Moving to Vancouver Island: Pros and Cons

Moving to a new place is both exciting and nerve-wracking, especially if it involves relocating to a new country. Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada is one of the best places in North America with easy access to the Pacific Ocean, a mild climate, and natural beauty that will leave you breathless. It is home to some of the most spectacular views, cities, and towns, making it the perfect place to start a new life. We will explore the pros and cons of moving to Vancouver Island, review all of the largest towns on the island, and give you all the helpful information you need before embarking on your upcoming move.

Fisgard Lighthouse, Victoria, BC.
Fisgard Lighthouse, Victoria, BC.

Vancouver Island in British Columbia offers a diverse range of attractions that make it a popular destination for movers. With its stunning ocean views, picturesque hiking trails, and mild climate, the island has a lot to offer. But like any place, Vancouver Island has its pros and cons. On the positive side, its natural beauty is unparalleled, and there’s always something to do, whether you’re looking for outdoor adventures or cultural experiences. On the other hand, the cost of living can be high, and the island can feel disconnected from the rest of the province. Those considering a move to Vancouver Island would do well to weigh both the advantages and disadvantages before making a decision.

Outdoor activities

Vancouver Island is a paradise of outdoor activities, with opportunities to explore lush rainforests, enjoy green spaces, relax on sandy beaches, and hike the mountain trails. Nestled on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria BC boasts an abundance of natural beauty and outdoor adventure. Hikers and beach-goers alike will relish in the stunning scenery that surrounds the area. For those seeking a breathtaking coastal hike, East Sooke Regional Park should be at the top of the list. The trail takes visitors through a rugged landscape and provides awe-inspiring views of the ocean.

Meanwhile, lovers of sun, sand, and surf will be in paradise at the nearby area of Cadboro Bay Beach. With its clear blue water and soft sandy shores, it’s hard not to fall in love with this picturesque destination. Whether it’s a relaxing beach day or an invigorating hike, Victoria BC has something to offer for everyone. The Island is also home to some of the best gardens, such as the Butchart Gardens, world-renowned for their formal gardens.

Interesting flowers at the Sunken Garden at the Butchart Gardens, Brentwood Bay, BC.
Interesting flowers at the Sunken Garden at the Butchart Gardens, Brentwood Bay, BC.

The Island is not just about outdoor activities; it is also a place with plenty of job opportunities and good quality public school systems. Major cities such as Victoria and Nanaimo have a thriving local economy, and there are various communities that offer new jobs in different fields. The government of British Columbia website has detailed information for obtaining a work permit, accessing health care services, and relocating to Vancouver Island.

Towns on Vancouver Island

The Island also has a range of neighborhoods to call home, from larger cities like Victoria and North Vancouver, to smaller towns like Campbell River and Port Hardy. In Victoria’s downtown area, you can enjoy city life while the surrounding areas offer a more relaxing lifestyle.

A gorgeous summer day at the waterfront in downtown Victoria BC
A gorgeous summer day at the waterfront in downtown Victoria BC

Vancouver Island is home to a number of charming towns and cities, many of which are located along the east coast. Major population centres like Duncan, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Courtenay, North Cowichan, Port Hardy, and Campbell River each offer their own unique blend of natural beauty and urban development. However, don’t overlook the west coast, as the towns of Tofino and Ucluelet also boast stunning scenery and an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities. Whether exploring the rugged coastline or delving into local history and culture, Vancouver Island has something to offer everyone.

Here are some more details about each town, starting with the largest towns first.

Victoria, BC

Victoria, BC is a charming city located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Victoria, BC is home to a wide range of attractions that make it both a great place to visit and live. You can start by having a leisurely walk around the iconic Inner Harbour, which boasts an array of boats and yachts that one can admire. One cannot leave Victoria without visiting the world-famous Butchart Gardens that present a stunning display of flora, especially during spring and summer. The Royal British Columbia Museum is also a must-see attraction, with its engaging exhibits on natural history, indigenous cultures, and modern artifacts. Victoria also offers an array of culinary experiences with its farm-to-table dining options that cater to all tastes. With all these exciting activities, Victoria, BC is undoubtedly a destination worth adding to your bucket list.

Empress Hotel in downtown Victoria, BC.
Empress Hotel in downtown Victoria, BC.

As with any city, there are both pros and cons to living here. One of the biggest advantages of living in Victoria is the serene natural environment that surrounds it. From hikes in the scenic forests to whale watching tours, there are plenty of activities for nature lovers to enjoy. Another benefit of living here is the mild climate. With relatively warm temperatures throughout the year, residents can enjoy outdoor recreational activities whenever they please. On the flip side, housing costs in Victoria can be steep which can make it difficult for some residents to find affordable accommodations. Additionally, the city’s location on an island can make travel to the mainland more time-consuming and expensive than in other cities. Despite these challenges, many people find the beauty and culture of Victoria to be well worth the effort.

