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.