typically increase as well as travel time. If visiting family and friends is on the agenda, getting to and fro becomes more onerous. For example, a flight to Los Angeles costs around $300 whereas one from Vancouver is half the price.
Anyone planning on traveling regularly may realize Victoria's not the best retirement destination.
Because of its history and beauty, Victoria’s a popular destination for tourists coming by land, air or cruise ship.
In fact, they receive around 4 million visitors every year. Our article, Are Alaska Cruises Good for Older Adults, touches upon the cruise ship traffic.
Summer is especially busy with a constant parade of tour groups and people roaming around. The downtown, harbor and other attractions are extremely busy and crowded which might prove disruptive to everyday life.
To increase tourism in the off-season, they’ve started attracting business executives with their excellent conference facilities and capabilities. As great as it is for the economy, this also increases the amount of people in the city.
Living somewhere with a constant buzz of activity and noise could become draining.
Homelessness and Drug Problems
A sad fact is homelessness and drugs are a definite problem for Victoria. More than 80% are considered long-term homeless, meaning they’ve been without living quarters for six months or more.
In some areas, you could see people huddled under blankets. Wandering about the north end of downtown is not recommended, especially after dark.
Because of the mild winters, sleeping on the streets isn’t as onerous as it would be in, say, Alberta in February when it’s -40°. It’s becoming more of a problem and the city is searching for ways to alleviate the suffering.
"The Big One"
Victoria sits right on top of a major fault line and is the most seismically active area in Canada.
The first “Big One” hit January 26, 1700 reaching a whopping magnitude of 9. This resulted in a tsunami that wiped out the Japanese coastline. Typically, these occur every 300 to 500 years and scientists predict we’re overdue.
Today, minor earthquakes are common place. In recent years, quakes with a magnitude of 5 have been reported off the coast of the island. The largest ones occurred in 1918 and 1946 measuring 7.0 and 7.3 respectively.
The next big one hasn’t happened yet; however, it may just be a question of time. There’s a concern the entire island could rip open like a zipper. This would be catastrophic, leading to death and destruction.
Closing Thoughts on Is Victoria BC a Good Place to Retire
Canada and by extension, Victoria, are generally overlooked. Yet, this is a vibrant retirement community with many advantages.
These include the laid-back lifestyle, mild climate, low crime rate and high-quality healthcare. With so many festivals and cultural events, there’s always something interesting happening.
The greatest downside is the high cost of living. Property values have skyrocketed and everything is expensive. From my perspective, it’s a great place to visit. When it comes to choosing where to retire, there are many more affordable options.
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