The lowdown on how to make your move to Banff as sweet as maple syrup.
Hello! I’m Issy, a 26-year-old on a working holiday visa who has lived in Banff for just over one year now. I can honestly say moving abroad was and still is the best thing I have ever done but it can be pretty daunting and overwhelming at first. Not knowing where to start, how will you meet people, find a job, a place to live – it’s a LOT. As someone who has personally been through it - I’ve come up with some moving to Banff (and Canada) tips for you that will hopefully put your mind at ease.
Joining local Facebook groups is a great way to make friends and see what’s going on in and around Banff. The first groups I would recommend are “Girls of Banff” and “Banff Buddy Finder.” On these groups you can post on pages and interact in chats to make new friends. On my first day in Banff I met a group of seven girls who had all recently moved to Banff and had planned a meetup. Some of them are still my best friends to date!
The second group I would recommend is Banff Life. This is an activity organiser that posts regular activities to do in Banff from hiking to roller discos. They also offer free walking tours in Banff which is always a good place to start when moving somewhere new. This page offers the opportunity to pick up a hobby as well as meet new people who are into the same things as you.
The final page I would recommend joining is overheard in Banff. This is just a casual, fun page that almost everyone in Banff is a part of. Join it, you won’t regret it!
Within the first few days of arriving, you’ll need to sort your SIN number that allows you to work, open a bank account and grab a sim card. For the SIN number you can either book an appointment, which can take up to two weeks, or you can do a walk-in. I decided to do a walk-in as I was starting work straight away and was very lucky as I wasn’t waiting more than 30 minutes to get my SIN, but I have heard others having to wait a few hours. So definitely try and pre-book an appointment before you arrive if you’re more organised than me.
I would then go and grab a sim card for your phone (because you need a Canadian number to set up a bank account). Do not panic at how expensive the phone contracts are - the cheapest I could find when I moved was 6GB for CAD $45 just for the sim card. However, once you’ve been with the phone company for a month or two you can usually get the cost reduced for more GB of data.
After this, you’ll want to head into the bank. One thing I’d suggest is try to make sure you pick a bank that has a branch in Banff such as BMO or CIBC. Canada has this strange rule that you can only do free withdrawals from your bank's ATM. So if you open a bank account with a branch that isn’t in Banff it's going to cost you around CAD $3 every time you withdraw cash. You might be thinking “well I never carry cash anymore” but there are some bars and pubs in Banff town that still only accept cash. I would also have a look at the sign-up offers, they usually have some good deals when you’re on a working holiday visa. I got given some free money once six paychecks had been deposited in my account, so it's definitely worth looking around.
My biggest suggestion to anyone moving to Banff, especially in the summer is to be a server. I cannot explain how much money you can make if you are wait or bar staff in one of the most popular tourist towns in Canada.
In the summer, some servers can take home between CAD $200 and $500 tips per night, which for travellers who come from countries with no tipping culture is crazy. In the winter you’ll want to try and get a job at a Ski Resort - the JENZA Job Hub can help you with that before you go. I met a guy recently who worked up at the restaurants at Sunshine Village and he was still making a lot of tips throughout the winter as well as getting a free ski pass for the season. Doesn’t get much better than that does it really?
The beauty of Banff is that a lot of jobs in town offer staff accommodation at a pretty affordable price (on a first come first serve basis). Most staff accommodation is between CAD $10-$20 per day, averaging around CAD $450-$600 per month. If you choose to opt out of staff accommodation you’re looking at an average of CAD $800-$1000 per month.
The only downside to staff accommodation is that most of them are shared units, i.e. you’re sharing a room with one or two people. A few places do offer single units, but these are really hard to get as they are often occupied by people who have been with a company for a long time or managers and supervisors. Good thing you have found this blog post because I found (and worked at) the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, which is one of the only places in town that offers a single unit to all of their staff (some of the units even had king-size beds!) So if having your own room is your priority I would recommend applying here.
"Some servers can take home between CAD $200 - $500 tips per night, which for travellers who come from countries with no tipping culture is crazy."
I won’t sugar coat it, Canada is an expensive country, and given Banff is a tourist town expect it to be even more expensive than your average place in Canada. But I have a few tips under my belt to help you save those pennies.
If you’ve got the space - my first bit of advice is to stock up your toiletries and medicine at home. This was my biggest shock (and heartache) when moving to Banff. You are looking at on average CAD $8 for a packet of tylonel (yep, like paracetamol you can get for AUD/NZD $1 or £0.45) and CAD $10 for deodorant. So stock up on deodorants, face creams, and medication from home, or when friends and family come to visit, ask them to bring you some over.
My second piece of money-saving advice is for the foodies. if you’re like me and love eating out, you’ll like the sound of this. Most restaurants and some shops in the town offer a discount for local people, which can save you anywhere between 10%-20% on food bills. So my advice would be to ask every time you are buying something or eating out because every little helps hey?
The supermarket IGA also does a local discount on the first Tuesday of every month where you can save 15% if you spend over $50. Some companies will also do local’s menus/ discounted excursions during the shoulder season too so keep an eye out.
Last money-saving tip is to head to the Banff Food Rescue. This is an amazing group that collects food from restaurants/grocery stores that would otherwise be thrown away. They recommend a $5 donation and you can take as much food (within reason) as you like. It’s a great way to save money and reduce waste in the town.
Please, please, PLEASE make signing up to Alberta Health one of your priorities when you move. This service is fantastic and allows you to get complimentary health services within the province. If you get sick or need to see a doctor you are covered without having to fork out on your insurance. It doesn’t cover anything and everything so make sure you check with the doctor before you go.
My final and probably most important piece of advice is to be kind to yourself and be patient. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed when you are moving to a totally new country, new job and new people. Make sure you’re not too hard on yourself, use the amazing resources and support provided by JENZA and their community and enjoy every moment because this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that (trust me) you won’t ever regret.
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