Ania over at The New Diplomat’s Wife started an FS Blog Roundup on the topic of five pros and cons about your post with her lovely review of being posted in Copenhagen. FS bloggers did these a couple of years ago and I came up with five pros and cons of being posted in Ciudad Juarez last time around but never did one while I was in Ottawa. Since a few people have already covered life here in the DC area, I decided to focus on Ottawa for this one, even though I’ve been gone for several months. So, here goes.
1. People – Canadians are nice, friendly, and easy to meet. It’s easy to get out and be involved in the community in Ottawa and I made some wonderful Canadian friends while I was posted there. It’s easy to blend in in Ottawa and you don’t have to rely on the embassy community for your social life, which I enjoyed.
2. LQA – Ottawa is an LQA post, meaning that you get an allowance and find your own housing instead of being assigned housing from a housing pool like in most posts. There are some cons to it that I’ll get to later, but after having safety and security frustrations with my house in Juarez and feeling like I had no power in the situation, it was so nice to pick out something that I liked. I had a lovely apartment and very nice landlords, so overall had a pretty good experience with LQA.
3. Pet friendly – Ottawa is very pet friendly and it’s very easy to import pets to Canada from the United States. I don’t know if it’s different for dogs, but all I needed for the Diplocat was a rabies certificate, and they weren’t at all interested in seeing it at the border when I entered with her. Vet care in Ottawa is very good, though more expensive than in the States.
4. Safety – Ottawa is a very, very safe city. Coming from Ciudad Juarez, it was sooooooooo nice to live somewhere safe, where I never felt like I had to look over my shoulder, worry about my safety, etc. Maybe if you’re coming from the U.S. or are coming from somewhere else where it’s safe, this wouldn’t make quite as much of a difference in your quality of life as it did for me. But after spending two years in Juarez weighing the security risks of simple decisions like going to the grocery stores, it was just such a breath of fresh air to be able to go about my business without safety concerns.
5. The summer and fall – Ottawa is BEAUTIFUL in the summer and fall. The summers don’t get too hot and everything’s nice and green. There are a lot of fun events in the summer and lots of great outdoor opportunities in area parks and lakes. The fall is also beautiful, with changing leaves, crisp air, etc. Again, lots of fun hiking opportunities with beautiful fall foliage.
1. Winters – There’s no way to beat around the bush. The winters in Ottawa are really long and really cold. It gets down to -20F with wind chills down to -40F. And, the winters last from about November to April. Maybe this is no big deal if you’re from Minnesota, but the winters were rough for this Texan who’s used to being able to wear flip flops throughout most of the winter. And, after two years of being trapped in my house because of the violence, feeling trapped inside by the cold, snow, and ice was a bummer.
2. Expensive – While I was there, Ottawa was a pretty expensive place to live. The U.S. dollar has appreciated considerably against the Canadian dollar since I left, so I’m not sure if this is still the case, but it was expensive to grocery shop, go out to eat, etc. in Ottawa.
3. LQA – While being able to choose your own housing was liberating for me, there are also downsides. You have to have a chunk of change ready to cover initial expenses. There were several hiccups in my case that were not normal, but at one point I figured out that I was out over $10,000 in LQA and unreimbursed travel voucher expenses. It’s also stressful to decide on a place to live when you first get to a new city or sight-unseen before arrival. There’s also a lot of extra paperwork involved in getting the housing approved and reconciling the costs at the end of the year. So, while there are a lot of good things about LQA, there are some down sides, too.
4. Internet connections – This may seem surprising since Canada’s very much a first world country, but while I was there, internet packages usually had a monthly GB cap and you could incur very high fees if you went over your monthly internet usage. The speeds were also nothing to write home about. That said, looking back at the website of the internet provider I used then, it looks like they do now offer unlimited internet traffic. So, maybe that’s not as much of a con now as it used to be.
5. Deceptively similar to the USA – There are a lot of things about life in Canada that are similar to life in the United States. You’ll see many of the same products on the shelves in stores in Canada as you would in the United States, there are even many of the same stores in Canada that you’d find Stateside, there aren’t language difficulties (usually), etc. So, you can feel a lot like you’re in the United States, until you run up against one of the weird differences like the internet download limits, etc. Then, because the difference came out of nowhere, it hits you that much harder.