Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Moving to Iqaluit FAQ

Note - an updated version of this FAQ can be found here. Thanks.

I promised ages ago to do a Moving to Iqaluit FAQ and then it simply slipped my mind. Well, with things being quiet here at this time of the year I do have some extra time to get into it. Although a few caveats. At this writing, I've lived in Iqaluit for about 3.5 years. While I'm knowledgeable about living here, I'm hardly an expert. If someone who has lived here 20 years tells you something that contradicts what I've said, odds are they have a better idea.

While much of the advice can be used for the rest of Nunavut, this is specific to if you're planning on coming to Iqaluit. Adjust accordingly if you're heading to other parts of the North.

If you have any suggestion or advice of your own, please feel free to leave in the comments section.

And, you know, don't blame me if I say something and it turns out to be wrong or have changed in the intervening time since I wrote this.

Question #1. Should I move to Iqaluit?
Answer. Why not? There are certainly challenges to living here, but there are perks and advantages as well. It's a nice place to live, there's a good sense of community and the place is growing quickly. It's a lot different now than what it was even five years ago. The challenges, however, are a bit different than what you might find in other cities in Canada.

Question #2. So what are the main challenges?
Answer. There are 5 things, right off the top, you need to know.

A. It's cold up here. No kidding, but people still fail to take it seriously sometimes. I've seen people walk off planes in February wearing a leather jacket, which is insane. The coldest I've experienced is -62C with windchill. Every day you get warmer than -30 from December 1 to April 30 is a gift. So make sure when you come up here you have the proper winter gear. More on that later.

B. The daylight up here can mess with your mind. It doesn't get completely dark in the winter, but during the darkest part of the year, you're only looking about six hours of daylight. During the summer, the sun does set, but it never gets truly dark. All that daylight can mess with people as much as all that darkness. So if you are sensitive to these things, take it into account. The darkness can make people tired, cranky and depressed. All the daylight can make people wired insomniacs.

C. Things are expensive. A case of a dozen Pepsi is about $14. A large bag of chips is $5. A smallish honeydew is about $10. Gas is about $1.60 a litre. A mechanic will run about $100 an hour. A return plane ticket from Iqaluit to Ottawa costs about $1,800. There is that shock the first time you walk into Arctic Ventures or North Mart. But odds are you're making good money working up here anyway. And there are ways to save some money on food. More on that in a minute.

D. The amenities you're used to in the south are likely not here. There is no Wal-Mart. There is no book store (but there is a library). There is no full time vet. And there is no Tim Hortons (but several non-chain coffee shops). Nor are they coming here anytime soon, so you can forget about getting a franchise from them. And there is a very limited number of restaurants. So if you like those things, well, you're going to have to adjust or reconsider coming here.

E. You are isolated. There are only two ways out of town - boat and plane. You're not getting to another city by skidoo. And the bay is frozen seven to eight months of the year. So airplane it is. Montreal and Ottawa are three hours away by plane and a normal ticket these days is $1,800. There are seat sales, but even then, a ticket is still around $1,400. So unless you're rich or work with the airlines (who give huge discounts to employees), you're not popping down to Ottawa for the weekend.

Question #3. And the good things are?
Answer. There's a nice sense of community. For a small city (forget Stats Canada estimated of 6,400, the population is between 7,000 and 7,500) there's a decent arts scene. If you love the outdoors and can't stand cities anyway, then there's a lot to be said for Iqaluit. Hop on a skidoo for 15 minutes and you're in the middle of nowhere. It's a growing community and there's lots of opportunity.

Question #4. Do I need a car?
Answer. It wouldn't hurt. Iqaluit is a bit of a sprawl and it's hilly. You can certainly get around walking, but when it's -50C, ask yourself how much walking you really want to be doing. There are no buses, but there are taxis, which run at a flat rate of $6 per person. Taxis will stop for multiple people, so don't be surprised if you're sharing a cab with three or four people.