The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, parliament building in downtown Victoria, BC, Canada
The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, parliament building in downtown Victoria, BC, Canada

Greater Victoria Area

Looking for the perfect place to call home in Victoria, British Columbia can be a daunting task with so many unique suburbs to choose from. Some of the notable suburbs within close proximity to downtown include James Bay, Fernwood, and Cook Street Village, each with their own distinct vibes and features. Those seeking to be in the heart of the action may find the downtown/Inner Harbour region preferable, while those craving a quieter, more residential feel may prefer the charming neighborhoods of Fairfield & Rockland or Oak Bay. My parents retired to a house in Esquimault, and their back yard has access to the Gorge Waters, an inlet from Victoria’s upper harbor in downtown Victoria.

canoe and sunset in Esquimault, Victoria, BC
View from my parents back yard in the neighborhood of Esquimault in Victoria BC

I was able to kayak from their house to downtown Victoria for this amazing event called the Symphony Splash, where the Victoria Symphony plays on a floating stage, and people can canoe or kayak up to the stage and listen to the amazing concert.

 The Symphony Splash in Victoria BC.
One of the most amazing events I’ve ever attended, the Symphony Splash in Victoria BC.

For those who want to branch out, the suburbs to the north of Victoria, such as Saanich and Brentwood Bay, offer stunning natural landscapes, while the suburbs to the west, such as Langford and Sooke, offer a more secluded, rural setting. Ultimately, the choice is yours, and you’re sure to find something that meets your unique needs and preferences.

Nanaimo, BC

The second largest city, Nanaimo, located on the east coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, is a hidden gem for tourists seeking adventure and scenic beauty. With its pristine beaches, clear blue waters and lush green forests, Nanaimo offers an amazing experience for visitors from around the world. Among the most popular tourist attractions is the Nanaimo Bar Trail, where visitors can taste the famous Nanaimo bar dessert and explore the city’s history. Additionally, the scenic views at the Saysutshun (Newcastle Island) Marine Provincial Park and the winding trails at Westwood Lake Park offer a picturesque experience for nature lovers. Visitors seeking more adrenaline-pumping activities can enjoy various outdoor activities such as kayaking, hiking, or mountain biking. Nanaimo is truly a must-visit destination that offers the perfect blend of adventure, relaxation and natural beauty.

Thrifty Foods, Nanaimo, BC
Since Nanaimo is a larger town, it has a lot of convenient shopping, like the Thrifty Foods.

Often referred to as the “Bathtub Racing Capital of the World,” Nanaimo is a popular destination for watersports enthusiasts and boasts an array of recreational activities such as kayaking, sailing, and fishing. The city also offers residents a flourishing arts and culture scene, featuring numerous art galleries, museums and theatres. While Nanaimo boasts a beautiful landscape and diverse community, it’s not without its downsides. High prices for real estate and cost of living are a challenge for many, and the city’s traffic can be congested during peak hours. Despite its drawbacks, those who call Nanaimo home speak of its natural beauty, vibrant arts and culture scene, and peaceful quality of life.

Courtenay, BC

Courtenay, BC is a hidden gem for tourists who are seeking a peaceful escape from the bustling city. This small town is known for its charming atmosphere and tourist highlights that are sure to please any traveler. One of the top attractions in Courtenay is the Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park. Visitors can explore the beautiful gardens and art exhibits that showcase the island’s rich history. Another must-see spot is the Courtenay Riverway Heritage Walk, which takes visitors on a scenic stroll along the river. For a more thrilling experience, tourists can try out the skiing and snowboarding facilities at Mount Washington Alpine Resort. Whether it’s admiring the natural beauty or seeking an adventurous experience, Courtenay has something for every type of traveler.

Moving to Courtenay can be an appealing proposition for many people, with its mild climate, stunning natural beauty, and relaxed lifestyle. The city offers a wide range of amenities, including excellent schools, medical facilities, and recreational opportunities. On the downside, the cost of living in Courtenay can be relatively high, and job opportunities may be limited compared to larger cities. Additionally, the city can experience heavy rainfalls and flooding during the winter months. These factors suggest that moving to Courtenay can be an excellent choice for those who prioritize outdoor activities and a laid-back lifestyle and are financially comfortable. Those who seek a bustling urban environment with ample job opportunities might want to look elsewhere.

Duncan, BC

Nestled in the heart of the Cowichan Valley, Duncan, BC offers a multitude of tourist highlights for visitors to explore. For those looking to immerse themselves in the local culture, the city is home to a vibrant arts community, with galleries and studios showcasing the talents of local artisans. History buffs can delve into the rich heritage of the area at the Cowichan Valley Museum, which boasts interactive exhibits and artifacts dating back to the First Nations’ occupation of the land. Nature lovers won’t want to miss the stunning scenery of the nearby Cowichan River, and foodies will delight in the region’s farm-to-table restaurant scene. With so much to discover, Duncan is the perfect destination for travelers looking for a little bit of everything.

