5 expensive surprises that cost me a fortune when I moved from Canada to the US
- Before I lived in the US, everything seemed cheaper here. But now that I live in New York, it's quite the opposite.
- When I moved here, I had to factor new expenses into my budget, like healthcare, state taxes, and high rent.
- I eventually learned to balance my budget by dropping the things I didn't need, like a car.
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I remember visiting states like Florida and Ohio before I moved to the US. I recall going to the grocery store and feeling surprised at how much cheaper some items were compared to Canada. Fast-food chains were also relatively inexpensive — I could get a burger with just the change in my pocket.
Gas was cheap, too. I loved loading up my tank. The pump would click, indicating it was full, and I'd try to squeeze in a little more — like the rush you get during a huge sale when all your favorite items are marked half off.
But what I came to realize when I moved to New York City was that visiting the US and living here are two very different things.
1. Private healthcare is more expensive than I ever thought it could be
I'll never forget seeing a credit card machine sitting on the secretary's desk the first time I walked into a doctor's office in New York City.
It felt even weirder when I actually had to swipe my credit card before seeing the doctor. I think I had a brain glitch, and for a split second, I waited for the cashier to hand over the bag of goods I thought I'd just purchased. In Canada, the only reason I pulled out my wallet at a doctor's office was to get my health card out — a government ID that showed proof I was covered.
Even though I had private insurance when I walked in for that visit, I still received a second unexpected bill in the mail for additional charges for the same visit.
It surprised me that I could be billed without receiving pre-warning or even an itemized bill. When I followed up, I was told it was added charges based on a new fee system they had recently implemented. I fought back and they withdrew the second bill, but only that one time.
The thought of a privatized healthcare system maintained by profit-maximizing insurance companies scares me. Even though a majority of Americans are covered through their jobs, I had never before had to tie the idea of my health to my job or my income. They had always been two very different things — one didn't determine the other.
2. Taxes are very different
Although the myth has always been that Canadians pay more taxes, I am coming to the realization that that may not be entirely true.
It's difficult to make an apples-to-oranges comparison between the two countries because the laws are based on different considerations. But as an average income earner, I felt better off under the Canadian tax system, especially taking into consideration the benefits received from our taxes — like healthcare.
In the US, I also had to factor in state tax, which is filed separately from federal. Learning to file my taxes was a journey. In Canada's province of Ontario, where I'm from, we file once for federal taxes.
3. I had to get used to very different cash
I am one of those people who tends to forget cash in my pocket only to find it after pulling my clothes out of the wash. So, it's been an adjustment dealing with paper money.
About nine years ago, the Bank of Canada switched our traditional paper bills to plastic bills. Yes, our bills are made of plastic. So accidentally throwing them in the wash was never a problem.
They're also a rainbow of colors. Now that all my bills are the same color, every time I pull out cash to pay for something, I have to stare at it while blinking my eyes a few times to make sure I am giving the cashier a $1 bill and not a $100 bill.
The US has also reintroduced me to the long-lost penny. About eight years ago, Canada stopped producing the penny, and now all our purchases are rounded up or down to the nearest nickel.
4. Rent is drastically more expensive
This one's for the New Yorkers, but I have to add it because it was my biggest shock. I came from Toronto, one of the most expensive cities in Canada, and I moved to New York City, one of the most expensive cities in the US. While they are both winners when it comes to adding financial stress to your life, New York City gets the gold medal.
In Toronto, I lived in the heart of downtown in a two-floor penthouse condo. I know, it makes me sound like a princess, but believe me when I tell you it was relatively affordable.
When I moved to New York City, I was paying substantially more rent to live in an un-renovated apartment with a roommate, and occasionally her boyfriend. I contemplated going home every night I put my head on that pillow.
5. Transportation is a losing battle on both sides
If there was one area of my life where I probably saved a substantial amount of money by moving to New York, it was in transportation.
In the province of Ontario, we pay a fuel tax of 14.3¢ per liter (there are 3.7 liters in a gallon) every time we go to the gas pump. I'll let you do the math on that. Additionally, cars are more expensive in Canada, on average by 17%. So, I thought it would be easy to keep a car when I moved.
Over the summer, I borrowed a vehicle so that I could drive out to the Hamptons, visit friends in other states, and occasionally drive up to Toronto. That's when I learned about tolls.
Bridges into Manhattan range from $9.50 to $16, each way. Highway tolls for the I-90 from the Canadian border down to New York City range between $20 and $30.
But the wrench that made the biggest dent in my plans was probably the cost of parking. The average cost of a parking spot in New York City is about $606 a month.
You can say I learned to love trains and walking. At first I was salty about getting rid of my car, but then I realized that between car payments, gas, parking, and tolls, I was probably saving a little over $1,000 a month and I had a healthier lifestyle.
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