Question #5. How can I get one?
Answer. You can buy new and used cars up here. There are plenty of posters kicking around offering ones for sale. The best time for buying one tends to be around June, when people are most likely to move south (end of the school year). Or you can buy one down south and ship it up. This will cost at least $1,500 and probably more, depending on the size of the vehicle. Make sure you have a block heater and a battery blanket installed. Vehicles are normally shipped up on the sealift out of Montreal. You don't need a 4x4 or anything, but many of the roads in town are still not paved and the potholes during spring (ie. June) can be huge. So do get something with a bit of clearance.

Also remember that this level of cold is hard on vehicles. Get used to being friends with your local mechanic and get used to the idea of large bills for simple things. For example, an oil change, which you can get done in Wal-Mart down south for about $25 will likely cost about $100 or so here.

Question #6. What's a sealift?
Answer. The sealift runs from approximately June until November each year, which is when there is no or little ice in the bay. Boats run up all kinds of supplies and if you wish you can ship things up this way. Furniture, cars, building supplies and food just to name a few. Many people in town take advantage of the sealift to ship up a year's supply of dried goods. It's a way to save some money by buying in bulk. There are a number of businesses that will help you with that. A Google search should do the trick, although here's the one for Northmart.

The sealift is also interesting to watch. There are no real port facilities in town and the tides can vary by as much as 10 metres. That means the vessels anchors out in the bay and, at high tide, barges run back and forth between the vessel and the beach. It's a bit odd to watch.

Question #7. I'm a vegetarian. Can I still be one in Iqaluit?
Answer. Yes, but it will be a bit more expensive. Both North Mart and Arctic Ventures get fresh produce in on a regular basis and both cater a bit to vegetarians by offering some soy and veggie foods. Fresh produce is expensive, but after awhile you'll learn to ignore it. There is also Food Mail, which can help out.

Question #8. What's Food Mail?
Answer. Recognizing that healthy, fresh food can be a expensive in the North, there is a program run through Canada Post in which healthy food can be shipped up from Montreal at a subsidized rate. It can only be healthy food, so if you want cans of pop, you're out of luck. But if you want fresh peppers or milk, then you can get it. The deadline for ordering is usually Saturday and then you pick it up at First Air Cargo the following Saturday.

We don't use the program much because we've found it to be a bit erratic in terms of how much money we save and the quality of food you get. But others swear by it. It's worth experimenting with once you get here. Ask co-workers and they'll give you the name of a couple of stories in Montreal that take part in the program. Here's the government's take on the program.

Question #9. How easy is it to get a job in Iqaluit?
Answer. Depends. Crappy answer, but it depends on your skills. If you're a nurse or doctor, you will be welcomed with a ticker tape parade. If you're curious about the jobs available go to the Government of Nunavut site, Nunatsiaq News or News North.

It's also worth remembering that some places, and I'm thinking specifically of the GN, but others follow it as well, having hiring priority procedures in place. For example, with the GN, land claim beneficiaries get first crack at all jobs. If no one is qualified in that "first tier" then the next tier is long-term northerner (ie. people who have lived in Nunavut for at least one year) and then it's pretty much everyone else. So just because you see a job that you think you're really qualified for it, don't believe you're a lock for it.

Some jobs will come with perks, such as relocation costs being covered, air fare, housing, etc. It never hurts to ask, but don't go in expecting all of these things. There are still plenty of positions that need to be filled, but they're not scrambling quite so hard to fill everything these days.

Question #10. How hard is it to find housing?
Answer. Again, depends. If you get a job with the federal government, then odds are they provide it for you. If you get one with the GN then some jobs come with housing. Remember it's easier to get housing if it's just you or your spouse. When you start involving kids, pets (a lot of the apartment buildings up here refuse to allow dogs), etc, it gets that much harder to find housing. Still, these position will give you a house/apartment and rent will be deducted from your check, but the GN does pay for a portion of it.

Also, the GN is increasingly getting into offering a housing subsidy. What does this mean? It means they won't find you a place to live, but they will give you $400 per family towards rent or a mortgage. Go here if you want to learn more. Please make sure which they are offering you, as I've had some emails express confusion.

