When I started thinking about where I was going to retire, the obvious came to mind first: The Sunbelt. Florida. Arizona. Texas. Southern California. In addition, every time I started seriously considering any of these alternatives, I started to sweat. I am really not an all-warm-weather kind of person. I enjoy seasonal changes, low humidity, and mild summers. I actually like snow – especially if I no longer have to go out in it to go to work. Therefore, I started looking into less-cliché retirement destinations, and happened upon an article about retiring to British Columbia, Canada. I was hooked.
British Columbia, the westernmost province in Canada, sits along the Pacific Coast. The coastline stretches over 17,000 miles, and boasts deep fjords, bays, and inlets, as well as thousands of tiny coastal islands. Alaska and the Yukon Territories are to the north of B.C., the province of Alberta is to the east, and the U.S. states of Washington, Idaho, and Montana border B.C. to the south. With its metropolitan areas of Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia offers some choice urban retirement communities for those who enjoy the multiculturalism, nightlife, and easy access to amenities found in cities; but the real draw for me was the wonderful selection of active adult communities in B.C.’s many small towns and suburbs.
British Columbia offers a long list of benefits for seniors residing there. Canada’s solid economic position, the high demand in B.C. for older, experienced workers, and, of course, the Canadian health care system all create a very hospitable environment for retirees, be they Canadians or American expats. Add the strong banking system and low, predictable inflation rates, and you can see that there are many reasons why the financially savvy 55+ crowd may seriously consider a Northern migration. Consider, for example: The average retiree in the U.S. will incur approximately $250,000 worth of medical expenses during retirement. Canadians, on the other hand, who are fully insured through government-provided basic health care, need only worry about 30 percent of those costs – or roughly $75,000. On top of that, the B.C. labor market provides a wide range of opportunities for older workers who still want to work part-time after retirement..
But finances aside, the climate, landscape, and social aspects of retiring to British Columbia are what drew me. Summers are glorious, with temperatures usually in the high 60s and 70s and a distinct lack of humidity – perfect for outdoor activities like golf, fishing, hiking, bicycling, boating, and camping (but bring your DEET!). The fishing rivals that of Minnesota, with thousands of lakes, streams, and ponds as well as unparalleled salt-water fishing along the coast. And the scenic beauty and recreational opportunities make British Columbia seem like one giant national park, with old-growth forest, gorgeous ocean views, gemlike glacial lakes, and the commanding presence of its snow-topped Canadian Cascades mountain range.
When I trekked up Interstate 5 to British Columbia to see for myself what retirement would be like there, I found some of the most pleasant, neighborly people and inclusive communities I have come across in my decades of travel. B.C.’s small towns offer the perfect combination of multiculturalism, open-mindedness, and isolation; you get a sense of belonging, acceptance, and mutual interdependence not found in many U.S. towns. The people are warm and welcoming. Neighbors help each other and engage each other at a personal level. I immediately felt at home, before I even decided where I wanted to live.
MoneySense magazine recently published their ranking of Canada’s 10 best retirement areas, with five of the top ten in British Columbia. This is likely because of the province’s relatively mild marine climate. The city of Victoria was at the top of the list, for its very cosmopolitan and international flavor and the fact that it sits within the Olympic “rain shadow” (getting less than a quarter the precipitation of Renfrew, just 80 miles away). The metropolitan area of Vancouver, B.C. and its many suburbs was next on the list. The smaller B.C. communities of Courtenay (on Vancouver Island), Salmon Arm (central B.C.), and Vernon (in the Okanagan region) also made the cut.
If you are looking for a retirement area with spectacular geography, beautiful seasonal changes, a mild climate, economic strength, an atmosphere of social unity, and vibrant multiculturalism, British Columbia, Canada may be the place for you.