Quebec City: the ideal retirement destination?

Quebec City is amazing.

Twelve years ago, when I was just a temp warehouse worker in Reno, I couldn’t even imagine that someday I’d leave the US and move to Canada, and I definitely knew nothing about Quebec. A dozen years, six cities, and a few giant roadtrips later, here I am. I never thought I would end up here, but I’m so very, very happy that I did.

I wrote about geographic arbitrage before: there are many places where you can enjoy the same standard of living for a lot less money. There’s more to it than that, though: your ideal destination should be fun, and beautiful, and exciting. I’ve lived in lots of places… (My Amazon account has 29 different addresses.) In all my travels, I’ve never encountered such a well-rounded town.

This post is my love letter to Quebec City – but it’s also an attempt to objectively describe the pros and the cons of living here. (Spoiler alert: it’s mostly pros!) My long-term plan is to convince my friends, relatives, and awesome random strangers (you look very spiffy today, my friend!) to move here, start a fun FIRE-oriented early retirement community, and make this the Mecca of fun frugal folks.

And so, without further ado, the many reasons why Quebec City should be your top contender for a retirement destination:

Pro: Safe from global warming! Average mean temperature in the summer is about 19C (67F). Winters are snowy and chilly, which means when the world begins to burn (remember Australia in early 2020?..), Quebec City’s weather will only improve.

Con: It does snow in the winter, yes, but it’s not as terrible as the locals make it out to be.  Daily mean temperature in the winter is -10.6C (aka 13F). Many locals fly away and snowbird in warmer places during the cold months.

Pro: The second-cheapest rental market in Canada! Quebec is the only Canadian province with rent control. Because of that, rents are ridiculously cheap. The cheapest rent is in Sherbrooke, Quebec – a small college town where you can rent a 1-bedroom apartment with all the utilities and internet for $380 CAD ($305 USD). The downside is that Sherbrooke looks a little boring… Quebec City is the second-cheapest city: you can rent a 1-bedroom apartment with all the utilities and fast internet for $595 CAD ($488 USD). Yes, that includes the heating, and yes, the internet is very fast, and yes, this is a pretty good neigbourhood. And no, this is not a basement apartment: there are giant windows and plenty of sunlight.

Con: Quebec has the highest sales tax in Canada – about 15% after you combine the federal and provincial taxes. However, if you’re looking for a cheap base of operations that you can leave for months while you backpack through South America, this is a great choice.

Pro: Learn a fun new language! Quebec French isn’t quite the same as French French but there’s a lot of overlap. Being surrounded by this language everywhere you go will challenge your brain, give you a new skill to master, and make life more interesting overall. (Local stores have signs that advertise “Pain” – which is French for “Bread.” Talk about culture shock!)

Come get your pain!

Con: Outside Quebec, everything in Canada is bilingual, in both French and English. In Quebec, it’s only in French. There are old historical reasons for this, going back centuries to when England defeated France in the war to control North America. Official statistics say that most Quebec folks don’t speak English, but in my experience, almost everyone understands it to some extent. (Though it helps to make an effort to learn French!) There’s also a fairly large Anglo community – the local Facebook group has 4,000 members and a lot of useful tips. 

Pro: Amazing architecture that makes you feel like you’re in some generic European town. Just look at these pictures on Google – they’re not cherry-picked, the entire east side of the city looks like that. Also, the public transit system is quite good – much better than most US cities I’ve lived in. (If you’ve ever lived in DFW, you’ll know how hilariously bad it is there…)

Just a random castle-like hotel.

Con: I sold my car shortly before moving from Toronto to Quebec City (I simply didn’t need it anymore), but I’m pretty sure it can be frustrating to be a driver around here. There’s quite a lot of construction in the center of the city. A lot of downtown roads are one-way only. Outside the suburbs, speed limits seem to be a bit low.

Pro: Perfect city for pedestrians! There’s almost always a grocery store within 15-minute walking distance. There are lots of parks and other areas to safely ride your bicycle/skateboard/longboard/rollerskates, etc.

Con: I really can’t think of a con to this one. Paths might get slippery in the winter, I guess?  From what I’ve heard so far, the locals seem to like the way their government deals with all the snow and ice. (This is a very anecdotal account, of course.)

Pro: It’s pretty much at the edge of the world, right next to Maine. (In some other universe, Stephen King was born on the Canadian side of the border and wrote stories featuring haunted poutine.) The relative isolation is pretty beautiful: there’s a river that leads to the Atlantic Ocean, there are some little mountains for hiking, etc. And if you ever decide to go to Montreal, it’s just a three-hour car ride away. (Or five hours by train.)