If you're coming up here to work on construction sites or with a local business, odds are they're not giving you housing. Which means you have to find it on your own. A small, one-bedroom apartment will set you back roughly $1,700 a month. A 2-bedroom apartment cannot be found for under $2,000. Check this site for some of the rental proprieties available. And if you want to take the plunge and buy a house, average cost is around $350,000. But it can be a complicated business, what with land leases (you do not own the land your house rests on), water trucks, etc. So go into that carefully. This site lists some of the proprieties for sale, among other things.

Question 11. Are there banks in town?
Answer. CIBC and Royal Bank both have branches with ATMs in town.

Question 12. Is there high speed internet service in town?
Answer. Yes...sorta. It's very slow high speed, certainly slower than what you're likely used to down south. Northwestel and Qiniq both offer internet. Keep in mind that it is expensive. Northwestel charges $79 a month, Qiniq around $60 a month. There are also caps on usage. NWTel has a 10 gig a month cap, Qiniq around 2 gigs. So if you're used to downloading all your TV shows and movies and 20 records a month, well, that's not happening. Or, it can happen but it could get very slow or expensive once the penalties kick in.

Our phone bill is around $140 a month. That's internet, regular service and our long distance calls. It's not great, but all right.

Question 12. Are there bars in town or is it a dry community?
Answer. There are several bars in town - The Storehouse, the Kicking Caribou and the Legion (which is supposedly the most financially successful one in Canada). Several restaurants also serve alcohol. Neither myself nor Cathy are big drinkers, but $5 for a can of beer (no bottles nor any kegs. Which means no Guinness) is around par for the course. There is no liquor store, so if you want to order beer, wine, hard liquor, you need to order it and it will arrive several days later from Rankin Inlet. You can also order beer from the Sea Lift. This link gives you some ideas.

Question 13. How safe is it in Iqaluit?
Answer. I tend to be a touch anti-social, but other than some petty vandalism, neither of us have had any problems. I think Iqaluit is reasonably safe as long as you're not stupid. If you get drunk and belligerent at the local bar, well, yes, you're going to have trouble. Single women should follow the same precautions they take if they were going out in Toronto.

A lot of the violence you hear about, and I hate saying this, the victim and the attacker tend to know each other. And yes, there are also drug problems in the city. But I don't consider it extraordinary, nor do we feel any less safe than when we lived in St. John's.

Question 14. Are there things I really need to bring with me before coming up?
Answer. You can actually get most things you need either in Iqaluit or buy ordering online. There are also good yard sales, especially in the spring, from people selling things as they head south. However, I recommend buying your cold weather gear down south if possible. It is expensive up here. And buy proper warm weather gear. What will get you through a Newfoundland winter, for example, won't cut it up here. Get coats, boots and gloves that are rated for temperatures around -70C. And your coat's hood should be fur trimmed. It makes a huge difference in keeping your face warm

Clothes selection is somewhat limited, but you can order online. People will quickly give you their recommended sites for order, but we've ordered from Eddie Bauer, Land's End and l.l. bean with no problems. Furniture is also expensive, but you have to weigh that against the cost of shipping it up. Be careful shipping anything with glass in it up here, as glass tends to not travel well. The Source is here if you need electronics.

I would bring enough entertainment to keep you amused for a few months until you get settled in. So if you like video games, bring them along. If you like books, bring some of your favourites. If you like movies, bring some of your favourite DVDs.

We brought plants with us up here, which was silly because stores sell plants. We brought lots of books, which was silly because there's a perfectly good library here. Not to mention Chapters and Amazon offer free shipping over $40. Whatever you don't take with you, odds are you can get it here or get it sent to you.

Bring an open mind. It helps. Iqaluit is about 60% Inuit, 40% non-Inuit (and of those, most are Newfoundlanders, Quebecois and Ontarians). It's a different culture and way of life.

