May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
The World's Great Towns, June 1997

By the Editors

The Numbers
Population: 521,837
Climate: Snow-free, but plenty of rain (60 inches per year, 25 of those during winter)
Number of McDonald's: 27
Gestalt: East meets wetsuits
Here's a town with proper leisure-time priorities: Rainforest-replete Stanley Park is jammed every afternoon, and the cheese-culture Three Tenors couldn't sell out their last concert. Vancouver is Canada's least provincial city, partly the result of its 30 percent — and growing — Asian population; in spirit it's closer to Tokyo than Toronto. British Columbia even encourages schoolkids to learn an Asian language, starting in elementary school — Punjabi, anyone? Such City-of-the-World efforts help make Vancouver fiercely cosmopolitan, and the metro's 3,000 restaurants and internationally respected symphony don't hurt. The resulting lifestyle is rich enough to inveigle the most skeptical would-be Canadian. Workdays usually end at five sharp, spilling eager wage-earners out into a landscape of unparalleled options: a 1,000-acre park just a stroll from the skyscrapers, four major ski mountains nearby, 11 miles of swimmable beach in and around town, enough sailboats to form an armada, get the idea. The perhaps inevitable result: Almost 50,000 immigrants preceded you in the past year; Vancouver's growth rate is the third-fastest in North America.

What's Out There
Locals cling close to home for their frolic, and for good reason. With the wealth of pleasures right outside the door, why jet anywhere else? You can sea-kayak on the Strait of Georgia, winter-dive amongst giant octopi in Howe Sound, and shed your skivvies at Wreck Beach. When you do finally wander from town, you'll find Garibaldi Provincial Park, 40 miles north, site of more than 35 miles of wilderness hiking trails; whitewater on the Cheakamus, Thompson, and Chilliwack Rivers; coastal islands; many peaks topping 5,000 feet; and, less than two hours away, the world-class slopes of Whistler. If you need a workout buddy, virtually the entire population of Vancouver qualifies.

Around Town
Vancouver is clean and green, littered only with gardens and lagoons, footbridges and ferries, and enough over-the-top themed architecture to rival Epcot (the Colosseum-style library, the geodesic golf ball that houses the Omnimax, the mushroom-shaped B.C. Place stadium). Politics is easygoing, meaning universal health care and needle exchanges. As for assimilating, if you're anglophone, American, Asian, or any combination thereof, your camouflage is perfect. Maybe too much so: About a third of the population turns over in a five-year period. This can make for an underlying anonymity that will suit some more than others. Bring a companion, a dog, or a friendly smile and you should do fine.

Living Quarters
Spectacular views from every direction, but also a rental vacancy rate of close to zero. Be prepared to crack your wallet, especially as gentrification swallows up the once-affordable east side. Count on $600 per month for a "garden-level" studio (read basement) in a converted Victorian or $2,000 for the three-bedroom top floor. Buyers will pay $150,000 and up for a 700-square-foot condo in the rehabbed, portside loft spaces of Gastown. A Craftsman-style cottage in the popular beachside neighborhood of Kitsalano will run about $500,000.

Nine to Five
Let the great times roll. A healthy array of revenue streams flow into Vancouver; filming of The X-Files alone is a major industry, and wealthy investors, many from Hong Kong, have done spectacularly well in the stock market. The city is a magnet for enterprising home-office types (artists, writers, graphic designers), who've managed to expand, not saturate, the freelance market. Scoring "landed immigration status," a long-range dream, means first clearing Immigration, which employs a baroque point system: Skilled gum-machine mechanics, for instance, score ten points (out of a requisite 70) for their value; lawyers and shrinks, on the other hand, can barely scrape up a single job point between them. (We told you about priorities here.) Whatever your career, it's apparently possible to eventually best the system — last year 1,169 Americans became permanent residents of British Columbia.

Memorize This
Yu hsia te kou to le ma? ("Wet enough for you?")

Details, Details
When you're in the throes of an international move, it's easy to slip up on particulars both small (ordering phone service) and large (shipping Scruffy). Here's a short list of reminders to tape to your steamer trunk.

Before you go
Make sure that you have a valid passport.

Check about vaccinations with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (404-332-4559) and the embassy of the country in which you'll be living. Some countries have unusual immunization requirements.

Apply for a work visa and/or a resident's permit through the embassy of the nation to which you'll be moving. Be prepared for red tape. You might be asked to present a certified copy of your birth certificate, undergo physical and mental examinations, and obtain a "good conduct" certificate from your local police department.

Contact the Community Liaison Office of the U.S. Embassy in the country where you're headed for information on day care and English-language schools and for general advice on getting settled. Realize, though, that embassies have little time to devote to your concerns. They may provide you with names; you'll have to make the phone calls. You can also contact private organizations in your new home country, such as the American Chamber of Commerce or the American Women's Association, which keep up-to-date information on housing and domestic help.

Ask a moving company that you know and trust to recommend an international mover. One of the largest and most reputable is Mobility Services International out of Newburyport, Massachusetts (call 800-648-4018 or check its Web site: Remember that shipping household goods by sea is far cheaper than by air, but can take up to two months. Your mover should make all arrangements to pass your things through customs and hire a local company to take them to their final destination.

Apply for an international driver's license through the American Automobile Association. Benevolent police departments in some countries, however, will accept American licenses.

Talk to an accountant about your tax liabilities, both in the States (if you're paid by a U.S. employer, for example, you will still need to pay U.S. taxes) and in the country to which you're relocating.

If you have pets, find out about quarantine laws from the country's embassy in the United States. Most countries ask for rabies vaccinations and a good-health certificate from your veterinarian, but some, such as Australia, also require a six-month quarantine for all animals.

Contact a real estate agent so that you'll have a selection of properties ready to view when you arrive. You might want to have the agent rent you a house or apartment for a month or two while you look for a permanent place.

Find out the voltage (220/60 or 110/50) and type of electrical sockets used. You might need adapters, transformers, or new electronic equipment.

If you plan to keep a checking account with a bank in the United States, ask what services it offers to overseas customers. For a fee, some — such as Citibank, which has a Personal Banking for Overseas Executives service — will pay all your domestic bills and balance your account while you're gone.

When you arrive
Register promptly with your home embassy and local authorities. They can often help you through such potentially thorny problems as renewing work visas, registering a car, and obtaining car insurance.

Consider a part-time tutor to improve your language skills.

If you'll be renting a house or an office, hire a lawyer to scrutinize your lease. Some landlords require six months' rent paid in advance or a two-year minimum lease.

Make sure that you'll have easy access to cash. Many Americans prefer to have their paychecks deposited in the States but also maintain a local account to make check-cashing easier. In virtually every country nowadays, you can also draw money from your U.S. account or against a credit card from ATM machines, which, like Coca-Cola and David Schwimmer, have found their way to all corners of the globe. — Joshua Hammer

Illustration by Gary Baseman

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