Con: It’s not an easy drive to, say, NYC: that’s 8.5 hours away. If you drive ~100 miles, you can get to the nearest border crossing near Jackson, Maine. Your US friends might not be able to visit you as easily as if you lived in Toronto, the largest east-coast city in Canada

Pro: Canada has a much more streamlined immigration system than the US. (Source: I immigrated to both of those countries.) Unlike in the US, where some of my Indian coworkers on H1B visas waited over 10 years just to get a green card, in Canada it’s much simpler. If you spend one year in the country on a work permit, you can apply for PR (permanent residency), which takes up to a year to process. Once you get that, you just need to wait another 2-2.5 years to be eligible to apply for citizenship!

I described my own timeline over here, but to recap: got a work transfer in March 2019, got my PR in March 2021, quit my job in May 2021, will be able to apply for citizenship in April 2023. (I did some foreign travel, and days outside the country don’t count.) If you have any sort of in-demand skills, Canada will gladly accept you. After all, they took me, and all I have is a BA in political science and a lot of experience with data analysis.

Con: Canada’s immigration system is ageist… Ideally, you want to be in your 20s or 30s. That’s not a hard “no” – if you have other factors (advanced degree, or speak some French,  or have very useful skills, etc) then you can still make up the difference in points. Don’t give up before you even try!

My own lean-FIRE budget here in Quebec City was $1,277 USD in September (see the breakdown here) – and if I cut out the non-essential spending (new software, etc), then it’s just $928 USD! My long-term plan is to cut my overall monthly budget down to ~$1,100 USD ($1,371 CAD as of this writing), which would make life quite easy. My retirement stash can cover a fair bit more than that, but I like to live below my means.

Quebec City is amazing. My long-term goal is to lure all y’all to this beautiful town, where the crime is low, where there are no mass shootings, where nobody has to declare bankruptcy because they can’t afford their healthcare bills, and where you can rent an awesome 1-bedroom apartment for less than $500 USD. Do you have thoughts, questions, comments, concerns? Feel free to post them here, and I’ll do my best to answer them!

6 comments

  1. Hi Grigory,

    I’m so inspired! But is it true that most apartments in Quebec City don’t have in-suite washer dryers? I.e. it’s a coin laundry as a shared amenity? Sorry but that is just one of the simple luxuries that apis a must for me. Also, how did you find your apartment and any rental websites you recommend that’s not shady? I’m thinking of doing LEAN FIRE in a few months!

    1. Thanks for that awesome comment, Fran – I’m glad to inspire fellow lean-FIRE fans! 🙂 The easy question first: I just googled Quebec City rentals and looked at all the sites. I ended up finding my apartment on http://www.zumper.com – not sure if that’s the best site or if I just got lucky. One thing to keep in mind is that most Quebec folks move on July 1, so the rentals on the market after that are random apartments where tenants moved out. The selection might not be huge but give it a shot!

      As for the washer/dryer… In my apartment building, it’s a shared coin laundry. However, my girlfriend has a normal one that she shares with her next-door neighbour – it’s set up on the balcony just outside, so it’s definitely not all-coin laundry everywhere. I haven’t made enough local friends to ask about that yet, but I’ll be on the lookout now. Congrats on your upcoming retirement, and I hope you move to Quebec City – we’ll turn this place into lean-FIRE central in no time at all!

      1. Thank you so much Grigory for your response and I am so grateful I found you. I really appreciate your advice and your inspiring story! Keep on rocking it and look forward to more updates. I’m on the lookout for a QC apartment with in-suite washer/dryer. And, I look forward to #QCLeanFireCentral one day soon!

  2. We’re in Nova Scotia (moved from Tampa in July 2020). We love it here. Our daughter is doing French immersion (currently grade one) and my plan is to spend some weeks in the summer in Quebec so that she can put it to use. Quebec City sounds awesome!

    And we also found that the immigration process was pretty straightforward (although still fairly time consuming and a bit expensive). As far as it being ageist, we just barely made it — I was 44 and DW was 39. It definitely gets harder to qualify in your 40s (although there are provincial nomination programs that can help).

    1. Glad you could make it! You guys will love it here, assuming the school teaches Quebec French and not French-French. (Turns out, they’re quite different. I’ll never forgive DuoLingo.) Do let me know if/when y’all make it here, and we’ll hang out. 🙂

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