Finally, bring your patience. No kidding, things operate at a different speed up here. This is still a growing, developing territory and government. Things work at a slower pace. If you want things done right now a lot, you will lose your mind because it's not happening.

Question 15. What about medical issues?
There are no private medical clinics, so odds are you're going to Public Health or the hospital to see doctors. There are a couple of dentists. There are several pharmacists. And there is a brand new hospital in town. Serious medical cases are normally sent to Ottawa. We've both been fortunate to not need any real medical attention, so I can't speak a lot about it. However, this one of these things where, unless its an emergency, a bit of patience goes a long way.

Question 16. What about entertainment and sports?
Answer. It's not Toronto with its options, but there is lots to do. There's a hockey rink, and possibly even a second one once they get it fixed up (long story). There's a curling rink (and as a member, I encourage you to join as well) a racquetball club, the Atii Fitness Centre, a swimming pool (which might close soon as it is very old). Each September there is something called Mass Registration where you can sign up for everything from ball room dancing, to speed skating, judo, the greenhouse society, etc. The City of Iqaluit lists most of the recreational activities on their website.

There is also a movie theatre - two screens normally showing four movies a week. There are several video rental stores. Cable and satellite is available here, although the cable sucks (55 channels, $75) and the satellite can be a touch unreliable. There are things to do; it's just a matter of going out and doing them. If you want to be kept busy, there's plenty of people willing to help you do just that.

Question 17. What are the schools like?
Answer. That's a touchy one and at least partially because my wife is a teacher. There's no doubt that some parents do not like the school system and move down south because they believe their children can get a better education there. On other other hand, I've met a lot of hard working teachers doing their best. There are opportunities for travel and programs that might not be easily accessible in other parts of Canada. The high school has been making great strides in improving its graduation rate and offers some unique programs. And the government pays for one year tuition at any Canadian university for every five years your child attends school in Nunavut.

But yeah, there are problems. There's stuff that can break your heart. Does that make it any better or worse than some places in southern Canada? I can't really say.

Question 18. Any other tips
Answer. Avoid being a racist is a nice start. Sadly, you still get some of that up here. Avoid giving the impression that you're just up here to make a few bucks to pay off your student loan or mortgage and then getting out of town. Go figure, people who live and work here, trying to build the territory, take it kind of personally. Avoid the attitude that you know better on how things should be done. Just because things are done differently up here than you're used to doesn't means they're wrong. Oh, and if you have issues with fur products - like sealskin gloves or fur coats - I'd lose them or keep it to yourself. Many people where fur because it's warm and comfortable. You can get some very nice things up here at a reasonable price.

And get out there and try things. It's a different world and culture in Nunavut, in all likelihood completely different than anything you've experienced before. So try some seal or caribou. Get out on the land if given a chance. Talk to an elder. Do stuff.

Finally, we both think it's important to treat yourself. It can be hard for some people to live here and living an austere life doesn't help. I'm not saying going out and blow your paycheck every week, but do make sure you take care of yourself and do things for your mental health. Cathy and I like to travel and we go on at least one large trip a year - Italy in 2008, Australia in 2009. It does wonders for your mental health. Travel might not be your thing, but whatever it is, do it. It helps.

Question 19. Do you like it up there?
Answer. We still wouldn't be here if we didn't. That's not a flippant answer either. The one thing about Iqaluit is that you will know within a couple of months if you're going to like it here. There are people who only came up for a few months and 20 years later are still here. And there are people who come up for 1 year contracts and don't last three months.

We like it here. We're comfortable and happy and considered buying a house for a bit, until we landed our snazzy new apartment. We came up here with a five year plan that would have taken us to 2010. We're now looking at staying here well beyond that. We have friends, we like our jobs, we're paid well, the cold doesn't bother us much (unless it gets silly cold, like -50C or so) and we're comfortable. We have more freedom to live and do things we want by living in Iqaluit than if we had stayed in Newfoundland.

And that's all I have for now. If you have any further questions or can think of something I miss, please feel free to add it to the comments section.