Duncan is located close to Victoria, so it is convenient to travel there to get access to bigger city attractions. Duncan offers residents a tranquil living experience. Known as the “City of Totems”, the town boasts a rich cultural heritage that is celebrated through its many totem poles lining the streets. Living in Duncan means being surrounded by lush forests, pristine lakes, and meandering rivers, all of which provide numerous opportunities for outdoor adventures. From hiking to fishing, there is no shortage of activities to engage with. The town also offers a vibrant shopping and dining scene, with numerous restaurants, cafes, and boutiques to explore. Despite its small size, there is always something to do in Duncan, making it a great place to call home.

Campbell River

Campbell River, which is even farther north, and a three hour drive to Victoria, boasts several tourist attractions that will make any traveler fall in love with its stunning scenery and serene environment. One of the must-visit sites is the Elk Falls Provincial Park, which is home to the magnificent Elk Falls. Here, visitors can take a scenic walk along the suspension bridge, bask in the lush greenery, and get up close to the powerful falls.

Another place of interest is the Discovery Fishing Pier, which provides breathtaking views of the suspension bridge, the surrounding mountains, and the wildlife in the area. For those seeking unique experiences, the Haig-Brown Heritage House is an excellent choice. The house once belonged to the famous conservationist, more famously known as the Salmon Lady. It holds significant environmental and cultural importance and houses an impressive collection of literary works. Campbell River is truly rewarding, and tourists will have an unforgettable experience exploring its treasures.

Campbell River offers a unique blend of natural beauty and community spirit. Living in Campbell River means waking up to stunning ocean views and picturesque mountain ranges as the city is situated on the edge of the Discovery Passage. The community is close-knit and welcoming, with a strong emphasis on outdoor activities such as boating, fishing, and hiking. The region is also home to a thriving wildlife population, including bears, eagles, and whales. The city has a rich history, with several First Nations communities calling the region home for thousands of years. Today, Campbell River continues to evolve, with a growing arts scene, bustling downtown core, and ample opportunities for work and play.

Tofino

I have to put a plug in for my favorite city, Tofino BC, which is a haven for adventure-seekers and nature-lovers alike, with a plethora of activities to choose from. Visitors can hit the waves for some world-class surfing, with lessons available for beginners. Be sure to take a stroll along the sandy beaches and enjoy the stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. A visit to the Naa’Waya’Sum Gardens (formerly the Tofino Botanical Gardens) is a must, featuring over 10 acres of native plant collections, art installations, and plenty of wildlife to observe.

Sturgeon Super Moon totem pole at  Tofino Botanical Gardens, Tofino, BC, Canada
New totem pole raised to celebrate the Sturgeon Super Moon on August 1st, 2023, at Tofino Botanical Gardens, Tofino, BC, Canada

For those looking to get a closer look at the marine life, whale watching tours and bear watching tours are available. Don’t forget to end the day with some fresh, locally-sourced seafood and live entertainment at one of Tofino’s great restaurants. My favorite is Tacofino, the orange food truck at the Live to Surf parking lot, which serves amazing tacos including my favorite, yam tacos, and right next door, and ice cream and chocolate shop, Chocolate Tofino, which is on the list of top 50 chocolate shops in the world. It also has something like 8 vegan ice creams on the menu, which are delicious. About half of the people live here full time, and half are here to work during the busy tourist season.

Tacofino food truck in Tofino BC
Tacofino, which makes amazing food like yam tacos, in Tofino, BC

Cost of Living

Considering the cost of living is an essential part of moving to a new place. Vancouver Island’s cost of living is relatively higher than many other Canadian cities. For example, rent in Victoria is 31% higher than in Calgary, and the consumer prices are 5% higher in Victoria than in Calgary (Cost of Living Comparison Between Calgary, Canada And Victoria, Canada (numbeo.com)) There are also many real estate listings for various price ranges, which can make finding the perfect place to live much easier. 

Schools

Victoria, BC offers an excellent selection of schools, from primary to secondary school. Secondary schools are for grade 9-12 (like high school). According to ratings, many of the public schools in the area score well and offer high-quality education for students. However, for those looking for private education options, Victoria also has several excellent private schools to choose from. These schools often boast smaller class sizes and more personalized education experiences. Some of the most notable private schools in Victoria include St. Margaret’s School, Glenlyon Norfolk School (IB, and day and boarding school), and the Maria Montessori Academy. By offering both public and private school options, Victoria provides families with diverse educational opportunities for their children. There is also the University of Victoria for access to higher education.

Conclusion

Moving to Vancouver Island is a good idea, with its mild climate, spectacular scenery, and friendly people. Whether you are looking for a new job, moving from the city, or just want to experience a different and special place, it is the perfect place to start your new life. Throughout your moving experience, make sure to research different communities, obtain detailed maps, and reach out to professional movers. It’s time to enjoy the mildest climate, warm summers, and mild winters on Vancouver Island and explore the different communities that make this Island a unique and beautiful place.

The surfing mecca at Chesterman Beach, Tofino, BC
The surfing mecca at Chesterman Beach, Tofino, BC