Mungo Says Bah! said...

Fascinating post, thanks for all of that information.


Anonymous said...

Sweet! I'll pass this along to Karen's replacement.

Way Way Up said...

Very thorough Craig. Since I usually get queries regarding teaching positions here in the territory, I'd love to do up a link to this post if you don't mind as soon as I get back up to AB.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and the people are wonderful!

In Iqaluit, from Iqaluit

towniebastard said...

No problem, Darcy. Link away. I think my next big post in a few weeks time will be about online shipping.

Karin said...

You might be able to convince me to buy property in St. J's but you'll never get me to live in Iqaluit. I'd get frostbitten or something crazy within the first week. ;) Happy New Year to you and Cathy.

Nunavummiut Jaime said...

Gasp! The swimming pool might close!? Say it ain't so, it's one of my favourite parts about living here. :(


towniebastard said...

The pool is, as you may have noticed, is very old and not in great shape. The owners of the hotel would very much like to close the pool and do something else with the space. The City is renting it and its costing a fortune.

The preferred solution is for the City to build its often talked about recreation complex, but as it would cost, I believe, in excess of $10 million, they're having some problem getting the money, especially since they have two other massive projects in the works - Fixing the Arctic Winter Games Complex and building a proper city hall.

Which is a long-winded way or saying it might close. Each year it gets threatened and each year the city finds the money to convince the hotel to keep it running. But you get the feeling that's not going to work for much longer.

Anonymous said...

Very informative Townie,

My wife and I are considering relocating to Iqaluit from Ottawa. My wife has traveled frequently up North, including Iqaluit; I have not. Therefore, many, many questions, mostly about fresh food, housing and cost of living. Your blog offered valuable insight. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

I really found the information useful and well presented. i have just been presented with an opportunity to go to Iqaluit for a year or two and I am looking forward to it. I do have a few questions, what does GN stand for.
You also mentioned "water truck", how is that relevant, because I see some rentals include water, not sure why needs to be mentioned.
Maybe we can meet up when I get up there. ( I am presently just north of Nanaimo)

towniebastard said...

GN simply stands for Government of Nunavut.

As for water trucks, the entire city is not connected by water and sewer. We've been lucky in that our building is, so we haven't had to deal with them. But not all parts of Iqaluit are. That means deadling with having your water delivered and your sewage collected by truck.

I'm honestly not sure about the fees involved. I have heard ads that if you need emergency water delivery during holidays, there is a fee. But for regular use, I'm not sure what costs are involved, if any.

And by all means, when you hit town, drop me a line, I'll buy you a coffee and get you up to speed on things.

Cheryl said...

Wow, thank you so much for this info!! My heart is set on moving to Nunavut, and when i didn't get the first job I applied for I was pretty bummed. Now I'm excited to start the application process again and see how it goes :)Thanks for making the Nunavut move plan less overwhelming!

towniebastard said...

No problem. Patience is the watch word when dealing with all things Nunavut. Don't get discouraged that your first try failed. My first three or four did, including interviews after I was already living here.

Just keep at it, and keep being enthusastic and you'll get up here eventually.

Cheryl said...

Ha ha, well I can certainly use some improvement in my patience, so this will be perfect! 3 strikes before you got a job hey? Well i guess I'll be halfway there soon :) Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I was very excited when I came by your site by accident. Thanks for the info. My husband and I are seriously considering moving to Iqaluit. My biggest concern is child care for my 2 year old. How do I find child care in Iqaluit??

towniebastard said...

That's actually an excellent question. A quick glance in the Yellow Pages gives up these day care centres in Iqaluit.

Aakuluk - 979-7766
First Steps - 979-0505
Garderie les Petits Nanooks - 975-2400
Kids on the Beach - 979-0303
Pairivik - 979-6460

I think there might be one more, but I'm not sure. Obviously one of these is a French day care. And I'm pretty certain Pairivik is Inuktitut only.

Day care is as hard to get up here as almost anywhere else in Canada. The joke, for those who find it funny, is that you apply for day care as soon as the pregnancy test gives you a positive. So I'd start calling now. The wait can be from three months to two years, from what I hear.

And yes, you can get sitters, but they go at a premium ($10/hr is the minimum wage, and you won't get one of that) and they can be....unreliable, according to some parents I've overheard.

Best of luck...

Anonymous said...

Thnks for all the info, I moved to Iqaluit this past May, didn't know for sure what to bring, I wish I had brought more books!! I was lucky enough to get a job the first time I answered a posting. I do miss having access to a liquor store, I'm used to having a medicinal glass of wine once in a while, preferably at home. I 'll check out the warehouse, as soon as I find out where it is!!

Anonymous said...

Great site and like everyone else said, very informative. I moved here in April of this year and love it. My wife just got hired with the GN. A quick comment on daycare. Good luck getting in. We were told that the wait is 2 years. We just hired a live in nanny for our son, and it's only a little more expensive than daycare anyway. As for ordering online, it is awesome. Costco actually ships free here, unless the item is really big, then there is a minimal fee but for the most part its free shipping. We really like it here, it's a great adventure.

Anonymous said...

Hi there, Excellent information, Thank you. My husband and I are moving to Iqaluit in 3 weeks and you have addressed many of our questions. We are excited about the move and the possibilities Nunavut has to offer!

We would love to thank you by meeting up with you and buying a coffee once we arrive. :)

Anonymous said...

Rather then buy a car, what is your opinion on ATV's and snowmobiles?
Awesome blogpost, it has helped me so much as I will be relocating North with my job in 2010, though unsure yet if the posting will be Nunavut or Inuvik as of yet...

Anonymous said...

sounds perfect ! the real outdoors, the real north.
it is still hard to find a job in IT though.....

how is the fishing?

Anonymous said...

Hey, the info is great! I am seriously thinking of moving up to Iqaluit. The problem is, I don't have any housing accommodations there, and it seems like you need a place to stay before you can get a job, and you need to have a job in Iqaluit to sign almost any lease...I am just getting out of school, (I have a degree and an advanced diploma, but no experience) so I am not qualified for any GN jobs with included housing (it seems). I don't have any problem taking a trip up there (and paying huge amounts of money to a hotel there, and flight costs) if it would help me find a place to stay for a bit, or a place where I can house-sit while for someone during the summer...if anyone has any suggestions to help me move to Iqaluit, I would greatly appreciate it!

Anonymous said...

Hi,This is a great post. thank you very much for giving such a good information. We are moving to Iqaluit in April. This will be good experience for me being in real Canada, what all the world think is cold cold:))Hope to meet you

Anonymous said...

Very informative! I'm considering moving up North for work (there's way too much competition here in Toronto), and this post answered a lot of questions I had. The farthest up north that I've ever been was Northern Alberta--which I LOVED. There's just something about being up there that just feels right to me. I can't wait to move!

qallunaat down under said...

Qanuippit, Australia muitau junga
I found this well prepared article facinating, probably never experienced less than -14C here, Im certain a -60C would rattle my bones a bit.
Is the swimming pool heated?

CBW said...


I am looking at a potential career opportunity with the GN - in the middle of the process now - but VERY interested! We are in Ottawa and I have a 2 and 4 year old - so of course there are my main concern - I am worried about finding housing - gather rental corporations or as you mentioned some Government jobs offer housing? Your comments rang true to home on many fronts - I returned to Canada 10 years ago after having spent 10 years in Istanbul Turkey and am looking for a change for my family!

Thank you and anyone else who can offer me extra pointers or things to consider - that would be helpful! thank you so much C

Corner Brooker said...

Thanks for all of the great info! My husband and I are seriously considering moving once I'm done nursing school. We have heard nothing but good about Iqaluit, and since we are young & newly married-2 years in:) we are up for an adventure! We would both be working as nurses. I noticed you are from NL? How did you find the move? I just feel like I would have no idea of how much we would actually need to bring!